Monday, March 25, 2013

What is a Christian's Role in Government?

I live in an area that is predominantly Christian.  My town of about 7000 people has 18 churches in town, and there are a number of churches in nearby towns that people attend.  I would estimate that there is a high percentage of people here who attend church on Sunday (sometimes twice).

Because of that, our local government is obviously made up of churchgoers.

This makes it difficult for me, because if I disagree with them, as I do with a current situation, my first reaction is to consider them my "enemy", yet, in this close-knit Christian community, they are supposed to be my brothers in Christ, regardless of which church they attend.  I feel conflicted.

Leaders often have difficult decisions to make, and sometimes have to make unpopular ones.  However, leaders also need to use wisdom in making those decisions, and because the "golden rule" is not unique to Christianity, I would also hope that leaders would look out for what is best for people as a whole, to have a listening ear and a caring heart, and would treat them as they would want to be treated.  To do this requires that a leader search one's heart and ask if pride, power, and control is driving him, or if humility, a servant-leader mindset, and love for neighbor is driving him.

This is especially poignant now, during Holy Week, the week in which we are led to the cross.  I think of Paul's words to the Philippians:
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.  Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.  Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,  who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,  but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form,   he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death-- even death on a cross. --Philippians 2:3-8
It is this type of thinking that the Christian politician should have, I think.  Looking to the interests of others, especially of those who are weaker and powerless, is a way to look at whether or not a decision is right.  This type of attitude is not one of making laws because we want to be "Biblical", but rather, one that heeds Jesus' call to serve and follows Jesus' example in putting power and glory aside, even if the power and glory are deserved (and, perhaps, especially if the power and glory are deserved).  

It is wrong to have an undercurrent of fear of government.  I often expect that government at the national level doesn't really care about the people that it represents, because it is so far removed from the lives of everyday, average, ordinary citizens  But that is not something that I would expect at the local level of government, and yet, as I have conversations with people, the image that is forming is one of just that, and it saddens me.  People should not be afraid of retaliation if they speak out against their government.  People should be able to speak out against decisions with which they disagree and which directly affect them without fear of undeserved penalty.  And, if the undercurrent is fear, and the government is looked at as uncaring and desirous of power and control, what message does that send from a Christian perspective?

One of the best descriptions of loving one's neighbor comes from the classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird.  After witnessing some different events with people who are quite different from her (a boy who eats at her home and pours syrup all over his food, a filthy boy in her class who has head lice), her father has a talk with her, and tells her "if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you'll get along better with all kinds of folks.  You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view--...--until you climb into his skin and walk around in it." (page 30).

This lesson is one we all to often forget, and one that is of the utmost importance and should be practiced regularly.  Any leader making a decision should try to look at it from another's point of view.  It might mean talking to people who will be affected by the decision.  It might mean visiting their home and seeing what they will lose.  It might mean taking a bike ride with children to see if it will put them in danger.  It  means talking to real people with real lives and feelings and thoughts.  

I would urge all Christian politicians everywhere, as we focus on Holy Week, to think, to contemplate, to meditate on the willing sacrifice of Jesus on Good Friday and really ask yourself what Paul's description of it has to say about power and control.  Search your heart.  Search your soul.  And on Easter Sunday, as you sit in church, celebrating the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior, celebrating the new life that he offers to all, think of life in terms of the people whom you represent.  Think of helping to protect their lives, think of helping to enhance their lives, think of not taking away from their lives.  

I leave you with more words from Paul's letter to the Philippians:
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.  Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you. --Philippians 4:8-9


Sioux Center CRG said...

Why does this fear of our local government exist here? This is something we must all ask.

Kelly J Youngblood said...

I should also have said that even people who are not directly affected by a government's decision should also try to get in someone else's skin and walk around. It's easy when something affects us, because we generally think of ourselves first. But think of your friends, co-workers, fellow church-members who can be affected by an issue. Drive to their homes and businesses and visit them, and envision what their experience will be.

Brenda said...

I think it has a lot to do with the inter-connectedness of this town and the fact that the city leaders have not been challenged in elections for a long time. It produces this machine of power that people are scared to stand up to. Isn't that exactly why our country was founded? To insure that we are represented. Right now that is not happening and there is no incentive to make that happen when the general public comes across as apathetic to the process.

Kelly J Youngblood said...

It is SO easy to be apathetic. I know I usually am! To take part in something like this or stand up for something goes against my passive and non-confrontational nature! And even though this will affect me, it will affect others even more than me. I think that in general, no matter the situation, we all have to learn to look at things from how it affects others, not just ourselves. For the people who don't live near or drive in that area regularly, it might seem like it is not a big deal, but I would encourage them to spend some time thinking about the effects.