The Proper Role of Faith in Politics

For several decades now, there has been a civil war between the traditional Christian values of America, and those who want to see any influence of Christianity erased from the public square.

This war had been under way for quite a while before many Christians woke up to it, and many are still asleep.

While I have no doubt that there are those who understand but disregard the true nature of a “Christian America” and the role of faith in the public square, there are other who simply do not comprehend the difference between “theocracy” and the lawful, constitutional and proper role of faith in the public square. Consequently, some innocently oppose what they would otherwise support, if they only understood the difference.

Despite the settling of America for the purpose of advancing the Christian religion, and despite the founding of America on Christian principles, America has never, does not, and likely will never be ruled by a theocracy. I know of no one who is advocating America be run by theocracy.

Many Americans do, however, advocate a return to objective Christian values and Christian principles as the foundation for our laws and government; I count myself among that company.

As I said in a previous post, a theocracy is “government of a state by immediate divine guidance or by officials who are regarded as divinely guided.”

Creating laws and government based on Christian principles, as was done during Colonial times, the creation of the United States government, and until recent years, does not constitute theocracy because (a) religious officials are not in charge, and (b) religious writings are not themselves the law.

Historically, America was settled by Christians who had a Christian worldview. That meant they not only held to the Christian religion, but those religious principles so informed their outlook on the world that everything they did was influenced by those Christian values. The Bible makes it clear that God created the entire universe, created what we call science, established human government, has guided human events through history, and that God’s values are to be followed in every area of our lives.

Equally historically, as has been shown in numerous BATS articles this weekend, the Founders believed that Christian principles were of the utmost importance in shaping our societal values and even our laws and government operations. Yet at the same time, this has been accomplished without the establishment of a theocracy. How could this be?

Because ours is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. In other words, our government is made up of private individuals who bring with them to government service their personal values and priorities. The people also vote for their elected representatives and sometimes upon laws themselves, and they make decisions to vote “yes” or “no” based on their religious values. They do so because religious values are relevant not only within the four walls of a church, but in every area of the “real world.”

Any religion that has no bearing on the “real world,” including family, work, law and government, is an emasculated and useless religion. If something is true enough to believe for our eternal destiny, shouldn’t it be reliable enough to tell us how to live in this temporary life on earth?

What some fail to understand–and rabid secularists refuse to acknowledge–is that America’s historic status as a “Christian nation” is not based on any sort of theocracy or law or institute, but on the character of the nation–which is made up of the people.

If someone is truly interested in understanding the difference between theocracy and a society where religious values influence and inform public policy, one of the best sources is the writings of Alexis de Tocqueville.

de Tocqueville was a French historian who traveled America during the 1830s to find out what was behind the “magic” of this dynamic young country that was making such a splash on the world scene.

What he found was quite surprising, especially for someone who came from an old European power which had itself recently experienced a revolution–though a secular revolution.

From de Toqueville’s Democracy in America:

Upon my arrival in the United States, the religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention; and the longer I stayed there the more did I perceive the great political consequences resulting from this state of things, to which I was unaccustomed. In France I had almost always seen the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom pursuing courses diametrically opposed to each other; but in America I found that they were intimately united, and that they reigned in common over the same country.

There was no law mandating worship of Christian or any other religion, no “state religion,” and no theocracy. Yet de Toqueville found that Christianity and our government of freedom were “intimately united” and reigned together over the nation.

Was this a union brought about by theocracy or state religion? Not at all.

In the United States religion exercises but little influence upon the laws and upon the details of public opinion, but it directs the manners of the community, and by regulating domestic life it regulates the State.

Notice that he says religion does not directly dictate laws and public opinion, but it is a part of the character of the people who make up the community, and since the people make up the government in America, this is how Christianity helps shape our legal and governmental values.

Religion in America takes no direct part in the government of society, but it must nevertheless be regarded as the foremost of the political institutions of that country

de Toquevill reiterates that while there is no state religion or theocracy in America, because of the Christian character of the people who make up American government, it may be regarded “as the formost of the political institutions.”

de Toqueville also says

…there is no country in the whole world in which the Christian religion retains a greater influence over the souls of men than in America; and there can be no greater proof of its utility, and of its conformity to human nature, than that its influence is most powerfully felt over the most enlightened and free nation of the earth.

In America, de Toqueville found that, probably because religious allegiance was not forced upon the people by law, the Christian religion reigned supreme in its influence over men. In America, faith in God wasn’t just duty, it was real. And because it was real, it influenced every area of their lives–including the civic life of the United States–again, a government of the people, by the people and for the people.

You see, America is historically a Christian nation not because of a theocracy, not because of a state religion, and not because of religious laws enforcing fealty to a religion…but because of the Christian character of the people who make up the United States–which has a government of those people possessed of a Christian character, by that people possessed of a Christian character, and for that people possessed of a Christian character.

This is why, as long as America successfully retains the Christian character of her people, there will never be a theocracy–of any type. And unless the Christians of America acquiesce to the demands of secularists, America will always retain that Christian character.

As de Tocqueville found and as many of the Founders alluded to, America’s great freedom, including the freedom of religion, come from the Christian character of her people. While some over the history of the world have forgotten this, the Christians who settled America realized that true faith in God (and God wants none other than sincere faith) cannot be forced, it cannot be coerced, it cannot be mandated, and it cannot be legislated.

That is why the settlers and founders considered religious freedom so important, because only the free exercise of faith is worth anything to man or God. Some religions like Islam and secularism are willing to settle for silent acquiescence as a sign of devotion, but not true Christianity.

Even the unbeliever is free not to believe, so long as his unbelief doesn’t lead him to subvert the laws or good character of society.

That freedom of belief–or even not to believe–is best guaranteed by the Christian character of America. Rabid secularism demands a suppression of the public expression of religious faith; because of this, it quashes freedom.

In a society protected by the Christian value of freedom of choice, the secularist is free to express his unbelief in public. No one can force him to believe in a deity, and no one can force him to profess belief…but if the majority of society believes in God, he should naturally be prepared for the dissent of others, as is their freedom.

In America, religious values and the reliance upon objective values must inform public policy, or public policy will devolve into “might makes right” and the tyranny of the majority. Religious values help preserve not only the health and good order of our civilization, but freedom itself.

As de Tocqueville says,

Despotism may govern without faith, but liberty cannot. Religion is much more necessary in the republic which they set forth in glowing colors than in the monarchy which they attack; and it is more needed in democratic republics than in any others. How is it possible that society should escape destruction if the moral tie be not strengthened in proportion as the political tie is relaxed? and what can be done with a people which is its own master, if it be not submissive to the Divinity?

In summary, these religious values historically held in America inform public policy, not through theocracy or a state religion or the imposition of law, but through the character and values of the people who comprise government and who are being governed.

One Response to “The Proper Role of Faith in Politics”

  1. The Meaning of Theocracy
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    By Dr. R.J. Rushdoony

    Few things are more commonly misunderstood than the nature and meaning of theocracy. It is commonly assumed to be a dictatorial rule by self-appointed men who claim to rule for God. In reality, theocracy in Biblical law is the closest thing to a radical libertarianism that can be had.

    In Biblical law, the only civil tax was the head or poll tax, the same for all males twenty years of age and older (Ex. 30:11-16). This tax provided an atonement or covering for people, i.e. the covering of civil protection by the State as a ministry of justice (Rom. 13:1-4). This very limited tax was continued by the Jews after the fall of Jerusalem, and from 768-900 AD helped make the Jewish princedom of Narbonne (in France) and other areas a very important and powerful realm (see Arthur J. Zuckerman: ” A Jewish Princedom in Feudal France 768-900” (New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 1965, 1972). This tax was limited to half a sheckel of silver per man.

    All other functions of government were financed by the tithe. Health, education, welfare, worship, etc., were all provided for by tithes and offerings. Of this tithe, one tenth (i.e. one percent of one’s income) went to the priests for worship. Perhaps an equal amount went for music, and for the care of the sanctuary. The tithe was God’s tax, to provide for basic government in God’s way. The second and the third tithes provided for welfare, and for the family’s rest and rejoicing before the Lord (see E.A. Powell and R.J. Rushdoony: “Tithing and Dominion” (Ross House Books, P.O. Box 67 Vallecito, CA 95251).

    What we today fail to see, and must recapture, is the fact that the basic governmentis the self-governing of covenant man; then the family is the central governing institutionof Scripture. The school is a governmental agency, and so too is the church. Our vocation also governs us, and our society. Civil government must be one form of government among many, and a minor one. Paganism (and Baal worship in all its forms) made the State and its rulers into a god or gods walking on earth, and gave them total over-rule in all spheres. The prophets denounced all such idolatry, and the apostles held, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

    From the days of the Caesars to the heads of the democratic states and Marxist empires, the ungodly have seen what Christians too often fail to see, namely, that Biblical faith requires and creates a rival government to the humanistic State. Defective faith seeks to reduce Biblical faith to a man-centered minimum, salvation. Now salvation, our re-generation, is the absolutely essential starting point of the Christian life, but, if it is made the sum total thereof, it is in effect denied. Salvation is then made into a man-centered and egotistical thing, when it is in fact God-centered and requires the death, not the enthronement, of our sinful and self-centered ego. We are saved for God’s purposes, saved to serve, not in time only, but eternally (Rev. 22:3). To be saved is to be working members of that realm.

    In a theocracy, therefore, God and His law rule. The State ceases to be the over-lord and ruler of man. God’s tax, the tithe, is used by Godly men to create schools, hospitals, welfare agencies, counselors and more. It provides, as it did in Scripture, for music and more. All the basic social financing, other than the head tax of Ex. 30:11-16 was provided for by tithes and offerings or gifts. An offering or gift was that which was given above and over a tithe.

    Since none of the tithe agencies have any coercive power to collect funds, none can exist beyond their useful service to God and man. For the modern State, uselessness and corruption are no problem; they do not limit its power to collect more taxes. Indeed, the State increases its taxing power because it is more corrupt and more useless, because its growing bureaucracy demands it.

    California State Senator H.L. “Bill” Richardson has repeatedly called attention to the fact that, once elected, public officials respond only under pressure to their voters but more to their peer group and their superiors. Lacking faith, they are governed by power.

    People may complain about the unresponsiveness of their elected officials, and their subservience to their peers and superiors, but nothing will alter this fact other than a change in the faith of the electorate and the elected. Men will respond to and obey the dominant power in their lives, faith, and perspective. If that dominant power or god in their lives is the State, they will react to it. If, however, it is the triune God of Scripture who rules them, then men will respond to and obey His law-word. Men will obey their gods.

    One of the more important books of this country was Albert Jay Nock’s “Our Enemy, The State”(Caxton Printers, Caldwell, Idaho, 1935). Without agreeing with Nock in all things, it is necessary to agree with him that the modern State is man’s new church and saving institution. The state, however, is an antisocial institution, determined to suppress and destroy all the historic and religiously grounded powers of society. With F.D. Roosevelt and “The New Deal,” the goal of the Statists became openly “the complete extinction of social power through absorption by the State” (p.21). This will continue in its suicidal course, until there is not enough social power left to finance the State’s plans (as became the case in Rome). The State’s intervention into every realm is financed by the productivity of the non-Statist and economic sector: “Intervention retards production; then the resulting stringency and inconvenience enable further intervention, which in turn still further retards production; and this process goes on until, as in Rome, in the third century, production ceases entirely, and the source of payment dries up” (p.151f). It is true that crime needs suppression, but, instead of suppressing crime, the State safeguards its own monopoly of crime.”

    We can add that the solution to crime and injustice is not more power to the state, but God’s law and a regenerate man. The best safeguard against crime is godly men and a godly society. Furthermore, God’s law, in dealing with crime, requires restitution and with habitual criminals, the death penalty. (See R.J. Rushdoony: “Institutes of Biblical Law”).

    One more important point from Nock: he called attention to the fact that “social power” once took care of all emergencies, relieves, and disasters. When the Johnstown flood occurred all relief and aid was the result of a great outpouring of “private” giving. “Its abundance, measured by money alone, was so great that when everything was finally put in order, something like a million dollars remained. (p.6)

    This was once the only way such crises were met. Can it happen again? The fact is that it is happening again. Today, between 20-30% of all school children K-12 are in non-state-ist schools, and the percentage is likely to pass 50% by 1990 if Christians defend their schools from state-ist interventionism. More and more Christians are recognizing their duties for the care of their parents; churches are again assuming, in many cases, the care of elderly members. Homes for the elderly people, and also for delinquent children are being established. (One of the more famous of these, under the leadership of Lester Roloff, was under attack by the State, which refused to recognize sin as the basic problem with delinquents, and regeneration and sanctification as the answer.) Christians are moving into the areas of radio and television, not only to preach salvation but to apply Scripture to political, economic and other issues.

    Moreover, everywhere Christians are asking themselves the question, “What must I do, now that I am saved?” Answers take a variety of forms: textbook publishing for Christian Schools; periodicals and more. The need to revive and extend Christian hospitals is being recognized and much, much more.

    Isaiah 9:6-7 tells us that when Christ was born, the government was to be on His shoulders, and that “Of the increase of His government and peace, there shall be no end.” By means of their tithing and actions, believers are in increasing numbers submitting to Christ’s government and re-ordering life and society in terms of it.

    The essence of humanism, from Francis stateto the present, has been this creed: to be human, man must be in control (Jeremy Rifkin with Ted Howard: “The Emerging Order”, p. 27.). This is an indirect way of saying that man is not man unless the government of all things is upon his shoulders, unless he is himself God. It is the expression of the tempter’s program of revolt against God (Gen. 3:5). John Locke developed this faith by insisting that Christianity thus could not be the basis of public activity, but only a private faith. The foundation of the State and of public life was for Locke, in reason.

    But, reason, separated from Christian faith and presupposition, became man’s will, or better, man’s will in radical independence from God. The State then began to claim one area of life after another as public domain and hence under the State as reason incarnate. One of the first things claimed by Locke’s philosophy and “reason” was man himself! Man, instead of being a sinner, was, at least in the human and public realm, morally neutral; he was a blank piece of paper, and what he became was a product of education and experience. It thus was held necessary for the state, the incarnate voice of “reason,” to control education in order to product the desired kind of man.

    The State claimed the public realm. The public realm had belonged, in terms of Christian faith, to God, like all things else, and to a free society under God. The church was scarcely dislodged from its claims over the public realm when the state came in to claim it with even more total powers.

    But this was not all. The state enlarged the public realm by new definitions, so that steadily, one sphere after another fell into the hands of the state. Education was claimed, and control over economics, a control which is now destroying money and decreasing social and economic productivity. The arts and sciences are subsidized and controlled, and are begging for more. Marriage and the family are controlled; a White House Conference on the Family viewed the family as a public and hence, Statist realm, one the state must invade and control.

    Ancient Rome regarded religion itself as a public domain and hence licensed and controlled it. (The very word “liturgy,” Greek in origin, means public service. Religion is indeed a public concern, more so than the state, but not thereby a matter for state-ist control.) Rome, like all ancient pagan states, equated the public domain with the state’s domain, and it saw all things as aspects of the state’s domain.

    For any one institution to see itself as the public domain is totalitarianism. All things public and private are in the religious domain and under God. No institution, neither church nor state, can equate itself with God, and claim control of the public (or private) domain. Every sphere of life is interdependent with other spheres and alike under God. No more than mathematics has the “right” to control biology do church or state have the “right” to control one another, or anything beyond their severely limited sphere of government.

    There are thus a variety of spheres of government under God. There spheres are limited, interdependent and under God’s sovereign government and law-word. They cannot legitimately exceed their sphere. The legitimate financial powers of all are limited. The state has a small head tax. The tithe finances all other spheres.

    The tithe, it must be emphasized, is to the Lord, not to the church, a difference some churchmen choose to miss or overlook. This robs the individual believer of all right to complain about things; by the godly use of his tithe, he can create new agencies, churches, schools, and institutions to further God’s Kingdom in every area of life and thought. Holiness comes not by our abilities to whine and bewail the things that are, but by our faithful use of the tithe and the power God gives us to remake all things according to His Word.

    Tithing and godly action, these are the keys to dominion. We are called to dominion (Gen. 1:26-28; 9:1-17; Joshua 1:1-9; Matt. 28:18020; etc.). The creation mandate is our covenant mandate; restoration into the covenant through Christ’s atonement restores us into the mandate to exercise dominion and gives us the power to effect it.

    Aspects of that mandate can be exercised through institutions, and sometimes must be, but the mandate can never be surrendered to them. The mandate precedes all instructions, and it is to man personally as man (Gen. 1:28). This is the heart of theocracy as the Bible sets it forth. Dictionaries to the contrary, theocracy is not a government by the state, but a government over every institution by God and His Law, and through the activities of the free man in Christ to bring ever area of life and thought under Christ’s Kingship.