St Matts News Blog

St. Matthews News Blog

Thinking Christian Politics by Sam Dargan

Thinking Christian Politics
by Sam Dargan, January 31, 2019

 

With recent changes in the United States Supreme Court, evangelical Christians will have more influence on American law. For example, a conservative majority on the Supreme Court may overturn the Roe v. Wade decision, which prevents states from outlawing abortions. I have generally supported rolling back liberal Supreme Court decisions and replacing them with conservative laws, but now that the opportunity is at hand, I’m pondering what, exactly, I want to happen.

For one thing, state law should leave room for the self-government of the people. I believe that Christianity teaches that self-government is the most important level of government. John Wycliffe wrote in the prologue to his translation of the Bible into English, in 1384 A.D., “The Bible is for the government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”[1] The church’s primary way of improving public morals is to teach people the Bible so that they can govern themselves by it, for the benefit of themselves and their neighbors, and for the advance of Christ’s kingdom on earth.

Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “First take the log out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”[2] God wants us to work harder at making our lives conform to his laws than at making other people conform. Moreover, many biblical commands come without any requirement to force our neighbors to obey them. For example, tithing to the Lord’s kingdom is an important biblical rule, yet the Bible makes no provision for us to enforce that rule on others. We are to voluntarily obey it ourselves, and God himself will provide enforcement and rewards as needed.

Nevertheless, our self-governance includes deciding how to vote, and our votes affect how the state governs our neighbors. So, Christians have to make decisions about laws that govern everybody. The popular saying, “You can’t legislate morality,” is not quite true. We can and do legislate on moral issues. Laws against theft and fraud are examples of moral legislation that is taught in the Bible and is protective of innocent people. Yet, for the reasons noted above, we we should legislate morality carefully and sparingly. 

Looking at current issues, suppose the United States Supreme Court does overturn the Roe v. Wade precedent. Then, South Carolina will get to write its own laws regulating abortions, and there will be calls for ultra-strict limitations, such as outlawing abortions from the moment of conception. Such strictness would be inconsistent with God’s design of the human body, which gives primary responsibility to the pregnant woman. A mother makes many personal decisions, such as diet and sleep, that affect the welfare of her unborn child. The state has little ability to govern all her crucial decisions, and our gospel implies that the state should not try to take over all of the mother’s job of protecting the new life within her.

American history provides an example of misguided legislation of morals. In the 1920s, Prohibition attempted to solve the problem of drunkenness by making the sale of alcoholic beverages illegal. The Bible does warn us against drunkenness, and Prohibition had the enthusiastic support of many Christian evangelicals. However, the Bible does not command us to prevent others from drinking. In addition, Prohibition did not work, because many people, in their self-government, chose to circumvent those laws.

State laws that allow people some freedom to disobey God’s laws are not necessarily compromises of biblical ethics. Freedom is a feature of biblical law. I believe that Christians should work to make their society more pleasing to God. Building respect for, and protection of, human life is one area of need. The question is how to work for this good purpose. I now think we should work primarily through the self-government of the people. Statistics say that most abortions are obtained by single women of low economic status.[3] I agree that some state regulations are needed, because the unborn child is a separate human being. At the same time, I think the church should focus its attention on teaching biblical ethics regarding human life, helping people by alleviating poverty, and supporting crisis pregnancy ministries. These are the most powerful pro-life actions.
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[1] John Bartlett, Familiar Quotations, 1951, cited in Letter to the Editor, The Washington Post, March 31, 2017. Perhaps Abraham Lincoln borrowed this quote for his “Gettysburg Address.”

[2] Matthew 7:5, English Standard Version.

[3] “U.S. Abortion Statistics, Facts and figures relating to the frequency of abortion in the United States,” at https://abort73.com/abortion_facts/us_abortion_statistics/, accessed January 21, 2019.