BY: John Frame
I try to base all my ideas, not only about theology, but about everything else, on the Scriptures. That includes politics. If I am to do “all [things] to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31), that surely includes my voting behavior and my other efforts to improve the government of my country.
In theology, I typically express the uniqueness of my Christian position by sharply rejecting all the other views. I argue in my books that they are all based on autonomous human thought and are therefore both rationalistic and irrationalistic. As such, they all fall to dust, signifying nothing.
So in the same way I would like to believe that my political views are equally far removed from all the popular secular positions: a distinct “third way,” beyond left and right. Today many evangelicals, especially young ones, are trying to escape from the yoke of political conservatism that has dominated evangelicalism since the days of the Moral Majority in the 1970s. They say such things as “God is not a Republican.” They are trying to be radical Christians, separate from the fashionable alternatives. For that impulse I have considerable sympathy. Theoretically, I, too, want to develop a political position distinct from the cultural evangelicalism of recent generations.
I confess, however, that practically I have not attained such a position. First, I do have to do justice to common grace. Common grace is the traditional name in Reformed theology for the blessings that God gives to people short of salvation. By common grace, unbelievers often do good things for society, and I think those good things sometimes include good ideas. So Christians should not get into the sort of mood in which they disagree with unbelievers about every little thing.
Second, many political debates do not leave room for a third alternative. Typically we have to choose between two candidates, or two parties, or we have to vote “yes” or “no” on a proposition or bill. Often neither alternative represents an ideal Christian choice, but often one alternative is distinctly better than the other, so that the Christian would be wise to be co-belligerent with one party or other.
These two principles imply that Christians will sometimes share common ground of a sort with non-Christians on some political issues.
It is not as if these considerations were unique to Christian conservatives. Christians on the political left often complain that the Bible should not be captive to the Republican Party, but their adherence to the Democrats is nothing much more than a mirror image. I honestly wish there were a third position that was truly Christian and truly distinct from the left and the right. If there were, I would join that movement immediately.
Occasionally someone will claim that there is such a position. The disciples of Herman Dooyeweerd said a lot about distinctly Christian politics a few decades ago; but although they spoke much of creation, fall, and redemption, their actual policies were not particularly distinctive. Some were very conservative (Hendrik Van Riessen), others liberal (Bob Goudzewaard). The disciples of Rousas Rushdoony claimed to have developed a political theory based on the law of Moses, but in practice their positions (except for a few that were considered peculiar) were about the same as traditional American conservatism.
It may be that as of now we do not have good theological insight into what the Bible requires in our political life. Perhaps later generations will improve the church’s vision in this area. But some political decisions must be made now. In William James’s terms, they are “forced” and “momentous.” For example, at present in America there is a national debate on whether the nation’s healthcare should be managed by the federal government or not. In the upcoming elections, we must choose who will guide us most wisely on that and other issues.
My own process of deciding leads to the conclusion that of the two positions commonly argued in America today, political conservatism and liberalism, the former is far more congenial to Christian thinking. Let me list some reasons.
First, and perhaps foremost, conservatives do not generally defend abortion; liberals do. It is becoming more and more obvious to conscientious people that unborn life is human life. There is no time from conception to birth at which a nonperson becomes a person. That agrees with many representations of Scripture, such as Exodus 21:22-24; Psalm 139:13-16; and Luke 1:39-44. This fact implies that the tsunami of abortions (55 million!) performed in the last forty years or so of legalization is nothing less than a holocaust, a holocaust far worse than that perpetrated by Hitler.
Liberals not only condone these abortions, but also do everything they can to avoid any kind of restrictions on them. Abortion has become a central plank in modern liberal feminism, so that protection of this right transcends every other consideration. Liberals commonly oppose parental consent, any restriction on late-term abortions, even the preservation of babies born alive in botched abortions.
Generally I oppose “single-issue” voting, but I do not see how any Christian can vote for a candidate who condones this situation.
Second, conservatives have a decent respect for Christianity (as well as for other religions). Liberals, on the contrary, seek to erase all influence of religion from the public square. That includes symbols such as crosses in military cemeteries, plaques stating the Ten Commandments, and devotional exercises in public schools. Military chaplains are told that they may not pray in the name of Jesus, and so on. This is based on a theory that the separation of church and state in the First Amendment forbids the government to support any religious expression.
Like Roe v. Wade, unfortunately, this interpretation has been upheld by the Supreme Court. But that is not what the First Amendment says. The amendment merely says that Congress may not pass a law establishing a national state church, like the Anglican Church in England. It does not even forbid the establishment of churches on the state level, for at the time there were many of these, and the First Amendment was not thought to threaten them. Indeed, a chief reason for this language was to keep the federal government from establishing a church to compete with these state churches.
The current trend is to establish secularism, arguably itself a religion – at least, a movement that has all the undesirable traits of religions. Liberals support this development. Conservatives, at least, are open to questioning it.
Third, the establishment of secularism has led to a diminishing of religious liberty. Zoning ordinances have been used to stop the building of churches and the conducting of home Bible studies. Catholic hospitals and charities have been forced to include contraception (even abortive pills) in their healthcare plans. The First Amendment protections of religion have been downgraded to “freedom of worship,” meaning that religious people can be free to worship in their own church buildings, but are not free to practice their convictions in the workplace. Christians cannot tolerate this. First Corinthians 10:31 commands us to do all things to the glory of God, and James defines religion not as what we do in the privacy of our church buildings, but especially in our care for orphans and widows (James 1:27). Conservatives generally support freedom of religion in this broad sense, while liberals oppose it.
Fourth, the Bible acknowledges that human beings are dead in sin, apart from the grace of God (Rom. 3:10-20; Eph. 2:1). So it gives the sword to the government to protect the people from violence coming from inside or outside the borders of the country (Rom. 13:1-7). Arguably, this is the only function of government in Scripture. But liberalism is deeply suspicious of the use of force to maintain peace, hoping that pleasant talk with our nation’s enemies will solve international conflicts. Conservatism prefers a strong stance, seeking to achieve “peace through strength.”
Fifth, the Bible does not assign to government the work of controlling the nation’s economy, or of meeting the needs of the poor. Those responsibilities belong especially to families and to the religious community. If there is an argument for government action in some cases, then it should be a last resort (see my DCL, 824-25). But the role of government in welfare today is huge, constituting a massive share of the federal budget. Liberals favor enlarging it. Conservatives favor cutting it back.
To me these are matters of principle, matters on which I believe Scripture speaks clearly and that would prevent me from ever voting for a liberal candidate. Other issues, however, are matters of wisdom. On these there is more room for disagreement. I could not absolutely prove my views from the Bible. But they do carry weight with me as I consider candidates and political alternatives: (1) Government debt, in my view, has greatly endangered our economy. I don’t believe that liberals have any idea what a great problem this is. (2) Liberals favor high taxes, especially on “the rich,” not just to pay for necessary activities of government, but to equalize the rich and the poor. Attempts to equalize incomes, in my judgment, cannot be successful, and they discourage investment and hiring, both of which are sorely needed in the current economy. Conservatives resist this development, and I support their resistance.
For the most part, my politics is the same as that expounded by Wayne Grudem in his Politics according to the Bible and the two books derived from that one, entitled Voting as a Christian. (vol.1, and vol.2) The views presented above, then, are not unique with me. Indeed, they are standard arguments in conservative political literature. What is remarkable to me is the coherence between these positions of political conservatism and the teachings of Scripture as I understand them. This coherence is not necessarily to be expected. Conservative politics is essentially a secular movement, and many of its leading thinkers have not been Christians. Some conservative politicians and writers have been distinctly annoyed with Christianity, to say the least – for example, the late Senator Barry Goldwater and the late pundit Christopher Hitchens. I would depart from the conservative movement in a moment if (and to the extent that) it could be shown contrary to Scripture. But as the political dialogue in America continues, and issue after issue comes up, it seems to me that the conservative position is more in line with Scripture than the alternative. Perhaps there are historical links that bring conservative politics together with the Christian faith. Perhaps the convergence is simply the providence of God, providing a way for his people to express their political voice.