If it is perfectly permissible in a federalist system for Mitt Romney to say that RomneyCare was good for Massachusetts but not good for the entire United States, how should followers of Christ view the difference between a nationalist system and a federalist system?
The Scriptures, of course, simply tell believers to “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s” and they give no prescription for what sort of political system is the holiest. A believer’s kingdom is not of this world, so there is a sense in which earthly political forms are not our primary concern. It is possible for both an earthly dictatorship and an earthly republic to guard God-given freedoms.
On the other hand, we are to be stewards of the freedoms and liberties we enjoy simply by virtue of the fact that God providentially placed us here. Our political system affords us the right to vote, so vote we should, and we should vote while engaging our transformed mind (Romans 12:1-2) in applying biblical truth to the practical issues demanding our attention.
To illustrate the differences between nationalism and federalism, I’ll take a prominent political issue: abortion. The abortion issue was nationalized in the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision from the Supreme Court. One rule was given for every State in the union regarding whether and how abortion could be restricted, and how it should be protected. A citizen could not, for instance, move from New Jersey to Tennessee to benefit from a State abortion law more consistent with his religious, moral and ethical beliefs.
Since the Supreme Court decision, States have been afforded a good bit of discretion to fashion their own abortion laws: some still preserve an almost unlimited right to abortion; others almost ban it, with a few even attempting to enact laws defining life as beginning at conception. The current state of the abortion issue is much more federalized than it was in 1973.
[Very few matters remain federal — preserving the State’s authority to act: licensing for professionals, disposal of waste, building codes. More and more issues are becoming increasingly national — limiting the State’s authority: public education, health care, regulation of industry.]
For the believer, issues such as abortion cut both ways: if we could obtain a national law banning abortion, who would not consider that a good thing? On the other hand, as we have seen first hand, when the opposing side obtains the national law or rule, we feel the effects of nationalism.
In one sense, changing a law for the entire country in a nationalist system is easier: work hard at convincing Congress, and you have prevailed. In the federalist system, advocates of a certain position must work to change opinion and political will in each State.
Even so, it would seem that the advantages of a federalist system outweigh those of a national system. In proposing a law on abortion, for example, advocates are attempting to persuade those people who live close to them and are most similar to them, rather than attempting to convince those with disparate views from the opposite coast. And, in the end, if all the States in a federal system agree on a matter, it is because each States’ citizens have been convinced of its wisdom, not because of national diktats from career politicians and faceless bureaucrats in Washington.