As I write this, America has just finished watching the political conventions - theater more than "reality TV" - and the upcoming election is on the minds of most of us. So I want to put some thoughts in writing, thoughts about politics and philosophy, topics I have never addressed on a blog.
This election, in particular, has special interest for me, since many believe it may be the most important one in our history.
One of the questions in my mind is the compatibility of the two primary political positions - liberal and conservative - with biblical Christianity. In other words, does a biblical worldview require or prohibit either conservatism or liberalism?
Most folks would label me a conservative, though I am more picky and analytical than many conservatives I have known. And a few have called me liberal, but I profoundly differ with much of what I hear and read of political, social or economic liberalism. I would consider myself as inclining toward the conservative side, politically, socially, economically, and theologically.
I spend a fair amount of time searching, thinking, trying to understand what is most consistent with biblical truth.
I have been especially urged to this by the many folks I know at our church, most of whom are in the "thirty-ish" demographic, and many of whom are passionately liberal. (This is admittedly something of an assumption on my part, but is based on their very vocal and enthusiastic support of Barak Obama for president.)
I will be the first to say that scripture is neither explicit nor unmistakably clear on this. In fact, the terms conservative and liberal - or progressive, as some prefer - are not in the Bible. The "What would Jesus do?" game is in fact a risky one.
So I look for principles, fundamental teachings that reveal the basic orientation of God toward issues. And here's what I think I have found. I hope you agree, and I hope there will be some dialogue that comes out of this essay. I hope, agree or not, you will recognize that I am trying to arrive at a considered, well-thought-out position, and not just accept being stuffed into someone's box.
First, a fundamental principle is that God is first of all "pro-people." His first priority is the welfare of people, over the welfare of anything else, including government. Government was established, we can see in the Old Testament, for the benefit of people and their freedom to follow God, and not for its own sake. And government in all cases is not a final authority unto itself, but is rather accountable to God from whom the authority derives.
So, I conclude that any philosophy that promotes a larger and more powerful government - a government that exists for its own benefit - is not consistent with the overall welfare of the people. Larger and more powerful governments do at least three things: They become more dangerous to individual freedoms, they draw out of the economy large amounts of money that would otherwise be available to the people, and they create over time a dependent class, as people come to see the government as the primary source of solution to social problems.
None of these three things is good.
Let me emphasize that I am not antigovernment. I am certainly not an anarchist, which I think is craziness. Neither, however, am I of the opinion that large government is the first source of solution to problems. In very few cases is that true.
A fundamental principle of Protestant Christianity is that every person stands accountable before God. Alone. That every person has the freedom to approach God without the need of some ecclesiastical hierarchy, and correspondingly, every person can be saved or not, according to his or her own choices.
Some would argue that the principle outlined above is also a controlling principle for life, and a controlling principle for the organization of society. And the practical outworking of this principle may be seen in the varied cultures around our world.
It appears, for example, that the countries enjoying the greatest stability and freedoms over an extended time - political, economic and individual freedom - share some things in common. These countries are generally found in North America and to a lesser extent in Western Europe. To an extent, South Korea qualifies, but with limitations, and Japan did for a time, but is experiencing major problems now.
What do these have in common? They all have their roots in Protestant Christianity. There is no such place in the Muslim world, nor Buddhist, nor Hindu, nor even Roman Catholic.
And what would make it so? Individual opportunity and accountability before God. Combined with the belief that all people are created in God's image and are created equal before God, if we stand accountable to God for ourselves, it's easy to translate that to individual responsibility - and opportunity - in society.
So, going back to politics, it seems to me that the political philosophy that most enhances individual accountability - and with it, opportunity - is most consistent with a biblical perspective.
Now I'm going to say it again: I believe this election is the most important in the history of our nation. The reason is that America some time ago started down a new road, a road far different than the one we traveled from the beginning. And that new road leads to a place far different from the place where I grew up and want to continue living. It leads to a radically different and changed America. But not necessarily a better one. Not one with increased individual freedom and accountability.
For the first time in many years, there is a clear difference in the vision of America put forth by the two parties. And the implications of those visions go far beyond healthcare to include the definition of marriage, even to the definition of personhood. They include ultimately the definition of life itself. And the implications include much more than there is room to list here.
But the fundamental difference is over the ultimate standard of right and wrong, and where that standard comes from. Is each person entitled to define right and wrong for him- or herself? Or is there a higher standard? Is there a God, and if there is, are we under obligation to that God?
These are supremely important questions, and they are questions that quickly become a debate over what I believe as opposed to what you believe. This debate solves nothing, and there must be some source or authority that supersedes our individual opinions.
If America has a future recognizable as the America we have known, it will depend on God's people being God's people, and acting and speaking prophetically to our society.
At the spectacular ceremony of dedication of Solomon's temple in Jerusalem, God showed up, and it was a time beyond anything any movie producer has ever dreamed up. You can read about it in II Chronicles 7 and surrounding chapters.
At that time, God spoke and addressed the inevitable times of crisis, with drought, famine and worse. Times not entirely unlike what we face in America today. And here's what God told them:
"If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray, and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and I will forgive their sins and heal their land" (7:14).
The solution to the problems of our nation is us. It is God's people, which now is the Church. It is God's people humbling themselves, repenting, and praying to God for forgiveness and healing. Nothing less will do.