Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.
Questions on Christians and Politics
November 9, 2012
By Stephanie Summers
Over the past few days, friends, colleagues, and commentators have crunched data in an effort to interpret the results of the recent election. Cries for the president or the Congress to now turn or return their attention to the myriad of issues that were left in a state of suspended animation prior to the final few weeks of the campaign have been voluminous. We are no longer the nation so recently described by robo-calls, photographs on direct-mail pieces, and Super-PAC advertisements, but we are America, a nation facing many complex problems that need comprehensive solutions.
I’ve spent a fair bit of these past few days in many conversations where I’ve been asked the question, “So now what? What should we who follow Jesus do?”
It is of no small encouragement to me that the number of men, women, and institutions asking questions that are more than merely pragmatic are increasing in number. However, this kind of question drives me to reflect on how the Center for Public Justice must continue to educate Christians starting from a far more foundational question. I am convinced that the answer to this question actually holds the key to the more practical and immediate question.
Our Guideline for Political Community, the first in our series of Guidelines for Government and Citizenship, begins by affirming our inquiry about political community, when done in such a manner that it spans the great distance between foundational principles and practical application. Because “The political community – government accountable to citizens, and citizens under government – constitutes one of the most important institutions of contemporary life,” questions about the nature, not only the practicalities, of political community are indeed questions well-worth asking.
So what is the whole political enterprise made for? And in answering that, then what does that mean for what we must do?
First, humans are made to build a just political community. Our Guideline orients us towards the nature of political community itself. Rather than political community existing primarily for the restraining of sin or because free individuals devised a structure to ensure maximum protection of our stuff, we assert, “Humans have the capacity to build political communities because God created us with this capacity.” And because we were made by God with this capacity, “We therefore have the responsibility to create the organized institutional means of upholding and enforcing justice for all.”
Second, we must live within the mutual obligation of citizens and public officials, where both are accountable to God. Our Guideline references the “covenantal character” of this relationship, pointing to the ways in which we as humans “bear responsibility to one another as creatures called to heed God’s standards of justice, love, and good stewardship.”
Third, we must champion the limited, but very important role of government in constructing the political community. Our Guideline identifies that “rather than trying to direct the exercise of all responsibilities and to satisfy all needs” government bears the responsibility “to recognize and protect by law the independent, nonpolitical responsibilities that belong to the people.” Government has a responsibility to articulate in law the protection of nongovernmental organizations and responsibilities, and citizens have a responsibility to exhort government to fulfill this task.
Fourth, we must promote the full recognition and protection of institutions and organizations, not only individuals. It is not sufficient for government to only protect individual rights, while merely giving a nod to the many institutional roles and corresponding responsibilities humans bear that fall under the broad category of civil society, such as families, churches, businesses, and the like. The diversity of our society demands careful public-legal protection of institutions.
Finally, we must recognize that the political community should not be fashioned as a community of faith, yet religious freedom must be protected. Jim Skillen penned an early implication of the Guideline to illustrate the point that this goes not only for the Christian faith, but also for general civil-religious faith as well as secularist faith, saying, “Rather, our republic should be constituted as a community of citizens that does not discriminate against anyone for reasons of faith. Consequently, all citizens should have equal access to and equal rights in the political community, regardless of faith – just as they should be so treated regardless of their skin color, gender, ethnicity, and social status. Christian efforts to promote a just society must therefore also include the aim to protect the religious freedom and other civil rights of all citizens – not only in their worship communities, but also in education, welfare services, and more.”
The calling on citizens and government, as articulated here, is broad, challenging, and ill-suited to the reductionist messages that populate campaign cycles. My hope is that we who follow Jesus now take up this calling in all its glorious complexity.
-Stephanie Summers is the CEO of the Center for Public Justice
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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”