I once heard of a church where members thought it was against God's will to vote. Concerned that a corrupt politician would win a local election, church members gathered for an all-night prayer vigil. In the morning, however, they refused to vote and the good candidate lost - by fewer than the number of votes represented by those at the prayer meeting.
It seems tragic, but maybe those church members did the right thing. After all, isn't politics a dirty business? Christians are citizens of heaven, not of earth ... right?
Those questions are vitally important and every Christian in every generation must grapple with them and come up with defensible answers. Sadly, many people are too apathetic to even ask the right questions.
If this describes you, I hope this article shakes you up a bit and motivates you to change. You have the opportunity to influence the world if you'll only take it.
The High Cost of Indifference
I teach political communication at a Christian college. Once several years ago students in my class complained endlessly about the lack of Christian influence in government.
Yet the day after the election, I discovered that only two of my students had voted. Most of them weren't even registered to vote! I told them, "For the rest of the semester, if you didn't vote, you have lost your right to complain in this class." Years later they still remember the lesson. Some of them still e-mail me every time they vote!
In 1971, young people were for the first time guaranteed the constitutional right to vote. Yet according to statistics generated by the Voter News Service, people between the ages of 18 and 32 vote in lower numbers than any other generation. They account for 1/3 of eligible voters, but less than 25% of the actual voters.
Maybe you don't trust the government. Maybe you just aren't interested in civic concerns. But beware! Your lack of interest could lead to a vicious cycle:
--If you aren't interested, you won't get involved.
--If you don't get involved, your interests are not represented.
--Because you are not represented, you have no voice.
--Because you have no voice, you lose interest and trust even more.
And on and on it goes, until many adults consider young people to be politically irrelevant.
It's not just a failure to vote that is the problem. When was the last time you picked up a newspaper to study a political issue? Or write a letter to an elected official or to the newspaper editor?
As Christians, we must constantly ask ourselves, "Are we doing everything we can to exercise our rights and privileges as citizens?"
What It Means to Be a Christian Citizen
There are at least five good reasons why Christians should seek to be good citizens:
1. God has granted us authority.
All authority belongs to God, but He has put human beings on the earth as caretakers. What is our task? According to Jesus in Matthew 28:18-20, we are to go and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey God in every area of life.
It is hard to imagine that Jesus would have wanted the political realm to be excluded. We must disciple people to make godly decisions about government.
2. Christians are needed to stand against evil.
If the Christian worldview is true, then Christians should be able to contribute more positively than any one else to the political process. St. Augustine said that those who are citizens of God's kingdom are best equipped to be citizens of the kingdom of man. I think he was right.
The alternative to Christian involvement is unthinkable. In the 20th Century, atheistic and secular humanistic leaders gained control of nations all across Europe, Asia and Africa. What was the result?
According to historian R. J. Rummel, "Almost 170 million men, women and children have been shot, beaten, tortured, knifed, burned, starved, frozen, crushed or worked to death; buried alive, drowned, hung, bombed, or killed in any other of the myriad ways governments have inflicted death on unarmed, helpless citizens and foreigners."
These facts led historian John Hallowell to note, "Only through a return to faith in God, as God revealed Himself to man in Jesus Christ, can modern man and his society find redemption from the tyranny of evil."
3. Christian values contribute positively to society.
The Bible's solutions make sense. It is Christian involvement in government through the ages that gave us hospitals, civil liberties, abolition of slavery, modern science, the elevation of women, regard for human life, great works of art and literature, a workable system of justice, education for common people, the free-enterprise system, and much, much more.
When we see the good that results from applying God's principles, and the horror that results from rejecting them, doesn't it seem cruel and irresponsible to keep Jesus' teachings about truth, love and compassion to ourselves?
4. Obedience to authority demands good citizenship.
The Apostle Paul in Romans chapter 13 clearly states that we must obey governmental leaders because all authority comes from God. Here's the catch: in America, the people are the leaders! Here, at least, we express our obedience to God by exercising our rights and privileges as citizens.
A democratic republic such as we have in America is perhaps the most difficult form of government to maintain. As he emerged from a meeting of the Constitutional Convention, a woman asked him, "Mr. Franklin, what sort of government have you given us?" Franklin replied, "A republic, madam, if you can keep it."
Franklin and the other founding fathers understood the peril of apathy. If citizens don't get involved, elected representatives quickly begin to express their own interests or the interests of those who are willing to pay them money and attention. Apathy and greed soon give way to corruption and injustice which give way to tyranny and misery.
5. Good citizenship sets an example for generations to come.
Those who apply God's principles to government pave the way for generations of blessing. In 1768 a Christian minister named John Witherspoon became president of the College of New Jersey, now Princeton. While there he taught biblical principles of government to his students.
Of the 478 young men who were graduated during his tenure, writes author John Eidsmoe, "114 became ministers; 13 were state governors; 3 were U. S. Supreme Court judges; 20 were U.S. Senators; 33 were U.S. Congressmen; Aaron Burr, Jr., became Vice-President; and James Madison became President."
As a Christian, Witherspoon exerted an enormous influence on the direction of American government. You and I may not have the gifts of John Witherspoon, but we can still make a big difference if we put our minds to it.
Now It Starts!
I hope you take on the challenge of becoming a good citizen. In the "Gettysburg Address" Abraham Lincoln expressed hope that "government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth." Hundreds of thousands have died to establish freedom and justice. Do not let their deaths be in vain.
[This article is a draft from a chapter written for an upcoming book for teens on Christian citizenship]
COPYRIGHT 2002 BY JEFFREY L. MYERS, Ph.D. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.