America is having problems with the Bible at the moment. Political liberals and conservatives seem to be cherry picking verses in order to justify their own assumptions.
In just over a week there have been marches against the inauguration of Donald Trump, for the rights of women, for the sanctity of human life, and against Trump’s order to halt immigration from several primarily Muslim countries.
The Bible was present in all of these protests in some way, shape or form.
What do we make of this? For one thing, it goes to show that the Christian faith remains a vital part of American culture. The faith we Americans collectively espouse is, as Ross Douthat has pointed out, largely a heretical blend of Christianity, individualism, and moralism. This isn’t anything particularly new. Nathan Hatch’s The Democratization of American Christianity pointed out how even in the early Republic, this uniquely American blend trumped the classical Calvinism that came across with the early settlers.
Here are five guiding principles about how to employ the Bible in addressing actions taken by the government of a nation-state.
- The Bible is the rule of faith and practice for the Christian church. It is not, strictly speaking, binding upon the civil magistrate.
- The Bible does, however, point to laws of nature that are beyond it. Those laws of nature are binding upon all people everywhere. They are discoverable by the use of reason guided by tradition. However, in our current context these laws will remain disputed.
- The purpose of the state is to punish the evildoer and to protect its citizenry. This may include limiting refugee resettlement and immigration.
- In extremis, the church may petition the civil magistrate by appealing to scripture and reason. Generally speaking, however, the church’s purpose is not to be conflated with that of the government. See Westminster Confession XXXI:iv.
- It is an abuse of Scripture to use it in such a way as to contort it to fit a preconceived political purpose. If you wish to make a political point, make it. I’d prefer that you not cherry pick scripture in order to do it.
All this isn’t to suggest that I am in favor of the draconian measures the Trump administration has enacted (which have been blocked, incidentally, in federal court). My point is that Christians must be cautious in how we handle the Bible and apply it to policies enacted by the secular state.