A long time ago I read a book by Charles Colson about Christians and politics. I don’t remember a lot about the book but the title always stuck with me because I feel it describes our dilemma as Christians involved in politics. The title:
Kingdoms in Conflict.
So what is the conflict? Simple. Loyalty and obedience. Who should we be loyal to? America? Or God? Can you be both? I think the bible is clear in teaching that not only can we, we should!
Now, whole books could be written about how Christians should engage with politics – and they have been – but there is also a short set of verses/passages that I use when thinking through what to do as a Christian, as it relates to politics.
I was reminded again this past week when I was talking to a friend of mine, a Christian, who just simply does not like mask mandates and thinks that we should rebel. I also do not like masks or the mask mandates and I think they are ridiculous.
But the conversation was about how we decide if and when we as Christians can and should rebel in conscientious objection or civil disobedience.
Here are those four bible passages to consider that will help us understand the nuances we navigate in living for Christ while being a good citizen of the United States.
Phil. 3:20 – We are citizens of Heaven
First and foremost we are citizens of heaven. That is our home and where we will spend our eternity. We live and will live eternally under the government of the one and only righteous King of Heaven. His law is final and just. I think we are probably all on the same page here so let’s proceed to the next passage.
II Cor. 5:20 – We are ambassadors of Christ
An ambassador is someone who lives in one country while being a citizen of another country. Since we are first and foremost citizens of Christ’s Kingdom, yet we live here, we are His ambassadors. We are His representatives here. Everything we do and say should be as a representative of His Kingdom. This is one of the reasons we are called to holiness, because it represents to the world who Christ is and what His Kingdom is like. Just like a human ambassador does his or her best to live and work appropriately in the country he or she is an ambassador to, we should also in all ways do our best to be godly ambassadors to earth in general and the United States specifically. The unique aspect here is that we are also citizens of the US, so we are ambassadors from our eternal citizenship to the country of our temporary place of citizenship. Again, I think at this point we are, most of us, in agreement. The next two parts of the equation are where it can get sticky, but I believe together they bring us to a very workable plan for living as citizens of both the Kingdom of Heaven and the US.
Romans 13:1 – We are to obey the government
Here is the full context of this passage as I feel it is warranted:
Romans 13:1-8 says, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.”
So let’s create a checklist of the key applicable points of this passage:
Be subject to the governing authorities.
There is no authority except that which God has established.
Whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted.
It is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.
Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue.
Since this is the bible and the bible is the authority for the Christian life, we must take this seriously. I think most Christians do. But the question that gets even the most devout among us is when and if we can disobey. What if we don’t like a law? What if we disagree with the law? What if we consider the law unjust? What if we believe it is immoral? All good questions. It is the last scripture that I think ties it all together and gives us the answers we are looking for.
Acts 4:19 – We disobey government only when they command ungodly actions
Here is the context of Peter’s proclamation. Peter and John had been preaching the gospel and the rulers, the Sanhedrin didn’t like it. So they told the Peter and John that they were to refrain from preaching about Jesus.
This is where the problems arise.
Essentially Peter and John made this case:
God told us to preach the gospel.
You told us not to.
God’s law trumps man’s law.
We are going to continue to preach the gospel.
In this case it is clear but sometimes maybe not. The conclusion, however, seems to be that when putting all of the above verses/passages together, we come to the conclusion that we are to obey government in all laws, even if we don’t like them, unless they go against God’s law.
For example, in China and other countries, there is forced abortion. The Christian should rebel because it breaks God’s law to kill life.
At the other end of the spectrum would be something simple like speed limits. You may not like it that the speed limit is 55 instead of 70, but it is not immoral or against God’s clearly outlined law, so we are called to obey. My friend asked me last week why God would have us obey even laws we consider stupid. My answer is that ultimately if there was the right to rebel against any law, and not just the ones that go against God, then we would have anarchy. God is a God of order and societal laws create order and structure.
Now here is where things can get tricky. Let’s take mask mandates for example.
On the surface, there is nothing immoral or against God’s law as it relates to wearing an article of clothing. If the government mandates that we all wear green jumpsuits, we may find it ridiculous, but it wouldn’t be against God’s law. What about masks, then? Well, I think the argument that could be made to justify civil disobedience would be the health aspect of it. God created healthy bodies, wants us healthy, gave us an immune system etc. God is for health. If masks make us unhealthy, then that is a law against God’s natural law and thus could be disobeyed.
Now, here is what you must also consider. While you have every right in God’s eyes to disobey, you still live here in the US and you may have to suffer punishment for obeying God rather than man, just like Jesus did. If they say that you can’t travel on a plane without a mask, then you may have to drive if you refuse to wear one. Thankfully they aren’t at the place yet where they are arresting people en masse for not wearing masks.
In 1996 I had the blessing of meeting with Pastor Samuel Lamb in Guangzhou, China. He was 71 years old at the time and had spent over twenty years in prison over the course of his lifetime. Every time the government decided he was getting too influential they arrested him and gave him more prison time. Every time he was released his church had grown. As he told me, eventually they stopped arresting him. Eventually his church was 3-4000 people strong. His memorial had something like 30,000 people at it. The greater lesson I learned from Pastor Lamb was that he accepted the punishment for disobeying. He didn’t scream and yell about his punishment. In fact, he told me an incredible story. When Christians were arrested and sent to prison camps they often had to stand all day in troughs filled with human waste. I asked him what they did to get through. “We sang hymns,” he said. I asked him what hymn they sang the most. Without missing a beat he replied, “In the Garden.”
In case you forgot, here are the words to that beautiful hymn:
I come to the garden alone,
While the dew is still on the roses,
And the voice I hear falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses.
And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.
He speaks, and the sound of His voice
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing,
And the melody that He gave to me
Within my heart is ringing.
I’d stay in the garden with Him,
Though the night around me be falling,
But He bids me go; through the voice of woe
His voice to me is calling.
Wow. Standing in human waste, he and the other Christians sang that song. It made their punishment feel a little bit like Heaven.
He knew what God wanted. He knew what the Chinese government wanted. He chose to obey God and accepted the punishment of the Chinese government because he knew that God would get him through it and bring it to an even greater end. Perhaps this should be our attitude in Christ, yes?
So where does that leave us?
We are dual-citizens. Heaven and the US.
We are called to obey both.
When the US laws are in conflict with the laws of Heaven, we obey the laws of Heaven.
This may lead us to trouble and even punishment from the US (or state or locality) government.
If that is the case, we are to continue to rejoice in God and His ways.
What would happen if we lived under these simple rules? I believe it provides exactly the playbook we need for deciding how we should engage in questions of obedience to government.
What do you think? Comment in the comment section!
About Chuck Colson:
Those familiar with Chuck Colson’s daily BreakPoint commentaries on faith and society might not recognize the work as being that of an ex-con. But then again, Colson is no typical ex-con.
From 1969-1973, Colson acted as then-President Nixon’s special counsel. In an administration already known for its tough guys, Colson was the toughest. He was known as the White House “hatchet man,” and the media once referred to him as “incapable of humanitarian thought.”
Then Colson found himself caught up in the Watergate scandal. He had helped to organize the illegal wiretapping of Democratic headquarters, and in 1973 Colson realized he was in big trouble. After some hesitation, Colson took a friend’s counsel and turned to God in his moment of distress. He found something in Christianity that changed his life. Of course, outsiders had a hard time believing that the “hatchet man’s” faith was genuine. When news of Colson’s conversion to Christianity reached the press, the Boston Globe wrily commented, “If Mr. Colson can repent of his sins, there just has to be hope for everybody.”
Colson entered Alabama’s Maxwell Prison in 1974 as a new Christian, and gained the vision there that led him to found Prison Fellowship Ministries in 1976 after his release. While an inmate, he promised his fellow prisoners that he would “never forget those behind bars.” He fulfilled his promise by investing the royalties from his book Born Again to begin Prison Fellowship.
Today there is no larger outreach to prisoners, ex-prisoners, crime victims, and their families in the world than Prison Fellowship Ministries. The Christian nonprofit has more than 50,000 prison ministry volunteers in 88 nations. Its programs range from various programs for prisoners and ex-prisoners; to Justice Fellowship, aimed at reforming the criminal justice system; to Angel Tree, which annually provides more than 500,000 children of inmates with Christmas presents on behalf of their incarcerated parents. In 1991, Colson also launched a daily radio commentary called “BreakPoint,” which aims to provide a Christian worldview on everyday issues. BreakPoint, which is aired daily on over 1000 radio outlets nationwide, is a Silver partner of Townhall.com.
Colson has received many awards in recognition of his contributions to society. These awards include the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion (1993), Dominos Pizza Corporation’s Humanitarian Award (1991), The Salvation Army’s Others Award (1990), and several honorary doctorates from various colleges and universities. Colson donated the $1 million Templeton Prize to Prison Fellowship, and he consistently gives all of his speaking honoraria and book royalties to the organization as well.
Today, the efforts of Nixon’s former hatchet man have made a huge dent in the lives of countless prisoners and prisoners’ children, and have even influenced federal criminal justice legislation. President Bush referred often to Prison Fellowship’s InnerChange Freedom Initiative Program when calling for support for faith-based initiatives. The prolific conservative has also published 38 books which have captured the hearts of millions of Americans over the last 25 years.
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It doesn’t take considerable effort to engage in spiritual-type behavior that will benefit everyone
You can practice being more spiritual in little ways that add up quickly to your being a more spiritual person. For example, there are relatively minor things you can do to start the process, although nothing is minor when it comes to acting spiritually. As an example, if you smile at someone, they tend to smile back. If you go out of your way to help someone, that person might in turn help another and so on.
Spirituality certainly does not have to be restricted to the confines of organized religion. Freed from the rules, restrictions, and impediments that organized religion may impose upon you, how and where might you be more spiritual in your life?
Each little action sets in motion the potential for greater good. So, as you proceed through six items below, do not discount the value of engaging in any of these. Each has the potential to add up to more.
Spirituality While Driving
Researchers report that when people get in their cars, they think they’re in some type of invisible vehicle. No one sees them as they motor down the road. If you curse or scream, who’s to know? Obviously, you’re not invisible and the way you conduct yourself as a motorist potentially impacts other motorists, as well as pedestrians.
The next time someone cuts you off in traffic, fails to use their turn signal properly or otherwise engages in improper driving, practice maintaining your composure.
Don’t curse, scream, or honk your horn. If the other person is in view, look at them blankly, but not with disgust or anger, or a mocking smile.
Often, the other party knows what they did wrong. If not, venting your spleen is not likely to change their behavior.
If you travel frequently, say as part of your job, and often traverse high traffic arteries, chances are you’ll have an opportunity at least several times a week to practice engaging in small displays of spirituality. As a goal, why not establish for yourself one composed response per week?
Each time you can remain composed, you increase the probability that you will be more composed in other aspects of your life. Perhaps you’ll even be kinder to people in face-to-face encounters when they commit a transgression.
Comfort the Less Fortunate
As a small gesture of spirituality, what can you do for someone you see right on the street? It’s one thing to write a check to charity; it’s another to encounter someone who is in need and aid that person on the spot.
When you have shoes that you no longer wear, but are not necessarily in pieces, keep them in your trunk as you motor around town. Then, if you see a homeless person with less than sufficient footwear, and it looks like you might be roughly the same size, pull over.
Promptly get the shoes from your trunk, walk up to the person and say that you want them to accept the shoes. If he or she accepts, fine, bid them good day, and be on your way. If he or she chooses not to take them, that’s okay too.
Your goal in this area could be to give away each pair of shoes or other worthwhile item of clothing that you no longer want, perhaps on a monthly basis.
Participate in Group Action
If this is not for you, volunteer once a month to serve a meal at a local shelter for the homeless. If you’re a busy career type, perhaps serving dinner will work best for you. Whatever your preconceived notions about this may be, once you actually serve dinner to real live people, you’ll see that reality is different than you thought.
Perhaps you think that people would be reluctant to speak up for what they wanted. Or worse, they’d be groveling, and you would have to do your best to remain humble. Perhaps you feel like you’ll seem to be some kind of “goody-two-shoes,” dispensing dinners with an overly pleasant, “And how are you this evening? Here’s a nice dinner for you.”
Actually, none of the above usually happens. Person to person, you simply serve another, as if you were in partnership. More peas? Fewer carrots? It’s much more matter-of-fact than you might imagine. They’re appreciative but not groveling.
Note: Some people who show up at a shelter are well dressed. Perhaps they’re temporarily unemployed, or they had a financial emergency they were unprepared to handle.
The more often you serve others in this way, the easier it becomes to do it again. You start to get the notion that there are a lot more similarities between human beings than differences. The old axiom, “There but for the grace of God, go I,” is much more true than we all often acknowledge.
Look for the Good in Others
Is there a co-worker with whom you have had a nasty relationship? Is there something good about this co-worker that you can draw upon, so that you can get yourself to say something nice to him/her at your next encounter?
Will Rogers, a political satirist, entertainer, and beloved figure in the first half of the twentieth century allegedly said, “I never met a man I didn’t like.” Many people have interpreted Will Rogers to have meant that he could find something admirable in everyone he met. So, too, can we all.
Is there a neighbor with whom you have had a continuing squabble? What would it do to your relationship if you sent your neighbor a card or a brief note that said something along the lines of, “I noticed how lovely your garden was the other day, and wanted to let you know that I appreciate the work you’ve done in maintaining it.”? Too syrupy, or, pardon the expression, too flowery? Guess again.
List five people at work or elsewhere in your life with whom you may not have a good relationship, but whom you can acknowledge. Next to each person’s name, write a dash and then what is good about them.
You’re going to be on Earth for a finite amount of time. Do you want to go through your life trading hostilities with people, never having the where-with-all to restore some semblance of civility to the relationship?
Listen More Closely
Human beings have a profound need to be heard. When you give others your full and complete attention, in essence, you’re telling them that you value them as a people. All activity and concerns in your life stop as the words and emotions of another person take on paramount importance.
Listening is one of people’s most underrated skills. Your ability to listen to another person, giving him or her your full and undivided attention, can be an act of spirituality, particularly if the other person needs someone to listen to him/her. In this rush-rush world, too often we want people to summarize everything they say.
Consider the people in your life who have mattered the most to you and, chances are, they were the people that listened to you best. Whether it was your parents, a brother or sister, a good friend, a relative, a teacher, a coach, a coworker, a mentor, or just somebody down the street, you tend to value those who value you by listening.
In Siddhartha, by Herman Hesse, the young Siddhartha speaks about his most well-developed skills. He can listen, he can fast, and he can wait.
These talents don’t seem like much to the Western mind, but they’re handy if you want to increase the spirituality of your life. As a goal, why not to listen in earnest to one person per week in the workplace whom you would not have otherwise given such time and attention?
At home, give your significant other one good listening to per day, and I promise things will go better. Do the same with each child.
Judge Deeds, Not People
Judgment is a necessary and practical skill. It’s likely that you judge things, including others, all day long. After all, if you want to choose the colleges appropriate for you, friends that share similar values, and the professional, social, and civic groups that you will enjoy being a part of, you need to make some judgments.
We all judge one another, however, sometimes harshly. Everyone can learn from each other. It is so easy to fall into that game, as psychologist Carl Rogers articulated, of “mine is better than yours.” It is too convenient to conclude that people who walk, talk, or look differently than we do, must be vastly different, and by extension, inferior.
As you might have already concluded, it doesn’t take considerable effort to be spiritual and to engage in spiritual-type behavior that will benefit yourself, and benefit others. The opportunities are all around each of us, every day. All we have to do is be aware.
– – – – –
I’ve had a change of heart after listening to President Biden the other night…
I’ve had a change of heart after listening to President Biden the other night. He really made me think it through and I have come to some new conclusions…
I too am sick and tired of you MAGA Republicans. You guys are all semi-fascists. Not “full” fascist, but you know, semi-fascist. I mean just look at you people. Look at what you want to do. As Joe said last night, “the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic.” So there! The entire country could literally DIE because of your ideas!
Fascism is “characterized by a dictatorial leader, centralized autocracy, militarism, forcible suppression of opposition, belief in a natural social hierarchy, subordination of individual interests for the perceived good of the nation and race, and strong regimentation of society and the economy.” I know it sounds like Democrats but it isn’t. Don’t look behind the curtain.
It’s time to be done with you MAGA people. I mean just LOOK at what you support:
You and your “love all people based on their character and merit rather than the color of their skin” baloney. How can we divide people into manageable voting blocks without getting people separated by skin color or how they have sex and with whom? And pronouns. Get with the program, or are you just too dumb to figure it all out? Of course a single person can be “they.” Language is a social construct, idiots.
You and your ilk telling everyone we should be able to “speak freely.” BS! Keep your mouths shut, crazies. Words are violence!
You and the whole “energy independence” sham. What a crock. We should rely on countries that hate us to sell us energy, even though we could produce it on our own. That just makes sense. If you can’t figure that out, well, you are too far gone. No amount of nonsense will make sense to you.
Look at you puritanical mobsters, with your “six year old boys shouldn’t be allowed to transition to little girls.” Who are you to tell a ten year old girl she can’t have her uterus removed? Her body, her choice.
Strong military? Hogwash, you power-mongers! It’s a new world order where we will be taking directions from the Chinese Communist Party, thank you very much. It’s THEIR turn to lead. You think they gave the Biden family $30,000,000 for nothing? Sheesh, you just don’t know how the world works, do you?
Oh, and the idea that you want to protect life? Give me a break. Just because it has a heartbeat, arms, legs, a head, a brain, a fully formed body, blah, blah, blah, does not mean its a baby. SCIENCE!
Keeping inflation in check? Gas prices too high? Get an electric car, you cavemen. Groceries too high? Eat some celery.
Prosecute and imprison violent offenders? Keep it to yourselves, racists! These people DESERVE a 14th chance.
Oh and you want us to honor the flag? No way, imperialist scumbags. It’s not like the flag represents the greatest country ever, one that has helped countries all over the world with aid and military protection. Not like America has been the line between freedom and communist world domination or anything.
Freedom of religion? Not on our watch, fanatics. Power is our God. The Golden Rule? He who has the gold, makes the rules.
The right to bear arms? Yeah, you and every other terrorist. The founders had MUSKETS, so there. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it (Don’t actually, tobacco products are harmful to your health).
Follow the Constitution? It’s 2022, you backwoods imbeciles.
You want to just be left alone? Not on our watch. Not to sound arrogant, but we went to Harvard and Yale, and well, frankly, we’re just smarter than you. We took feminist art studies. What did you take? Accounting? We are the enlightened. It is a new world and we’ll let you know what’s acceptable from now on.
No, President Biden is right. You are a threat to democracy. I mean, really you’re not, but in order to bring down democracy we have to scare the living hell out of most Americans with an enemy we can pin the blame on. But who cares, it’s all in the name of fundamentally transforming America. Take that, you insurrectionist, threat to democracy, semi-fascists. It’s you. YOU are the target now. We will use the FBI, Homeland Security, anything we need to to make sure you can’t spread your crazy ideas.
I’m not going to stand with you freedom-loving fascists anymore. No, I’m throwing in with the kind and loving Democrats. They are far superior to you half-wits. Because they care so much for us they will tell us exactly how to believe, and how to live, and we will like it… or else.
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