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Christians Walk in Two Worlds

John on October 8, 2009 at 12:05 am

Ace notes a video of Sean Hannity debating Michael Moore about the War on Terror. There is a moment (click over for the video) where Moore asks Hannity if he loves Al Qaeda. Hannity’s response is more than a bit comical:

I love them in the sense I want to destroy them.

Ace asks if any of his Christian readers can explain this answer. I’ll give it a go…

The Christian position regarding the state is that one’s obligation to God does not preclude one’s obligation to the state. As Jesus put it, render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, render unto God that which is God’s. Paul said it this way in Romans:

Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

Keep in mind this was said at a time when the world was ruled by a string of barbaric lunatics: Caligula who murdered people for his own amusement, Nero who used Christian captives as human torches at his dinner parties, even Augustus — the first Emperor — claimed to be the “divi fil” or “son of God and occasionally demand worship as such.

In other words, the society which Jesus demanded his followers respect was far more brutal and authoritarian than Michael Moore’s worst nightmare of Bush’s Amerikkka. And yet Jesus and Paul say, in effect, pay your taxes, respect authority and even pray for your leaders.

As you can also see, the New Testament (the rule of faith for Christians) also indicates that the government is established to bring “the sword” against evil. This is one reason a fair number of Christians accept the death penalty. What the state does vis a vis violent crime (even to the point of killing the perpetrators) is distinct from what the individual believer might do on a personal level. Forgiveness on the personal level does not preclude justice on the societal level.

For instance, the woman raped by Roman Polanski has reportedly forgiven him and even asked for his release. I don’t know if she’s a Christian, but it seems a very Christian response on the personal level. Nevertheless, Polanski has been found guilty by the state and they enforce the laws, not the victim. It is not wrong, from the Christian point of view, for the state to enforce those laws and put him in jail for a few years. Some of us look forward to it even as we appreciate the sincere response of his victim.

Where this gets really confusing, for Christians and atheists as well, is that unlike Paul we live in a democracy. Christians now have both a personal response which aims to be gracious but they also have a say in the hand of government itself, which again is there to restrain evil.

One way to put it is that we walk in two worlds. Sometimes those two worlds collide. For instance, I am personally for the construction of a fence along our southern border to control the flow of illegal immigrants. At the same time, I would never treat someone here illegally worse than I would an American citizen in my daily life. In fact, I’m proud to say that my wife has volunteered to teach English to some recent immigrants in our own community. The societal view and the personal view are at odds.

Hannity’s statement is just an extreme example of the two worlds colliding head on. On a personal level, love is the right answer. Moore is right about this. But if Moore were asking about government policy in the WOT, the sword (government restraint of evil) is the right answer, at least it is in my opinion.

If I have any criticism of Hannity it’s that he seems to have taken a question about his personal view and instead answered with a role-of-the-state response. I think this is understandable given the flow of conversation. It wasn’t a talk about his day to day faith, it was a policy discussion. He feinted toward the personal, then returned to policy in his answer. The result was a train wreck which I’m sure he’ll be made to regret.

On the other hand, does anyone think Moore loves George W. Bush. Well, maybe he does. Who can say? But he also (in the same clip) hoped there would be prosecutions for Bush’s war crimes. So again, his personal ethic, even if we assume the best of him, is starkly at odds with his view of the proper role of the state in this instance. If challenged “Do you pray for George W. Bush?” he might well have answered “I pray for him and hope he goes to prison.” He didn’t say that of course, but I suspect it’s pretty close to what he actually believes.

Finally, while it’s undoubtedly confusing, it’s worth pointing out that this Biblical division between faith and governance led the Christian West to a principled division between faith and governance in practice (though it came in fits and starts). Today, we call it the separation of church and state and I think many Christians, myself among them, see this as the correct and most Biblical model for society.

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Category: Politics, Religion & Faith |

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