Voices

Wrong doxology

When big government becomes a false god it puts true worship out of tune

Issue: "NextGen worship," July 26, 2008

For a pretty long time, it's been a pretty good fit. Three significant groups of U.S. citizens-with a lot of important issues in common, but by no means everything-have formed a political alliance that even in recent times has sometimes seemed unstoppable.

The three groups are fiscal conservatives, social conservatives, and those who believe in a strong national defense. If you want to oversimplify, you can point to (1) limited government; (2) pro-life and pro-family; and (3) muscular military.

It's hard to say, within that often unwieldy family, which of the three groups is dominant. There's so much overlapping of boundaries, and so many within the larger group who hold to at least two of the three distinctives-and very often to all three. My sense is that in times of war and terrorism, the national defense crowd has the most clout. When such threats subside, fiscal conservatism tends to take over; big government, imposing heavy taxes and regulations on its people, becomes the bad guy. Issues like abortion and same-sex marriage, while critically important to many, probably rank third in this three-part coalition.

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For us Christians, that's an irony. Is there any doubt which of the three segments of the coalition has the best developed Bible-based warrant for its positions? You don't have to be a skilled Bible scholar to show someone what God thinks about killing babies or what He has to say about persistent homosexual behavior. It's trickier to cite chapter and verse as a justification for sending troops into Iraq, or for a tax cut or for the dismantling the Department of Education.

But if I'm right that the "limited government" cadre is, year in and year out, the most influential segment of this conservative trio, then there's an urgency in developing a clearly biblical rationale for this group's core principles and priorities. We do that partly out of principle: We want, very simply, to be right. And we want to be biblically grounded in everything we do. But we also do it partly out of pragmatism: Even if others don't care about such biblical groundedness, they will be stronger and their efforts more productive because of our joining them in the coalition.

To that end, let me recommend a good, if admittedly secular, starting point. The "limited government" segment of the trio has no more eloquent-or funnier-spokesman than Grover Norquist, author of a new book bluntly titled Leave Us Alone. Norquist offers a pretty comprehensive catalog of the causes important to folks who fear big government. He helpfully spells out who his allies should be: taxpayers, businessmen and women, Second Amendment voters, homeschoolers, property-rights activists and homeowners, communities of faith and parents' rights, the ownership society, the police, and the military.

Norquist argues like the pragmatist he is. He makes no effort here to provide a Christian rationale for limited government but leaves that instead for those of us who think such a task is implicit in God's assignment to His people. What Norquist does offer is an important and helpful assignment book, highlighting all those venues where we as Christians have hard work to do and careful thinking to engage in.

In the end, big government is wrong for two important reasons: It minimizes the freedom God has designed for His people to enjoy, and it minimizes God Himself. It makes Uncle Sam the object of our doxology.

But that needs to be spelled out-in almost exegetical detail-with one specific issue after another. We need to demonstrate in day-to-day terms how easily big government becomes the false god that the true God of the Bible so regularly warns against.

I'm grateful for and well-served by the pragmatic warnings and signposts Grover Norquist has erected. He's pointing us in a good direction. Now it's time, though, for some faithful folks to spell out for us the biblical principles that speak to the matter of big and overweening government. And thus instructed, it's also time for us to teach that truth to a terribly confused culture.

If you have a question or comment for Joel Belz, send it to jbelz@worldmag.com.

Joel Belz
Joel Belz

Joel, WORLD's founder, writes a regular column for the magazine and contributes commentaries for The World and Everything in It. He is also the author of Consider These Things.

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