/ civil rights / Kit Swartz

Civil Duties

Civil discourse has degenerated to the point where opponents shout at each other with megaphones and even march to lay siege to families in their homes.  There is no calm conversation but only provocative volume, vocabulary, slogans and images.  We are too quick to speak and too slow to listen.  Conversation, cooperation and conciliation are anathema to all sides.  The party spirit that our founders dreaded has come to ugly flower and bitter fruit.  Civil war fought in the streets of our cities seems near at hand with many foretastes.

What are our obligations as Christian citizens in the midst of all this?  First, we must remember that the powers that be are ordained by God.  We must therefore obey our governments out of this conviction.  To rebel against them is to rebel against God.  The only time we are free from this obligation is when those in power require us to sin.  If they merely require us to support foolishness, we may seek to persuade them of a better course, but we may not disobey.  We must be prepared to do all the good we can for our governments, not just fulfilling our duties but also going the extra mile beyond what they require of us.  We must ask what we can do for our governments rather than what they can do for us.  We must focus on our duties and opportunities rather than on our rights and desires. All this requires the power of the cross to kill our natural pride and selfishness, as well as the power of the resurrection to enable us to love our neighbors, including our political opponents. We need to dwell in Christ by grace and through faith in order to be faithful to Him in our life as earthly citizens.

The Apostle Paul goes further in his letter to Titus. He says that we must not insult our leaders in our speech nor fight with them.  We must forbear them under their heavy responsibilities and with their human weaknesses.  We must be gentle and kind.  While respectfully contending out of our convictions, we must yield to their leadership whenever we can do so without sin.  As with everyone, we must demonstrate every humble consideration to our leaders.

When our leaders are foolish, disobedient to God, deceived and deceiving, ensnared in all kinds of evil desires wickedly fulfilled, living a lifestyle of malice and envy, justly hated and unjustly hating, we must remember that we were, in many of these ways, just like them.  It is only by the grace of God appointed by the Father in eternity, accomplished by Christ in time and applied by the Holy Spirit throughout time that we are cleansed from our sin and set apart in Christ’s righteousness.  And this salvation, while begun in us, is far from complete.

We must speak persuasively about these historical and spiritual realities and demonstrate the truth of them in lives that bring blessing to others.  We must avoid controversies that do no one any good and, instead, devote ourselves to fulfilling our duties to help others in any way we can.  This takes practice and perseverance.  We are saved by Christ’s works, not our own.  He saved us.  But we are saved to do the good works that God in Christ prepared for us. We are not saved by our works but we are saved for our works.

Out of newness in Christ, we must participate in civil life in a manner that is radically different from politics as usual.  May the Lord give us strength and courage, patience and perseverance, for this important duty so that we are not worthless citizens but profitable ones.

This article was submitted to The Palladium-Times in Oswego, NY for my monthly column.  For pdf outlines and video links to a recent sermon series on Paul’s letter to Titus, contact the author.  For questions or comments on this article, contact the author at rpcfulton@gmail.com or (517) 630-6325.