It becomes clear to me especially when we elect our government officials that for many Americans, being Christian and being American are two sides of the same coin.
I was consulting the great Gordon D. Fee’s Philippians commentary a couple of days ago [Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. NICNT. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995.)]. He makes this observation while discussing 3:4b-6:
“A passage like this one, especially in light of Paul’s language of renunciation in vv. 7-8, should perhaps call into question … the confusion of Christian faith with pride in nation. … Confusion of being Christian with being a member of a given nation has a long history in the church; it is one of the pernicious bequests of the conversion of Constantine, which plagues not only the officially ‘Christian’ states, but perhaps even more insidiously a country like the United States, where the American flag often holds pride of place in Christian sanctuaries and where patriotic holidays are sometimes more significant days in the American church calendar” (310).
I’ve aware of circles of American Christians where the 4th of July and other national holidays are given much more attention than, say, Epiphany, or Pentecost. Admittedly many of these church groups have chosen not to follow the traditional church calendar, but they do make up for it with American holidays.
Many adhere to a system of thought which intertwines their convictions as Americans and their convictions as Christians to the point where they are indistinguishable, and it’s probably safe to say that both sets of convictions are warped as a result.
So I’m advocating keeping our political and religious convictions entirely distinct from one another? Well, yes and no. Yes in the sense that we should be able to recognize that we believe certain things because we are Christians. No in the sense that I believe that a proper Christian faith isn’t compartmentalized, as if we can act and think and feel as Christians in some aspects of our lives but not all of them. Faith in Christ is holistic.
So I perceive an abiding tension when I think about how political and religious beliefs should go together. This blog will not often get this political, but I tend to vote for Republican candidates. And this tension between politics and religion can be seen in how I responded to Ron Paul’s comment in a recent debate. When the candidates were asked how their religious convictions would affect their decisions in the Presidential office, Paul responded “They wouldn’t.”
My most immediate response was negative (I actually like most things Paul says), because of how I see the Christian faith (which Paul claims as well) as ideally holistic, so that one couldn’t claim a clean divorce between what one thinks and feels as a Christian and thinks and feels as a politician. But then again, Paul doesn’t appear to make the mistake that to be an American is to be a Christian, and to be a Christian is to be an American.
Contrast Paul’s response to this debate question with some recent remarks by President Obama during the National Prayer Breakfast. The President was forthright in his admission that his Christian faith clearly and directly influences his political decisions, citing Luke 12:48 for justification of his proposal to raise taxes for the wealthy in order to provide for the less wealthy.
Aside from the fact that this is a poor application of this Scripture (coming back to this in a moment), at first my response is positive to Obama’s position that one’s principles cannot be cleanly divided between the religious and the political. But my response is also negative, because Obama inappropriately fuses his religious beliefs to his political ideology without an observable measure of care. I’m very confident that the President doesn’t think this way, but it gives the impression that he is like those who think that to be American is to be Christian. He will use the Bible to justify his policy to basically force people to help the poor, but would he tolerate others using the Bible to define what marriage is for all Americans, Christian or not?
Back to the fact that the President’s quotation of Luke 12:48 is not sound support for raising taxes for the rich to help the poor. Nowhere in Scripture, at least in what I can see, is there a basis for providing for the poor through government force. As a Christian, I agree with Obama that the poor should be provided for by those who have the resources to provide for them. Our difference is that I am American but I recognize that this is something different from being a Christian. It is not the place of government to take from all people, Christian or not, to provide for others, based on a Christian principle. That Obama seems to think so implies that he sees the pockets of all Americans as his pool of resources from which to draw from to provide for those who lack. This does not work. Giving is an act of love. Love is voluntary and cannot be coerced. A voluntary deed is not voluntary when it is required. The government functions through requirement. There’s no voluntary tax that I know of.
So I don’t think it works to take a political stance based explicitly on a Christian principle alone, but then again I can’t say that if I were to take a political stance based not only on my Christian principles that it was not affected by my Christian principles. To be an American is not to be Christian and to be Christian is not to be American, but I am an American Christian.
I have mostly rambled and I don’t know what else to say. Good thing it costs me absolutely nothing to publish this on a blog.