Governments have an immense influence on the conduct of people in a society…the moral convictions, behavior, and moral fabric. The psalmist knows that there are “wicked rulers” who “frame injustice by statute”. [Ps. 94:20]. They pass laws to enable wrongdoing, and much of society falls right in line. Isaiah says,”Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees, and the writers who keep writing oppression.” [Isa. 10:1]. Another psalm implies that evil rulers can influence people toward wrongdoing, because it implies that if “the scepter of wickedness”…a symbol of authority held by wicked rulers…ever would “rest on the land allotted to the righteous,” then there is much greater likelihood that the righteous would “stretch out their hands to do wrong.” [Ps. 125:3]. Sometimes governments can pass laws that authorize horribly evil deeds, i.e. King Ahasuerus [Esth. 3:13]. This is one reason why Paul encouraged Christians to pray “for kings and all who are in high positions,” so that Christian believers “may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” [1 Tim. 2:2]. The implication being that good rulers can influence a nation toward good conduct, while evil rulers can encourage and promote all sorts of evil conduct among their people.
The influence of government comes by personal example. For many generations, school children were taught about the upright and heroic conduct of leaders such as George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, in order that they might imitate this conduct in their own lives. By contrast, one reason the people of the United States…from both parties…felt such profound disappointment in President Clinton’s sexual misconduct in office was the poor example it set for adolescent children and indeed the rest of society. Today, many secular revisionists are trying to undermine the moral standards and the moral men and women who established the foundations of this nation
Another reason that government influences conduct of the people in a society, is the laws have a teaching function. For many people, if the government passes laws that say something is legal, people will also think that it is morally right. If the government says that something is illegal, then many people will think that it is morally wrong. This is especially true for people who do not seek moral guidance from the Bible, but it can also be true of Christian believers.
The teaching function of law is one reason why there are still so many abortions in the United States. Many people take the easy way out and reason that if the government allows something, society must think that it is morally right or at least morally permissible. So they decide to have an abortion, possibly even going against the quiet inward voice of their conscience. If there were laws prohibiting people from taking the lives of pre-born children, perhaps many of these same people would find that their conscience agrees with the law and would support it and think that it is right.
Another good example of government influencing the attitudes of citizens is provided by writer Wayne Grudem, who has spent considerable time both on the state of Arizona and the country of England. In his conversations with evangelical Christians in Arizona, he came to the conclusion that they believed it was perfectly natural and morally right for Christians to own a gun for the purposes of self-defense in case of an emergency. But his experience with evangelical Christians in England put quite a different slant on the subject where he found that many thought it was morally wrong for Christians to do this. Why this finding? The laws of England make it nearly impossible for private citizens to own guns, but the laws and customs in Arizona make it very easy for citizens to do so. The laws do have a teaching function, and they influence peoples ideas of right and wrong.
The same considerations apply to people’s attitudes about same-sex ‘marriage’, the proper grounds for divorce, the age at which it is appropriate for children to drink alcoholic beverages…much more liberal in Europe, the place of secular religious speech in private activities, co-habitation of males and females, homosexual relations, and so forth. Laws have a teaching function with respect to the general population.
What the government considers as legal or illegal affects what is taught in schools to the children in any society. Children in pre-war Germany were taught to hate Jews. Children in many Islamic countries are taught to hate infidels. Recent court actions that legalized same-sex ‘marriage’ gave added incentive for schools to teach that homosexual conduct is to be considered normal and morally right, and to attempt to silence anyone who would express any counter view. Just how will this influence on children in the society impact their sense of moral right and wrong and their future sexual conduct?
Therefore the laws and policies of a government have enormous impact on the conduct of people in a society. Christians should care about this, first, because sin destroys people’s lives and Christians are commanded,”You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” [Matt. 22:39]. Secondly, because the entire course of a nation is set by the moral conduct of its individual citizens, and “righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.” [Prov.14:34]. While it is true, then, that government cannot save people or fundamentally change human hearts, we must simultaneously affirm that government policy and laws do have an immense influence on a nation for good or for evil. When the church dismisses itself from any responsibility of involvement with the political process, it is being irresponsible in its obligations to the society. There is a responsibility to instruct in the Word of God. There is also a responsibility to teach how this Word is to be applied to our lives and society. Christians are citizens of the Kingdom of God; they are also citizens of the world.
Next week we’ll take a look at the relationship between church and state.
– Bob Munsey