Is Government a Gift From God?

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Chelsen Vicari serves as the Evangelical Program Director for the Institute on Religion and Democracy.

November's midterm election results are being called "The Red Wedding," a hat tip to the title of an episode from HBO's hit show Game of Thrones in which an entire dynasty is trounced in one episode. But the excitement over the red tide sweeping the nation isn't felt by all.

For some Christian citizens, we are facing newly elected officials and policies of which we are not particularly fond. Leaving us to raise the question, "Is government really a gift from God?"

With the hope of answering this question Galen Carey, Vice President of Government Relations at the National Association of Evangelicals (which represents 45,000 congregations from over 40 denominations), recently and offered a simple, but helpful summary of God's ordination of government. Speaking at Baltimore's New Hope Community Church, Carey laid out government's purpose, and how citizens should react to government even when we do not endorse our representatives nor their policies.

Reading mainly from Romans 13:1-7, Carey laid out four main points Christians must keep in mind when it comes to understanding the government's authority and responding biblically:

(1) The Government's Responsibility to Citizens

According to Carey, the Almighty has gifted the government establishment with three roles of responsibly. The first is the government must restrain evil through punishment and determent. "Legislatures establish laws and police enforce them, prosecutors bring people to trials, courts and judges consider facts and render judgments, patrols officials try to rehabilitate those who have offended our laws." He continued, "These are all functions the government must do to punish wrong doing."

"Of course, government doesn't prevent every evil from taking place," continued Carey. "We wouldn't want a government powerful enough to do that because government itself participates in evil. But at least we know there is a general order that is established by God in which citizens are deterred from doing wrong."

Using Somalia, parts of the Congo and other regions where there are failed governments, Carey explained that we must thank God for our government, even if it's not perfect. However, even fallen governments are used by God. Citing a social commentator, Carey said, "The only thing worse than a brutal dictatorship, is no government at all."

Second, the government is responsible for rewarding good. In terms of accommodations, there are medals of honors.

Third, government is also called to do goods, those things that individuals can't do on their own. Examples are creating infrastructure, trade agreements, education and research. "If you were going to summarize all those in one sentence, perhaps you could say government's job is to "do justice."

(2) Citizen's Responsibility to their Government:

Carey claimed that citizens must voluntarily submit to government in order to demonstrate our love for God and our neighbors "because we are supporting the common good." He explained, "Everyone must submit themselves. It's a word that's not quite as strong as the word to obey and involves a yielding of some of our rights or some of our freedoms which is necessary to live in community." Carey continued, "We voluntarily submit. Just in the same way husbands and wives submit to each other, children submit to their parents, workers to their supervisors as we see in Ephesians and Colossians."

So what does voluntarily submission to the government in action look like? "Perhaps we would not only use our seat-belts, but drive safely," said Carey. "We would not only make sure our car passed the bare minimum of the emission test, but we would maintain our car in good condition so that it wasn't a hazard to others…we would not only refrain from littering but pick up the litter of others."

(3) Christians' Response When Government's Laws are Unjust

When the government's laws encroaches upon God's laws, the Apostle Peter was clear in Acts 5:29 that, "We must obey God rather than men." But according to Carey, we must be ready to accept the penalty as a price of standing up for the courage of our convictions. Carey stated, "Well, in those cases we are not required to obey an unjust law but must be willing to accept the penalty or consequences."

(4) The Church must be Non-Partisan, but Active in the Public Square

Before finishing his sermon Carey stated, "The Church needs to remain non-partisan. I'm very pleased to see that you all are doing that." It is here that I started to squirm in my chair a bit. Because according to their website:

New Hope does not take positions on political candidates, ballot initiatives or pending legislation. We believe that our right to speak on issues of public policy, which at times we feel to be a responsibility, must be exercised with a view to the limits of the Church's proper voice with respect to other elements of our civic society.

However, New Hope is willing to speak up on one issue. "The one issue on which we will engage in political advocacy is that of immigration reform." Hmm. New Hope is not willing to speak up on the sanctity of innocent, unborn life. Not the defense of persecuted Christians around the world. Not the defense of marriage as God defined it. Not even rallying against child predators, assisted suicide, or the death penalty.

But immigration reform? You bet!

Still Carey rightly concluded, "The Church needs to be a place where there is room for Republicans, Democrats, and Independents, and Whigs and Greens and whoever else and whatever parties are out there. We all need to come under God and before Christ and serve together."

Practical ways you can support your government officials? Carey suggests sending a note of encouragement or saying thank you to clerks and staff if you visit your representative's local offices. One thing we can all agree on, however, is that as Christians we can and must "pray for those in authority" (1 Tim. 2:1-2) no matter which political party line they tow.

Chelsen Vicari serves as the Evangelical Program Director for the Institute on Religion and Democracy. She earned her Masters of Arts in Government from Regent University and frequently contributes to conservative outlets. Follow her on twitter @ChelsenVicari.