Should Christians Trust the Government?

Should Christians Trust the Government?

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Do you trust the government? For many people, that's the common question at the heart of several stories lately: The IRS targeting conservatives, the DOJ spying on journalists, the NSA tracking everyone's phone calls. A lot of things may influence how you answer the question, including your politics. But how does your faith influence your answer? Let's start by broadening the question: Should Christians trust government — not this particular government, but government per se?

To be sure, Scripture tells us that God gave us the institution of government, and it tells us why — essentially, to preserve basic civil order and justice so that we may be free to live peaceful and godly lives (e.g., Romans 13:1-7, 1 Timothy 2:1-2). But in telling us God's purpose, it doesn't tell us that the government will always fulfill that intended purpose. In fact, it shows us many examples of rulers abusing their powers. When Paul wrote, "Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good and you will receive his approval" (Romans 13:3-4), he was well aware that those words don't describe the experience of Jesus, John the Baptist, Moses, David and Elijah, among others.

Scripture also tells us a great deal about our sinful nature. People in power aren't immune to that. There's ample reason to believe that those most prone to abuse power will be drawn to seek power and that (regardless of original intentions) access to power tempts people to abuse it. In fact, sometimes the worst abuses can come from those who imagine that they have the noblest motives. As John Adams put it, "Power always thinks it has a great soul and vast views beyond the comprehension of the weak; and that it is doing God's service when it is violating all His laws."

So, no, Christian citizens shouldn't trust government. Obey, yes, though there are exceptions. (That's a topic for another time.) But trust, no.

That doesn't mean we should go to the opposite extreme — the presumption that the state is always up to no good, that everything it says is a lie. Government encompasses a lot of people at a lot of levels: Some of them may not deserve the label "civil servant," but many of them do. Even a government that's taken on some illegitimate functions may still pursue many legitimate ones. Moreover, God still works through flawed and sinful human beings to accomplish His purposes. It's important to keep that perspective.

But we certainly should be vigilant toward government — always, regardless of who's running it at the moment. Don't assume the best or the worst about the state, but be discerning on a case-by-case basis: Check out the state's claims and whether it's staying within its proper role. A quote from James Madison strikes the right balance. "If men were angels, no government would be necessary," he famously wrote in Federalist 51. But his next sentence, though lesser known, is just as important: "If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary."

I've intentionally stayed away from the specific IRS/DOJ/NSA cases to focus on some Christian worldview groundwork, but feel free to get into those or other relevant topics, past or present.

So, to repeat the question(s): Should Christians trust the government? Do you trust yours?

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  • -- "In God We Trust, All Others We Monitor"

  • --I think the arguments in the original post can apply to any and all human institutions. Should Christians trust the church, corporations, universities, or even Focus on the Family? It's probably best to be discerning about all of the above because all humans will fall short of God's intended purpose for them, so logically collections of people will also fall short -- even if they are acting with the best intensions. Thinking critically about all organizations and institutions in your life is very important.

    The other thing I find a little odd about the whole "do you trust government" question is that (at least where I live) there are countless opportunities to get involved in shaping the direction of government by getting active in a political party. So "the government" is actually something that I have a hand in creating; it's not this distant third party force that I have absolutely no control over. I'm very involved politically because I know the stakes are high when deciding who will run my country, so people who are worried about the amount of power a government has should be engaging in activities that help keep checks and balances on those in power.

    I guess my point is simply that the question shouldn't be "do you trust your government," and instead should be "do you agree with what you government is doing." And if the answer is no, the next question should be "what are you doing to change it?" I'd apply the same questions to any church, school or charity as well.   :)

  • --I have read comments from people who say the main reason to think the moon landing was fake is that the government's official story is that it happened.

    In general, no one should trust the US federal government or their state government and maybe not even local government officials, especially if, say, you live someplace such as Detroit.

  • --I don't trust the government, though I don't think that ALL "politicians" are corrupt.  I am acquainted with a few people in fairly high elected positions in national, state, and local government, and they are good Christian people who are truly trying to make a positive difference.  As a Christian, I consider it my duty to vote on issues, contact my representatives as needed, and (particularly for local issues) attend meetings to stay informed on what is happening or show my support for something.  No offense, but I think that to blindly trust the government is stupid, Christian or not!  

  • --See also: Psalm 146:3.

  • --I've never really understood why so many Christians I've met seem to have such an anti-government attitude.  It really puzzles me.  I see government as being similar to marriage: Both are instituted by God for good and both have been corrupted by sinful people.  Yet despite their weaknesses we still need them because that is God's will for humanity.

    The older I get, and the more I read the Bible, the more I understand the depth of man's sinful depravity.  If people are evil they need a strong powerful force to keep them in line - and that is why God instituted government.  I've always admired the strong effective model of government employed in Singapore.  

    Last December I read two biographies on Lee Kuan Yew, the famous Prime Minister of Singapore, who led the tiny country to becoming one of the richest and most stable places in South East Asia.  His government overcome extraordinary challenges by employing tough laws.  That's not to say Lee Kuan Yew wasn't a sinner himself - he was clearly racist, sexist, and he strongly admired many of Hitler's eugenics policies.  None the less he built a model of government admired around the world and which Christians could still work with and tweak for the benefit of humanity and the furtherance of God's kingdom.

  • --Man is fallen and government tends to amplify that, Like a magnifying glass on a grasshopper on a hot, sunny day. Yet for all the complaints against the U.S. government, and Congress's public rating hovering near zero, it remains that the public voted each and every one of those public officials into office. Maybe you didn't vote for them, but your neighbors did. And the reason is that actually government IS giving Americans what they want. Sorta. Problem is Americans have gotten to  point where they want what they can't have: They want it ALL. Lots of guaranteed government goodies, but low taxes. They're worried about deficit spending as well they should be. The day MUST come when the government can no longer even pay interest on the debt and therefore MUST default. We're talking another Great Depression. BUT in virtually any category, a majority of Americans say THIS must not be cut.

    So perhaps the major role of the U.S. government today is to be the scapegoat for America's sins. It's become almost impossible for honest politicians to reach high office because they cannot compete for votes with dishonest ones. The upshot of all this is that no, you cannot trust the government because the US does indeed have a government of, by, and for the people. So to what SEEMS to be a growing number of people who claim the government is tyrannical and talk about overthrowing it, that's not just treason it's nonsense. And fact is, it isn't Christians talking about overthrowing the government. It's what you'd expect. Spooky People. Upshot? Of course you can't trust the government. They is Us.

  • --I can't speak for others, but I don't trust the government (and the police) at all. Not sure if it has anything to do with my faith and my youth but I seen the corruption of both. The government isn't governed by the people anymore, but by the money of greedy corporations.

  • --@Corwin, that is so true! We need to be discerning of everyone. I think we need to be especially discerning of churches and religious organizations because they have the power to lure or drive people away from God, and that is the most dangerous power of all. A spiritual attack from the inside is always more effective than an attack from the outside.    

  • --*inside of the church

  • --I think it's good to be skeptical of Government (and any organization/interest group)... to think everything through, weigh everything spiritually. (and for that matter common sense)  But certainly at least for some US Christians, it can (and has) become an unhealthy conspiracy theory/bunker mentality...packaged and sold by certain radio and media personalities.  This is pure garbage and it really should have no place in our lives.  I'm only sorry to see it influence and take advantage of so many...

  • --Let's keep perspective, it wasn't just conservatives that the IRS was targeting. And in this round it was a conservative employee that did the targeting, unprompted from above.

    Trusting the government is a bit of a tricky thing. On the one hand the government is us. For good or for ill, democracy or despotism, it is how we all act together as a group. When our country does good we get the credit. When it does ill we are to blame. In the Old Testament, and perhaps even in the New, God is more interested in nations than in individuals. On the other hand, I live in the US. My country lied to me to justify a war against Iraq and became a torture state. In Guantanamo we are holding captives who have been cleared of any wrongdoing or war making against us. But because we tortured them we expect them to take up arms against us in retaliation if we release them. And we know that the US has sent people to dark holes to be tortured in other lands, "rendition" they call it. But we don't know how many are still in those holes. I'm pretty sure that God blames us and not the government.

  • --Nemo, so you read a lot of Huffington Post, huh? ;D

    No, seriously though, I get quite a lot irritated by people on both sides of the aisle. Probably more by the left than the right, but that's generally because I reject the "collectivist" mindset of the left and uphold the autonomy of individual freedom over the collective good. I'll start there and then move on to what I don't like about the above post or the general idea that it's ok to be Paranoid Parrot about any government or politician that doesn't embrace the "Christian Nation" cliche.

    In Defense of the Individual:

    I think this statement in particular:

    "God is more interested in nations than in individuals." is patently untrue of all of the Bible, Old Testament and New. There are not many books in the bible named for nations (most hebrews...), but there are many named for specific people (Joshua, Ruth, Samuel I and 2, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job, all the Prophets...). In fact, the idea that the Hebrew nation worshiped not "The God of the Hebrews" but rather, the much more personal and individual God of "Abraham, Isaac and Jacob" should be evidence that even in the Old Testament God connected with his followers in a deeply personal and individualistic way. In fact, I would go so far as to say that God values nations because he values individuals -- not the other way around. Someone who values the collective, for example, does not point to the inherent nature of the Body of Christ being made up of the sum of its parts and the individual value that each of those members bring to the table. A God who values the collective, rather than the individual would not consider the plea of a friend that his family be spared from the wholescale destruction of a city and intervene on their behalf. A God who valued the collective, rather than the individual would not raise up individual judges to pass judgement over a nation, would not hand-select the next national leader from the home of a shepherd, would not concern himself with a widow and her widowed daughter-in-law.

    I think the bible is very, very clear that God is a personal God who does value individuals.

    In Defense of the "Evil" Government does to preserve the independent status of the Individual:

    It is on us, then, to be the best individuals we possibly can, and when neccessary, it is on us to use what limited power we posess as individuals to inspire those around us to lead better, more sanctified and more moral lives -- but, again, as we see in the Bible, and predominately in the Old Testament, sometimes that better, more sanctified and more moral world comes at great and perilous cost. I think there is a lie that the left-leaning folks nationally and world-wide want to sell that says that human beings are inherently good. There is no true struggle of good v. evil in the world -- rather there is only the struggle of what is good for the individual and that which is good for the collective. Therefore the "corporate fat cat" is evil, because he must be motivated by self-interest and greed, and the not-for-profit worker must be noble because they are motivated by the greater good.

    But you can no more know the heart of a man by his occupation than you can by the clothes he puts on in the morning. It is possible, then, that there are people at work in those "black holes" of society that are more morally righteous than in the Ivory Tower bastions of intellect or even the pulpit -- not because of what they do, but because of their motivations and what they accomplish. Evil can do things that seem Good, and Good can do things that seem evil. Is human life always worth preserving if it exists primarily to further the cause of evil? Is torture always, unequivocably wrong if it results in intellegence that saves thousands of lives? Is respect and kindness for the religious preferences of another always positive if it creates an environment where an evil person can corrupt otherwise innocent, calm and peace-loving people? Those are the gray areas you have to be willing to explore before you can pass judgement on those offices that do the kind of "dirty work" that you find morally reprehensible.

    More simply put: When faced with a rabid dog, do you blame the dog catcher for shooting the animal, the animal for being rabid, the rabies for existing or God for allowing it to happen?

    Which is what makes situations like the suviellance of Verizon phone records themselves troubling. It is moments like that when we truly have to analyze what we really believe about the hearts of man, the rights of the individual, and our own personal rights. I believe that goverment surviellance of private phone records, conversations, call times and locations without probable cause constitutes a violation of the fourth amendment as an unreasonable search and seizure of private property. I do not think that it is the right of the government to swoop in and tell private citizens not to worry because the Government, the collective, knows what is better for them than they do personally.

    However, once you cross that line -- once you start calling bad guys in Africa, once you start meeting with known terrorist organizations, once you trigger known markers one too many times -- I think that your rights start to disappear, not because the government has taken them away, but because you have made individual choices to relinquish them. Once you actively make that decision to take up arms against the government you live under, or worse, innocent civilians, your neighbors, coworkers, acquiantances, you have made the statement that you no longer care about your rights, you no longer want them, and you are no longer interested in living in a calm, peaceful society with your neighbor. At that point, it is the responsibility of the government to protect the right of the rest of its law abiding citizens to life, liberty and the pursuit of their happiness.

    Do we sometimes mistake good guys for bad guys? Sure we do. We're only human -- no matter what government we represent, we are individuals. No matter who you are, you're only human. So sometimes we get the wrong guy. Sometimes we get bad intellegence and make the wrong call, like starting a war in Iraq. And sometimes we get the right intellegence and we act on it, like finding Osama Bin Laden in a hole in Pakistan.

    But the lay-level pontification about the decisions which get made about the international struggle of good v. evil is eyeroll worthy at best. Everyone wants to be a monday morning quarter back. Everyone wants to say that if THEY were in charge, the decisions that would be made would be better, more right, more moral, more ethical. They want to criticize from the comfort of their arm chairs without ever walking through those areas that they decry. They don't believe that there are people in the world you can look in the eye and see the evil growing on their soul like a cancer.

    Does the government do everything right? Certainly not. Do they do some things right? Certainly they do.

    There is this growing wave of people in the west who don't know, read, or understand history -- that is, it is the way of humanity that those who are strong conquer the weak and imprint their culture upon them. It is better, then, for everyone, that those who are "strong" have a geniune respect and acknowledgement for the culture and worth of others -- that is something that the United States, as a super power, has been able to over the world for the last 70 years or so -- and that is valuable. People who scream and rail and cry for the downfall of the US because of the "meanness" of our international policies or get frustrated with our "world policing" have never had to live with the alternative.

    Then they get on reddit and they talk to each other about how vapid and stupid and unenlightened people who truly believe that there is evil the world are. They want to talk about Evil in this gray context of greed and corporate profits versus the enlightenment of not-for-profit publically funded work, without realizing that the very system they work for is the one perpetuating the very things they stand against. Very few are willing to trace back the arms of the beauracracy to find that the same government funding university research on the cure for cancer and the national endowment for the arts, is the very same government that is throwing war criminals into international prisons.

    Further, they do not recognise, there are truly people out there that would happily kill them for no reason other than that they were born in the wrong place, in the wrong color, or they took the wrong job. We are a national of peace raised, primarily in a generation of peace -- the war, for us, has always been someplace else -- somewhere that we can get outraged about on twitter and social media. Somewhere that we can decry non-fair-trade practices and frustrate over the plight of the Dalit, but nowhere that we actually have to DO anything about if we don't want to. We can put on our pink feather boas and scream at the president, but no one is going to come into our home, rape us, kill us and impress our children into rough manual labor or a militarized gang and that is a security that other places in the world don't necessarily have.

    So Do I trust the Government I live under? I do trust them to provide that level of security, which I, and most of the rest of you have grown accustomed to. I hope, sometimes against hope, that they will abide by their own laws -- and I expect them to be held accountable when they do not.

    In Defense of Secular Government:

    On the other hand, I also recognise the government for what it is -- and I think may people on the right do not. The government of the United States is not a big stick for you to use in order to beat citizens into compliance with your personal moral, ethical and religious code. The idea of a "Christian government" is ludicrous, precisely because God cares for the individual, and the collective only insomuch as it is made of individuals. You cannot have a Christian government any more than you could have a Christian Orchestra or a Christian knitting circle. You can have a group of Christians who get together and play instruments, or knit, or pass laws -- but Government inherently has no faith. The separation of Church and State exists not to protect the state from the church, as many people seem to think -- but rather, to protect the Church from the State. So if you believe that homosexuals shouldn't marry, or that abortions shouldn't happen, or that the poor need to be fed and cared for by charity rather than welfare -- it is up to you, the individual and the church of which you are a part to discuss those beliefs within your churches. Maybe you need to invest more time in your food pantry. Maybe you need to make Church charity a better alternative than what the government can offer. Maybe you need to make adoption or motherhood more appealing than abortion, and if doing it yourself is unethical, uncomfortable or can't be reconciled with your faith, offering guidance to those who _can_ promote healthy, realistic alternatives to teens grappling with sexuality who aren't sure yet what they believe about God or Chastity while helping them to understand and grapple with those difficult concepts.

    Somewhere along the line a pervasive and terrible lie infiltrated the church: That the church cannot make an impact without making a political impact. That in order for the church to hold sway, they must sway government.

    That is exactly the opposite of the framer's intention for this country. Government by, for, and of the people inherently means that the values, character and standings of the people themselves impact the government -- _not the other way around_. The longer the Church seeks to make the government a means of enforcing their will on the people in the name of "freedom" the more they make a mockery of themselves and of the country they profess to love.

    The only way to make the government love God is for the people to love God, and the only way to do that is to spark revival. The only way to do THAT is to get out into the heart of where people are, and show them God's love in practical ways that they can see, understand and grasp the results of. The young church exploded with widows in its early growth because the church offered them refuge.

    Who does the church offer refuge to today? What are we doing to change that, and in turn, to bring the church back to a position where it represents a meaningful voice of the people and not just a loud one?

  • --MS ASHLEYTOF

    I agree with everything you said.  That has always been my position that secular government need to be separate from the church.  I don't know where the church started trying to inject itself into politics and government, it is not the church's role to try to gain power thru government.  i am afraid that you and I are the minority view though.

  • --Ashley, you wrote " However, once you cross that line -- once you start calling bad guys in Africa, once you start meeting with known terrorist organizations, once you trigger known markers one too many times -- I think that your rights start to disappear,"

    I strongly disagree. Your rights do not disappear. To the extent they are ignore by government judt goes to show how lawless your government is. (And for several reasons, I conclude the fed gov. is a lawless entity that does what it wants when it wants.)

    The paragraph that starts with " But you can no more know the heart of a man by his occupation" sounds like a lot of wishful thinking.. How can you verify any of that stuff you wrote? Who would verify that? How can you be sure  of the  actual occurence of the things you  suppose? You have way more faith inthe fed gov. than I do.

    Also, there was a guy named Saul of Tarsus who was a terrorist of his day to some people. He had a heart change and quit his job. If your job involves torturing people, you might need to make a heart check.

    There are alternatives for keeping Americans safe that dont require detaining or torturing human beings. The government does not pursue these more peaceful and sane measures. I seriously don't believe their stated aim of protecting Americans.

    In your scenario, who defines who a bad guy in Africa is? The same people who will come get you and send you for gorture? The same who will assassinate you with a drone? Why should I think they would not use these tools against political enemies like the IRS?

    You say " Do we sometimes mistake good guys for bad guys? Sure we do."  How can you advocate neglecting people's rights if you acknowledge this?

    If there are people who hate you, don't let them in your house. If there are people in your house who want to kill you, kick them out and guard your place. Don't go getting in their business to make more enemies.

    However, your comments about too many Christians trying to influence through law and government are correct. See The War on (some) Drugs.

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