Political Theology 101

John C. Rankin (2007)

All people are made in the image of God, and hence we are all equal – we all seek the qualities of peace, order, stability and hope; to live, to love, to laugh and to learn. The image of God includes our calling to rule over the good works of God’s creation.

There are four all-defining subjects addressed in the biblical order of creation:

God → life → choice → sex.

Every issue we confront finds its basis in how these four subjects are defined and how they relate to each other, and they equal the content of Genesis 1-2:

God is sovereign, and his purpose in creation is to give the gift of life, especially human life – man and woman as made in his image to rule over his handiwork. Then follow the gifts of moral and aesthetic choice, and these serve the prior gift of human life. Finally, in the order of creation, is the gift of sex within marriage – here is the power to pass on the gifts of life, choice and sex through procreation to our offspring, to celebrate the height of what it means to be made in God’s image. Or to put it another way, true sexuality is an expression of godly choice that serves the gift of human life that comes from God.

The reversal of the order of creation is thus:

sex → choice → life →/God.

This reversal order is where sex outside the marriage of one man and one woman employs choice to hide from undesired consequences, and some of these choices injure or destroy human life, all in an affront against God the Creator. In the biblical worldview, God is the Creator of life, choice serves life, and thus man and woman in marriage is the healthy definition of human sexuality. The pagan and secular worldviews start with the justification of sexual promiscuity, press choice into its service to cover it up, and where such choices lead to sexually transmitted diseases, concubines, disinherited and orphaned children, infanticide and abortion etc., thus mocking the Creator.

The linkage between the God → life → choice → sex paradigm and the American polis is remarkable. Polis is the classical Greek term for the city and shared culture, walled off in safety against marauders, armies and wild animals. From it we derive the English words “politics” and “polity.” The Bill of Rights, the first Ten Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, and especially the First Amendment, are rooted here.

The Declaration of Independence gives definition to the concept of civil rights and a limited government with these words:

“WE hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness – That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the governed.”

In the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, these rights are legally defined as protecting citizens from the deprivation of “life, liberty or property” without due process of law. The word “men” as used in the Declaration can be understood in its best literary sense as inclusive of all humankind – men, women and children. This commitment to unalienable rights as endowed by God has enabled the United States to overcome inherited evils – to thus remove religious tests as barriers to citizenship and public office, and later to legally emancipate blacks, women and Native Americans to receive such rights, at least in principle.

The alignment between biblical ethics and the Declaration of Independence is both explicit and implicit, reflecting an understanding of history and human nature by its signatories. The specific language choice of “Creator” and the Declaration’s preceding language of “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” assume an understanding of Genesis 1-2, the order of creation. Here, God set forth the natural order, or Nature, as it was intended to be. In the Constitution’s insistence on checks and balances of power, it realizes that human sin is a destructive reality that accomplished a reversal of the natural order. And the goals of a limited federal government are to serve the religious freedom and social order necessary for all people to seek a reversal of the reversal insofar as possible in human affairs – the pursuit of the biblical reality of creation, sin and redemption.

This also equals God → life → choice → sex, and in this paradigm:

God = a parallel to the “Creator;”

life = a parallel to “Life;”

choice = a parallel to “Liberty;” and

(biblical) sex = a parallel to “the pursuit of happiness.”

The Declaration begins with God as our Creator who endows us with unalienable rights. The first right is that of life, followed by liberty, which equals the language of choice or freedom. Then the language of the pursuit of happiness, along with that of “property,” is set forth in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.

Human sexuality in the order of creation is based on the joining of man and woman in marriage, as equals and complements, where the man leaves his parent’s household to join with his wife in order to establish a new household. It equals the completion of the order of creation in Genesis 1-2, summing up these two chapters in how they establish the social order – man and woman in marriage.

The Greek word for “household” is oikonomos, our root for the English word “economics” (same concept as the Hebrew word bayith). The household, rooted in man and woman in marriage, is the basis for their property rights and economic productivity, which in total yields society’s power for the pursuit of happiness. This is the nature of the order of creation, before the brokenness of trust in matters of human sexuality, and thus, redemption is deeply concerned with marriage.

The logic of the order of creation shows the source of the Declaration’s use of unalienable rights. In Genesis 1-2, the Creator gives us life, liberty and stewardship over the earth – and the right to receive them as his gifts. No concept of pagan deity or secular philosophy, at their origins, ever approaches this goodness. Unalienable rights for all people are rooted in Genesis 1-2. The God → life → choice → sex reality of Genesis 1-2 assumes that marriage and family are the social foundation through which God gives unalienable rights. Therefore it is incumbent for we who are Christian to embrace our biblical, our Hebrew, our universal roots, and to be radical in the promotion of civil liberties for all people equally, since we celebrate the very power upon which civil rights are founded. The covenant of marriage – one man and one woman in mutual fidelity is central.

Thus, we have some threshold theological context for the six pillars of honest politics, the level playing field and the power of the pre-partisan. And this foundation has no interest in law engaging in minutiae, that is, the micromanagement of people’s lives from a state or federal perspective where those in top-down power seek to define the lives of others, in all issues, in a one-size-fits-all straightjacket. We need robust debate among equals.

The debate on how to define and implement central political principles belongs at the most local level possible, where people know each other, share common lives and thus, where trust most naturally happens and can be nurtured; then on upward to a limited federal government.