So we’ve got a voluntary ‘Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey’ (commonly known as a plebiscite) coming up in September.
The future definition of marriage is likely to be decided in the next few months. And while most Christians I know are happy to vote in the Postal Survey (plebiscite), questions are being asked about how to engage the SSM issue – and whether we should engage at all.
There’s uncertainty: should Christians ‘force their views’ onto other people, especially a vulnerable minority like LGBTI? Is opposing the redefinition of marriage contrary to what Jesus would do? Is it unloving?
These are important questions. And so in the next couple of blog posts, in the lead up to the ‘Postal Survey’, I want to help us think through them.
Political Theology 101
We’ll begin with a basic overview of political theology (something I’ve thought about quite a bit recently). This will help us understand how Christians ought to engage politically, especially on a topic like SSM.
And so, here are 11 things we should understand:
1) God’s Role For Government: Justice and Public Order
According to the Bible, all governments are servants of God (Romans 13:4). Yes, even secular non-Christian governments are servants of God. And they’re here because they have an important role to play: namely the upholding of justice:
‘[Governments] are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.’ (Romans 13:4)
Governments are not tasked with proclaiming the gospel (that’s the job of Christ’s disciples – Matt 28:18-20), but nor are they meant to hinder the gospel, or any other religion for that matter: it’s none of Caesar’s business who we worship (Matt 22:15-21). The only time Caesar can rightfully limit someone’s worship is if their religion requires them to do something unjust (e.g. kill infidels).
2) Democracy Means We All Have a Say in How Government Is Run
But Democracy is not about everyone getting their own way.
Under God’s Sovereign hand, we live under a democratic government. This means we have a say in how government should run (e.g. through voting).
Every person in our democracy – regardless of their religious belief or lack thereof – has a say. (Which, incidentally, also means that everybody has a (partial) responsibility of how government carries out its core task of justice – but more of that below.)
Although everybody is entitled to their own say in a Democracy, they’re not entitled to always get their own way. A government is responsible (under God) for upholding justice first and foremost, and if your views are unjust, then the government has no obligation to put them into practice – quite the opposite. So, for example, although many people might be in favour of full-term/partial birth abortions, a just government will prevent such practices from becoming law.
3) Government Laws Are By Nature Coercive
They force people to act in certain ways (or face legal consequences).
Justice, by its very nature, is coercive. It forces people to behave in certain ways or face the consequences for not doing so. Governments enforce this justice firstly by laws, which are backed up by the Police, and the Court system. The Bible says that God gives governments a ‘sword’ to ‘bring punishment on the wrongdoer’ (Romans 13:4).
And so, for example, if you DUI, or rob a bank, you’ll be forced to face serious consequences – the sword of God’s wrath, as it were.
Now this has big implications for how we relate to others in a democracy:
4) If You Vote For Politicians (Who Make Laws), You’re Involved In (Legally) Coercing Others
The question then becomes: which laws should we make people obey?
I often hear it said that Christian’s shouldn’t force their views on others.
But here’s the thing: if you vote, then you too force your views on others, by helping choose your local member, who makes laws. And such laws, by their very nature, ‘force’ a particular view on people: from speeding laws (forcing you to keep to a certain speed limit – or else); to taxes (forcing you to give up a portion of your money to government – or else); to speech laws (forcing you to keep your mouth shut about certain things – or else).
Most of the time, we probably don’t think too much about the laws around us – except when we disagree with them. At that point, we feel the weight of them – and guess what? Those laws are there in part because of our fellow Aussie voters.
And so, the question is never ‘should we force our views onto others?’. If vote, you already force your views onto others. The question, rather, is what views should be forced on others?
Now, although laws force people to act in certain ways, they also have a wider impact:
5) Because Laws Embody Underlying Moral Beliefs, They Impart Morality Onto a Culture
Laws shape public moral opinion.
Laws don’t just prevent people from doing certain things (or punishing them if they do); they also teach society what’s good and just and fair.
As Andrew T. Walker points out:
The law, like culture, is not static but dynamic and pedagogical. For good or ill, the forces of cultural opinion shape law, but, conversely, the law is an almost-unrivalled force for shaping cultural opinion.’ 
So in a democracy, a culture shapes people, who then shape the law, but the reverse is also true.
6) All Laws Are Based on ‘Religious’ Beliefs – Either Formal Religious Beliefs or Informal Beliefs
There are no religiously ‘neutral’ laws, because there are no religiously ‘neutral’ people.
A pernicious lie you’ll hear today is that religion should stay out of politics.
The reality, however, is that religion can’t stay out of politics – it’s an impossibility. As Augustine pointed 1600 years ago, we’re all worshippers, whether of the true God, or of false gods.  And so, all our views about morality have a ‘religious’ basis – meaning we all ‘believe’ things that can’t ultimately be proved by reason or science alone. And since our morality drives the laws and policies we vote for, our (religious) beliefs will always influence politics.
Christian scholar Jonathan Leeman puts it this way:
Every law…has some “religious” worldview behind it, as does every lawmaker. There is no religiously neutral activity. We worship either God, or something else…In other words…we must make a distinction between writing laws and constitutions that depend upon the moral principles of religion and using the state’s coercive authority to touch in any way the doctrines or membership of that religion…
Scripture does not give the state the authority to do the latter, and avoiding the former is impossible.’ 
7) The Public Square Is Not Neutral or Secular: It’s a ‘Battleground of gods’
Once we understand that all laws are driven by beliefs – either of the formal religious kind (e.g. Christianity), or the informal kind (e.g. ‘I just believe in equality and human rights’), then we come to realise that the public square – where people discuss and debate politics and public policy – cannot be religiously ‘neutral’. As long as people are sharing their convictions about laws and morality, they’re also sharing (albeit implicitly) ‘religious’ points of view.
Thus the public square is a ‘battleground of gods’, as Christian scholar Jonathan Leeman puts it, ‘each vying to push the levers of power in its favour.’ 
(A ‘battleground’ in this context doesn’t necessarily imply violence, for such ‘battles’ are waged peacefully through proper, constitutionally based procedures – e.g. voting.)
This is the nature of a (healthy!) democracy: everyone gets a say, which means everyone gets to share their religious point of view, trying to convince others.
However, Leeman points out that if people misunderstand the religious nature of the public square, democracy can go astray:
If the public square is a battleground of lords…any lawmaker or judge who forbids a so-called religious perspective in the writing of laws…is doing nothing more than clearing a path for the imposition of his or her religion. 
(Again, the ‘religion’ of the lawmaker or judge can be any set of beliefs about the world, e.g. Atheism.)
8) Laws Based on Distorted (i.e. Unbiblical) Views of the World Lead to Negative Consequences
That’s because there’s a God-given order to creation.
The 20th century showed us what happens when distorted ‘religions’ – a.k.a. ideologies – take over law and government. Communism had a view of humanity, economics, and government that went against the Bible’s view of reality – in other words, against the order of creation. And because they controlled the levers of power – (and weren’t afraid to pull them), the consequences were negative, to put it mildly.
Speaking of non-Christian ideologies, Christian scholar David T. Koyzis writes:
Because each of the “ideologies” is based on a distorted understanding of God’s good creation, there are real consequences associated with living out of such distortions.’ 
So where does all this leave us? How should Christians engage with the government?
Well, first we need to recognise some of the missteps Christians have taken throughout history:
9) How Christians Should Not Engage With Government
Two extreme positions.
Two polar opposite – and I would argue unbiblical – positions Christians have taken through the ages are as follows:
- Using governmental power to force people to become Christian. Why it’s problematic: Forcing people to become Christian is not government’s God-given role, as we saw above. Furthermore, the gospel is meant to be commended to people’s consciences, such that they’re free to accept or reject it without compulsion (e.g. 2 Corinthians 4:2);
- Removing themselves from political involvement altogether. Why it’s problematic: While politics can be frustrating (and worse), the reality is that government is not some evil that we need to get rid of, but ‘a servant of God for our good’ (Rom 13:4). It’s part of God’s created (albeit now fallen) order. And so, withdrawing from any involvement in political questions means giving up on God’s key way to ensure justice in our communities.
So what’s the most faithful way for Christians to engage government?
10) Out of Love For Neighbour, Christians Should Desire Just Laws, not Unjust Laws.
Thus we should seek to have significant Christian influence on government, to help ensure just laws are passed.
To put it simply, we Christians should seek to influence government, so that it takes on board (as much as possible) a creation-order view of justice, rather than distorted ideologies (which inevitably lead to injustice).
Theologian Wayne Grudem writes:
The “significant influence” view says that Christians should seek to influence civil government according to God’s moral standards and God’s purposes for government as revealed in the Bible (when rightly understood). But while Christians exercise this influence, they must simultaneously insist on protecting freedom of religion for all citizens.
In addition, “significant influence” does not mean angry, belligerent…and hate-filled influence, but rather winsome, kind, thoughtful, loving, persuasive influence that is suitable to each circumstance and that always protects the other person’s right to disagree, but that is also uncompromising about the truthfulness and moral goodness of the teachings of God’s Word.’ 
In sum, we seek to influence government for the sake of justice – our neighbours, and ours. (I like that Grudem points out that the way we influence also matters – but that’s a blog post for another day!)
11) When Christians are Part of a Democracy, They Have a Responsibility to Ensure Laws Are Just
To put it another way, if we give up trying to influence government to behave justly, then we’re saying injustice is ok. This is especially true for those of us living in a democracy like Australia.
Writing about democratic responsibility, theologian Russell Moore has this to say:
In [a democratic system of government]…the state is accountable to the people, who are, ultimately, the governing authorities.
Elsewhere he puts it rather poetically:
Shrugging this [political responsibility] off is not the equivalent of Jesus standing silently before Pilate. It’s the equivalent of Pilate washing his hands, so as not to bear accountability for our own decisions and precedents set.’
So, where to next?
Instead of retreating from politics, Christians, out of love for their neighbours, should engage government, and help it to be as just as possible.
But the question remains: is same-sex marriage one of those political questions that Christians should care about?
We’ll come to that in the next post.
 Jason G. Duesing et al., First Freedom – The Beginning and End of Religious Liberty (2d ed.; Nashville, Tennessee: B&H Academic, 2016), 128.
 Augustine, City of God, XIII, 54. Cf. Romans 1:18-32.
 Jonathan Leeman, Political Church – The Local Assembly as Embassy of Christ’s Rule (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2016), 371-373. Cf. Michael Sandel, Justice: What’s The Right Thing To Do? (London: Penguin, 2009), 261.
 Leeman, Political Church, 50.
 Leeman, Political Church, 371-373.
 David T. Koyzis, Political Visions And Illusions – A Survey and Christian Critique of Contemporary Ideologies (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2003), 188.
 Wayne Grudem, Politics According To the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 55.