Christians can evaluate candidates for public office by examining the platform of the party to which they belong, by researching their history of public service and voting records, or by assessing their personal character, among other things.
Sometimes those standard criteria don’t provide much help in choosing between equally good (or equally unattractive) candidates. One thing that helps is for the Christian to consider what the Bible says we should expect from government, as God’s agent.
Government Should Know Its Place
Government is not God. But the tendency of government is to take more and more god-like power for itself, and the tendency of people who do not know the true God, or who have forgotten who he is, is to give more and more god-like power to it.
“Caesar” (government) and Church occupy different “spheres.” Caesar generally handles practical matters of a secular society, while Church generally handles spiritual matters of truth, meaning, and godly behavior. When Caesar and Church keep to their spheres, it prevents Caesar from mandating what the church believes and practices, and it keeps Church from using the power of government to coerce belief and participation. Caesar bears “the sword”; Church proclaims the Cross.
This doesn’t mean that Caesar and Church leave one another completely alone: if Church takes on roles not appropriate for itself, such as coercing belief or murdering infidels, then Caesar rightfully restricts Church. Similarly, Church should speak truth to power and call attention to Caesar’s overreach and unrighteousness.
Additionally, Caesar does not replace the individual. There are duties and responsibilities appropriate for individual citizens that are not appropriate for Caesar, and vice versa. For example, “feed the hungry” is a charge directed to the individual (or Church), not Caesar; road-building and national defense are a task suitable to Caesar, not cousin Charles down the street.
At present, Caesar is tending to overreach in significant areas:
- Life: Caesar is completely unprepared and ill-equipped to decide matters such as when life beings, when it should end (other than by its official “sword”), and what constitutes “quality” of life.
- Religion: Caesar cannot tell Church, or individual believers, how to live before God or what constitutes a violation of conscience.
- Meaning: Caesar has no foundation from which to re-define marriage, or the meaning of manhood and womanhood (gender).
- Charity: The sheer volume of Caesar’s programs to feed the poor and clothe the naked displaces the ability and opportunity of individuals and Church to do so.
Government Should Keep the Peace
Caesar should protect its citizens from obvious external threats such as nations that want to kill or conquer us. But it should also protect us from terrorist threats, without and within, and protect us from economic manipulations by other nations.
Caesar should protect its citizens from internal threats, such as riots, treason, and anarchy.
But when Caesar engages in empire-building, manipulates strife in the world to feed a military-industrial complex, or foments strife domestically by pitting racial, socio-economic, ethnic and racial groups against one another, it has shirked its primary responsibility and is due for rebuke.
Government Should Champion Parity
Government cannot ensure equality of results without breaching one or many of its other duties. But it should ensure that justice, impartiality, and equality before the law have meaning for the daily lives of citizens.
When Caesar’s imminent domain power is used to take property from an individual and give it to a corporation, it is wrong. When the rich and powerful avoid prosecution for crimes that the poor and insignificant can’t escape, it is wrong. When Caesar’s own agents remain unanswerable and unaccountable to the people they serve, it is wrong.
This has implications on our concept of liberty. Caesar must make laws, and the making of even the most basic of laws encroaches on individual liberty. Caesar must take great care, therefore, that the encroachment on individual liberty is only to the extent necessary for Caesar to carry out it most basic functions.
Government Should Promote Prosperity
Caesar cannot produce prosperity. But there are certain things that it must do in order to serve the common good.
- Taxation. It is proper for Caesar to levy taxes, but only such as are necessary for it to carry out those actions proper for its sphere.
- Punishment. It is proper for Caesar to establish law and order, and to use the “sword,” or the power of punishment and even execution, to do so. But Caesar should recognize “good” and “evil,” promoting the former and discouraging the latter.
Caesar cannot produce prosperity, but there are things it must do in order to avoid being an impediment to the prosperity of its people.
- Property. Caesar must protect its citizens’ property rights, else the foundation of our economy is destroyed.
- Money Supply. Caesar must ensure that it does not steal from its citizens by careless oversight of the money supply, through excessive inflation or other devaluation of money.
- Debt. Caesar, like every household, must live within its means. Excessive national debt, such as we currently experience, is an abomination, and threatens both our liberty and prosperity.
God has established governmental authority in the world in order to punish evil, promote good, and enable people to live peaceable and quiet lives. The Christian citizen can make an informed and edifying decision regarding not which candidate is “most Christian,” but which one is more likely to keep Caesar in its biblical place.