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Why A Government with “Christian Values” Might Not Be So Good
On Twitter, I sometimes get dragged into the occasional debate about why we need a government with “Christian values.”
Now, at one level, yes, I like the idea of an elected government that promotes ideals and values congruent with the Christian religion. Let me say too, that I believe Christians can serve in elected office and in public service. Also, Christians can and should advocate for things they believe in and value as it pertains to creating a better society.
But … be careful what you wish for. Because it might not turn out the way you think!
Remember this, secularism, the separation of church and state, was created to protect a minority of Christians from the majority of Christians.
Accordingly, the separation of church and state meant that a Catholic monarch could not force his Protestant subjects to attend Mass, Anglicans could not discriminate against Baptists when it came to getting a rental property, and Lutherans could not prohibit a Methodist from serving as a city councilor.
The problem is who gets to decide what Christian values are, what areas of life they matter in, and how they are to be applied or enforced. It is not only messy, it can lead to some dark places.
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Remember this, if you want Christianity to be politically hegemonic, which type of Christianity gets to be hegemonic? Which denomination do you put in charge?
Do you want a Christian government requiring people to baptize their babies, to only worship according to the Book of Common Prayer, to burn the writings of John Wesley, summon a synod to approve the government’s plans to make tithing mandatory, or force Presbyterian churches to show screenings of The Chosen? A government that can enforce Christian principles, can also enforce Christian sectarianism.
Consider too that the Christian view of things is not always clear as Christianity has a diversity of views.
Can the government tell us what is the Christian view of war, immigration, marriage, taxation, divorce, healthcare, contraception, etc.? Christians differ themselves on these things, so how can a Christian government attach itself to one interpretation and enforce one particular position? I believe in just-war theory, but I don’t want to punish or persecute pacifists.
You might reply that I want a government that holds to “mere Christianity” not a specific denominational position. But that itself is a theological position! What counts as “mere Christianity” is open to interpretation and dispute. If you want a government to be Christian you cannot escape the theological judgments that a government would have to make and then impose.
Remember this too, the separation of church and state does not mean that church and state cannot work together. I’m about to go to a church fundraiser, a jazz soiree, to raise funds for a government-sponsored program whereby the government funds faith-based charities that help refugees settle into the local area. Great idea!
Some connection between religion and government is inevitable because government operates on policies, policies are shaped by values, values are shaped by religion.
Good government represents and implements the values and visions of its citizens. And if the citizens are mostly Christian or Christian-shaped, then the government will most probably exercise policies and pass laws that represent that of its electors. But, remember, the religious ethos of the government must be closely monitored and guarded against just in case it attempts to enforce a particular religious vision on the country at the expense of any religious or non-religious minority.
A government with Christian values can be a blessing and a bane.
Are you convinced? Let me know what questions you have on this topic!