Ask a church-attending Christian for his views on politics and you’ll likely get a bunch of political positions on specific topics, or opinions about candidates and upcoming or past elections. It’s very unlikely he’ll take this question as one pertaining to political theory, in part because it’s unlikely he has a political theory at all.
When I say “political theory” I don’t mean the sort of thing taught in a typical American college in 2022, which is really just training to be an effective cog in the Democrat machine. I mean an understanding of politics rooted in one’s worldview. Many hundreds of Christian thinkers have worked over the centuries in myriad political situations to develop a Christian political theory that is robust enough to pertain to virtually any form of government and culture a Christian might find himself in.
As I noted last week, anti-intellectualism is a plague on the church and this extends beyond apologetics into the realm of Christian history, and thus into Christian thinking on many subjects, including political theory. As I’m discovering as I slowly begin reading the stuff myself, you find that Christians from the pre-modern world were far more thoughtful, clear, and had higher demands for evidence than we do today when we try and do the same thing.
There is plenty to disagree with, but you begin to see that Christian thinking on the subject follows a sort of mostly smooth series of developments, as if building a cathedral. Then, when you look at contemporary Christian leadership on the subject, from denominational leaders to big church pastors, the arc is nowhere to be seen; it’s as if no work had ever been done on the subject and you have some of history’s least sophisticated thinkers struggling just to put a single brick on top of another brick and shouting “idolater!” if you manage to build a small wall with your textbook on cathedral building in hand. It’s a bit strange.
One modern example of the disjointed, poorly thought model is on display in so-called “separation of church and state”. Ask a thoughtful Christian about this and the best answer you’ll get is that “we shouldn’t impose our beliefs on other people”. That, to some extent, is true. You can’t outright compel belief and you shouldn’t try. But there’s an interesting word there: Shouldn’t.
“Shoulds” and “Should Nots” are moral language, and morality is grounded in an authority. If not God, then there’s no real substitute. The notion that we should not compel belief is not shared universally throughout history. The Persian god-kings, the Chinese celestial emperors, the Roman princeps, the Aztec priests; all of them thought that belief should be compelled by law and, because they believed their governments to either be divine or to mediate the divine, they treated disregard for such laws as treason.
The principle at root here is the doctrine of religious liberty, which is an explicitly Christian idea, rooted in the fact that God Himself does not compel belief or call Christians to compel belief.
There’s a deep contradiction, however, between believing that the state should not compel belief while simultaneously believing the state should not be compelled itself to obey. It must be one, or it must be the other. If the state compels belief, it is not obedient to Christ. If the state does not compel belief, it is obedient to Christ either on accident or on purpose. There is no in between.
Religious liberty is just one of many, many areas where shallow thinking gets Christians into weird contradictions. These contradictions lead to Christians who desire the state to do something good, something that comports with God’s moral character, but then to totally undermine all of that good stuff by having a faulty belief that the state shouldn’t really be obedient because it should be neutral.
Strangely, contemporary Christians have no problem talking about how they’d never vote for a bad person and how the moral character of the recipient of their vote is extremely important to them. This is another myth – the myth that Democracy is sacred – which I may pick up on in further posts later. Your vote is not a universal endorsement. It’s not a marriage pledge. It’s not a pledge of any kind. It’s just a vote. It’s you picking the person you think would be best for a role, for whatever reason you think. This is one reason many wise Christians voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020. Not because they’d also vote for him to be their pastor or even choose him to be their friend. They voted for him because he advanced the cause of good – often by accident – by shredding evil things.
So it isn’t that Christians don’t want godly men in government. They just seem to have an allergic reaction to a godly government in any meaningful, permanent sense.