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Thursday, February 17, 2022

The Moral Ramifications of Policy

In times past, this blog has presented a number of posts that underscore the fact that God and Jesus Christ intended for their people to be strangers/nomads/pilgrims on the earth. Christ repeatedly taught his disciples to look past this present age and encouraged them to strive to enter the Kingdom of God. Christ warned his followers not to antagonize or invite the scrutiny of this world's leaders. He also informed his disciples that they should NOT imitate human models of (and notions about) leadership. Likewise, Paul warned Christians to NOT become entangled in civilian affairs and repeated Christ's instructions that they conduct themselves in such a way as to NOT invite the attention and persecution of human governments. Hence, we see that the separateness and sanctification of God's people is a familiar theme in the Bible.   

Indeed, Scripture is full of stories and admonitions that underscore the dangers inherent in God's people getting too close to the human societies of this age. In the book of Genesis, we have the stories of the flood, the tower of Babel, the cities of the plain (Sodom and Gomorrah), and Egypt. The book of Exodus opens with God bringing his people out from under the oppressive hands of the Egyptians, and most of what follows concentrates on Israel's displacement/conquest of the many evil kingdoms which stood in the way of and/or then occupied the land which God had promised them. And, after the many dangers which they endured at the hands of the Canaanites and Philistines, we know that the Israelites demanded that Samuel appoint them a king. Moreover, any serious student of the Old Testament knows what evil flowed from their insistence that they be like all the other kingdoms of the earth! Likewise, we have the stories about what God's people suffered at the hands of the Assyrians, Babylonians and Persians. We also know that much of the Apocryphal writings from the period between the close of the Old and the opening of the New Testaments deal with the evils God's people endured at the hands of the Greeks. Finally, the New Testament opens with Judea in the hands of a wicked client-king of the Roman Empire and ends with an Apocalypse that explicitly warns Christians against worshipping and serving human governments (referred to figuratively as a Beast and Babylon).

Nevertheless, in spite of these often-repeated narratives about the dangers of this world's societies to God's people, there are a number of Christian ministers who insist on their right/duty to involve themselves in this world's politics. In the face of so much evidence to the contrary, it is reasonable to wonder about how this could possibly be justified by these folks. Most of them justify their involvement in secular politics by pointing out that Christians have a responsibility to help their fellow man, and that most policy has obvious moral ramifications. Now, while there is no disputing the fact that Christ and his disciples are repeatedly portrayed in Scripture as healing, helping and caring for others, this is ALWAYS portrayed as something that is done independently of any government personnel or agency! Likewise, we should also note that the Christian's obligation to love his neighbor is ALWAYS portrayed as an individual responsibility, or something that is fulfilled collectively within the context of the CHURCH. But what about the moral ramifications of policy?

While it is obviously true that most government policies have moral ramifications, it is NOT always immediately clear what the consequences/ramifications of some policy will be. Indeed, it is the unforeseen consequences of the decisions which humans make that inspired passages like "There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death." It is also what inspired Christ to tell his followers NOT to judge each other. Scripture teaches us that only God is omniscient - having the ability to see all ends - to truly evaluate the potential consequences of some choice/decision. Moreover, it is absurd to suggest that there is a "Christian" position on just about any issue or policy that we could name.

Take for instance, the wide diversity of Christian opinion on the subject of abortion. Some of us believe that life begins at conception, and that therapeutic abortions are consequently a violation of the commandment against murder. Those of us who hold this view usually reference a number of scriptures in support of our view (e.g., Exodus 20:13, Jeremiah 1:5, Psalm 139:13-16, Isaiah 49:1 and Psalm 127:3). However, it would be very inaccurate to suggest that this view is universal within the Christian Church. In fact, there are large numbers of Christians who believe that human life begins when we draw our first breath - when we are born. Like those of us on the other side of the issue, they cite a number of scriptures in support of their view (e.g., Genesis 2:7, 7:22, Exodus 21:22, Numbers 5:12-22 and Ecclesiastes 7:1). As Christians, in addition to considering the implications of differing convictions, we must also note the role that individual conscience plays in all issues of morality. Likewise, as with all other issues of this kind, there are a number of other moral issues which can and do arise when some policy choice is made. I'm thinking now of things like rape, incest, the life and health of the mother relative to the pregnancy or its termination, and the future health and well-being of the child that is to be born. Like it or not, all of these issues impinge on the morality of the policy being contemplated or implemented.

Moreover, we have just explored some of the differing Christian perspectives on the morality of abortion - What about the moral ramifications of a hundred other policies? If some politician or party espouses your position on abortion, what about their policy positions relative to other issues. Politicians, parties and governments adopt all kinds of policy positions that have moral ramifications. There are policies dealing with workplace safety, the purity of food and drugs, environmental quality, highway safety, trade and business, immigration, war and peace, etc. The decision to spend money on tanks, bridges and water treatment facilities all have moral implications. Policies surrounding the availability of food and housing for the poor and disadvantaged among us have moral ramifications. What if the politician or party which supports your position on abortion is opposed to your policy prescriptions in some of these other areas? What if you have determined that some of their other policy positions would result in significant harm to others or the deaths of millions of people? Does your agreement with them on abortion policy override the moral ramifications of their other policies?

Unfortunately, when we become partisans in these policy debates, Christians are often forced to compromise some or all of the moral principles which should underpin everything they do. Christians often end up supporting leaders and parties whose values are antithetical to the teachings of Jesus Christ simply because they espouse some policy or policies that we view as being consistent with a "Christian" agenda or outlook. Moreover, when we become advocates of a particular policy, we are knowingly or unwittingly making ourselves a part of the system that is implementing it. We are, in effect, assuming personal ownership of the policy and sharing in the responsibility for that policy's outcomes/consequences. Hence, I think that we are being extremely naive or willfully ignorant when we suggest that we can engage in these kinds of discussions and activities and not become a part of the system which we have been called to someday replace! It is certainly appropriate for Christians to speak about the broad moral principles outlined in Scripture and even talk about how those principles might apply to our modern circumstances. However, when we get into the weeds of these problems created by human systems influenced/inspired by Satan, we are not only in danger of making ourselves a part of that system - we also risk making ourselves responsible for outcomes that we may not have intended.

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