The Duty of Christian Citizenship

Will you be voting this year?

1912: My subject, “The Duty of Christian Citizenship,” is a very broad and comprehensive one, including within its scope nearly the entire field of practical Christianity. It will, therefore, in the brief time allotted me, only be possible to discuss a few of the many important aspects of the topic.

American citizenship imposes upon us as Christians many duties which we cannot shirk nor evade. America must be redeemed from sin and vice. Graft and corruption in high and low places, social and industrial injustice. And this redemption can never be brought about except by the united and concerted political action of the Christian citizens of the country.

It is a problem for the present generation. (and for your grandchildren!) It is our opportunity. It is necessary, in order to cope with the conditions as we find them today, the new conditions of today, that Christians of all creeds and denominational differences, get together and grapple with the problems which confront us in the present rapid onward progress of humanity.

“To adopt a well known term, a political term that we have heard a great deal of recently, we cannot in this respect be standpatters; he who stands pat–stands still, and for the Christian to stand still is to go backwards. We must be progressive.”

I ask you to consider with me briefly, the great need there is for a most strenuous political activity on the part of all Christian citizens of America in the crisises confronting us. We must of necessity look ahead. If we are true to our high and holy purpose, we shall be the agency of God for the social and political redemption of America.

Wherever we find suffering and wrong, poverty and crime, injustice and selfishness, there is our appointed field of labor. No questions or problems that affect humanity, be they political or otherwise, are beyond the pale of our jurisdiction. As Christian citizens and members of the church of Christ, we are responsible for conditions around us and we must use every means within our power to right the wrong.

We are responsible for the right solution.

Our Government was founded by the most intelligent and pious men who came here not alone for civil liberty, but confessedly to advance religion and Christianity; and in the spirit and culture of the one, to secure to the world the blessings of the other. Christianity was its basis and it was instinct with its spirit. Our country was cradled in prayer and baptized in faith. Our colonial period passed under Christian guidance and our national era opened with the benediction of Christian patriots of the type of Washington–and Christianity has permeated the homes, the habits, the expressions, the institutions, the juris prudence, the very character of the American people.

So that while we are justly; and rightfully suspicious of any project which tends toward a union of church and state and will never consent to narrow citizenship into sectarianism, we can consistently maintain that, so far from being dissociated from religion because it incorporated none into the civil framework of the state, our nation from the beginning adopted the laws of God as its statutes and the gospel as its common law, and no government since the theocracy of Israel was so emphatically founded on the principles of the Bible and for the great ends of a spiritual religion.

The very definition of our Government as being by and for the people, should make it plain to us as Christian citizens that, if we are becoming less virtuous and Christian as a nation; if we are not conscientiously discharging our duties as citizens, we are rushing on to ruin.

If we neglect to watch with the greatest care against corruptions that are silently but surely stealing in upon us, our experiment in self-government will sooner or later prove a disastrous failure, and where we should properly lead and be an inspiration to the world, we shall become the object of well deserved ridicule and rebuke.

Are we to stop here? To deplore the evils that exist does not of itself help very much. Let us pause and consider if there are not some specific things, some simple, easy, concrete things that we, as Christian citizens, all can do to set things right.

In the first place, I think we can all agree upon this proposition: That the remedy lies in the Christian religion; that a mere readjustment of ethical formulas and moral rules will not suffice; that we must go deeper than this if we shall hope to restore the lost harmony in our national life; that the religion of Jesus Christ is the only thing that can renovate selfish business and corrupt politics.

But to be a little more specific: we as Christians must keep well-informed as to things going on about us and not be afraid to mingle with men, keeping our religion constantly with us. We should be constantly digging for facts as to the actual state of affairs and not keep aloof for fear of contamination. “What king,” asks Jesus, “going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able?” Let the day when Christians divorced their citizenship from their religion—be forever past and gone, never to return.

I assure you, Christian friends, if all the Christian men/women of our country would only take a hand in the political affairs of the nation, bringing with them their Christianity and applying its principles and precepts as our great Teacher taught us to apply them, to every transaction and every duty and every vote, we should see a grand clean-up day such as we never dreamed of.

If we Christians, with the love of God and fellow-man in our hearts, would take our religion with us into our business and politics, how long do you suppose it would take to raise the politics of the nation to the high ideal that was intended at its birth?

A fundamental agency in our system of government is the ballot box, the Ark of American freedom. Christian citizens must not neglect the opportunity and duty which it gives. Exercise your franchise thoughtfully and prayerfully. As one writer has said: “Christian citizens should lift the cross above the ballot box, and by this sign conquer.” If we do, we shall soon see the difference.

Lastly, we should encourage honesty in public office and demand uprightness there. We want Christian presidents and governors, ready and willing to carry out the fundamental Christian principles of our government. Christian legislators, not influenced by money nor power. Christian mayors and councilmen with clean hands, untainted by vice and evil. Christians in love with duty in offices high and low.

Let us put on the full armor of God and go forth against the enemy, firm in the faith of Elisha at Dothan that “they that be with us are more than they that be with them!”—Excerpts From; The Luther League Review; A paper read by Lewis Larson; Vol. 25-26;  Jan. 1912.