Opinions on faith and life

Half The Bible

2011-02-28

I think the root of many of our internal debates as Christians is a tendency to quote only half the pertinent verses on a given topic. For example, a while back I wrote about capitalism and the examples in scripture that show us what God thinks about the concept of personal property. Note also in that article that scripture draws a line between the truly needy and those who refuse to work but expect to be fed. But what happens at the national level? What about patriotism or immigration?

I see little difference between the two. For example, I am a homeowner. My husband and I bought a parcel of land with a house on it. We pay the mortgage, the utilities, the taxes, repairs, and supply it with furniture, food, and all that goes with suburban living in today’s America. Each of our neighbors does the same for their own properties, and none of us has rights to each other’s properties. We understand that the size and quality of one’s home varies with people as individuals, recognizing that some people put more importance on house size or landscaping than others, as they can afford it; we all have different priorities and incomes. It would be inconceivable for any of us to walk into a neighbor’s house, demand they repaint the walls and replace the furniture, and feed us for life. It’s all about boundaries and personal responsibility.

Now let’s take that to the level of nations. Suddenly, in spite of the previous paragraph’s points about what we all hold to be reasonable, all the principles are thrown out the window when we talk about national laws. Take the current debate over illegal aliens for example. Well-meaning Christians will cite scriptures about caring for “aliens” (e.g. Num. 15:15) as if legal immigrants who want to assimilate and become productive citizens are the same as those who sneak into our country and demand the taxpayers support them. What is the “Christian response” to such a thing? Remembering that these are criminals, we should of course visit them in prison if they are arrested and share the gospel with them. But if we “aid and abet” criminals we are breaking the laws of our land. And since scripture commands us to be good citizens, not rebels (e.g. Titus 3:1-2), we should honor our nation’s sovereignty and its borders as we honor our own properties. In spite of Rome having been oppressive and evil, no NT writers nor Jesus Himself encouraged anyone to rebel against it; we are not to work against the country in which we live (treason is not a fruit of the Spirit!) but to pray that we will live in peace (1 Tim. 2:2).

This stems from a general and vague opinion among many believers that Christians are supposed to be doormats, always “turning the other cheek” even if it means failing to defend ourselves and our families, friends, and neighbors--- our fellow citizens. They may agree that parents are still being “Christlike” if they shoot an intruder who attempted to harm their children, but somehow this becomes sinful if it involves millions of people, as if principles depend on numbers. And in this case, it’s really absurd: it’s okay to defend one person, but not millions; it’s okay for us to defend our own personal property but not for the nation to protect its borders. The alleged rationale is that the nation is evil or gained its borders through sinful means. But again I “appeal to Caesar”: why didn’t Jesus or the apostles teach rebellion against such an evil, warring, pagan government? Why were believers told instead to pray for the leaders of such evil entities?

I think the answers to those questions are found when we realize that we are not God and not the Judge of Nations. If we were all to justify defying our national laws on the basis of the moral character or history of the country in which we live, there would be no place on earth where a Christian could be a law-abiding citizen. This is not at all to say we shouldn’t “obey God rather than people” when the laws would force us to deny the faith or violate our conscience. But if an individual believer cannot abide by the law of the nation in which they are citizens, they should move to a country whose laws do not violate them--- if such a place can be found on the earth. Isn’t it possible that God does not hold us accountable for how a government spends our money or whether it declares war? There were active Roman soldiers among believers in NT times, yet not one instance where such were reprimanded or felt that they could not continue to serve in the military.

Many soldiers have said that in the heat of battle, it isn’t government they fight for, but their buddies and their families back home. Love of country doesn’t have to mean love of every single thing the government does but simply love for one’s neighbors--- a very clear and indisputable Christian principle. If we love our neighbors we will protect them, to the best of our ability, from criminal intent just as much as we would protect them from natural disaster. To let criminals or hostile nations invade one’s country with the excuse that it isn’t “loving” to oppose them is to sacrifice our own friends and families on the altar of our sensitivities. If we wouldn’t hide behind “turn the other cheek” while a murderer assaulted our children, then why would we do so when the number of victims reaches into the thousands or more? Would God not see this as a much greater sin (1 Tim. 5:8)?

For all its faults, the USA has afforded the Christian community the longest-lasting peace it has ever known. I think it’s the height of ingratitude to God to bite the hand that has fed us. Of course we, as a Republic, need to keep the government accountable, and it is our failure to do so which has allowed it to crumble. We as Christians lost our collective “salt” a long time ago, yet somehow we think it’s the fault of our ancestors or resistance to illegal alien invasions that we have lost the blessing of God here. But between the extremes of “my country right or wrong” and “my country I hate and betray”, surely we Christians can start considering the whole counsel of God instead of bits and pieces before we go pronouncing judgment on other believers who aren’t behaving as we decree. We must show both the love of God and the holiness of God, because He will bring either salvation or judgment to us all.