Taking Sides: The Christian’s Responsibility in Civic Affairs

This is the fourth in a series of essays on the duty of Christians in civic affairs, adapted from Kevin Kookogey’s weekly radio address and podcasts at www.advancingchurch.com

Last week, we explained why religious liberty is the most important of our God-given rights.  Today, we examine the impact on all of society when religious liberty is undermined and when the right of conscience is unprotected.

Few would disagree that America is experiencing significant political instability today. Many, however, are reluctant to admit the cause. Refusing the lessons of history, civic leaders double down in politically-correct efforts to deny the correlation between moral order and constitutional order.  Rejecting all evidence that political stability is not possible without personal virtue, these self-appointed do-gooders pass useless decrees, adding harm upon harm because they are, as Eliot wrote, “absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves.”

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It is undeniable that our present political and moral deterioration is directly attributable to decades of coordinated efforts to undermine religious liberty, our first freedom. We face cultural collapse and loss of all order because many Americans no longer believe in the purpose, the destiny, and these moral foundations of the American order.

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But you wouldn’t learn these things if your goal was merely to inform yourself about politics, because information is not the remedy for ignorance. There is a difference between merely informing ourselves and informing ourselves of what is true.

If we aim only to inform ourselves, we may discover some truth along the way, but we are more than likely to be deceived by a lot of false ideas.  Being ill-informed is the only thing worse than being uninformed.

But if truth is our aim, we shall become well-informed, able to distinguish bad ideas from good ones.

You might ask, “Well, how can we make such distinctions? What is the standard for determining truth?”

Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the Source of all Truth. But even if you do not subscribe to a Christian point of view, it is undeniable that knowledge derives from belief.  Many people operate under the false pretense that the accumulation of information equates to knowledge, and that this reservoir of information enlightens one’s view of the world.

But this is entirely backwards. Belief does not follow knowledge.  Knowledge follows belief.  Your worldview does not derive from the information gathered. Rather, the meaning given to that information derives from your worldview. And only when your view of the world is accurate can you derive the right meaning from the information you see.

Let me illustrate the concept. Imagine standing on a beach in California, watching the sun set to the west. The ocean is empty and still, save for one oil tanker heading west, toward the horizon.

There is no doubt that you and I see the exact same thing: an oil tanker headed west toward the horizon.  The only difference is that in our hypothetical, you believe the world is round, whereas I believe that it is flat.

This has consequences.  While you have no apprehension about the continued journey of the oil tanker beyond our view, I become paralyzed with fear, believing the ship will fall off the horizon.  You know that the ship will come back, but I lobby Congress to pass legislation forbidding ships from sailing toward the horizon!  Never content with one act of social benevolence, I would then seek to ban children from playing in the ocean, worried that an under-toe could suck them away from their parents and send them to their death over the edge of the earth (and then who would be left to contribute to social security?).  Thereafter, I pursue regulations banning even the building of ships.

All of this harm resulting not because I was unable to see what you had seen, but rather because I believed things that were not true! My knowledge of the true condition of the ship had nothing to do with what I saw. It had everything to do with what I believed.

Therefore, if becoming informed about politics is not rooted in the pursuit of Truth, we will develop very bad ideas. If our view of the world is incorrect, we will draw the wrong conclusions from the information we acquire. But if we believe what it true, our eyes will be opened to see things as they really are.  This is moral clarity

  1. Should Christians be patriotic? Does pledging allegiance to America hinder our allegiance to God?

Richard Weaver wrote, “When words no longer correspond to objective realities, it seems no great wrong to take liberties with words.  From this point on, faith in language as a means of arriving at truth weakens, until our own age, filled with acute sense of doubt, looks for a remedy in the new science of semantics.

The term patriotism bears little resemblance to objective reality today. It has been twisted so far beyond its original meaning that one is (if you will pardon my language) damned if he defends it and damned if he doesn’t.  My views on the subject, however, can probably be inferred from how I tackle the pledge of allegiance.

In examining the appropriateness of pledging allegiance to anything other than God, we must be careful not to blur distinctions. It is better to ask whether pledging allegiance to America must come at the expense of our allegiance to God.

The short answer is no, provided we understand the purpose of authority.

John Winthrop, the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, explained that the proper end and object of authority is liberty.  And he went on to suggest that we stand for this liberty not only at the hazard of our goods, but of our very lives.

Unfortunately, there is a mountain of evidence to suggest that the present administration, the courts, and the entire political class employ their authority toward very different ends.

All authority comes from God.[1] When any authority – whether an employer, a parent, or a government – recognizes the Source of its authority and remains within its prescribed limits, those under that authority have a duty to obey.  This is a form of allegiance.

But our allegiance to temporal authorities is conditional.  It only extends for so long as that authority does not violate eternal rights. So while it is appropriate to pledge our allegiance to America, we must never yield to the decrees of a temporary master, which have no moral force when they violate our natural rights or if they are otherwise imposed upon us without our consent.

[1] See John 19:11

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