5 minute read.
“I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” These are the nine most terrifying words in the English language according then U.S. President Ronald Reagan in an August 1986 speech. Yet, a large swath of the Church in North America routinely joins the general public looking to politicians and governments for solutions to life’s problems. Not infrequently, the politicians and governments solicited for solutions caused the problems in the first place.
For example, in Canada we have a multi-layered housing crisis. The immigration minister blames his predecessor for having rapidly increased immigration from 323,000 in 2015 to 470,000 in 2023, as well as increasing international student visas from 350,000 in 2015 to 900,000 in 2023. The previous immigration minister is now housing minister. He also cited rapid increases in immigration as a key contributor to the crisis but depicts the burgeoning homelessness predicament as a “generational moral failure” of all Canadians. Meanwhile, colleges and universities in Ontario threaten to reduce programs or close entirely if international student numbers are reduced. Post-secondary schools have become dependant on foreign student tuition premiums. They lobbied the federal government to escalate student visa numbers after Ontario’s government froze tuition fees for domestic students at 2019 levels. Searching for solutions, eyes turn to the same politicians and the same governments whose actions yesterday produced the problems of today.
There is nothing wrong with lobbying government. For the Church, advocacy ought not to replace living out the principles of trusting God and loving neighbours but apply them.
For example, it took decades of advocacy over successive federal governments to raise the age of consent for sexual activity with an adult from 14 to 16 years of age in 2008, providing protection for Canadian minors and aligning with the lowest age in U.S. state legislation (which ranges from 16 to 21). Similar to efforts by The Salvation Army’s Bramwell and Florence Booth working alongside feminist activist Josephine Butler to raise the age of consent in England from 13 to 16 in 1885, the Canadian endeavour comprised a diverse group of activists and Christian ministries, including The Salvation Army, working in the streets and on Parliament Hill for the good of young neighbours.
While some things are the purview of government, peril is manifest when government is considered to possess solutions for all (or almost all) problems, abandoning perhaps better suited private initiatives and interventions.
Caring for the impoverished was at one time accepted by Church and government as church work, charitable undertakings the population came to expect from those motivated by love for God and neighbours.
At the birth of the Church, Christianity was considered a sect of Judaism before it was proscribed by Jewish religious leaders as well as by the Roman government. Christianity was prohibited. But permitted was leaving unwanted infants by the side of the road to die. Particularly unwelcome were girls and babies with visible defects. Christians valued (and value) all life as being created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Early Christians did not lobby government for change. They set about to rescue as many of the children as they found alive, accepting lifelong responsibility just as they did for brothers and sisters, widows and orphans within the Church.
In later centuries the Church established orphanages, adoption agencies, homes for unwed mothers, hospitals, alcohol and addiction recovery homes, schools (from Sunday schools to universities), inner city missions for those living homeless, halfway houses for men and women released from prison, food banks, and more. No government funding was sought or provided. As societal trust shifted from God to government many of these humanitarian services were subsumed by government, either directly, by taking operational control, or indirectly, through regulation and structured funding.
The Church was adept at finding and filling social gaps that required compassionate response. To some degree it still is. For example, there are still inner-city missions wholly funded by the Church, as well as used furniture banks and transitional housing for refugees and new immigrants, and more.
Gradually, however, the Church fell into the societal snare of depending on government, the collector and spender of taxpayer dollars, to deliver or fund charitable humanitarian services once provided as a natural extension of following Jesus whose ministry of compassion received no support from governing authorities―preaching the Gospel, healing the sick and troubled, feeding the hungry, and generally caring for his neighbours.
Politicians and governments have come to be regarded as having solutions to increasing numbers of life’s problems, even by the Church.
Relying on Jesus, whose words and actions previously motivated Christian response to societal challenges as practical demonstration of love for neighbours, has given way to political substitutes. The call to pray for governing authorities has been swapped out for competition to become those governing authorities. Ever so subtly, a quest for political power overwhelmed the command to serve (and to finance that service) as an expression of love. For many it seems compassion has been replaced by campaigning, and sincere relationship with Christ by fawning over a preferred candidate.
As in first century Judea, there are many asserting themselves as would-be messiahs. Media stars and social media personalities. Activists and politicians. Professing to have the answers. Declaring to be the one who can deliver. One-by-one each stake their claim, the charismatic capturing allegiance by charming souls.
Propaganda and gossip have long played a part in political success. Today’s era of social media memes, bots, AI deep fakes, and internet influencers has heightened exposure to misinformation, disinformation, and cult-like indoctrination; propaganda, rumours, and self-aggrandizing pseudo-messiahs abound. Verification, confirmation, common sense and responsible biblical comprehension are neglected in the virtual ecosystem of click-to-share in a world of self-styled saviours whose devotees unhesitatingly and unquestioningly parade (and click) in lockstep at the leader’s heels.
But there is only one who was born Abraham’s descendant, David’s heir, and Mary’s son, fulfilling the ancient prophecies. He died sinless on a cross, and on the third day was resurrected. He is the only one who did not misinform or disinform, the only one who delivered fully on his word without doing so to serve himself or his ego. His Church does well to heed his Word, study it, and give it pre-eminence over other sources of information. It is reliable. Its truth has been verified by countless lives and confirmed over two millennia. Irenaeus of Smyrna, Bishop of Lyons, advised in the second century, “We must spare no effort to look after our faith, in order that we may have a true understanding of reality.”
Where we place our trust is a strong indicator of where begins our understanding of reality. Where (in whom) are we placing our trust?
David was the God-following king who once led the only nation in history ever instructed by God to govern based on Biblical precepts. He offered this timeless advice to God-followers: Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God (Psalm 20:7).
Let us not be given to chasing after new messiahs―with their chariots and horses, their status and celebrity―when we know the only One authenticated as Messiah.
Ask questions. Verify information. Confirm the origins of statements before believing them, before sharing them. Don’t simply put your trust in princes, human beings who cannot save (Psalm 146:3).
Amidst the political and general tumult of this world, we ought also to pause and pray for God’s guidance. Here’s a simple prayer gifted to us by the late Reinhold Niebuhr, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” We could all benefit from some serenity, courage, and wisdom about now. And a little loving kindness for our neighbours wouldn’t hurt.