Ten Biblical Principles of Civic Responsibility
By Paul de Vries, pauldevries.com, 2018
Have you noticed that generally when people promote standards for civic responsibility, their selection of principles is determined by their political preferences as Democrats, Republicans or Independents? Far too often it seems that fellow Christian people’s loyalties to a political party or a political movement is stronger than their commitment to our LORD and to the Holy Bible. Now in our highly politicized environment, merely having Democratic or Republican principles only divides – including dividing the Church, friendships, and even families. Quite providentially, the best principles are not defined by political parties and their platforms, but by the Bible.
In 2004, I helped the National Association of Evangelicals write and endorse Seven Principles of Civic Engagement as part of its “For the Health of the Nation.” Those are principles 1-7 that I summarize below. I was also a contributing author of a book related to that wonderful NAE event: Toward an Evangelical Public Policy, published by Baker Book House in 2005.
Back in 2004, I also argued for an eighth principle: “Pursue Racial Reconciliation.” Personally, I have actually put my life on the line for racial reconciliation. Additionally, I have labored for multiethnic respect from my earliest teenage years. For decades I have often been stunned by many other people’s blindness to utterly obvious racial and ethnic bias. Racial Reconciliation is an enormous theme in the Bible, and failures to “Pursue Racial Reconciliation” have contributed to huge crises, harmful divisions, and enduring disempowerments of American Churches in the 1840s and ever since then. Thankfully, recent events have awakened our leaders at the NAE and changed their perspectives so that they have just this year voted – 14 years after my urging – to include my eighth principle! Hallelujah!
However, since 2004 I have become convinced of two additional principles as essential for Biblical civic responsibility: Define Correctional Programs with Restorative Justice and Universally Empower Language-Arts in Homes, Churches, and Schools. These three additional essential Biblical standards are summarized below as Principles 8-10. All these ten principles are firmly Biblical, so that their numerical order has nothing to do with priority.
Here is an especially revealing recommendation for this list of reminders of Biblical teaching: Among these top ten Biblical principles it is quite telling that half of them have been in recent times well-promoted by the Democratic Party leaders, while the other half are well-promoted by the Republican Party leaders. It is a shocking tragedy that we have these top Biblical principles only in pieces. It is disappointing when some Republican leaders are quick to protect the lives of babies till in the womb, but who have much less commitment to a safe environment once the baby is born. It is just as disappointing when some Democrat leaders articulate intensely important environmental concerns but have not one word against elective abortions killing millions of human babies. Is it not far better that we embrace both the sanctity of human life (Principle #2) and equally important care for all of God’s creation (Principle #7)?
What would the world be like if we guided our civic engagement by the uniting Biblical principles? What would America be like if we were awakened by Godly consciousness to uphold divine standards with enthusiasm? By God’s amazing grace, may Christian brothers and sisters who are also Republicans, Democrats, and Independents hold our politicians’ accountable on all these ten precious Biblical principles.
1. Nurture family life and protect children.
From the first chapter of Genesis onward, the Bible tells us that the family is central to God’s vision for human society. Marriage is an enduring covenant between one man, one woman and One God—and it is the primary Biblical model for human relationships. Whether we are married or single, it is in the family that (a) we learn mutual submission and responsibility, (b) we learn to live in an ordered society with complementary roles, (c) we learn to love and to trust, (d) we learn both justice and mercy, and (e) we learn to deny ourselves for the well-being of others. Thus, the family is at the heart of the wholesome organic functioning of any society.
2. Protect the sanctity of human life.
Because God created human beings as divine images of God, all people share in divine sanctity. Because the Bible reveals God’s calling and care of persons before they are born, even the pre-born share in this divine sanctity. Infanticide, abortion-on-demand, euthanasia, and irresponsible human experimentation and other unnecessary death and damage violate the God-given sanctity of all human life. Where such practices gain social approval and become legitimized in law, they undermine the moral, legal and cultural protections that society should provide for all persons—especially the vulnerable. Human dignity is indivisible, so that threats to any vulnerable person are a threat to all.
3. Defend religious freedom and liberty of conscience for all.
God has ordained co-existing institutions of church and state as distinct and independent of each other, with each having its own areas of responsibility. We affirm the principles of religious freedom and liberty of conscience, since they are established in the Bible. They are also historically and logically at the foundation of the American experiment and essential to other successful societies. In religious liberty, we reach out to all others (a) in personal respect, (b) to seek mutual understanding and (c) to collaborate on points of common purpose, including especially as common purposes may support these Ten Biblical Principles of Civic Responsibility.
4. Seek justice and compassion, especially for the poor and vulnerable.
In the Scriptures we are commanded to love God with all that we are and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Also, anyone in need is our “neighbor.” Biblical teachings and moral economics insist on both a fair legal system (which does not favor either the rich or the poor) and a fair economic system (which does not tolerate perpetual poverty). God identifies with the poor and tells us that those who “are kind to the poor lend to the Lord,” while “those who oppress the poor show contempt for their Maker.” The Lord evaluates our behavior especially by how the people at “the bottom” are treated—the people who are considered “the least.”
5. Safeguard human rights.
Because God created human beings in the divine image and likeness, all people are endowed with inalienable rights and responsibilities – especially life and liberty and their protection. To carry out these responsibilities, all human beings need the freedom to form associations, formulate and express beliefs, and act on conscientiously held commitments. Governments should be constitutionally obligated to protect these basic human rights. Houses of worship have a special responsibility to model the core human rights, dignity, respect, and responsibility—including redemptive race relations.
6. Non-violently resolve conflicts and build peace-creating solutions.
Godly leaders in the Bible looked forward to the time when God’s reign would bring about just and peaceful societies in which people would enjoy the fruits of their labor without interference from foreign oppressors or unjust rulers. A peaceful settling of disputes is a divine mission, regardless of who leads the efforts. We urge people and governments thoroughly to pursue nonviolent paths to peace before resorting to violence of any sort, including military force. Instead work to reduce conflict (a) by promoting real community and international understanding, (b) by engaging in non-violent conflict resolution, and (c) by actively creating cultures of peace in churches, communities, countries, and internationally.
7. Care for all of God’s creation.
All that God created is good, so that even pollutants are resources out of place. God gave the care of the Earth and its many species to our first parents, called by God to “improve and protect” nature, and then making us its steward, too. The systems God built into creation are intensely complex, and human actions often have unexpected side effects—so that the stewardship of creation requires teachability, caution, and behavioral revisions based upon informed observation and feedback. All individuals should engage in creation-friendly behavior by (a) practicing effective recycling, (b) conserving resources, (c) reducing pollution, and (d) experiencing the joy of positive encounters in God’s splendid creation.
8. Pursue lasting reconciliation, including especially in racial relationships.
The Bible teaches reconciliation of all people to God and of all people to one another, regardless of race. The Lord is the exemplary reconciler. We serve God and one another in active reconciliation. The Bible teaches people always to reconcile—whether they are the aggressor or the aggrieved. Included here are the works of divine peace, shalom, within all relationships; reconciliation between God and humans; reconciliation between races and between denominations—both within and between groups. The God of Peace, the Prince of Peace, wants and teaches a transformative culture of shalom as a ruling principle in homes, churches, communities, races, economic classes, cities, states, nations, and between nations.
9. Make restorative justice the prime purpose of correctional programs.
Minimally, civic institutions exist for the purposes of justice. While just punishment for crime has a place, the primary Biblical concept of justice is restoration—both the victim and the wrongdoer. Restorative justice is "righteous" in the best and original sense of the term, because it helps make people and systems right. However, instead of restoring the humanity of either the victims or wrong-doers, the so-called "correctional systems" generally demean, humiliate, and dehumanize both the victims and the wrongdoers, and all their communities and families. Biblical leadership would vastly improve and empower our homes, our churches, our public schools, and our correctional systems for the needed restorative human development. Only then will we properly honor the image of God in every person.
10. Universally Empower with Language-Arts in Homes, Churches, and Schools.
Communication can promote either peace or harm, either condemnation or restoration. Even truth without respect can diminish and destroy, and love without truth is vacuous. The Bible teaches us to speak the truth in love always. It is no "coincidence" that Jesus Christ, the ultimate Word, was full of both truth and grace. Empowering education is essential—in homes, churches, schools, and in every place where our inborn responsible humanity is empowered. Training in language arts – reading, writing, listening, and speaking – counts for human flourishing, especially through personal Bible engagement. Adults and children not empowered in language arts have less access both to the Scriptures and to success in life—and are more likely victims of the prison-industrial complex. Instead, children and adults empowered in holistic language arts have more opportunities for Godly leadership, wisdom, success, and joy. They can daily open the Bible and other books and literature for wisdom, knowledge, empowerment, and encouragement.
These ten principles for Biblical Action are offered to you by
New York Divinity School, 646-395-0008, firstname.lastname@example.org
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