There are times when I wish my brain had a stand-by switch like some of my old tube-based guitar amps, and today has turned out to be one of those days. I tried to lay down to go to sleep last night (OK, early this morning) around 2 AM; nothing unusual there, as that tends to be my norm. What made it a little unusual is that, instead of turning on the white noise generator and turning off the lights, I picked up a new (to me) book on, of all things, church-state relationships. Kiss goodbye any real idea of sleep; oh, I did turn out the lights after turning on the white noise – but as I said, there was no effective way to turn my mind off. I have been more or less awake since yesterday – oh, I do believe I’ll sleep later tonight – but whoa! I need to find something a bit lighter to read at bedtime.
The title of the post might seem a bit misleading, especially if you are a fan of either the Tom Cruise movie or the Philip K. Dick science fiction story the movie is based off of. While I am a fan of both, the title is drawn from my own experience as someone who refuses to mix his faith in God with his political views. That, in modern-day America, makes me a minority – especially out here in the heartland of America. I simply cannot, in good conscience, mix church and state together as so many seem to do with apparent ease, and writing this paragraph – nay, the last two sentences – affirms two things in my gut: one, that some out there will be angered by that assertion, and two, that it is absolutely the right position for me to continue to hold.
Here, in as succinct form as I’ve yet seen, is the crux of the matter:
An interesting, and not so well developed, area of Christian theology is the relationship between the Church and the State. This runs parallel to the relationship between the Christian and the State, of course, but along a different path –how should believers relate to the power of the State as a group? Should the Church co-opt the power of the state to enforce Christian morality? Or should the Church merely try to influence the State through direct action and cultural shift? There are two contending views within the modern Christian Church, one which says the Church should try to attain and wield the levers of power to enact social justice and Christian virtue, the other which says the Christian Church should stand apart from the State, exerting influence, but not trying to grasp the power of the State for itself. – Thinking in Christ | Review: The Anatomy Of A Hybrid
My belief is that the latter position is the correct one for the follower of Christ. Some of that likely comes from how I came to Christ, or, put in more accurate language, how I came to realize He had come for me. My childhood religion was Roman Catholic, my parents political views more Democrat than Republican (blue-collar labor was a pretty solid bloc in the sixties); when I kicked over the traces to make my own mistakes, I walked away from politics as completely as I could – that equates to not very far in a land and at a time where everything was political. By the time I made it in the doors of the 12 Step rooms, God didn’t exist in my life as anything other than an angry, condemning judge ready to cast me into hell for things I had done, had never done and might never do, or might have thought about doing. He had great raw material to work with, as I still had a few brain cells left that were only arguing occasionally.
I’ve said it before in a lot of different ways, and have tried to make it plain as I could. Politically I am an independent – note the lower case “i” – I do not affiliate with any party, even the Independent or Independence party, should there be one. On some issues I may find myself in agreement with moderate or centrist Republicans, while on others I may tend towards moderate or centrist Democrats. There is no “one size fits all” spot in my thinking anymore. I do not plan on making this any more of an examination of my views than that – I am not here to pass anyone’s ill-conceived litmus test on whether or not I am a “real” Christian based on what I think about the issues we are dealing with in America today, and I will extend you the same courtesy of not judging you based on your political beliefs. There are far too many people out there who are already willing to have nothing to do with someone once they determine that the other person doesn’t share their brand of religion, one that is, for lack of a more polite way to put it, colored by their political views.
Call me naive, if you will, but I have come by this position honestly, and with a great deal of struggle. Far too many forget we serve a King – and kings do not belong to political parties. Our modern-day monarchies are poor examples of how the writers of the Bible understood the term, since they mostly serve as figureheads or anachronistic holdovers from far earlier periods in world history, but well-removed from the days of the early church fathers. There is no mention anywhere in scripture of a house of Parliament, or a Congress – the only form of government I’ve been able to find in the Bible has been that of a king, and him with counselors, not co-leaders. Our ultimate loyalty is to a king in Heaven – regardless of the land of your birth or the political system you may live under today – and that is where we next turn.
We are told to pray for our leaders – not that we have to agree with them (frequently, we do not, regardless of who is in power). Our orders on how to treat one another come from a king; we have lawyers who will continue to codify those beliefs (or those of his enemy), and intellectuals who will argue for positions passionately – we are to hold fast to that which we have been taught and figure out how to implement “do as you would be done by” in a sane way. It would be great if we could stop the tendency towards reductionistic thinking and single-issue politics, but that is unlikely. One hopes it would not be too much to ask a brother or sister in Christ to honestly examine their positions and not try to backstop them with bumper-sticker level Biblical quotes without having really wrestled with the issues – which, if we remember, are more often than not about people that He died to save.