The Blog of Nathan D. Smith

I am in the midst of a multi-year crossroads in my Christian understanding of politics. The half-life of my political opinions is about two weeks, and this has been going on for years. I suppose I am not unique in this, and I predict after some time I'll tire of constant internal debate and settle down with one of the two major parties in the US. Note to my future self: shame on you!

I don't even have a decently defined range at the moment. Honestly, I'm going to come down somewhere between anarchy and Marxism (endpoints are inclusive), with libertarianism and mainstream US politics being major waypoints. For now, I am feeling my way through. My current political credo is "Render unto Caesar," which is more of a quip than a philosophy I admit, but I know my final resting place will have to comply with that maxim.

My political meandering is like a planet in a binary star system. There are two major poles which battle for influence. The first of these poles is Jesus' teaching on non-violence and non-resistance. I happen to believe that Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount can and should be applied by Christians living today. I do not think it is a sermon for the upcoming Kingdom of Heaven. To those who assert that it represents an impossible ideal, I counter that Jesus, living as a human in the City of Man, lived out his teaching. Perhaps some day my interpretation will change, but for the moment, this is how I understand the teaching. So I have a problem with violence. All government is predicated on violence. Therefore I have a problem with government.

The other pole in my orbit is the concept of justice. Justice can only be achieved by coercion and violence. It may be socially acceptable violence, but it is violence nonetheless. But there are certain cases where I instinctively think retributive violence is appropriate. This instinct persists in spite of my understanding of Jesus' teachings. Perhaps my instincts need to change, but I'm still here.

The via media is of course the "two kingdoms" theology. That is, a Christian working for the government does not have the same ethical responsibilities as he does in his private life. I find this to be deeply problematic and unsatisfying, but it is a convenient solution. Perhaps it is what Paul had in mind when writing this:

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay,"says the Lord. On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

Unless Paul was being sarcastic in the final paragraph, we have to deal with government being an acceptable institution in the church age. But what Paul says about government is so general than it can be proved false on each point with many examples. So it seems that government can ideally serve a divine function, but often doesn't. And perhaps violence can be used retributively, but the vast majority of violence is used for unrighteous ends.

I'm stuck. So I'm doing so reading to try to unstick myself.

Date: 2010-07-02 22:09