Monday, May 26, 2014

Do I Pledge Allegiance?

My article for this week's newspapers answers a question about participation in patriotic acts and government service:

Q:  Are Christians allowed to serve in elected office or the military, salute or pledge allegiance to the flag, vote, and participate as jurors or parties to a court case; and what is the line where a Christian’s involvement with secular government becomes inappropriate?

Every so often throughout history, a few Christian leaders start to raise questions about whether a Christian may participate in secular government.  Under older systems of empire or monarchy, this largely meant employment as a government official or soldier. 

In those cases, the permissibility of Christian service hinged largely on whether the job included duties that would be sinful (such as ancient Roman tax collectors who made a living by cheating citizens) or whether it required idolatry (such as the requirement for Roman Soldiers to worship Caesar as a god). 

In our American experience, this question takes on a new twist, because we citizens are the government in many ways.  While elected officials write and enforce our laws, those officials are chosen by the people’s vote, and the people serve in applying and carrying out the law in such actions as jury service. 

Although the early Christians were often at odds with government as members of a forbidden religion and a despised minority, it was not government in and of itself which they were separating from, but rather the actions of a government that was hostile to their faith and demanded that they disobey both God’s law and their own conscience in order to be citizens in good standing. 

Understood within the boundary that the Christian’s first allegiance is to the Triune God, and that the Christian must “obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29), the Bible is actually quite positive toward government and other earthly authorities.  Beginning with the understanding that the Fourth Commandment, “Honor your father and mother,” extends beyond parents to include all who are in positions of authority, and reinforced by numerous New Testament commands to obey those in authority, the Bible intends that Christians would be honest and obedient citizens and be a blessing to their governing authorities and their nation.  St. Paul even writes that governing authorities have been “instituted by God.”  (Romans 13)

So Christians are permitted to salute their flag and pledge allegiance, not by idolatrously considering their government equal or superior to God, but acknowledging that God has instituted earthly authority and called them to respect and obey it.  Military service (as explained more fully in a previous column) is also an honorable vocation for Christians who desire to defend and protect their neighbors. 
Likewise, the courts have been instituted to defend the rights of citizens to their safety, reputation, and property, and Christians may certainly use them, when necessary to prosecute crimes or settle disputes over property.  When Paul criticizes the Corinthians (ch. 5) for their lawsuits against one another, he does not do so because they made use of secular courts, but because they were doing harm to the reputation of the Church by airing grievances between fellow believers in public rather than settling them amongst themselves within the congregation. 

Finally, voting and public office are certainly appropriate pursuits for Christians.  It would be easier to say that one is sinning by refusing to participate in these functions rather than by exercising the privilege to do so.  In a government where the people themselves set the direction of policy and choose who will lead, what better way for a Christian to serve his fellow citizens than by voting for honorable public servants and advocating for moral and beneficial laws? 

The only limitation that a Christian faces in their participation is that they may not give the government higher honor than God or disobey God’s revealed law in order to obey the government’s policy or statutes.  Beyond this, the Christian is free honor his government and its flag and privileged to exercise his faith by honorable service to his neighbors. 

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