06 September 2011

An Adventist asks: 'Is God in Politics?'

A free dispenser box for Signs of the Times, a Seventh-Day Adventist monthly, sits strategically outside the main entrance of the downtown Troy post office. The September issue's cover shows a smarmy looking character sporting a flag lapel pin -- albeit one with only stripes, not stars -- with one arm around a somewhat seedy looking priest who's wearing a "Vote" button and the other raised in a thumbs-up gesture. The smarmy guy is presumably some sort of politician, since the September cover story asks "Is God in Politics?" Inside, Loren Seibold offers a rapid summary of biblical political history, noting that God practised "hands-on" theocracy, albeit through human leaders like Moses, until the institution of a Hebrew monarchy. Since God anointed the first Hebrew kings, the idea of the divine right of kings "persisted for several millennia past the time when God was personally selecting and overseeing monarchs." Jesus proclaimed himself king of a realm "not of this world," forcing the question, "what should be our relationship to politics and earthly governments." Like many exegetes, Seibold looks to the episode of Caesar's Coin from the gospel of Mark for part of the answer. Explaining that what must be rendered unto God is "the people made in his image," Seibold states that "as long as cooperating with an earthly government doesn't interfere with your service to Him, there's no objection to paying taxes, favoring a candidate, or serving government in other ways."

Writing under the assumption that "Had Jesus felt that the best way to advance His message was to reform the government of Palestine, or even the Roman Empire itself, it was well within his power to do so," Seibold assumes that Jesus's mission was indifferent to politics. Noting the Apostle Paul's counsel that "Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities," Seibold observes that Paul "didn't set a very good example," but still considers it a good idea for Christians not to "pick fights with secular authorities," since that means time wasted that could be spent better spreading the Gospel. However, Paul's example "show[s] that we aren't to compromise our faith for the sake of getting along."

When might Christians be forced to choose between compromising their faith and fighting authority? Seibold is vague about this, steering clear of the hot-button subjects of concern to the Religious Right. Among the "tough choices" confronting believers, Seibold lists only "participation in a war" or observing the Sabbath at the risk of employment or education. For the most part, however, "Thanks to free democratic governments, many countries today let religious believers worship without interference." Readers might infer a quietist message here: as long as you're free to worship, don't make trouble and be grateful that you're not persecuted. Not that quietism is a bad thing; it's more likely what the Founders expected from the churches. Unfortunately, Seibold closes on a more disquieting note: "Interestingly, while some of the best governments on this earth are democracies, heaven will be a monarchy -- but with a perfect Monarch, One who knows how to make His subjects supremely happy." The only thing is, I don't know for whom this should be more disquieting: the secularists, who can dismiss it all as mythology, or the American right-wingers for whom this must look like the ultimate, eternal nightmare of the biggest government of them all.

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