Christian Participation in Representative Democracy, Part II

February 20th, 2008 / 6 Comments

In my previous post, “Some Thoughts on Christian Participation in Representative Democracy”, I gave some reservations I have with present day Christian involvement in the American political system. Based on the feedback I received it appears that many Christians, or at least the handful of readers that visit my blog, have a difficult time imagining how to confess the Kingdom of God without the assistance of a democratic system of government. That, along with the numerous evangelical leaders eager to proclaim their own “faithful” endorsements (Wayne Grudem for Mitt Romney, Rick Warren for Mike Huckabee, and Brian McLaren Brian McLaren and Tony Jones for Barak Obama) leaves me in rather small company.

My argument is that while there is nothing inherently wrong with voting, endorsing either parties candidate(s) requires me to make so many contradictions to my beliefs that my Christian confession becomes reduced to a few hot-button issues. A brief example is the option of being either 1) against abortion but for the death penalty, or 2) against the war in Iraq but for embryonic stem cell research. Presently, both options require me to make exceptions that I don’t believe I should have to make.

To clarify for those who responded to my last post, the issue is not my disillusionment and the alternative is not disengagement. In fact, I think the efforts of the last several decades to make evangelical Christianity a recognizable contender in the American democratic system have only served to pervert our sense of Christian political engagement.

The following are some examples that will hopefully illustrate a more faithful picture of Christian political action.


Both political parties believe that health care functions best when it is run as a business. Yet even the most optimistic policies of the democratic party will still leave around 15 million people uninsured.

  • The Free Medical, Dental, and Eye Clinic of the Vineyard Church of Columbus places care of the individual above the goal of profit-making and shows that you don’t need an enormous “medical system” to provide health care services.


No Child Left Behind was a well intended but poorly developed effort to improve the performance of public schools in the U.S., but what about children who live outside the U.S.?

  • World Vision believes that all children deserve access to basic education and provides services in over 80 countries.
  • My personal friends ‘N’ & ‘K’ teach English as a Second Language, as well as other less popular topics, in Ningxia, China. (Link omitted so as not to jeopardize their identities)


Abortion is too often articulated and legislated as a matter of personal choice.

  • People like Isaac and Jen, currently adopting a child from Ethiopia at great financial sacrifice, respond that children are both gift and responsibility, and affirm that for children, the church is always a place of welcome.

Social Justice

The US places its own interests in “defense” and “national security” above the welfare and value of its neighbors.


War is a unique issue because it directly concerns policies of the state.

  • Nevertheless, the delegation of U.S. religious leaders visiting Iran demonstrated that policy can be affected outside of legislation.
  • Conversely, Christian Peacemaker Teams address the personal elements of war by enacting strategies that require warring parties to enter into dialogue.

A final criticism from my last post involves the idea of practicality, with the view that we are stuck on earth waiting for the Kingdom of God to come, and therefore, must do the best that we can while we wait. The reasoning follows that because American legislation can instantly impact millions of people, influencing democratic politics should be one of our more effective resources. What this philosophy misses is that the Kingdom of God has come through Jesus Christ and that our task, as the Church, is not to wait for, but to actively confess Christ’s Kingdom as we hope for His return. My reservation towards representative democracy is that the Church’s mission is not created by practicality, but confessed through witness, to the most impractical event in history, Christ’s death and resurrection.

Comments (6)

  1. Tony Jones / February 20, 2008 /

    Actually, Brian McLaren has not endorsed a candidate, nor will he. As the chair of the board at Sojourners, he will remain neutral.

  2. Scott Lenger / February 20, 2008 /

    You’re right Tony, while the article I referenced is affirming of Barak Obama it is by no means an endorsement. I have revised the post accordingly.

  3. Aaron / February 20, 2008


    I love all of your examples. They are all great ways to serve.

    I would argue, though, that by doing only those things, or things like that. . . .that you have effectively disengaged from the American governmental system.

    Coincidently, this is your right,. . . to not vote or support a candidate. . . .as perscribed by said system and fought for by many heroic men and women over the years.

    Take health care, for instance. Your example is a great thing that the church could broaden and help more and more people. But, on it’s best day. . a grassroots effort like that would leave many more than 15 million people “uninsured”. It’s just not feasible in a country of our size.

    So, I respect your views and your services that you participate in. But it is not an alternative to political involvement and yes. . . involvement in some “systems” that we don’t like in a country of our size.

    The organizations and emphases you mentioned are all good. But, they don’t attempt to solve the problems they’re involved in, on a large scale. (admittedly government doesn’t completely “solve” them either. . but government does operate on a larger scale)

    I think Bono helps us all here by using the systems that we have in place for good. Only Bush can give 15 billion dollars to Africa, (and hope to double it). That’s the institution you would have to use to execute a plan like that. . . .the government. So, you use the government for that.

    Let’s not overstate the eminent nature of the kingdom. The kingdom is “already but not yet”. We ARE still “stuck” here as you say,. . .and we have work to do.

    I can tell you know that by your examples. It’s a “both/and” involvement in my opinion.


  4. Scott,

    I have just discovered your excellent blog which addresses a fundamental question that has stayed with me for some time now…Can Christianity and the state have an ethical working relationship?

    I tend to think that it cannot and the Founders of our Constitutional Republic apparently didn’t think so either.(America is not a democracy…which the Founders along with Plato rejected as one of the most evil forms of government).

    And so they wrote in the First Amendment to the US Constitution that…”Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

    Yet under Title 26 of the US Code (The Internal Revenue Code)Sec. 501(c)(3) Congress prohibits ministers,and others,from speaking publicly on moral issues…such as abortion…or publicly endorsing political candidates sympathetic to Christian morality…under pain of losing their tax-exempt status.

    At the state level…the California Court of Appeals for the ninth circuit just ruled that parents cannot home school their children (which many do for religious reasons)unless the children are taught…not by their parents…but by an agent of the state…a state approved licensed teacher. If the state approved teacher does not operate according to state requirements and values…which may contradict a family’s religious values…the license can be revoked.

    Yet there is nothing in the US Constitution which empowers government to force its education syllabus on children. Under the Ninth Amendment to the US Constitution…any function or right that is not given to the government, such as parents’ rights to raise their children, is retained by the People. And a state constitution cannot be repugnant to the Constitution for the United States.

    Government interferes in the true practice of religion not only through Congress’s statutes…but via the US Supreme Court which decides, without a syllable of authority from the US Constitution…whether a creche may be erected on a village green or not…or whether the Ten Commandments may be displayed in public buildings. (Such displays do not violate the US Constitution because they are neither promoted nor prohibited by Congress, either of which would violate the First Amendment).

    The First Amendment says in plain English that the government cannot interfere in religion. Nowhere does the Constitution prohibit religion from interfering in the policies and activities of government.

    The term “A wall of separation between Church and State” appears nowhere in the Constitution. It was a phrase used once by Thomas Jefferson in a private letter to a minister.

    But by using Jefferson’s private language…as if it were part of the law of the land…the legislature, the executive and the judiciary have constructed a wall of separation with a door that is locked on the people’s side…so they cannot use religious influence on government…but opens on government’s side so that government may regulate and even prohibit the practice of religion. The door has been turned around. The US Constitution installed the door with the lock on the government’s side…and threw away the key.

    The Founders wrote a Constitution that created a limited role for government with particular emphasis on its non-interference in religion. The Founders have been ignored by both the government and by the People.

    And this is the basis for my current belief that Christianity must first free itself of government interference in its ethical and moral practices before specific questions of how Christianity would become a force in education, health and politics can be addressed.

    This freedom will not come through the policies of a Bill and Hillary or a John or an Obama. When these people must accept hundreds of millions of dollars from interested parties just to get elected…as a practical and a political matter when they are elected they must represent the values and agendas of their benefactors.

    If religion seized back its Constitutional right to influence government we might well have different candidates promoting policies that respect and reflect Christian ethics and morals.


  5. In the interest of equality, I have to mention the Aaron and his wife are also adopting…..and they need money so give it to them.

  6. Scott Lenger / August 5, 2008 /

    @Tony, is this endorsement sufficient enough to qualify as an endorsement?

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Hi, my name is Scott and I design websites. You can see some of them by visiting my portfolio. When I have the time (which is seldom these days) I like to blog about Christianity, especially theology/ethics. If you want to know more you can read my about page or follow me on Twitter.


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