GE 2011

Below is some content which I planned to give at the bible study. It is intended to give us some biblical foundations for a christian way of thinking about politics. I’ve also added in content from the Christian Institute and the responses given by three of the major parties to questions posed by Athiests Ireland at the end. The below content is a bit rushed so please excuse any bad grammer or disjointed thinking. It was prompted by a paper given by the Laois Bible Church entitled “God and Government”. (If you can hold of this – do)

Christians & Politics

How should Christians think about politics in the face of such an important general election on our doorstep? We have been the recipients of endless debate between the parties on the merits of them being in government. The one issue that all parties and voters care about is the economy – and why not, since the current economic crisis impacts on our very way of life? However, are there more important considerations for the Christian when they come to vote? Well, the answer must be a very loud – YES. Here’s a great verse from the bible “Pr 14:34  Righteousness exaltes a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people.”

What about the money?

I’m not saying that it’s a non issue, part of the “righteousness” in proverbs 14:34 is that we expect our government to be wise and moral in the way they deal with the public finances. However, we ought to remember that we are merely stewards of the Lord’s money. That is – everything we have we receive from the Lord – even if we are working for a wage. The fact that we are physically able, that we have the job in the first place is that the Lord has given it. Therefore, in the realm of money, we are to be a people who look to God and trust him rather than thinking our national and personal financial troubles are purely a result of naturalistic (human) cause and effect.

God & Government

What are the principles which govern who we should vote for and even – should we vote at all? Christendom has long since been divided on the question of involvement in politics ranging from the Anabaptists who believe that that “My Kingdom is not of the this world” applies to every area of Christian living in this world, ie, disengagement; to the Roman Catholic view that the church has authority (The Keys of the Kingdom) not only over it’s own affairs but also the affairs of the state, as exemplified in European middle age history.

To unravel things a little we need to lay down some bible background:

Getting a New testament perspective

In beginning to get a biblical approach to the question, one of the big issues we have to face is: How does the Old testament relate to the new. This is important because the Civil Society of Israel was very different from today:

Israel was a theocracy: It was a nation governed by God. And his government was very strict. Religious pluralism was not tolerated in Israel (“you worship your God and I’ll worship mine”). Neither was there any ethical pluralism (“you believe in marriage and I don’t – but we can still get along can’t we). It was a very different place from modern day Ireland. LBC – God and Government

Is ancient Israels form of government desirable/ applicable for Ireland today? Would we really want to take out an adulterer and stone them to death? What is the New Testament way of coming at the question of Government? The most popular formulation applied to the question comes from Thomas Aquinas and was picked up by John Calvin. Thomas saw the Old Testament law as being divided into three:

  1. Civil Law – not applicable today since the national structure of Israel is gone
  2. Ceremonial Law – not applicable today since the temple and its sacrificial system is gone
  3. Moral Law (10 commandments) – applicable today.

I’m not saying this formulation is wrong (who am I to argue with Aquinas and Calvin) but just that it’s a little too neat. I would point out that this threefold way of looking at the Old Testament isn’t found in the new testament. (for those interested listen to lectures delivered by Don Carson at the European Theologians Network) A more helpful way of looking at the OT from the NT is found in the words of the Lord: Mt 5:17  “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.” The progression of the Old Testament to the New Testament is one of promise to fullfillment. When we think about the Old Testament think about the process of birth. At first an embryo is planted in a safe environment, for nine months it will not be capable of surviving outside of the womb. It is a real baby! It grows arms, legs, ears, internal organs yet it still isn’t ready to survive outside the womb. Then the great day comes – out into the world the baby comes – he/she takes its first breath… Think of the ethnic nation of of Israel as a womb for righteousness. At the time the nations of the world had utterly turned from God and his righteousness. The “nations” were practicing terrible attrocities in the worship of their God’s, eg human sacrifice. Righteousness was kept safe by the all encompassing law of God which covered every area of life (worship, society and morality) of a specific ethnic people group the Hebrews, the Jews. But one day “the baby was born” – Jesus Christ came into the world. He was the very thing which all of the OT was foreshadowing. He set up the church with himself as the head and we as the body (that is everyone who is truly born again by the Spirit of God from every tribe), this church is the new Israel. When the disciples spoke in tongues on the day of Pentecost it was a signal that righteousness was no longer specially confined to ethnic Israel – the “baby” was being born into the world. When ethnic Israel was at it’s very peak under the rule of David it was but a pale reflection of the Spiritual reality of a Kingdom over which Jesus Christ is the king made up of Jew and Gentile, bond and free.

1: The Church

How then does this transition from Old testament to New Testament work for the church?Those who are in Christ’s Kingdom (in the proper sense, under the Kingly rule of Jesus Christ as the Israelites were under the kingly rule of David under God) are those who are saved, converted, born again. Jesus has fulfilled the Old Testament for them (Moral, Civil and Ceremonial). Therefore, because we are joined to Christ the fulfillment of that law is applied to us. God’s moral standards were met by him, the ceremonial requirements were met by him and laws governing society were met by him. So then the Christian now doesn’t just blithely say “I’m not under the law but under grace”. They say ‘I am under grace and I now love the Lord Jesus Christ and I love the things that Jesus loves’ Rather than throwing off all the OT law the Christian now embraces and loves that law, not because they need to earn their way into God’s favour but because they know that to break the law grieves God. For example I know that all the murder in my heart has been forgiven by grace but I don’t take a casual attitude toward it – hatred and murder grieves God and my love for him stops me from breaking that law. As Dr DM Lloyd-Jones put it:

“If the grace you have received does not help you keep the law, you have not received grace” Serm on Mount Vol 1: P197

You may say, ‘well, that bit is obvious but what about civil/ceremonial laws which cannot hold relevance for today – eg, not eating pork?’ I would argue that such laws belong to the scaffolding (to mix my metaphors) or to the womb of the OT civil law. When the Lord came and established the church, the scaffolding was no longer needed. The Lord Jesus Christ fulfilled the necessity for the existence of those laws. I think I can illustrate how this works with example of Acts 10. The Lord, in a vision, tells Peter to kill and eat animals which would have been unclean for a Jew to eat. It seems that the obvious conclusion is “God himself annuls a considerable part of the Mosaic legislation, for which people were prepared to die” Comment on the NT use of the OT – Beale and Carson. This physical requirement for the Christian is removed but the significant lesson for the Christian is not removed. In the OT the Jews had to learn the difference between clean and unclean, even the things they ate taught them that lesson. To be a clean person meant you were a Jew who followed God’s code or you were a gentile who converted to being a Jew and followed God’s code. If you were a principled gentile, you were unclean, you were outside. Things like not eating pork were markers along the boundary to show the difference. When God spoke to Peter he was telling him ‘the boundary has been removed, the curtain has been torn, righteousness doesn’t belong to the Jews only anymore’. This is what Peter understood  because when he relayed the message to a stunned party of Jewish Christians in Acts 11 his whole emphasis was on God accepting Gentiles as Gentiles into the Kingdom without the need to convert to Judaism and keep Judaistic practice. God has removed the marker (not eating pork) but the significant lesson remains for us Christians today – there is a difference between righteousness and unrighteousness – cleanness and uncleanness.

2: The Church in Society at large?

Recap:

  • The question: should Christians take an interest in politics and what should determine how they vote?
  • In the Old Testament God’s laws ruled all of society with an iron rod – is that applicable today?
  • ans no – Jesus has fulfilled the Old testament law
  • the church is now the new Israel under the rule of King Jesus
  • we obey Jesus not out of motivation to get right/ be right with God – but out of love

But what about the rest of society, those outside the church. The message is that they are outside of the Kingdom proper, they are in rebellion and God calls them to repent and be converted. But does that mean that God has no dealings with this world, that he has decreed ‘hands off’. No -it could never be – if God left this world to its own devices it would descend into horrific anarchy beyond our imagination. God still cares, still controls – all things. One of the ways in which he does this is that he has instituted human government. Romans 13:1 – 7 is one of the main texts in the New Testament which teaches how the Christian church is to relate to the state:

1 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

These verses are plain. God is not only interested in politics – he’s in charge, it is ultimately he who will appoint the next Irish government! If God is interested and involved – so should we be.

However, before we loose interest in evangelism and mission let’s temper our thinking:

The themes of Civil Government and Christian responsibility to that government are minor themese in the New Testament. But Christians have been provided with principles that can apply today. What is important about this teaching in the context in which it was given. The lives and writings of Paul and Peter show us that mission was more important to them than politics. God’s Kingdom advanced not through political agitation but through gospel proclaimation. – Laois BC

Romans 13 is teaching that God institutes governments and his desire for them is that they behave according to his righteousness – they are supposed to hold no fear for the one who does good – but punish the one’s who do wrong. When they do not behave in a fair and righteous way – God holds them to account.

Summery

The great love of God’s heart is toward his church, the Lord Jesus Christ died for her and we are to work and pray for her health and expansion throughout this world. This does not mean that God is uninterested in this world; his common grace extends into all areas of life and governments are especially his “servants”. At times he brings governments into power which persecute and are unrighteous; in recent years China has been an example of how God sovereignly used the bad intentions of a government to further the growth of his church. The expulsion of the missionaries in the 50’s made the indigenous Christians go into overdrive.

However, what we vote and pray for are the parties who are the least antagonistic toward the Faith, who are the most moral and who seem to demonstrate the greatest wisdom in the way they conduct their affairs.

The thing we can do which is of infinitely more influence and value than just voting is to pray. We remember that it is our God who raises up and brings down governments. The economic tidal wave and the demise of the Catholic Church in the affections of the people is ultimately from the hand of God. Pray that God would continue to work in society in such a way that he is preparing this precious nation for a revival of true religion.

Appendix 1 – Responce from the Christian Institute

This the content of an e-mail sent to me by request outlining some of the issues we ought to be thinking about:

[1] Abortion – there is pressure from various lobby groups to legalise abortion on demand in Ireland. Often the lobby groups are subtle and don’t use the term “abortion”, rather they say that they are promoting for “reproductive rights”. It would be good to ask the political candidates what their views are on this issue, and whether they would support the current law in Ireland or seek to liberalise it.

[2] Adoption of Children – there are various groups campaigning in Ireland to make it legal for homosexual couples to jointly adopt children. This is often presented in the press as simply extended equality to same-sex couples. However the demands of homosexual couples to adopt children, trumps the rights of children to a mother and a father. It would be good to ask political candidates where they stand on this issue.

[3] Sex Education in Schools – in the UK there has been a big push in recent years from groups like the Family Planning Assoc, for increased sex education in primary schools. Many teaching resources which are explicit and which promote homosexuality as an equally valid alternative to marriage are being recommended by some local authorities and health trusts. The Family Planning Assoc also operates in Ireland, and there is a push for increased sex education in Irish schools, as well as the making available of contraceptives to school children. While this issue has not been pushed in Ireland as fast as it has in the UK, it is an issue that the political candidates should be asked about. It’s important to make sure that any sex education programmes adopted are modest, not explicit, and encourage abstinence before marriage.

Appendix 2 – Atheists Ireland

Below is some content taken from http://www.atheists.ie. The put the same questions to each of the political parties (not to Fianna Fail for some reason??)

Fine Gael Party response

1.      Will you work to reform the education system so that all children in your constituency can access publicly-funded schools which have no religious ethos? –

Fine Gael supports diversity in our school system and do not feel that the current patronage model reflects modern Ireland. Parental choice must be at the heart of how the patronage model develops and we will hold a national forum on education to debate the issues involved with all stakeholders so that parents and organisations with a view on how the system should evolve, have an opportunity to discuss the issues in an open forum. From there, we will plan a way forward, which will respect the views of all involved.

2.      Would you support a referendum to remove religious references from the Constitution?

Fine Gael’s immediate priority is reform of the political institutions in the Constitution in order to make the political system more effective and accountable. Nevertheless, if elected to Government, Fine Gael will consider the continued relevance of religious references in the Constitution as part of our programme of Constitutional review.

3.      Do you believe that blasphemy should be a criminal offence?

No. Fine Gael does not believe the blasphemy should be a criminal offence and made this point repeatedly during the debate on the Defamation Act 2009.

4.      Would you support legislation to prevent hospitals from having a religious ethos?

Fine Gael has no plans to publish legislation to prevent hospitals from having a particular religious ethos. Our immediate priority, as outlined in our FairCare health plan, is to reform the delivery of health services and to create a strong public health service. This involves implementing a new approach to waiting list management, developing primary care services and introducing Universal Health Insurance (UHI) for all. Once UHI is introduced the unfair and inefficient two-tier health system will be eliminated allowing fast access to improved services for all.

5.     If elected, would you vote to ensure that religious bodies are treated the same as other organisations under equality and employment legislation? – Yes

6.      Do you believe that religions should have to pay their fair share of tax on income that does not come from charitable activities?

Fine Gael has no plans to tax the income of charitable organisations.

Green Party response

The Green Party has provided the following statement on behalf of all its candidates –

1.      Will you work to reform the education system so that all children in your constituency can access publicly-funded schools which have no religious ethos?

The Green Party believes that education is vital to personal, community, societal and economic development. We will promote a flexible and transparent system aiming to value diversity, meet individual needs, cherish the environment and fulfil the highest standards of international performance.   The Green Party will review the Education Act to look at issues such as Boards of Management, patronage and enrolment. Reform school Boards of Management to be more open and transparent to parents students and staff, with student feedback.

2.      Would you support a referendum to remove religious references from the Constitution?
The Green Party is in favour of major constitutional reform and is proposing the drafting of a new constitution. Replacing our current constitution would have huge legal, political and historical significance. Therefore we believe that the Irish public should be consulted before such an undertaking is begun. Allowing the public to vote on affirming the process by which the new draft constitution would be created would significantly increase its legitimacy and also the chances of the subsequent draft being passed by the public. The status of religious reference would obviously be debated as part of this process.

3.      Do you believe that blasphemy should be a criminal offence?

The Green Party believes that a referendum would be preferable to resolve the constitutional issues surrounding blasphemy laws.

4.      Would you support legislation to prevent hospitals from having a religious ethos?

The Green Party endorses the view of the World Health Organisation that “the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition”.  The Green Party recognises that universal access to primary health care delivered in the community is the central pillar of an effective and affordable health care service. The Green Party is committed to the goals of equity of access to and outcomes of health care services. Health care delivery systems should reflect the diversity of society.

5.      If elected, would you vote to ensure that religious bodies are treated the same as other organisations under equality and employment legislation?

The Green Party believes that all people should be treated equally.  Equality and employment legislation should be applicable to everyone equally regardless of religious or secular belief.

6.      Do you believe that religions should have to pay their fair share of tax on income that does not come from charitable activities?

The Green Party’s approach to taxation is driven by the principles of equity, fairness, efficiency and sustainability.  The Green Party believes that all earners should contribute fairly to the tax system.

Labour Party response

The Labour Party has provided the following response on behalf of all its candidates –

1. Will you work to reform the education system so that all children in your constituency can access publicly-funded schools which have no religious ethos? –

In relation to Education we believe there is a compelling case for moving towards a new system of schools patronage.  This will take into account evolving views with regard to religion and education.  We acknowledge the increasing numbers of people who want to opt for non-denominational or inter-denomination education for their children.  Our Spokesperson, Ruairi Quinn TD, proposed extending the patronage of Vocational Education Committees (VECs) to cover primary schools and in general broadening the role of the local community in this regard. This would see the orderly transfer of existing patronage of some primary schools to other patron bodies, and would reflect modern day practice and observance.  It would enable parents to exercise choice.

Some time ago Labour Senator, Ivana Bacik, proposed that a Forum on Education Reform be established to address all relevant issues.  This would involve the major stakeholders such as parents, patrons, teachers, principals, students where appropriate and others.

Labour in Government will ensure Educate Together is recognized as a patron at second level by the Department of Education and Skills.

2. Would you support a referendum to remove religious references from the Constitution?

With regard to the Constitution, we propose the convening of a Convention to prepare a new Constitution fit for a 21st Century Ireland.  This must take into account that our country is now more diverse and multi-cultural than when Bunreacht na hEireann was adopted.

3. Do you believe that blasphemy should be a criminal offence?

Our Party Conference has previously agreed to hold a referendum proposing to delete the word ‘blasphemous’ from Article 4.1.6 of the Constitution and to repeal any legislation that made reference to blasphemy as a form of defamation.

4. Would you support legislation to prevent hospitals from having a religious ethos?

On the issue of the religious ethos of hospitals, the Labour Party appreciates the role that religious institutions play in our health sector.  However, we also believe that the diverse nature of Irish society must be respected in the provision of public services that respects the rights of all citizens.

5. If elected, would you vote to ensure that religious bodies are treated the same as other organisations under equality and employment legislation?

We believe that all organizations, religious or secular, should be treated equally. We acknowledge the enormous amount of work that many organizations undertake in this society. In relation to  employment legislation we simply believe this should apply equally to all.

6. Do you believe that religions should have to pay their fair share of tax on income that does not come from charitable activities?

The Labour Party believes in fairness.  In that respect we believe that the burden of this economic crisis must be borne by those who can most afford it.  The wealthiest sectors of our society must pay their share if we are to protect the marginalized.

Sinn Fein response

Sinn Fein has provided the following statement on behalf of all its candidates –

1.      Will you work to reform the education system so that all children in your constituency can access publicly-funded schools which have no religious ethos?

Yes. Sinn Féin believes that the separation of Church and State must be completed. Church control of primary schools is a legacy of the old era of ecclesiastical power and control. This must change and we must move to a democratically controlled education system, truly representative of the community, respecting the rights of people of all religions and none and totally child-centred.

2.      Would you support a referendum to remove religious references from the Constitution?

Yes. Sinn Féin would establish an all-Ireland Constitutional Convention, directly elected by the people.  The Forum would involve consultation at grassroots level and ensure participatory governance.  Its remit would be to have an initial draft within 18 months of its establishment.  It’s goal would be to produce a new constitution, fully reflective of the values and aspirations of the Irish people today, soundly based on democratic principles and international human rights standards, and which would form the basis for a future 32-County Republic

3.      Do you believe that blasphemy should be a criminal offence?

Sinn Féin does not believe that blasphemy should be a criminal offence.  During the debate on the Defamation Bill in 2009, Sinn Féin Justice Spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD put forward amendments to the Bill including the removal of the offence of blasphemy.  There is no place in a democratic secular society which practices free speech for a criminal offence of blasphemy. That said however, Sinn Féin would urge all publications to pay special attention to the views and sensitivities of each and every religious and cultural group that makes up Irish society.

4.      Would you support legislation to prevent hospitals from having a religious ethos?

Sinn Féin wishes to introduce a universal health care system with publicly funded hospitals governed by medical ethics and would support legislation to prevent them from operating based on a religious ethos. In the context of private hospitals, we do not have a specific position on this issue, but we will examine this issue further in light of your concerns.

5.      If elected, would you vote to ensure that religious bodies are treated the same as other organisations under equality and employment legislation? Yes.

6.      Do you believe that religions should have to pay their fair share of tax on income that does not come from charitable activities?

This is an issue that certainly merits further consideration and we are willing to listen to all interested parties in order to develop a position on this.

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About daveneald

Pastor of Waterford Baptist Church
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