Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Politics of Faith, Part 2

by Jojo Ruba

Last week, I examined the issue of Christian participation in politics, particularly in light of criticism from Christians like Pastor John MacArthur who are also doing their best to be biblically faithful.

I pointed out that many critics of Christians in politics often do so using straw man arguments: for example, creating a false dichotomy between evangelism and political behaviour. They don't seem to understand that no one is saying political engagement "saves" souls. We are saying that government can make it easier to share truth.

Worse, they don't even comprehend the meaning of "politics." MacArthur's book, Why Government Can't Save You,[i] seems based exclusively on a reaction to American politics and has little to do with the political persecution of Christians in China, Cuba and North Korea, among dozens of other places around the world. This myopia ignores the fact that democratic countries, especially in North America, were often built by Christians who wanted to protect their religious liberties. A country where there are free speech rights and religious liberties wouldn't censor evangelism or ban Bibles! Moreover, the argument ignores the fact that in democracies, citizens are responsible for laws, a privilege most Christians throughout history have not shared. If we want to respect our government, then we need to recognize that the Constitution tells us we are the government. In other words, Christians, just like all Canadians, are already involved in politics just by living here.

When Should Christians Participate?

Another problem with those who argue that faith and politics don't mix is that they don't have a proper understanding of the Christian worldview. If we believe that God is sovereign over every aspect of our lives, then we believe God is also sovereign over our governments.

[Parliament Hill from the Ottawa River]Unfortunately, most Canadians today would think that statement is theocratic. They view Christian political activism as a way to "impose" our religion on others. Ironically, John MacArthur makes the same mistake in his book. That fear is silly.

The vast majority of Christians throughout history have never forced their faith on others through the law. Why? Because we don't believe anyone who converts through the sword is likely a Christian! It's the reason why we are called "evangelical" Christians: we focus on evangelizing rather than converting non-believers by force.

MacArthur suggests that when we create laws that govern moral behaviour, we are expecting non-Christians to act like Christians. But again, this view ignores basic truths. Government already forces moral behaviour on its citizens! If a government is good, it will force its citizens to behave in a good way. I use the word "force" because government uses sticks as well as carrots to alter its citizens' behaviour. That's why rapists go to jail or why speed limits are enforced. Good laws would protect the innocent, prevent theft, and allow for basic rights, such as the right to work for one's wages. But all these basic principles are biblical ones! In other words, government can't force people to become believers or force their ideology on its citizens, but when it is good, it will often make people comply with biblically compatible behaviour.

How Should Christians Approach Politics?

That's why we can insist that our governments be good governments. These governments should protect fundamental freedoms like freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of association; not because they save people, but because they are God-given. A good government would respect God-given rights and not take them away.

Even the Apostle Paul demanded his political rights when he was thrown in jail without a trial. As a Roman citizen, the government guaranteed his right to see a judge, something the Macedonian magistrates feared when they unjustly punished him.[ii] So even in a non-democratic country like Rome, Paul insisted that his political rights be protected. That doesn't sound like someone saying we shouldn't care or shouldn't concern ourselves with the political process. Rather, if we understand Scripture, it's clear we can't abandon political activism. Some believers are actually called to serve the public and serve God as politicians—see Daniel or Nehemiah, Esther or King David. That's even more true in a democratic state. All of us in a democratic state are responsible for our government and so we need to learn how to govern properly.

So how do we approach politics without becoming theocrats? Our organization isn't a political one, but we do want to be able to provide some clear thinking on how Christians should approach issues, including our role in the political arena. I suggest three questions we should ask that provide guidelines for what we can do politically:

  1. Is it good? In other words, is the political goal we are pursuing or activity we want to do morally good? Does it help people? Is it compatible with Scripture? As Christians, our political activity should be restricted to advocating for, and acting in accordance with, what the Bible teaches. Of course some subjects are more morally neutral—should we spend money on a bridge or a school, for example. But even those decisions should be made with godly wisdom about how we should spend our money.
  2. Is it proper? As Christians, we recognize that societal problems should be solved using different tools. Even the Old Testament laws had a division of roles between the different tribes and between Moses and the elders. In the same way, federal, provincial, and municipal governments have different roles to play. We also need to accept that some problems simply can't be solved by government. Families, private businesses, and churches are also responsible for finding solutions to our problems. A proper Christian understanding of our political responsibility will always ask who can best solve the problem, if the problem can be solved by us at all.
  3. Is it just? In a theocratic state, such as that of the Old Testament Jews, where everyone is supposed to believe in the same God, laws could be made that reinforced both social order and religious beliefs. But since we don't live in a theocratic state, we can't expect everyone to live according to Christian rules. C. S. Lewis explores this when he writes about why Christians shouldn't use the law to ban divorce, even if it is a practice we find biblically unacceptable.[iii]

But that doesn't mean we can't advocate for laws that benefit every member of our society. Laws against spousal abuse, rape, and murder are also found in the Old Testament theocratic laws, yet no one questions that we should have these laws in our own democracies. When we advocate for laws, then, we need to do so not to simply alter someone's behaviour or as a way to "impose" our morality on others. Rather, we need to advocate for pro-life laws or laws against same-sex marriage because we care for our neighbours. We aren't trying to impose Christian laws on others, but laws that will benefit the entire society.

Rendering to God

When broaching the topic of politics and faith, many often bring up the story of the Pharisees trying to trap Jesus by asking if the Jews should pay taxes to the Romans. Jesus responds by saying render to Caesar the things that belong to Caesar to and to God the things that are of God.[iv] Advocates of no political action claim Jesus is dividing the roles of the church and the secular state. Therefore, Christians should not be involved in politics. I disagree. The passage makes clear that even as we should follow human laws, we do so because we recognize God's sovereignty first. We follow human laws because we first follow God. After all, doesn't God own everything, and so when we render to God what is God's, wouldn't that include our government?


[i] John MacArthur, Why Government Can't Save You: An Alternative to Political Activism (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishing, 2000).

[ii] Acts 16.

[iii] Qtd. in Jake Meador, "Why C. S. Lewis Is Wrong on Marriage," Mere Orthodoxy, October 9, 2012, accessed October 30, 2014, http://mereorthodoxy.com/why-c-s-lewis-is-wrong-on-marriage/.

[iv] Matt. 22:18-22.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Politics of Faith

by Jojo Ruba

When Gordon Dirks became Alberta's new education minister, critics instantly attacked him as unqualified. They weren't referring to his experience as an elected provincial representative or the chairman of the Calgary Board of Education. Clearly, he had the right work experience. Instead, many critics said he was unqualified because Dirks was a pastor at Centre Street Church, a church that supports traditional marriage.

Of course Christians aren't just attacked for their views on homosexuality (though it's the popular issue of the day—but more on that in another post). InterVarsity Christian Fellowship has lost official status in California universities (and the funding that goes with it) because the student clubs make their leaders sign a statement affirming they have a Christian faith.[i] Christian prayer is banned from many high schools and public events in the US.[ii] A Nova Scotia public school banned a student's t-shirt because it was not inclusive when it stated, "Life is wasted without Jesus."[iii]

Despite the growing number of political attacks, many Christians still argue we shouldn't be engaged in politics. Some say that we shouldn't impose our Christian views in the political arena. Others say politics is just a distraction from our work as evangelists since government can't save anyone anyway. That was actually the title of a book by well-known Christian pastor, John MacArthur. But these examples show that Christians are already involved in politics merely by holding onto a faith the culture rejects, and that when evil happens, we keep silent at our peril.

What is Politics?

Part of the reason why Christians can argue that we shouldn't participate in the political process is that they don't seem to understand what the word "politics" actually means. The Merriam-Webster dictionary definition says this:

1 a : the art or science of government. b : the art or science concerned with guiding or influencing governmental policy. c : the art or science concerned with winning and holding control over a government.

When I worked on my Master's degree in Political Science, one of the common debates we had was whether our program was actually a "science." Science implies an objective way to look at a topic and politics was the direct opposite: it was all about debating issues based on our subjective opinions.

MacArthur argues that focusing on these political debates actually hinders evangelism. Though he concedes some politics is necessary, such as voting, he says focusing on it antagonizes the people we are supposed to evangelize:

During the past twenty-five years, well-meaning Christians have founded a number of evangelical activist Christian organizations . . . in an ill-conceived effort to counteract the secular undermining of American culture. . . . Sadly these believers have often displayed mean-spirited attitudes and utilized the same kind of worldly tactics as their unbelieving opponents.[iv]

But not only is this a reaction to mostly American politics, it clearly is a strawman. Just because you debate a person on an issue, that doesn't mean you have to debate that person in a negative way. It's not debate that is the problem, it's how you debate that can be antagonistic. For example, I have been in countless debates, including formal abortion debates with professors and abortion advocates, where I've been thanked for sharing my views. A professor at the University of Calgary, after discussing abortion with me, even said, "I really don't agree with you but you make a lot of sense. Thanks for being here to debate with me."

Besides, Jesus clearly spent a lot of time publicly debating Pharisees, even antagonizing them by calling them "whitewashed tombs"[v] and "children of the Devil."[vi] And they debated all kinds of issues, including the proper role of the government![vii]

But that's why politics is considered a science. These debates focus on what is the right way a government should act towards its citizens. Though it pursues this goal by relying on the insights and experience of ordinary people, the goal itself is still objective—there is a right and wrong way for government to act.

What is the Proper Role of Government?

People have debated the proper role of government ever since we began to live together. Every large group of people needs to coordinate itself to determine how to share resources, where to find the best shelter, and how best to defend itself.

As societies grow, government's role becomes more complicated and widespread. For example the very book that MacArthur writes to argue against political activism is governed by politics. His ideas are protected because the US has free-speech laws. Federal regulations govern the kind of paper or printing press the book company uses. Local governments even impose various taxes on MacArthur's book sales. In other words, MacArthur is relying on certain political realities to allow his book to reach the public.

But these realities would not exist if political activism hadn't taken place. If the American Revolution didn't happen, the American Bill of Rights wouldn't exist to protect freedom of speech. If political activists didn't push for safety rules, printing shops could use dangerous chemicals or have unsafe work practices to print their books. If citizens didn't complain about their taxes, governments could impose such hefty taxes that items, such as books, could not be affordable to the general public.

All of this underlines a basic truth: in a democratic country, we're the government! We're responsible for electing the people who make our laws. That means whether we participate in the political process directly or not, we're responsible for the laws.

MacArthur and other critics of political activism often argue that because Jesus and His disciples didn't do any political lobbying, we should not do so either. But Jesus and most Christians throughout history did not live in a democratic country. They were not responsible for the laws of the land. Jesus didn't speak out against slavery or child abuse as part of a political platform, because that tool wasn't available for Him!

That being said, He clearly articulated a proper role of government: that government was there to serve humanity as humanity served God, not the other way around. The disciples lived that way too, because in every town they visited in Acts, they were confronted with government officials who tried to censor their gospel proclamation. Instead, they responded that they had to obey God's laws more than human laws.

And that's why it's so puzzling for MacArthur to argue that "the ideal human government can ultimately do nothing to advance God's kingdom."[viii]

I think Christians in North Korea or ISIS-controlled Iraq would strongly disagree. When a country that has laws protecting religious freedom and freedom of speech, Christians have more of an ability to share the gospel! When people aren't beheaded or thrown in jail for sharing a Bible, more people will read the Bible!

Western Christians were always part of the discussion of the proper role of government. We've wanted to ensure that we had a platform to speak biblical truth to others. MacArthur wrongly juxtaposes "politics" and "evangelism," because no Christian suggests that government action takes the place of Christian evangelism. Rather, government policy can protect Christian witness.

In fact, that is the history of democracy in North America. Both Canada and the US benefited from missionaries who came to Canada and blazed trails, started communities, and interacted with the Aboriginal groups. Christians helped lead political parties, brought in legislation such as universal healthcare and fought for basic rights such as the abolition of slavery. All of this happened because Christians stayed politically connected.

Our national anthem actually contains a political statement that Christians can agree with when it says, "God keep our land glorious and free."


[i] Josh Dulaney, "Cal State University Strips Official Status from InterVarsity Christian Fellowship," ContraCostaTimes.com, accessed October 23, 2014, http://www.contracostatimes.com/california/ci_26623744/cal-state-university-strips-official-status-from-intervarsity.

[ii] Samuel Smith, "Tennessee High School Cheerleaders Find a Way to Sidestep Ban Against Public Pregame Prayers; Lead Entire Stadium in Lord's Prayer," The Christian Post, September 22, 2014, accessed October 23, 2014, http://www.christianpost.com/news/tennessee-high-school-cheerleaders-find-a-way-to-sidestep-ban-against-public-pregame-prayers-lead-entire-stadium-in-lords-prayer-126831/.

[iii] "N.S. student suspended for wearing pro-Jesus T-shirt," CTV News, May 3, 2012, accessed October 23, 2014, http://www.ctvnews.ca/n-s-student-suspended-for-wearing-pro-jesus-t-shirt-1.804824.

[iv] John MacArthur, Why Government Can't Save You: An Alternative to Political Activism (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishing, 2000), 5.

[v] Matthew 13:27.

[vi] John 8:44.

[vii] Matthew 5, Matthew 12, Matthew 19, Matthew 22, Matthew 23, Mark 2, Mark 3, Luke 6, Luke 10, Luke 14, Luke 20:22, John 8:17.

[viii] MacArthur, Why Government Can't Save You, 7.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Definition(s) of Marriage

By Justin Wishart

Recently, a District Court Judge in Australia, Garry Neilson, made some comments that would have been unthinkable in the recent past. He speculated that in the near future, "a jury might find nothing untoward in the advance of a brother towards his sister once she had sexually matured, had sexual relationships with other men and was now 'available.'"[i] Many traditional Christians are bewildered and often at a loss for a response. Just as our society is in the process of changing our understanding of sexuality, so are we also revolutionizing our definition of marriage. We now have same-sex marriages, and many in the intellectual elite now ponder allowing incest and polygamy as marriage options. It seems as if our understanding of marriage is experiencing a paradigm shift.

What is going on? How did we get here? In Sherif Girgis, Ryan Anderson, and Robert George's book What is Marriage? Man and Woman: a Defense,[ii] it is proposed that there are two basic understandings of marriage that are at war in our society. One is called the conjugal view and the other is the revisionist view. They persuasively argue that when society picks one of these understandings of marriage, there will be fundamental consequences.

One of the first points in the book is that there's something unique about marriage, which makes society interested in regulating this relationship. The authors provide a mind experiment to highlight what they mean:

Imagine a world in which the law set the terms of your ordinary friendships: You and a coworker could not strike up a friendship across cubicles without first getting the state's approval, which it could deny you for being too young or otherwise unqualified. Having formed a friendship, you could not end it without the state's permission. You could even be forced to pay for projects once pursued with estranged friends—until your death, and under threat of imprisonment.[iii]

When we apply these regulations to any other relationships we may have, it becomes clear that there is something about marriage that we recognize as very unique. How can the state feel justified in regulating this one type of relationship? It is here where we begin to see how vitally important definitions are. However, we must first give our definitions.

The conjugal view has been the traditional understanding of marriage for the vast majority of human history. It is the idea that a man and woman combine every aspect of their being so as to create a unified whole, with the apex being procreation.[iv] The revisionist view contends that marriage is essentially a union with the person for which you have the greatest affections, or at least pass a specific threshold of affection.

With the conjugal view, it becomes instantly clear why the state would have a vested interest in becoming involved in this type of relationship. The well-being of children is of great importance to any healthy state: well-balanced children generally produce well-balanced adults, and well-balanced adults generally produce better societies. However, it becomes much more difficult to understand why the state would have any interest in marriage if the revisionist view is adopted. Many strange paradoxes instantly form. What if two brothers live together and this is their strongest bond; is this marriage? What if today my present wife is the one for whom I have the strongest affections, yet next year it is my barber? Is it good for society to have marriages so temporal and fleeting?[v] This understanding makes marriage ambiguous, and one cannot really pinpoint why the state would be interested in regulating it.

What has been done here? It seems as if the conjugal view has as its foundation the understanding that relationships are of different types. A business partner[vi] is of a different type of relationship than one's best friend. Marriage is of another type than a student and professor. In opposition to this, the revisionist view has as its foundation the understanding that relationships are of different degrees. At least, it has this view for our personal relationships, of which marriage is one. However, when one starts really thinking about the degree at which a non-marriage becomes a marriage, it is very unclear where this line is. Why wouldn't this apply to polygamous unions? Why not incestuous unions? Reducing personal unions to degrees seems to make marriages difficult, or impossible, to objectively define.

Besides a loss of coherence for what marriage is, this redefinition has some repercussions to society as a whole. As society accepts this new novel definition, it will have an influence on the young people who grow up in it. Their lives will recapitulate what they have learned. Marriage will become more ambiguous and the situation will become more acute and entrenched.

Marriages under the conjugal view tend to allow for the stability in a marriage where the spouses can relationally grow. Lasting marriages tend to make people "healthier, happier, and wealthier."[vii] However, history has shown that as we adopt the revisionist view, the very concept that marriages should last becomes less important, or even nonsensical. As one falls "out of love" with his partner, there is little reason to stop him from looking elsewhere.

This situation most acutely effects children. With the high rate of divorce and remarriage, the child will be less likely to grow in a stable environment. Children who grow in stable households will experience greater:

Educational achievement: [higher] literacy and graduation rates
Emotional health: [lower] rates of anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and suicide
Familial and sexual development: strong sense of identity, timing of onset of puberty, [lower] rates of teen and out-of-wedlock pregnancy, and [lower] rates of sexual abuse
Child and adult behavior: [lower] rates of aggression, attention deficit disorder, delinquency, and incarceration[viii]

This, obviously, will have major consequences throughout society.

Girgis and company also make a well-documented case that it is the biological male-female parent partnership that provides the best environment for child rearing, as opposed to man-man or woman-woman partnerships.[ix] They quote W. Bradford Wilcox, who aptly summarizes their scientific case:

Let me now conclude our review of the social scientific literature on sex and parenting by spelling out what should be obvious to all. The best psychological, sociological, and biological research to date now suggests that—on average—men and women bring different gifts to the parenting enterprise, that children benefit for having parents with distinct parenting styles, and that family breakdown poses a serious threat to children and to the societies in which they live.[x]

Girgis summed up the conclusion of the large-scale New Family Structures Study, undertaken by the University of Texas at Austin, as follows: "[T]hose reared by their married biological parents were found to have fared better on dozens of indicators, and worse on none."[xi]

While I have only touched on the various arguments presented in this book, it should at least be clear that how one defines marriage will have profound consequences on society. If society accepts the revisionist view of marriage, then allowing the status of marraige for all sorts of relationships cannot seem to be prevented. This severely undermines the special status that marriage traditionally had. It becomes difficult to even understand what marriage really is, and the "institution of marriage" will continue to crumble. Marriage will be devalued.

Children raised in this environment will suffer as a whole and so will society. Thus, society has a vested interest in maintaining the conjugal view of marriage as it is devoid of many of these pitfalls. It gives marriage an understandable and obtainable definition. It also tends to encourage committed, monogamous relationships, particularly when society adopts and supports this view. Finally, this view provides the best environment for children to grow into productive members of society, which is of tremendous benefit to us all.


[i] Louise Hall, "Judge Compares Incest and Paedophilia to Past Attitudes Towards Homosexuality, Claiming They Might Not Be Taboo Anymore," The Sydney Morning Herald, July 9, 2014, accessed October 13, 2014, http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/judge-compares-incest-and-paedophilia-to-past-attitudes-towards-homosexuality-claiming-they-might-not-be-taboo-anymore-20140709-zt0v2.html.

[ii] Sherif Girgis, Ryan T. Anderson, and Robert P. George, What is Marriage? Man and Woman: a Defense (New York: Encounter Books, 2012).

[iii] Ibid., 15

[iv] This, of course, excludes homosexual marriage because procreation is not possible biologically.

[v] The book goes through many different variations to the revisionist view, such as adding the criteria of the relationship being "sexual" and/or "monogamous." Each additional criteria is shown to be arbitrary and suffering from unique ambiguities.

[vi] It is interesting to note that government also regulates business partners, because of the state's interest in keeping financial interests stable.

[vii] Girgis, Anderson, and George, What Is Marriage?, 8.

[viii] Ibid., 42 (italics in original)

[ix] Ibid., 60-61. The authors discuss the American Psychological Association's stance that there is no difference between solid heterosexual and homosexual parenting. They cite Loren Marks conclusions that the studies the APA used to reach their conclusion were drawn from "primarily . . . small convenience samples, [and] are insufficient to support a strong generalizable claim either way." They then cite many larger studies that all indicate that the evidence favours heterosexual parenting.

[x] Ibid., 59-60

[xi] Girgis, Anderson, and George, What Is Marriage?, 61.