When Americans go to the voting booth on November 8, 2016, we are facing a choice like we have never seen before in our history. As people of faith in our country, it is the responsibility of Christians to be a light reflecting the value system Christ brought to earth into our nation.
In order to be that light, we need to know what the Bible teaches about the issues we will be deciding in that voting booth. We also need to know how the American government and political system works. If we do not learn these things for ourselves, then we will never be more than pawns being manipulated by the people who we let tell us what to think.
As Jesus famously taught,
“If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”
Government Of the People, By the People and For the People
In the Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln famously described our system of government as, “government of the people, by the people and for the people.” These are more than just words. They describe the essence of American government. Government that is truly of the people and by the people only works when the people teach themselves how to govern.
The Roots of American Self-Government
To understand why this has worked so well in the United States, we have to look back to the Protestant Reformation. Before the Reformation, Christians were not allowed to read the Bible for themselves. The Bible was written in Latin and could only be read by the Priests. Many Christians were burnt at the stake simply for printing the Bible in the language of the people. When everyday people started reading the Bible for themselves, they started to see that the priests were not following their own rules. They started a protest movement to reform the system. That is why it is called the Protestant Reformation.
Protestants are protesters for reform.
The most important reform of the Protestant Reformation was to print the Bible in the language of the people. Protestant reformers believed Christians should read the Bible for themselves. That way every Christian could hold their religious leaders accountable for how they run the church. That is why these Protestant (protester) churches no longer call their religious leaders, “priests.” Every Christian is a priest. All are responsible for running the church together. To do that, every Christian needs to learn how to read. As a result, literacy rates skyrocketed in the nations experiencing the Protestant Reformation. They started by reading the Bible and learned how to run their churches. But they did not stop there. They continued to read books and pamphlets on how to run their governments. Many were no longer satisfied to let a king run their government for them.
When we celebrate Thanksgiving every year, we are celebrating those reformers who came to a new world to set up a government that followed these same ideals of self-government. They believed every Christian should read the Bible for themselves to learn what doctrines are best for the church. They also believed that every citizen should read for themselves and learn what policies are best for the community.
That is what John Winthrop was talking about when he said those famous words: “We shall be as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us.”
While the Puritans were setting up government of the people, by the people and for the people in New England, the Protestant Reformation kept gaining momentum in England, Scotland and Germany. The ideas of self-government took hold in those nations. Most of the immigrants to the British colonies in North America came from England, Scotland and Germany. They brought with them their Bibles and their books on self-government.
In subsequent generations, new waves of immigrants picked up this American tradition of reading for themselves and self-government. The best and brightest from countries all over the world came to America for the same reasons as those original colonists. They wanted to use their skills and talents to make a better life. As that city set on a hill, envisioned by John Winthrop, we have been a beacon of light that has attracted the best talent from all over the world to us. We are like a sports team that gets all the top draft picks.
For a hundred years before we formed a nation, the American colonists practiced self-government in local assemblies. When they did form a nation in 1776, and then wrote a Constitution in 1787, it was assumed that the citizens would always educate themselves about what policies are best for America.
A House Divided Against Itself Cannot Stand
The American system of government is at its best when the people educate themselves about all aspects of our government. We should look at each issue on its own merit and struggle through the hard issues of what will give us the best results. That means we will sometimes take positions against our party platform. We debate and compromise to find solutions we can all live with and we move forward. That is the American way.
The American system of government is at its worst when the people give in to the darker shadows of our human nature and let our prejudices and fears cause us to divide into enemy camps. When we refuse to compromise or listen to the other side, when we vilify the opposing political party of being un-American, then we become our own worst enemy.
There is no easy answer to the question, “Which policies are best for America?” It would take far more space than we have here to discuss each policy position. The important thing is for each of us to take up that responsibility and educate ourselves. Then engage in healthy debates with those who hold other views than ours. Listen to each other and find common ground.
As Jesus famously said, and as Abraham Lincoln famously quoted,
“A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
Day 10: America is Great Because America is Good
Day 9: Nine Biblical Principles in Public Policy
Day 8: Two Things Americans Should Never Do
Day 7: Ten Key Issues in American Politics
Day 6: Which Side Should Christians Take?
Day 5: Of the People, By the People, For the People
Day 4: Which Policies are Most Biblical?
Day 3: Clinton vs. Trump in 2016
Day 2: A Vision for America
Day 1: My American Story
Election Day: VOTE!