Saturday, October 07, 2006

What is the purpose of civil government?

From a forum I attended last night. There were four speakers. I really appreciated hearing Eric Williams, who spoke first, and was one of the main people behind the IRS complaint that was filed against two major churches that were practically endorsing Ken Blackwell. I'm hoping to write up some of what he said next.

There were also two other speakers, both Evangelicals. Everyone was supposed to give a 10 minutes opening statement. Lankford's statement was almost 20 minutes, so it's taking a long time to get through it. But I do think it's important to try to understand the motivation here. I've done a diary at Kos addressing Lankford's view of history, government, and why Evangelicals feel forced to respond to the events that are unfolding. In this post, though, I'm just including what he said is the role of civil government. Obviously, my view of "what the civil government's job is" is quite different from his.

Let me give you a little different way to think of politics and government. I support what is called Christian public policy, and a fair question is, "What the heck is that?" Now we have some people who claim that there is no such thing as Christian public policy. Christian public policy, in my understanding, is public policy that glorifies God, and advances the kingdom of God. Now, obviously, there's lots of leeway for interpreting what exactly that means--what kind of public policy *would* glorify God, what sort of public policy *would* advance the kingdom of God, but that's our starting point. And I think a biblical understanding of government begins with the recognition that God ordained four types of government. And part of the problem we have is that we only talk about one of the four.

God ordained individual government--you are individually sovereign. You personally have rights and authority and responsibility, you will personally answer for your life before God. You deserve respect and dignity as an individual sovereign government. God ordained family government. Families have real authority, real responsibility, and should be respected as a government. That's a Genesis ordaination (sp?) government. Third, we have the church. The church is ordained as a *real* government. There's a lot of conversation today about whether the church should be tax exempt. I think biblically and historically, the church shouldn't *need* to be tax exempt, because the church is tax *immune*. That is, the church is a separate, sovereign government, that is immune from other taxes, because it's a *different government*. You shouldn't be able to tax the church--it's distinct from the civil government, and it was recognized that way in American government until 1954 when they changed the IRS code.

And then finally you have the civil government. Now, the key principle to understand is that Christians, or at least Christians who think like I do, Evangelical Christians who believe in Christian public policy--we don't hate big government because we're against government. We don't like big government because it encroaches on the responsibility of individuals and families and churches. You see, we all call for the government to do something about the problems facing us. And I hear all the time, "You know, the government ought to do something about that." And I always answer "You know, you are exactly right, the government should do something about that", but the question we don't often ask is, "which government?" Should the individual be responsible for that, should the family be responsible for that, should the church be responsible for that, or the civil government be responsible for that? Now, I personally believe that individuals, families, and churches are *absolutely* responsible for helping the poor. I *don't* believe that one of the primary responsibilities of the *civil* government is caring for the poor.

I have a quick question for you--here's a quiz. When were poor people invented?...Okay, second question, does God hate the poor? Obviously not--he made so many of them. When was the first federal welfare program in America? Roosevelt, 1933, Social Security. Didn't we have any poor people in the colonies? Poor people in the states? All of a sudden, we had federal welfare programs--why? Because we believed that responsibility for poor people was with individuals, families, and churches, and sometimes local governments would get together and help poor people, and that's where that responsibility rested. So, we seek stronger individuals, stronger families, and stronger churches, and a civil government that's fully empowered to do what it's supposed to do, but not to encroach on the other three legitimate governments. And so that's what I try to promote.

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