Our Response as Christians
In part one of this article I laid out how the current presidential candidates are talking about everything but our nation’s overriding problem, i.e. that we have strayed from our nation’s “First Principles”: the inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. All three of these principles (but especially and most importantly the sanctity of life) have been under assault for decades and those who are doing the assaulting have zero intentions of giving up any time soon. Secondly, I explained how the unprecedented amount of debt that America has incurred is going to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back when it comes to how this country will either return to or ultimately reject those principles.
As far as the two major party candidates are concerned, as well as the two top-running third-party candidates, these problems are not being addressed in any meaningful way. With that in mind, what should our response as Christians be? What are we to make of our duty and responsibilities to participate in our nation’s civic institutions when many of those same institutions are bent on abandoning the Judeo-Christian legacy that gave birth to them?
God Bless Our Gridlock
The first thing to realize is that all the gridlock and intransigence occurring in our government that we love to complain about, is not a bug but a feature of the system. The genius of the system our Founding Fathers set up was a constitutional republic with a system of checks and balances, to ensure that no one branch of government could outmaneuver the others. The reason our government currently seems to be so unresponsive at meeting the needs of its citizens is because it was not meant to be run in such a top-heavy manner. Much less was it meant to be run according to the kind of political messianism that people are clamoring for now, where a presidential candidate makes promises to take actions in excess of the executive office.
Nevertheless, as I watched the progress of the presidential campaign during the Primaries I was struck at how often the candidates seemed to show contempt for our system of governance by vowing to do just that. However, when it came to my fellow conservative Christians, I was even more taken aback at how many of them were willing to hop on a populist band wagon for the sake of a political victory that they felt deprived of for too long. To use a Biblical analogy, I saw Christians who were tired of the emperor worship and overreach of Pilate, and were rightly repulsed by his corrupt, scheming, and bloody-handed Herodian mistress that is looking to take his place. However, when it came time to put their Christian values on “trial” and to support a candidate, I was bewildered to see how many of them were willing to gerrymander not only their conservative values, but sometimes even their Christian faith to justify following a rabble-rousing nationalist like, well…Barabas.
I have to say that I didn’t see that one coming, but after further reflection it made sense. In a strange sort of reverse symbiosis, there has been a gradual disengagement of conservative values and Christianity from the culture, which in turn has led to the culture filtering Conservatives and Christians out of political process. Left behind are the dual-master serving, world gaining, talent burying, and mammon-loving Christians who vote themselves as much comfort and security as they can stomach from an rapacious federal government that has taken on a life of its own.
However, as Christians (Conservative or otherwise) there should be a kind of sixth sense of the faithful to tell us that come what will, it falls on us to ignore the shouts of the crowd and to take up our cross and follow our Lord instead. We should view our participation in politics the same way we should be viewing our charitable endeavors, i.e. as a means to an end. Our job as Christians remains as it always has, to preach the Gospel and to build up the Body of Christ for the sake of the Kingdom of which we are ultimately subjects; as such our involvement in political affairs has its limits. As St. Augustine of Hippo laid out in his definitive work The City of God,
“Accordingly, two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self. The former, in a word, glories in itself, the latter in the Lord. For the one seeks glory from men; but the greatest glory of the other is God, the witness of conscience.”
Taking the Long Uphill Road
With this notion in mind, I want to offer a glimpse of what it means to be live as Christians who are “in the world but not of the world,” one that remains as true today as it did when it was first written. It is not definitive but it does have the weight of history and tradition. I am referring to the Epistle to Diognetus that was briefly cited in part one of this article. It was written around the year 130 A.D. by an unknown author and it is well worth reading in its entirety, but here is the crucial part that pertains to how Christians should view themselves in regards to their civic and social affairs:
“They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers.
They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven.
They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonored, and yet in their very dishonor are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honor; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life.”
This, in summary, is how I believe we should endeavor to carry ourselves in all our affairs in life, but especially in the areas of politics and civic life. After all, Pilate took his own life, Herod was consumed by worms, and Barabas died in obscurity. Yet we and the whole world know what was gained by our Lord by enduring the suffering and humiliation of the road to Calvary.
Practical Advice for this Election and Afterwards
“Seek first for the Kingdom of God”
My first suggestion as a Christian is to keep your conscience clean by voting for a candidate whose values best coincide with your Christian faith, and feel free to ignore those who tell you that you have a positive “Christian” duty to vote defensively against the lesser of two evils. If that is what you feel called to do, then do so, but I think the assertion is flawed for two reasons.
One, even if you are doing so reluctantly, voting for a lesser of two evils is still actively voting for an evil, which is something you should never feel compelled to do. Two, exerting such pressure on someone gives the impression that exercising your well-formed conscience in accordance with your Christian faith is on the same level as participating in the political machinations of a secular state that has all but abandoned God. As I hopefully made the case above, they aren’t even close. Besides, barring a complete breakdown of the rule of law, because of the way our nation is governed, very little will change no matter who assumes the presidency.
“Put not your faith in Princes”
Given our status as “sojourners” in this world, I think it is time for us as Christians to rethink the amount of loyalty and trust we place in the political process at the federal level. When the Federal government is responsible for digging the pit that our economy is rushing towards, great caution should be exercised when it dangles a life-line for you to grab. When I look at how our contemporary culture has been conditioned to look to the Presidency, Congress, the Supreme Court, and the massive bureaucracies and their wondrous “programs” that accompany them (what conservative radio host Mark Levin calls the “fourth branch of government”) to address some of the most personal problems in our lives, I can’t help but think: if that isn’t idolatry then I don’t know what is.
Again, this is not to say that we should not be politically or civically involved, just that we need to keep our actions in their proper perspective. I think we need to stop treating our right to vote as a sacred rite that is absolutely necessary to channel God’s blessings on America. If you feel called to participate in politics, then do so. Nor should any of us neglect our duties to do what we can to participate in and uphold our nation’s “First Principles”, but for the time being if there is some way that someone can show me how we can continue to trust Washington to “fix” issues that many of us reading these words have been voting on for decades, I’m still waiting for it.
“The days will come when there shall not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”
Given the momentum being built up by the totality of debt that our elected officials have put us on the line for, I tend to look at the White House the same way our Lord commented on the Temple in Jerusalem right before giving his Olivet Discourse. I realize it is a tricky business at best to try and shoe-horn prophecies into worldly events, but even without the testimony of Scripture it is plain to see that the way things are today cannot last indefinitely.
In this respect I highly recommend the 1997 book The Fourth Turning by William Strauss and Neil Howe. While the details are too lengthy to go into here, their theory in brief is that since the 1500’s Anglo-American society has gone through a continuous series of four “Turnings” which each last the length of a generation, 20-40 years. It begins with a “founding moment” that leads to a strong and cohesive society. This is followed by an “Awakening” where those who are born into the peace and prosperity of the First Turning began to tire of the discipline that made their cushy lives possible. Then comes an “Unraveling” where rampant individualism leads to the break down of social institutions and any semblance of a larger national identity. Lastly comes the “Crisis” where the last vestiges of the old order cannot hold and society reaches the kind of nadir that Lord Byron so eloquently spoke of in Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage,
“There is the moral of all human tales; Tis but the same rehearsal of the past. First Freedom, and then Glory- when that fails, wealth, vice, corruption, and barbarism at last.”
Now am I really saying that, like the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD, the White House will be destroyed or that our society will break down to point where we will live in a Mad Max kind of world? To be fair, the White House was burned to the ground once in 1814 and our nation fought a civil war that lasted five years and took even longer for social tensions to work themselves out, so at this point nothing is truly out of the question. Your guess is as good as mine, but probably not.
However, what I am really trying to say is that the way our country is governed today, will not last another generation (probably less than a decade). Those who are in any way relying on promises made to them by the Federal government for their retirement or job security will be left to fend for themselves, this is an inevitability. So it might not hurt to come up with some contingency plans for such an eventuality.
“Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart.”
As our nation begins to feel the pinch from our enormous debts, many Americans will turn to the Federal government to alleviate these problems. There is no way its solutions will not involve relinquishing further civil liberties and those who will not go along with them will be seen as an enemy to our nation’s survival. In an epitome of psychological projection, those Christians who have remained true to their traditional faith, have for some time now been portrayed as a totalitarian group who are bent on curtailing personal liberties in order to impose their faith on everyone else. This false portrayal will only get worse and both the media and the public education establishment will continue to push this narrative along as a means of managing the political and social chaos that is bound to come down the line. Being a Christian will only get tougher.
The early Christian historian Eusebius recorded that the only reason the first century Christian community survived was that they were able to read the signs about Jerusalem’s impending doom and fled across the Jordan river to a small town called Pella. In light of what has been described thus far, I believe it is incumbent upon all Christians to start thinking about forming their own Pella-like communities, figuratively at first and possibly literally later on.
As the old saying goes, “there is safety in numbers” and in order to weather the hard times ahead, Christians need to start banding together to encourage, support, and protect one another. It can begin with online communities such as this site and others where Christians can meet and network with one another in order to provide legal counsel, education, charitable support, business opportunities, and of course fellowship. Hopefully these can (or might need to) grow into literal, what I will call Catacomb or Covenant communities (you heard it coined here first at the Maccabee Society!) like the independent city states of the Renaissance era.
And here I need to make one word of warning: this is not a call to run away and hide from the world with a bunch of stockpiled food and bullets. As Christians we know that this option is not available to us, as we are called to be salt, light, and leaven to the world. The point in forming these communities should be seen as a strategic retreat to reform our lines, so that through strength of numbers and a dedicated Christian citizenry at the local level, we will be able to establish our own “living arrangements” so to speak, rather than have it dictated from above. Within these virtual or literal communities Christians will be able to establish a stable economic and political haven in which to raise the next generation of well-educated, morally solid, and faith-filled citizens that will go out into society to reinvigorate our national culture.
“Take heart, for I have overcome the world”
I know much of what I have written may sound negative and bordering on depressing, but it actually isn’t. As we have seen in the Epistle to Diognetus, our job as Christians is not remake a nation, but to renew the hearts and minds of as many people as we can and thus create real hope and change for our nation by nourishing our morally emaciated culture. The slogan “Make America Great Again” is not a bad one, but its missing something- before you can make America “great” you first have to make Americans great again.
Ultimately, all of us are called in big ways and small to evangelize the world for the sake of increasing the population of the Kingdom of Heaven, and not to grow the voting rosters of the various secular states in this world. Its not a very popular notion, never has, never will, and you can count on that popularity plummeting even further in the near future. If you as a Christian have not gotten used to that fact- start. At least you can take pride in saying that you did so on your own volition, rather than being forced into it.
With that in mind I will leave you with these words from Catholic commentator Michael Voris, who for all his controversy and acerbic tone, can wax eloquent at times about the hardships that are coming to the Christ’s Church and it members,
“While from an earthly view all this sounds scary, from a spiritual view its an opportunity to separate the men from the boys, the faithful from the lukewarm, and most especially the milquetoast. The result of a purification of the Church is always splendid. The going through the purification, well…not so much. But so be it, none of this is being allowed to happen without our Blessed Lord’s permission…but the Holy Church remains and so it will stand this test of time as well. This in fact will be a time for great saints to be forged, so try not to look at what’s coming from earthly eyes but from God’s eyes from heaven. God desires saints, God desires us all to be saints. Like He did with His own Son, He is extending us the Cross so that we might become so. Stand strong and remember what we were baptized for.”