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Friday, April 06, 2007
(1:32 PM) | Stephen:
Blog Against Theocracy

The Minstrel Boy has an excellent post today regarding the issue of those whose words and actions imply they are working toward instituting a theocracy in the United States.

I tend to think that most Christians, including the fundie-est Evangelicals, would never support a theocracy, at least as they understand the word. However, most Evangelical churches teach that America was founded by Christians as an explicitly and intentionally Christian nation, that the protections provided by the Constitution referred to different denominations, since the Catholics were the majority in Maryland, the Quakers in Pennsylvania and so on. Therefore, the argument goes, America's laws and its foreign and domestic policy should also be explicitly and intentionally Christian. A theocracy in this context is where a priest or pastor of a particular group is the nation's supreme leader, not a situation in which all leadership positions in the government are filled by Christians passing "Christian" laws.

The idea of a theocracy, that God should be all the government a nation needs, comes of course from the Hebrew Scriptures and God's desired relationship with Israel. When Israel wished for a king, God was fairly unhappy, seeing this as yet another rejection, and he told Samuel, his appointed Judge over Israel, to give in to their request, to allow them to reject both God and Samuel's leadership. But, Samuel was to pass along this warning:
Samuel passed on the Lord’s warning to the people who were asking him for a king. “This is how a king will reign over you,” Samuel said. “The king will draft your sons and assign them to his chariots and his charioteers, making them run before his chariots. Some will be generals and captains in his army, some will be forced to plow in his fields and harvest his crops, and some will make his weapons and chariot equipment. The king will take your daughters from you and force them to cook and bake and make perfumes for him. He will take away the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his own officials. He will take a tenth of your grain and your grape harvest and distribute it among his officers and attendants. He will take your male and female slaves and demand the finest of your cattle and donkeys for his own use. He will demand a tenth of your flocks, and you will be his slaves. When that day comes, you will beg for relief from this king you are demanding, but then the Lord will not help you.” (1 Samuel 8:10-18, NLT)
Have you ever wondered just where small-government conservatives got all their arguments? Right there, folks. Here in this passage we see all the dangers of turning to any form of government except God at the head and his appointed doing the grunt work here on earth.

Of course, it's hard to square the above verses with most Americans' attitudes about government and the Church. What generally happens is these verses and others are used to justify the idea that the USA needs to be a Christian nation, with the actual mechanics owing more to our Founders' ideas of what constitutes a republic.

The real problem, though, with using the books of the Hebrew Scriptures to give us ideas on shaping our government is that not all of those scriptures are prescriptive. I've said before that not every person listed in the Bible is a positive role model, not everyone should be considered a hero. The book of Judges in particular is intended to be a descriptive book, one that catalogs the ways in which the Hebrews screwed things up, the ways in which they refused to listen to what God had said to them. Samson, Gideon, these guys are not who we should emulate. That God used them for his purposes says very little of their character or their use as role models; the Hebrew Scriptures show God using all sorts of people, even those who worshiped other gods.

The last thing we should do is try to bring about a situation in which God chooses certain people to be Judges and they decide all things for us. Even if the USA were a totally Christian nation, 100% comprised of Evangelical Fundamentalist Christians, this would be a bad idea. [Added: to be clear, the reason this would be such a bad idea is that even with so much supposed homogeneity, the conflicts over such choices would tear this country apart.] The last verse of the book of Judges lays it out quite clearly for us:
In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes. (Judges 21:25, NLT)
We can perhaps debate whether a true theocracy, one that actually relies upon God for its direction, would work. But that verse comes at the end of a description of the only time such a theocracy has ever been totally attempted, and it represents the ethically and spiritually lowest mark in the history of Ancient Israel.

And if they couldn't pull it off, I'm not too confident that anyone else could.

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