Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Hornet's Nest

Alright, I’m stepping smack dab into the hornet’s nest. Our brother JT has posted some thoughts by two political conservatives regarding issues surrounding the MN bridge collapse. John Podhoretz wrote:
The social compact here is simple: We give the money to government, and all we ask in return is that these publicly shared responsibilities and resources are properly maintained.
Maintenance is necessary but boring, and since government is made up of human beings who abhor boredom, few elected officials or high-level managers are all that interested in this mundane task. Instead, they want to do big, exciting, bold new things - things they can claim for their own.
And in the past half-century, American government has redefined its core responsibilities. No longer does government exist for the purposes of maintenance and upkeep. Instead, it is seen as a means - perhaps the only significant means - of healing social flaws and reweaving the social fabric.

According to Thomas Sowell: People who are putting their own money on the line are going to want to have their own experts taking a look under the bridges they finance, to see where there are rust, cracks, or crumbling supports.

Now hold on for a minute because before we touch gloves and go back to our respective corner’s and come out swinging in the age old conservative/liberal debate I’d like to ask some questions.

How important are one’s political views to one’s confession of Christ? I ask because having been among evangelicals for over 15 years I’ve noticed a strong tie between their faith in Christ and their conservative political convictions. Most evangelicals I know attend churches where the vast majority of the members are solidly conservative. It makes me wonder how many evangelical churches have a mixture of political conservatives and liberals? How many of us regularly fellowship and talk with those who have different political convictions? I realize that abortion is an important and even paramount issue, and I think I know why many believers have strong convictions on healthcare, gun ownership and the size of government. I’m simply wondering out loud why these are held so strongly? For instance I’ve been perusing Christian blogs for some time now. No, I don’t have the time or inclination to read all of them or every article they feature and for the most part I’ve only looked at Reformed blogs. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen an post that argued for public healthcare, a restriction on gun ownership or a larger role for government (except in the case of the military). Speaking of that I also don’t remember viewing an article that stood against prevailing conservative opinion in the Iraq war.

Another set of questions: Why do conservatives have such faith in the free market? Why is big government always viewed suspiciously, but big business seen as the good guys because they’ll always do what’s best for the customer? Thomas Sowell believes that people putting up their own money will be more concerned with safety issues than government employees. But is that so? For example in the mid 70’s the Firestone tire company made a defective tire found to be responsible for several deaths. The government imposed a half-million dollar fine on them and the company had to settle lawsuits that totaled millions of dollars. Despite that history Firestone ran into an almost identical problem in the late nineties. Once again they at first blamed the problem on consumers before recalling millions of tires.

Could we be absolutely positive that private companies would build and maintain bridges in a more efficient and safer way than the government? Maybe, maybe not. Perhaps even more important though is could we have a genuine disagreement over the role of government, keep that separate from our convictions concerning Christ and still genuinely enjoy the fellowship of the saints?

Pastor Lance


GUNNY said...

*Caveat - I realized that my comment was actually longer than your original post, which is not cool. Thus, I'll leave the Cliff's Notes version here and direct any so inclined to see the rest on my blog.*

Some good questions.

I can only speak for mybadself, but I do fall into the category of the Reformed blogger who is on the conservative side more Libertarian, really).

You asked: "Why is big government always viewed suspiciously, but big business seen as the good guys because they’ll always do what’s best for the customer?"

The first part I would answer because of my belief in depravity. Also, I believe the adage that absolute power corrupts ... absolutely. That's why I'm opposed to centralized or big government.

I don't have much love, if any, for big business, so I can't help you on that one.

Now, I'll also offer my rationale as to why I'm not down with (most forms of) governmental assistance for the less fortunate among society.

I think it's the job of the church, which was abdicated to the state. The church got lazy and instead of God getting the glory of love & kindness being show, it goes to the state. Instead of people learning greater dependence on God and each other (i.e., on His people), people become dependent on the state.

If the church really wanted to help in these areas, it would get the attention of the non-Christian. But both the Christian & the non-Christian view the responsibility as not being on the church. It's either the responsibility and role of the state or the role and responsibility of the individual, depending on your ideology.

Yet, the conservative has adopted a misplaced confidence as well, the political machine. If we can just get a conservative (Christian would be a nice bonus) in power, then revival will break out.

Soli Deo gloria,

Lance said...

First of all, I'm glad to know there's another "Pastor Lance" in the world (maybe we could form a small, exclusive club).

Secondly: Great questions and observations!! You have a way of saying what more and more Christians want to say, but we can't put it as succinctly.

I don't know if you've ever seen one of those "voter guides" given to churches, but there are some things on there that have nothing to do with biblical beliefs but are listed as important issues for "Christian voters."

One example is "building a strong national defense."

As I read my NT, I have not yet found a place where any of the apostles or early Christians campaigned for better government. While we are told to respect the governing authorities and pray for them, it does not seem that we are ever told to depend on them in order to advance the Christian cause (except perhaps in 1 Timothy, where we pray for them, that we may live peaceable lives).

That's my two cents, and I appreciate your two dollars worth!

Pastor Lance said...

I appreciate your comments brothers. Gunny I read your article and I think I know where you're coming from.
Did you arrive at your political convictions before or after believing in our Lord? Do most or just some of the folks in the congregation you serve hold to your political views? Are there any who hold to different more liberal ones?

Lance thanks for making the distinction between God-honoring submission to the gov't and promotion of a particular country's political status in the world. Sometimes I feel evangelicals get these confused.
Can't we honor our gov't, work toward the peace and well-being of the country while not seeking to promote it overall hegemony in this world?

Lance said...

Great question.

Another area where this bleeds over is that we American Christians have got to be careful in our missions endeavors that we take Christ to other nations, not Americanism.
From what I've heard, this has been the great faux pas of many a missionary.

I have also heard that foreign nations are now sending Christian missionaries to America.


GUNNY said...

Well, Lance Jr., in my SBC world we can't take people off the rolls through discipline. We don't want to squander those great "evangelistic prospects."

Based on that, I can certainly see why others would send missionaries, since we're doing evangelism on our members up in this piece.

Lance Sr., I guess I came to my politcal convictions post-conversion. Prior to conversion I was a pretty hard core Reaganite and very politically minded and involved. If they would have had Fox News back in my day I would have been an addict.

The change for me was the dawning of the realization that His kingdom was not of this world ... but it was in this world and would transcend this world. Coupled with that the greatest good being no longer the happiness of man (even this particular man), but the glory of God, I had some significant shifts.

I've actually become much more conscious of need to help the poor and for ethnic equality. However, my confidence is in the church to bring those about rather than the state.

But, I think it's embarassing that the state is more "Christian" in many ways than the church. For example, I still lament that the church drags its feet over the issue of church desegregation. Plus, the immoral government is more concerned about helping people than churches are. That's to our shame.

Of course, part of that is the individualistic consumerism that has permeated the churches. If they're concerned about themselves first and what church can do for them, it becomes hard to think of what one can do for a church, which can in turn do for others.

Most of the folks in my congregation (who are politically minded) are more in tune with the Christian Coalition and Religious Right and the Republican Party being the junior messiah.

Yet, there are a few who are more Democrat-minded and more "liberal" socially. In fact, my chairman of deacons, an African-American brother, is quite anti-Bush. I mean, I'll all for a conspiracy theory, but he thinks Bush was behind 9/11. ; - )

We have some fun discussions, but I think he gets frustrated quite often by Christians getting sucked into the Republican "I got mine" mindset.

I agree with him, though I'd like to see him a little less loyal to the Democratic party.

I'll sum up with the excellent words of Dr. Tony Evans on the topic of Republican or Democrat: "Jesus didn't come to take sides; He came to take over."

Pastor Lance said...

thanks brothers for your helpful input. I had a most eye-opening experience at a PCA church in VA during a long-term internship. Everyone was straight up conservative republican and proud of it. working, worshiping and serving among them I often wondered if they recognized the difference between God's eternal rule and the temporary rule within America?
(i do remember that most of them came from a broadly evangelical background with little knowledge of reformed history and thought in these areas)

and as our deacon friend proves liberal democrats can fall into some of the same traps as our conservative brothers.

your observations have been quite helpful.


Jim Pemberton said...

I tend toward the conservative side of the aisle, but it was not always so. As I grow in my faith, my political tendencies are continually refined. I try to view issues through "Kingdom lenses": what most glorifies God? The answer is not always derived easily.

For example, it would seem beneficial to our nation to have immigrants learn English. I would encourage immigrants to learn. In my travels to minister in Venezuela, I have strove to communicate ever effectively in Latin American Spanish, even trying to learn important aspects of the local dialects. However, the reality is that among Hispanic immigrants, the children tend to learn English faster than their parents and often become indignant against their parents and against their parents' native language. This is not a pattern that glorifies God. The solution is not easily codified, but I'm not a fan of making English a national requirement because of this.

Perhaps my own overarching view of government is formed by the Christian understanding that people are born with a sinful nature. The US government seems to have been developed with a system of checks and balances between the separation of powers in order to hold sinful government leaders accountable and stave off corruption. Most of the rest of the world lacks this as a presupposition for their systems of government. History demonstrates that Socialism only works on a small local scale. Therefore, it would seem best that central governments be limited and local governments be stronger. However, with our capacity for international commerce and communication what it is, even this is becoming untenable.

The fact of the matter is that we as Christians are mere sojourners here - we are children of God and citizens of His Kingdom. Only Christ can change the hearts of sinful people who would subject us under their tyrannical rule. Until the coming of His Kingdom, we can only speak the truth in unashamed humility and let the power of the Holy Spirit move people as he sees fit.