Dr. Richard Land

Citizen Christian: Their Rights and Responsibilities

September 25, 2012

Christians are citizens of two realms--the earthy and the spiritual--and the have rights and responsibilities in both spheres. 

As citizens of heaven (Phil. 3:20), Christians are commanded to be obedient to the Lord Jesus (Exod. 20:1-5). Our Lord’s instruction to “render therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesar’s and unto God the things which be God’s” (Luke 20:25) means giving ultimate allegiance only to God. It means paying our taxes. It also means much more.

The Apostle Paul instructs us that as Christians we have the responsibility to be good citizens of the state “for conscience sake” because God has ordained government to punish and restrict evil-doers and to reward and protect moral behavior (Rom. 13:1-7). Christians are to support the civil government unless the authorities require a believer to support or to do evil in direct contradiction to their ultimate allegiance to their Heavenly Father.

Christians also are commanded by Jesus to be the “salt” of the earth and the “light” of the world (Matt. 5:13-16).

This involves Citizen Christians in active engagement with the world, preserving as salt and illuminating as light. Thus, the responsibilities of Citizen Christians include not just obedience to the state, but involvement in society.

The Baptist Faith & Message confession of faith affirms this call to involvement with the world when it states that “All Christians are under obligation to seek to make the will of Christ supreme in our own lives and in human society.” The confession also says “In the spirit of Christ, Christians should oppose . . . every form of greed, selfishness, and vice,” as well as “seek to bring industry, government, and society as a whole under the sway of the principles of righteousness, truth, and brotherly love.”

This statement clarifies our responsibilities as Christians, and our rights as citizens. When we bring our religious and moral convictions into the public marketplace of ideas and involve ourselves in the political arena, we are standing solidly within the best of our traditions as Americans and as Baptists. Far too often in recent decades we have allowed ourselves to be driven from the arena of debate by false understandings and misleading applications of church-state separation and religious liberty.

President Kennedy once said, “The great enemy of truth is very often not the lie—deliberate, contrived and dishonest—but the myth—persistent, persuasive and unrealistic.” One such “persistent” myth that has afflicted us as a nation is the belief that you cannot, or at least should not, legislate morality.

Nothing could be more false. As a practical matter, all governments legislate morality. If we had no laws against murder, the death rate would explode. If we had no laws against theft, property losses would soar. Government must legislate morality in order to fulfill its God-ordained purpose. God requires that we, as Citizen Christians, hold government responsible to its purpose of punishing evil and protecting its citizens. And in so doing, we do not impose our morality on the murderer and the thief so much as we prevent them from imposing their immorality on their victims.

A total separation of morality and politics is as debilitating of moral values and public virtue as a complete dominance of a church by the state or the state by a church is of personal and religious freedom. Our forbearers intended—and theConstitution of the United States provides for—a balance between morality and public virtue and a separation of the institution of the church and the institution of the state. This delicate constitutional balance, solidified and anchored by the First Amendment, is endangered at present, and it will not be put right unless people of faith insist upon it.

The First Amendment is in the Constitution in large measure because our Baptist forbearers insisted upon it as a prerequisite for their support of theConstitution’s ratification. The First Amendment says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” All the restrictions are on the government, not individual Baptists or other Americans of religious faith. The government must not establish a religion and must not interfere with its free exercise.

To say the First Amendment’s guarantees of religious freedom and separation of church and state were intended to restrict the political participation of people of faith or to disqualify their religious convictions and beliefs from consideration in the public arena of ideas is to twist and to distort the First Amendment’s intent and meaning beyond all recognition.

This is amply demonstrated both by the words and deeds of our political and spiritual ancestors. When our forbearers declared their independence from Great Britain they asserted their firm belief in such moral-political convictions as all human beings being “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights” such as “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” They declared their appeal “to the Supreme Judge of the World for the rectitude of our intentions” with a “firm reliance on the protection of divine providence.” One Declarationsignatory, Samuel Adams, said, “We have this day restored the Sovereign to Whom all men ought to be obedient, and from the rising to the setting of the sun, let His kingdom come.” When they issued the Declaration of Independence,they never intended to declare their independence from God, only from Great Britain.

In his Farewell Address George Washington declared, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labour to subvert these great pillars of human happiness.” Washington’s successor, John Adams, reiterated the role of religion and morality in our nation’s life. In 1798, President Adams said, “We have no government armed in power capable of contending in human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Our Constitution was made for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other.”

Religious conviction has profoundly influenced our nation throughout its history. There would have been no abolitionist and anti-slavery movement without the leadership and support of people of faith. There would have been no child labor reform movement without the impetus of religious conviction. There would have been no civil rights movement without the moral imperatives provided by people of religious conviction. Our Baptist ancestors were active in all of these movements. They believed their moral convictions left them no choice but to be involved. They found no contradiction between such action and their commitment to church-state separation.

Clearly, as American citizens we have the right to be involved in the public and legislative arena. As obedient Christians, we have the responsibility to be involved.

Citizen Christians are called upon not just to enjoy, but to exercise, not just to preach, but to practice their liberties. Surely, there could be no better thing for Americans and for America than for Citizen Christians to awaken to the exerciseof their rights and to the fulfillment of their responsibilities.