CHRISTIANS IN THE PUBLIC SQUARE
AUTHOR: Paul Ramsay
Many Christian people want nothing to do with public life because it seems corrupt and dirty. Yet, is it possible that political life has degenerated because people with strong moral standards have shunned it? The Bible has some surprising messages for us about our duty to our government.
I. God’s View of Government
A. God has established the civil authorities (Romans 13:1-7). (See quotes from Thomas Jefferson and Harold Berman on the Fact Sheet.)
1. To execute justice (Psalm 106:3, Isaiah 1:17).
2. To establish order in society. (See quote from Benjamin Franklin on the Fact Sheet.)
3. To provide for the common good. (See “Social Service and Social Action” and quotes from Horace Greeley and Abraham Lincoln on the Fact Sheet.)
II. Our Responsibility to Government
A. Because they are ordained by God, we must honor the authorities.
1. We should pray for them (1 Timothy 2:1-4).
2. We should pay what we owe (Mark 12:13-17).
3. We should live in obedience (1 Peter 2:13-17).
We owe obedience, but not blind obedience.
1. Paul used his citizenship to object to injustice (Acts 16:35-39; 22:24-29).
2. The apostles understood Christians sometimes should disobey civil authorities when their mandates contradict the laws of God (Acts 5:29).
C. We are to participate in and influence the government. (See the quote from
John Stott on the Fact Sheet.)
1. Consider the biblical examples of Joseph (Genesis 41), Daniel (Daniel 6) and Paul (Acts 17:22-34; 22:22-26:32).
2. Our society is based on God-given freedoms and responsibilities. (See the quote from David Brewer on the Fact Sheet.)
3. Christians are to be salt and light in the world, including the government (Matthew 5:13-14). (See the quotes from John Jay, Theodore Roosevelt and John Adams on the Fact Sheet.)
III. How Christians Can Make an Impact on Government
l (See the quote from William Clinton on the Fact Sheet.)
A. Pray for civil authorities (1 Timothy 2:1-2).
B. Understand how politics and government operates.
1. As part of a fallen world, political institutions are imperfect, but we must remember God ordained them.
2. Societies can, and do, “legislate morality.” The question is not whether morality will be legislated, but whose morality will be legislated.
3. The church must never be politicized. Rather, the church sends out people equipped to stand firm for justice, motivated by love and compassion.
C. Get involved in the political process (Matthew 5: 13-14). (Refer to “Christian
Citizens” on the Fact Sheet.)
1. Write letters to editors, office holders, etc.
2. Join organizations, movements and campaigns you can support as a Christian.
3. Vote. (See “The Importance of Voting” on the Fact Sheet.)
4. Run for public office or support Christians with whom you can agree on pertinent issues who do run for office.
Some Christians have a difficult time determining whether, and when, to let their voices be heard on the great moral issues of the day. More than 400 years ago Martin Luther put it well, when he said:
“If I profess with the loudest voice and the clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God, except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved.”
H.B. London Jr., vice president, Ministry Outreach Division Tom Minnery, vice president, Public Policy Division Jim Dahlman, editor at large, Periodicals Division Travis Pardo, social research analyst, Public Policy Division
‘”Christians in the Public Square
“Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are a gift of God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that His justice cannot sleep forever.”
–Thomas Jefferson, 1781, third U.S. president and principal author of the Declaration of Independence.
(This quote contradicts those historical revisionists who contend that Jefferson wanted a “wall of separation” to protect the government from people of faith.) Cited “in Saul K. Padover, ea., The Complete Jefferson, Query XVII (New York: Tudor Publishing, 1943), p. 677.
“Politics and law are not a path to grace and faith. But are not grace and faith a path to right politics and right law?”
–Harold Berman, professor emeritus, Harvard University Law School.
“I’ve lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth–that God governs in the affairs of men. If a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is
it probable that an empire can rise without His aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings, that ‘except the Lord build the house they labor in vain who build it.’ I firmly believe this, and I also believe that without His concurring aid, we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel.”
–Benjamin Franklin, 1787. Cited in Gallard Hart and James Brown Scott, ea., The Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787 Which Framed the Constitution of the United States, reported by James 1970).
“It is impossible to mentally or socially enslave a Bible-reading people.”
–Horace Greeley, 1852. Cited in Tyron Edwards, D.D., ea., The New Dictionary of Thoughts: A Cyclopedia of Quotations (Garden City, N.Y.: Hanover House, 1852; The Standard Book Company, 1963), p. 48.
Abraham Lincoln “We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own…. It behooves us, then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.”
–Abraham Lincoln, 1863. Cited in Anson Phelps Stokes, Church and State in the United States (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1950), vol. 3, p. 186.
John R.W. Stott
‘What, then, is the biblical basis for social concern? Why should Christians get involved? In the end there are only two possible attitudes which Christians can adopt towards the world: Escape and
Engagement…. ‘Escape’ means turning our backs on the world in rejection, washing our hands of it . . . and steeling our hearts against its agonized cries for help. In contrast, ‘engagement’ means
turning our faces towards the world in compassion, getting our hands dirty, sore and worn in its service, and feeling deep within us the stirring of the love of which cannot be contained….
If we truly love our neighbors, and because of their worth desire to serve them, we shall be concerned for their total welfare, the well-being of their soul, their body and their community. And our concern will lead to practical programmes.”
–John R.W. Stott, Decisive Issues Facing Christians Today (Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 1995), pp. 14, 19.
“Our laws and our institutions must necessarily be based upon and embody the teachings of the Redeemer of mankind. It is impossible that it should be otherwise; and in this sense and to this extent our civilization and our institutions are emphatically Christian…. this is a religious people. This is historically true. From the discovery of this continent to the present hour, there is a single voice making this affirmation. … We find everywhere a clear recognition of the same truth…. These, and many other matters which might be noticed, add a volume of unofficial declarations to the mass of organic utterances that this is a Christian nation.”
–Justice David Brewer, 1892, writing for the majority in the case of the Church of the Holy Trinity vs. the United States (143 its. 457 (1892).)
“Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.”
-John Jay, 1816, the first chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court,previously governor of New York. Cited in Henry P. Johnston, ea., The Correspondence and Public Papers of John Jay (New York: G.P. Putnam and Sons, 1893, vol. 4), p. 393.
“In this actual world, a churchless community, a community where men have abandoned and scoffed at, or ignored their Christian duties, is a community on the rapid downgrade.”
–Theodore Roosevelt, quoted in Ladies Home Journal, October 1917, p. 12. Cited in Albert Bushnell Hart and Herbert Ronald Ferlerger, ea., Theodore Roosevelt Cyclopedia (New York: Roosevelt Memorial Association, 1941), p. 77.
‘We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion …Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
–John Adams, 1798, first U.S. vice-president and second U.S. president. Cited in Charles Francis Adams, ea., The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States (Little, Brown, and Co., 1954), IX, p. 229.
William Clinton “Sometimes I think the environment in which we operate is entirely too secular. The fact that we have freedom of religion does not mean we need to try to have freedom from religion, doesn’t mean that those of us who have faith shouldn’t frankly admit that we are animated by that faith, that we try to live by it, and it does affect what we feel, what we think, and what we do.”
–President William Jefferson Clinton. Cited in “President Sides With Religious Right on Tithing Case,” “Morning Edition,” Sept. 24, 1994 (Washington, D.C.: National Public Radio, Transcript 1444-12, p. 4).
Social Service and Social Action
In 1982, the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelism and the World Evangelical Fellowship sponsored a conference in Grand Rapids, Mich., to draft a report bringing social action and evangelism into biblical balance. The following table distinguishes between “social service” and “social action.”
1. Relieving human need
2. Philanthropic activity
3. Seeking to minister to individuals and families
4. Works of mercy
1. Removing the cause of human need
2. Political/economic activity
3. Seeking to transform the structures of society
4. The quest for justice
In 1996, the Barna Research Group performed extensive polling on the American public to determine the influence of “born-again Christians” and “evangelicals” in the public square.
“Born-again Christian” refers not to people who call themselves born again, but to individuals who say that they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life, and who say they will go to heaven after they die because they have confessed their sins and have accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior. Overall, 38 percent of the adult population meet these criteria; 43 percent of registered voters fit this definition.
–From the press release “Dole May Be More Conservative Than Clinton, But He Does Not Pick Up the Born-again Vote,” Barna Research Group, Aug. 13, 1996.)
The Importance of Voting
The power of a single vote can be substantial. Consider, for example, that by only one vote per precinct:
Averill Harriman was elected governor of New York in 1954;
George McGovern was elected to the U.S. Senate from South Dakota in 1960;
John Warner was elected to the U.S. Senate from Virginia in 1978.
Here are other examples of the power of a vote:
Woodrow Wilson won California by less than one vote per precinct, giving him the electoral votes necessary to become president in 1916.
Harry Truman carried California and Ohio by one vote per precinct in 1948, giving him the winning margin.
A Texas Democratic party convention chose Lyndon Johnson in a contested Senate election by just one vote in 1948, launching his political career.
In 1960, John F. Kennedy won the presidency by an average of only one-half vote per precinct.
In 1984, Ronald Reagan lost Minnesota, his rival’s home state, by less than one vote per precinct. (Source: Citizen magazine, September 1988, p. 2.)
At the time of the 1998 election, approximately 200,927,000 people in the United States were 18 years and older (U.S. Census Bureau).
In the 1996 election, 193,700,000 people were eligible to vote; 127,648,300 (65.9 percent of those eligible) reported they were registered to vote; and 104,985,400 (54.2 percent) reported they voted (U.S. Census Bureau).
Other Quotes About Christianity and Citizenship
“The more profoundly one is concerned about heaven, the more deeply one cares about God’s will being done on earth.”
–J I Packer
Moral habits . . . cannot safely be trusted on any other foundation than religious principle, nor any government be secure which is not supported by moral habits.”
Daniel Webster, 1820. Cited in The Works of Daniel Webster (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1853), p. 44.
“Let me live according to those holy rules which Thou hast this day prescribed in Thy holy word…. Direct me to the true object, Jesus Christ the way, the truth and the life. Bless, O Lord, all the people of this land.”
–George Washington, 1752. Cited in W. Herbert Burk, ea., Washington’s Papers (Norristown, Penn.: published for the benefit of the Washington Memorial Chapel, 1907), pp. 87-95.
“We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being.”
–Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas (Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U.S. 306 at 313 (1952).)
believe no one can read the history of our country without realizing that the Good Book and the spirit of the Savior have from the beginning been our guiding geniuses…. Whether we look to the first Charter of Virginia … or to the Charter of New England . . . or to the Charter of Massachusetts Bay . . . or to the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut . . . the same objective is present . . . a Christian land governed by Christian principles. I believe the entire Bill of Rights came into being because of the knowledge our forefathers had of the Bible and their belief in it: freedom of belief, of expression, of assembly, of petition, the dignity of the individual, the sanctity of the home, equal justice under law, and the reservation of powers to the people . . . I like to believe we are living today in the spirit of the Christian religion. I like also to believe that as long as we do so, no great harm can come to our country.” –Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, 1954. Quoted in “Breakfast at Washington, ” Time Feb. 14. 1954. n. 49.
‘The frustrating thing is that those who are attacking religion claim they are doing it in the name of tolerance, freedom, and open-mindedness. Question: Isn’t the real truth that they are intolerant of religion? They refuse to tolerate its importance in our lives.”
–Ronald Reagan, 1984. Quoted in “Remarks by President at Prayer Breakfast,” The New York Times, Aug. 24, 1984, p. All.
‘We ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which heaven itself has ordained.”
–George Washington, First Inaugural Address, April 30, 1789, Cited in Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents (New York: Bureau of National Literature, Inc., 1987), vol. 1, p. 45.
“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports…. It is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of
popular government…. Can it be that Providence has not connected the permanent felicity of a nation with its virtue? –George Washington, Farewell Address, 1796. Cited in Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents, vol. 1, pp. 1212- 13.
Religion and Public Education
Never in our country’s founding period was there an official belief that education shouldn’t embody the teaching of God’s moral truths. This principle is most clearly shown by the passage of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. At that time, the “Northwest” was the territory comprising what is today Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin. Congress sought to tame that wilderness and encourage settlers to move into the region. Thus it provided for a series of land grants for schools and colleges to be built throughout the region. The Congress believed that by educating settlers, good order and decency would come to the territory because, in their view, education included not only academic subjects but also the teaching of godly values.
The Northwest Ordinance states, “Religion, morality and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education, shall forever be encouraged.” A plaque with these words is still at the main gate of Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, one of the early land–grant colleges and still a state-supported institution.
God and the National Anthem
The words to the “Star-Spangled Banner,” the national anthem of the United States, were written by Francis Scott Key, a deeply religious attorney. He had boarded a British warship during the War of 1812 to negotiate the release of an American prisoner. He was barred from leaving the ship because the British were preparing to attack Fort McHenry, which protected Baltimore. He watched the rocket assault from the enemy deck.
At dawn, Key saw the American flag still flying over the fort: the assault had failed. Gratitude to God welled up within him, and it was that sentiment which inspired his famous lyrics. As Sam Myer wrote, “Commentators and political orators rightly refer to ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ as a hymn; Key intended it to be. Unlike national airs that exalt rulers or, like ‘La Marseillaise,’ call soldiers to arms, Key’s lyric–besides being a paean of praise–was a prayer of thanksgiving to God for having saved the City of Baltimore from the damage the British has wreaked on Washington only three weeks earlier. Francis Scott-Key argued that his great-grandfather’s verse breathed a pure religious sentiment” (Paradoxes of Fame: The Francis Scott Key Story, Eastwind Publishing, 1995, p. 13).
Most Americans know by heart the first stanza of the national anthem, but it is the last stanza that expresses Key’s belief that it was God who protected Baltimore:
O! Thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand Between their loved home and the war’s desolation; Blessed with vict’ry and peace, may the heav’n rescued land Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation! Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just, And this be our motto, “In God is our trust!” And the Star-Spangled Banner in triumph shall wave O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS PUBLISHED BY FOCUS ON THE FAMILY, 1999, PAGES 1-6. THIS MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY AND RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY.