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What Jonathan Edwards Can Teach Us About Politics

Greetings All,

     In light of the coming election here in the States (which has many people from both sides a bit discouraged with the final candidate alternatives) I thought some biblically-based political insights from a man who lived long ago -- Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) -- would be useful in helping us choose wisely, regardless of which side of the divide you stand on.  Even those who have determined in protest -- not to vote at all, or vote for a write in -- could benefit from his thoughts on the issue. Although I must add that it's good to remember that Edwards wrote at a time when no constitution had yet been drafted, and the United States had not yet become the United States!

This "thought" is taken from an article written by Gerald R. McDermott, entitled: "What Jonathan Edwards Can Teach Us About Politics."  In his article he shares six of Edwards's views, though I have chosen to limit this week's post to the first three and give you the last three next week.  And before all my friends overseas press the "delete" button, I must add that the insights he shares are timeless and by no means restricted to U.S. politics!  Wherever you may live, I trust you will find them helpful.  Enjoy.

"Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) is widely regarded as the greatest theologian this continent has ever produced. As a key figure in the religious life of colonial America, Edwards was a multifaceted thinker whose total catalog of ideas is still being discovered. ... And while scholars have long recognized that Edwards possessed one of the most creative and powerful intellects on American soil [just to give you a sense of intellectual prowess, it helps to know Edwards entered Yale University at 13 years old, having already learned Latin, Greek and Hebrew], most have thought [because of his famous sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God"] he was happy to let the world go to hell -- in both senses of that phrase. 
     But recent research indicates that Jonathan Edwards carefully observed the social and political currents swirling about him and developed an elaborate theory of what it means to be a Christian citizen in a civil community... The following is a six-point summary of Edwards's public theology:
     1.) Christians have a responsibility to society beyond the walls of the church. The election of a president who openly supports social policies repugnant to most evangelicals has prompted some Christians to suggest the church abandon efforts to change society.... Yet Edwards (well-known for his leadership in spiritual revivals) insisted that Christians should care about the material and social well-being of those outside the church. God has made us dependent upon our non-Christian neighbors for help, he taught, and therefore to fail to acknowledge our interdependence "is more suitable for wolves and other beasts of prey, than for human beings."  Edwards's convictions on this point stemmed from his belief that we are made in the image of God, who is always reaching out in relationship to others and cares for their bodies as well as their souls. Christians should do the same... Edwards practiced what he preached. Throughout a seven year stint on the Massachusetts frontier, for example, the New England theologian fought for the rights of native Americans who came to his mission church. He argued that Indian girls should be able to go to school, and wrote repeated letters to the Massachusetts Assembly urging the colony to honor its treaty obligations to the Housatonuk Indians...  
     2.) Christians should not hesitate to join forces with non-Christians in the public square to work toward common moral goals...Edwards argued that Christians have much in common with non-Christians: The same basic sense of good and evil, since God has engraved his moral law on every human conscience; similar appreciation for beauty, both material and moral; the same fundamental religious knowledge (that there is a God, and that He is good); and basic human feelings (pity for the poor and love for family).  Using Edward's principles, an evangelical could work together with a Muslim to fight pornography in their community. Both see pornography as a moral wrong, threatening the integrity of marriage and family.... Similarly, his public theology does not call for Christians to create new, separate political communities, or to shun communities outside the church. Rather, it encourages Christians to work together with like-minded citizens, Christian or not, to transform existing communities according to God-given principles of conscience. [Edwards, says McDermott, would have rejected "the historic Anabaptist approach, who choose not to join with those outside the church as equal partners in common work for the community, but remain separate from the rest of society in an alternative community intended to stand only as a distant witness to the rest of culture.]
     3.) Christians should support their governments but be ready to criticize them publicly when the occasion demands. Edwards believed that government is, "a great and important business," that, among other things, prevents, "citizens from tearing one another apart." He preached that a Christian should be "greatly concerned for the good of the public community to which he belongs," and willing to, "lay out himself... for the good of his country." .... But Edwards also warned that political leaders are prone to abuse their power, and encouraged citizens to criticize "the management of public affairs, and the duty of the legislature, and those that are at the head of the administration." More than once he used his pulpit to tell rulers how they ought to behave. One Sunday (with local politicians present)...he boldly advised the congregation that bad politicians seek only to, "enrich themselves, or to be great, and advance themselves on the spoils of others." The good magistrate, however, is not willing to "grind the faces of the poor, and screw their neighbors for filthy lucre." Little wonder that these politicians conspired with others to fire Edwards some months later."
     I must confess I'm one of those people who are "discouraged" with the options left to us this November.  And I'm not alone if the lack of placards in people's front yards, and the noticeable absence of bumper stickers on cars are an indication of the lack of enthusiasm for either candidate. Yet despite that prevalent air of discouragement many feel, Edward's thoughts are helpful -- especially the thought that we live in a community, with Christian and non-Christian neighbors, whose physical and spiritual welfare IS to be my concern.  And it is helpful to remind ourselves that "God has made us dependent upon our non-Christian neighbors," and we should "acknowledge our interdependence," and that we do have "much in common with non-Christians,"  and should seek to "work together with like-minded citizens, Christian or not."
     After all, our God (who is sovereign over all), has left us here to be "salt" and "light."  Light which dispels the darkness, and salt which is NOT to remain separate, but be mixed into the whole to give it a better flavor.
Just some food for thought, Pastor Jeff