What is a Conservative?
Let me qualify what I mean when I say I am a conservative. I am not a generic conservative. My conservatism is based on the foundational beliefs upon which American culture was established. Conservatism is, actually, not a category unto itself. Someone may identify themselves as conservative only in relationship to something else. Conservatism is the belief that something already established should be maintained (conserved).
America’s founders were Christians. And in the process of establishing the primary institutions of American society they specifically and purposefully used biblical principles as their guide. An American conservative, then, is one who believes those founding principles are right and ought to be maintained. So, I am a conservative in that I believe that the biblical principles which are the bedrock of America’s founding ought to be maintained as the guiding precepts of modern society.
The American System and Christian Stewardship
Based on that understanding, one of the important concepts that conservatives must grasp is that a Christian life is not confined to the “spiritual” work believers do related to organized religion. A foundational Christian belief is that human beings were created to fulfill the purpose of God, and every part of life is related to that purpose. Specifically, that purpose is to glorify God, share Christ with those who don’t know him, and promote God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Often the first two are considered spiritual work and the last one, well, maybe not so much. However, they are all spiritual and essential to promoting God’s purpose in the world.
The primary concept which conveys how Christians are to express this in life is called Christian stewardship. This is the belief that everything, in all of creation, belongs to God. As creator, he is the owner. God has provided, however, for human beings to be the managers over his created order. That management, though, must be done based on his purpose and according to his will. As such, human stewardship under God’s direction includes every part of life – environment, public policy, government operations, relationships, worship, vocation, and everything else.
When it comes to stewardship of the political process, the American system is unique. The founders established the nation to be a constitutional republic. In this system, there are no “rulers” whose job is to rule over the masses. Rather, the people are the rulers who have established laws which govern society. The direct managers of the system are individuals (politicians) who are elected as the people’s representatives to carry out their will in the arena of government. The job of the politicians, then, is to manage the governmental system according to the laws and under the watchful eye of its citizens. The duty of the citizenry is to be stewards (managers) over the politicians.
It is extremely important that Christian values dominate the public square. This is not so that Christianity (the religion) can have special status in the culture. Rather, it is because biblical principles are the ones which provide the possibility for all citizens to get a fair shake. It is specifically biblical principles which provide for individual freedom and freedom of conscience. The foundational principles of every other belief system will lead to an entirely different outcome.
As expressed in the Bible, the purpose of government is to promote societal order and provide justice for the people. When this purpose is fulfilled, an environment is maintained which allows the work of God to be done in the world. It does not force God on anyone, but simply creates an environment where individuals have the freedom to promote his work. By the way, it also provides the possibility for those with different beliefs to freely promote theirs, as well. Since the political realm is the place where public policy is established, and since human beings are called to be stewards over the political arena, Christians ought to be particularly active in managing how their elected officials carry out this aspect of the purpose of God in the world.
The Work of a Politician
There seems to be a great amount of misunderstanding among many Christians as to the purpose of the work of politicians. It seems they are often evaluated in the same way as a pastor. While this misunderstanding is quite understandable, it is no excuse for the misconception to be maintained.
The reason I say this misunderstanding is understandable is because it is natural to want to have a one-to-one correspondence between our personal beliefs and the beliefs of our elected representatives (How fantastic would that be?). Because of the power we place in the hands of our elected representatives, it is disconcerting when they make public policy decisions which don’t line up with the moral values of our Christian faith. Based on this state of affairs, many biblical Christians are hesitant to vote for a politician who is not specifically a biblical Christian.
When dealing with this issue, however, there are a couple of potential problems we run into. First, politicians are policy people, not pastors. We elect them to implement policies we agree with, not to lead our personal spiritual development. As such, when electing politicians, a key element we must look at is whether or not they will make policy decisions which are consistent with the values we hold as Christians – even if they themselves are not Christians. Unfortunately, we are sometimes faced with a choice where none of the candidates for office are biblical Christians (Perhaps more true believers should become active in the political arena to solve this problem). In a situation like that, it may be tempting for Christians to just sit out the elective process. But to not vote is, ultimately, to vote for the one who gets elected. At the very least we need to exercise our stewardship responsibilities to promote and vote for those who will most closely advocate for the moral stance we hold dear.
In some ways it is much like choosing a surgeon. When someone is going to cut on us, we specifically want the one who is the most competent. If a particular non-Christian surgeon is more competent than a Christian one, most of us would choose the one most competent in his field – even though, on one level, we would prefer to have a Christian.
The truth is, there have been many politicians in the past who have identified themselves as Christians but have actively promoted non-biblical morality in the public square. Even today we experience the negative effects of some of the horrible policies these so called “Christian” politicians have implemented. On the other side of the ledger, there are many cases where politicians have been strong to uphold our Christian values in the public square, even though they themselves followed after a different religious tradition. When it comes to enacting public policy, the most important factor for Christians to consider at election time is which person will best promote the biblical values we hold most dear. As much as I desire that the people I vote for be committed Christians with a biblical worldview, sometimes the best person in a particular situation may have a different identity because a biblical Christian is not in the mix.
What Are the Values I Want Protected and Why?
When it comes to making laws, as a Christian I want to see laws that conform to Christian morality to the highest degree possible. This is not because I believe that morality can be legislated into people’s lives. In fact, personal morality only comes about by personal decisions people make about their own lifestyles. Rather, the matter involved when we are electing our representatives relates to social morality (what is permissible in the public square) rather than personal morality – even though the two arenas cannot be completely divorced from one another. What we are looking for from politicians is for them to promote a social environment where freedom rules.
One of the primary purposes of government is to maintain order in the culture in a way which allows individuals to freely go about living their lives based on the dictates of their own consciences. It is specifically Christian values which promote this kind of individual freedom. Not everything we consider immoral can be made illegal, nor should it. But societal order should be based on Christian morality so that Christians have the freedom to go about life and promote the purpose of God in the world.
There are several important Christian values which must be promoted in law if this kind of order is to be maintained. The following list is not meant to be exhaustive, but does demonstrate the wide range of topics where government policy affects the ability of Christians to have the freedom to work toward accomplishing the purposes of God in the world.
∙ Life – God created life and the taking of innocent human life is contrary to Christian values. Topics which touch on this value include abortion, euthanasia, and doctor assisted suicide.
∙ Justice – God is just and has ordained that government is to be the primary instrument of justice in public arena. Topics which touch on this value include gun laws, prison policy, judicial philosophy, and slavery.
∙ Family – The nuclear family, based on the marriage of one man and one woman, is the most foundational institution of society. Topics which touch on this value include divorce, definition of marriage, and child welfare.
∙ Sexual morality – Proper sexual morality is integral to the maintenance of the family structure. Topics which touch on this value include sexual assault, child sexual predation, pornography and prostitution.
∙ Economic values – The rules and regulations which govern the economic well-being of the various institutions of a society determine the degree to which freedom and personal growth are available to the citizenry. Topics which touch on this value include welfare (and other systems of income redistribution), gambling, taxes, and business regulation.
∙ Stewardship – The way laws are set up to allow citizen involvement in the political process greatly affects the degree to which freedom and personal growth are available to the citizenry. Topics which touch on this value include voter laws, rights restoration, and election laws.
∙ Political integrity based on biblical morality – When the political process becomes debased by corrupt officials, the viability of a society is threatened. Topics which touch on this value include political ethics and government accountability.
∙ Individual freedom – The biblical approach to societal order is based on individual freedom, not collectivism. Topics which touch on this value include freedom of conscience, private property, and privacy issues.
What Should Christians Do?
As individuals who have been tasked by God with stewardship responsibilities related to public policy, Christians ought to be especially thoughtful and active in the political arena. The purpose is not to use the Christian faith to force compliance with biblical morality or coerce people to become Christians. Rather, it is to create an environment where Christians can freely go about doing the work of God in society. Every individual is responsible before God to be a faithful steward of the resources and responsibilities he has given. This is especially applicable to Christians. To fulfill our obligation to God, there are several matters Christians ought to consider.
1. Understand Stewardship – At the very least, individual Christians need to become clear on their personal Christian stewardship responsibilities. While the specific calling God gives to each individual is different, the responsibility of being a faithful steward of our citizenship applies to everyone.
2. Become Educated – There are numerous issues which affect the moral environment we live in. The issues listed above are just some of the matters Christians need to be concerned with. It is critical for believers to be aware of these issues and how our elected representatives are dealing with them.
3. Advocate for Christian Positions – It is not enough to simply be aware of the issues. We must also actively advocate for views which correspond with biblical morality. Elected representatives need to be contacted often to let them know we are interested in them promoting Christian values in the culture (not to be confused with coercing people to join the Christian religion).
4. Vote – One of the most important stewardship responsibilities of every Christian citizen is to vote. The people who enter elected office do so based on the actions of the citizenry. In our constitutional republic, this is a foundational element of our stewardship.
5. Direct Involvement in the Political Process – There are those God calls to become directly involved in the political process either as a profession or an avocation. This includes not only elected officials, but also those who act in other arenas which promote public policy. Individuals who receive this kind of calling from God ought to do all they can to actively promote laws which correspond with biblical morality.
6. Hold Politicians Accountable – Finally, Christians need to monitor the actions of their elected officials and hold their feet to the fire. This can be done by various types of direct communication, as well as by signing petitions, writing articles, attending hearings, and the like. And of course, the ultimate accountability tool is the vote.
Sadly, the large majority of Christians are just really sorry stewards – in all areas of life. This needs to be turned around in general terms, but especially in the political arena. We need national and local leaders who are committed to God and to biblical values. We need these leaders to promote a version of public policy which creates an environment where the people of God can freely promote the purpose of God. And especially, we need the people of God to be faithful stewards of our political process so that God’s kingdom can be expressed on earth as it is in heaven.
© 2013 Freddy Davis