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Christians and secular authority 7: expansion of government and political life

Teaching school is merely one example of the way the role of government has changed since ancient times. Governments no longer limit themselves to collecting taxes, protecting and expanding borders, enforcing public order, and building monuments. Wholesale reorientation from government for the benefit of the governing elite to government for the benefit of all the Queen’s subjects has resulted in the state providing far more services—all of which require full-time, part-time, occasional, and partial employees. Like education, medical care was beyond the financial means of the great mass of people in early Christian times. Today it is universal and is funded by the two senior levels of government. If all public service employment were forbidden to Christians, may a Christian be a physician paid by the state? What about pharmacists, who are essentially tax-funded employees when a senior citizen exceeds the pharmacare deductible? These questions ought to be examined by denominations that forbid voting and running for secular offices.

No distinction can be drawn between elected politicals that approve new statutes and set policies, and civil servants that administer the law and will of the elected legislators. In Canadatoday, many statutes provide for a government bureaucracy to formulate most of the law through regulations, which possess the same binding force as the statutes themselves. Many permanent civil servants wield as much authority as elected representatives. For instance, at one time many important laws of the Northwest Territories(which at that time included Nunavut) were the brainchildren of bureaucrats in Ottawa-Hull, many of whom had no idea of local conditions, to the hardship of the Indians and Inuit. In the twentieth century, the power of the executive branch grew at so great an expense of the legislative branch that Parliament now experiences difficulty in exercising its will.

Even the great mass of Canadians can today be considered in government pay. Canadahas publicly-funded social assistance (both provincial and municipal), child allowance, family and children’s services, disability pensions, old age pensions, blind people’s pensions, widows’ pensions, victim services, and health agencies. If available at all, in ancient times all these were provided by churches and other private charity instead of secular governments. Can it be a sin for Christians to do through the state what they once did through the church?

No early Christian author mentioned grassroots voting, which is strange considering that citizens of Romeregularly exercised their franchise, as did citizens of Greek city-states. Perhaps the prohibition against such voting is encompassed by Tertullian’s “electoral assemblies” and “public meetings”. Until the late nineteenth century, even Canadian elections were conducted by an open show of hands or voices, with the elector’s choice being known to all present. Voters publicly took sides at the polling station. With the introduction of the secret ballot, nobody today knows for sure how somebody else voted, there is no openly taking sides, and the other candidates are not alienated. Are Tertullian’s observations still valid under these electoral conditions?

In the twentieth century, some religious groups that forbade voting for political candidates nevertheless encouraged their members to vote “no” in plebiscites on whether alcohol would be sold in their community. Is the issue the crucial distinction? Were Christians in the United Statesjustified so long as they voted for candidates of the Prohibition Party? What about when partisan candidates or their opponents take stands on abortion or gambling or provincial tax funding of denominational schools?


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