Christians in the United States and other participatory democracies have the opportunity to influence the governance of their communities for good. Voting for public officials is one way in which Christians can love their neighbors and “seek the shalom of the city” (Jer 29:7) where God has planted us, while we wait for “the eternal city that God has planned and built.” (Heb 11:10).
Here are a few thoughts about the civic environment (and these are purely purely personal reflections),
- Voting is not your civic duty. Informed, responsible voting is your civic duty. If you don’t have a clue, don’t vote.
- Voting is not the totality of your civic duty; it’s only a tiny slice of your civic duty. Being a good person, a good family member, a good neighbor and a good employee are all much more important. You owe your community more than the 15 minutes it takes to stand in line and vote.
- Voting doesn’t turn a bad citizen into a good citizen. A drug-dealer or slum-lord who votes has not done his civic duty. To a lesser degree, neither has the voter whose yard looks like a trash dump, or the voter who drives recklessly down the highway.
- To create good for the community, there are appropriate roles for the federal, state and local governments. Local is better when local is sufficient.
- There are even more important roles for businesses, volunteer organizations, neighbors and families.
- There are no laws written in nature about how a society should organize itself, except at the most basic level of the natural family.
- The size of an efficient organization depends on what is being done.
- There is no pie sitting on a shelf waiting to be divided. Wealth exists because humans continue to labor, create and take risks.
- You get more of the behaviors you subsidize and fewer of the behaviors you penalize.
- There are second and third order consequences to every decision. Understanding them takes a lot of work.
- Law is always coercive.
- The judicious use of power is necessary for the common good.
- Governance requires accounting for human nature as it exists, not as you would wish it to be.
- People have the capacity for evil. Power exacerbates the problem.
- Corruption, dishonesty and maliciousness are never acceptable means to a good end.
- Every institution seeks to enlarge its power, and to hold on to its power. The same goes for most people.
- No elected leader is the messiah. If you find one who thinks he is, or if his followers think he is, run.
- Bad decisions hurt people and waste resources. Bad decisions are inevitable.
- Dreams of perfection can drive the community forward, or they can keep a community from making the best practical decision in the present circumstances. In that way, the perfect can become an enemy of the good.
- Participatory politics is ugly and there’s not much good to say about it, except that it’s better than autocracy.
- Keep your perspective. Elections are important, but not all-important.
- Keep your expectations modest about what politics can accomplish and you will experience less disappointment.
- Abstain from political mud-wrestling. Exhibit respect, good faith and honesty.
- With great freedom comes great responsibility.
The political process will not usher in the kingdom of God, but it can make a positive difference in the lives of others. The state is not the church, however, and it is not the eternal hope of humankind. Whatever happens in the political realm, God still reigns, and the church still has its mission to accomplish.