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Does Government Shape Morality?

A Two Lane Highway 
By: Jonathan Harris

My experience with evangelical Christianity has been wide and varied. From Jerry Falwell to John MacArthur, I’ve seen how each orthodox protestant group reacts to government. Not too long ago I had the privilege of attending a major conference at a premier reformed seminary. After one of the sessions on governmental power—in which the speaker assured his audience that there really was no involvement the church should have in governmental affairs—an attendee approached the speaker and assured in him in no uncertain terms that it was the influence of the pastor of the mega church at which the conference was held that had convinced him not to vote. He then went on to say how he encouraged others not to vote, and how it wasn’t the Christian’s responsibility to be involved in the affairs of the secular world. What was it being advocated by this flagship church that produced such a drastic reaction? Spending a little more time at the church and associated seminary I came across a professor who said very strongly that evangelical’s obsession with influence was driving her to compromise, and furthermore, that her involvement in political campaigns did nothing good. Overarching the discussion was the assumed premise that the kingdom of God is really only concerned with individual salvation.

On the flip side of things, I attended another flagship church/campus of the more Arminian variety and found the exact opposite. The obsession with government affairs seemed to permeate the faculty to such an extant that I would have to say compromises were made. The acceptance of other religious groups on the grounds that they were pro-life or pro-traditional marriage was sickening. There was more concern about political institutions than there was regarding individual holiness.

So what’s the deal? Is it important for Christians or the church to get involved? My answer is a simple “Yes.” If “all authority has been given to Christ” it is obvious that every institution must be controlled by Him. If government has the power to “punish evil” and “promote good” then where does this standard come from if it’s not Christian’s providing it? But here’s another question, “Is it productive to be involved in government?” This is where I want to camp.

The assertion is made by the former group in this post that “It’s a waste of time to get involved in politics. It doesn’t change anything anyway.” They see the government as having no influence on individual morality. The latter group sees it as everything. If we just have the right president then everything will turn around. The fundamental disagreement is a simple one. One sees cultural change as coming from the bottom, the other from the top. Which one is correct?

In my estimation both are. Which is why both sides should work together and meet in the middle. Prov. 28:15 says, “Like a roaring lion and a rushing bear Is a wicked ruler over a poor people.” Obviously God does have a preference in who rules, wouldn’t you say? Ecclesiastes alludes to a certain order God has put in place for a government organization. “There is an evil I have seen under the sun, the sort of error that arises from a ruler: Fools are put in many high positions, while the rich occupy the low ones. I have seen slaves on horseback, while princes go on foot like slaves.” A fool is someone who has “said in his heart there is no God.” It is someone who does not have the “fear of the Lord.” Elsewhere I have established that it is not only the atheist, but the theist who does not believe in the Christian God that gets put into this category. Therefore, logically God wants Christians in positions of power. It’s only natural! But what effect does this have on the populace? The answer is in Proverbs 29. “When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, But when a wicked man rules, people groan.” There is an effect the government has. This is born out in the history of Israel. We see that every time a good king emerged, the people would follow his example (In fact, that’s what it means to be a leader. It means you must have followers). Every time there was a bad king the inverse happened. So does this only mean that whoever is in charge will set the moral standard? No! There becomes a disconnect when those in the front have leadership positions but don’t act like leaders. Sometimes there will be an elected official who does not illicit the respect of his constituents. In this case, he or she has the title of “leader” without the actual respect that ought to go with it. People will only follow those whom they respect. This is why in one sense it shouldn’t matter who’s ruling. If people respect the Word of God over government they will still remain moral no matter what echoes from the halls of congress. This doesn’t mean we give up though. It is a both/and not an either/or. Government does shape morality, but only because people let themselves become shaped. So if our concern is individual morality we should work toward both fronts.

One final thing I’d like to get people to think about is the history of the United States. Look what’s happened in the last twenty years regarding the acceptance of homosexuality. Look how it’s skyrocketed in states where the government has put its stamp of approval on the practice. What we find is that a small minority is successfully persuading a larger majority to accept them through the force of government. If we go back to the 1800s we see that secession was commonly viewed as a viable option in order to secure individual liberty and local sovereignty. Through government force of arms however, most people today think its treasonous. How about social security? It use to be that people took personal responsibility for their retirement. However, now it’s expected. The same thing has happened with public education. It’s assumed that children deserve it. Can you now see how the government has shaped morality over time? This is why Christians must stay involved.We need to be salt and light on a global scale. One grain does as little as does one ray of light. But both are equally required to link with other grains and rays and in so doing have an effect.

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