With the 2012 U.S. Presidential Election looming, Christians are faced with the question, “How should we engage in society and politics?” In this article, Charles Colson examines how Christians can make their concerns heard and what role the Christian faith can play in politics.
There are at least three compelling reasons Christians must be involved in politics and government. First, as citizens of the nation-state, Christians have the same civic duties all citizens have: to serve on juries, to pay taxes, to vote, to support candidates they think are best qualified. They are commanded to pray for and respect governing authorities.
For years many Christian fundamentalists shunned the “sinful” political process, even to the extent of not voting. Whatever else may be said about the much-maligned Moral Majority of the 1980s, it performed a valuable public service in bringing these citizens back into the mainstream. Although the Moral Majority no longer exists, other Christian groups have succeeded it—groups that advocate a responsible engagement with public policy on behalf of Christians. Some, like their secular counterparts, have embraced heavy-handed tactics, but on the whole, they are to be commended.
Second, as citizens of the Kingdom of God, Christians are to bring God’s standards of righteousness and justice to bear on the kingdoms of this world. As former Michigan state senator and college professor Stephen Monsma says, Christian political involvement has the “potential to move the political system away from … the brokering of the self-interest of powerful persons and groups into a renewed concern for the public interest.”
Third, Christians have an obligation to bring transcendent moral values into the public debate. All law implicitly involves morality; the popular idea that “you can’t legislate morality” is a myth. Morality is legislated every day from the vantage point of one value system or another. The question is not whether we will legislate morality, but whose morality we will legislate.
Law is but a body of rules regulating human behavior; it establishes, from the view of the state, the rightness or wrongness of human behavior. Most laws, therefore, have moral implications. Statutes prohibiting murder, mandates for seat belts, or regulations for industrial safety are a reflection of the particular moral view that values the dignity and worth of human life. And efficacy doesn’t affect morality. If in America we have 16,000 deaths per year caused by drunk driving, it’s not reason to repeal the laws making drinking and driving a crime.
Some of us are called to make a Christian witness from positions within government itself. As men like William Wilberforce or the great 19th-century social reformer Lord Shaftesbury clearly illustrate, Christians who are politicians can bear a biblical witness on political structures, just as other professionals do in medicine, law, business, labor, education, the arts or any other walk of life. Augustine called God–fearing rulers “blessings bestowed … upon mankind.” They exhibit this in their moral witness and in their willingness to stand up for unpopular causes, even if such causes benefit society more than their own political careers.
In the 1980s, two U.S. Senators, both strong Christians, attended a Bible study on the topic of restitution as a biblical means of punishment. The two leaders later examined the federal statutes and discovered that restitution was only vaguely mentioned. Even though “lock ‘em up” legislation was in political vogue, the two senators sponsored legislation to set new standards for sentencing: prison for dangerous offenders, but tax-dollar-saving alternative punishments, such as work and restitution programs, for non-dangerous offenders. In 1983 the bill was adopted—after heated debate—as a resolution of the Congress and later was used as model legislation by several states.
Over the last 25 years, I have repeatedly seen members of Congress, moved by their Christian convictions, take the lead in some of the great human rights campaigns. For example, during the 1990s, Congressmen Frank Wolf and Chris Smith were among the first members of Congress to get into Perm Camp 35 in the former Soviet Union. They arranged for me to go there in 1991 (along with Justice Department officials and others) as the Soviet empire was crumbling.
We traveled 800 miles east of Moscow, along rotted roads, into what turned out to be a primitive village called Perm. It was surrounded by snow banks; the facilities were sterile and forbidding. As we interviewed each inmate, a KGB officer stood staring and even tape-recording comments, but the prisoners were not intimidated in the slightest. I spoke out against the monstrous gulag system they had been part of. Not long afterward, Perm 35 was closed.
Wolf, Smith, and later, Rep. Joe Pitts and Sen. Sam Brownback have made a virtual crusade of human rights abuses. For instance, in 1998, Wolf traveled to Tibet, where he posed as an ordinary tourist. He eluded the tour guide by pretending to be ill, and then sneaked out to talk to Tibetans on the street to get the real story of Chinese repression. Another expedition took him to Sudan, a nation waging a religious war against its own citizens who are Christians or animists.
Brownback also has traveled to Sudan, and once spent a night in prison with the inmates. He said he wanted to experience what they were experiencing. Here is a man who really does “get it,” someone willing to put his faith on the line.
Christians can also bring mercy, compassion and friendship to those in the cutthroat business of politics. After his resignation, President Richard Nixon withdrew to isolation behind the walls of his San Clemente compound. For nearly a year, as he struggled to recover from both the deep emotional wounds of Watergate and life-threatening phlebitis, Nixon saw only his family and a few close friends. No one, other than gloating reporters, tried to visit him.
No one, that is, except one man who had opposed Nixon as vigorously as anyone in the Senate. Without fanfare, Mark Hatfield, an evangelical Christian, traveled twice to San Clemente. His reason? Simply, as he told me later, “to let Mr. Nixon know that someone loved him.”
Christians in public office should be motivated by something more than popularity or self-interest, something that frees them from being held hostage to political expediency. Their motivation to pursue what is right, in obedience to God, can give them a source of wisdom and confidence beyond their own abilities.
We can conclude that Christians, both individually and institutionally, have a duty, for the good of society as a whole, to bring the values of the Kingdom of God to bear within the kingdoms of man.
Charles Colson, who died in April, was known for encouraging Christians to engage in the political realm and to develop a Christian worldview that was consistent with the biblical concept of the Kingdom of God.
Taken from “God and Government” by Charles Colson. Copyright © 2007 by Charles Colson. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com/9780310277644