As the United States national election approaches, it is appropriate to share some thoughts on how the “dominion mandate” of Genesis 1 involves human responsibility in the context of societal structures that God has ordained on planet Earth. Christians are called to be salt and light in each of three spheres of responsibility (family, church, and government) that God has ordained to preserve the life of all creatures on Earth. Dominion as seen in this context is an outworking of the obedient submission to God with the result that family, church, government, and ultimately God’s creation can flourish (see Romans 13).
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was executed by the Nazis for his uncompromising stand as a Christian pastor, wrote much about human responsibility in these three spheres. Consider the following excerpt from the "Religion and Ethics" website*
"Bonhoeffer may be our contemporary after all, but in a rather different way than some have proposed. He saw, behind the specifics of the Nazi threat, a more general problem in modern life with which we live, too. Defeating the Nazis didn't solve the problem. Defeating the Soviets didn't either.
Bonhoeffer's response to the question of how we are to avoid this slide into the abyss has little to do with creating a church that will simply be a refuge from the world around us. It's much more a matter of addressing the world in each of the essential structures God has provided for the preservation of human life. This is an idea that goes back to Luther – the three "orders" of church, government, and family. Later theologians expanded the list and called them "orders of creation." Bonhoeffer preferred "orders of preservation" in his early theological lectures. In the ETHICS he calls them the "Divine Mandates." They are the specific places where we are able to hear the command of God. In ETHICS his list varies some, but he includes church, family, work, and government, sometimes culture, sometimes maybe even friendship.
Those trained in Catholic moral theology will hear in Bonhoeffer's language about mandates an echo -- sometimes a rather faint echo, to be sure -- of the natural law idea missing from historic German Protestantism. His Protestant colleagues who heard the echo weren't sure at all that it was a good idea, but Bonhoeffer realized that you can't get along without some version of it. Responsible action means being responsible in those specific places where life is shaped for the whole society. You can't just be responsible by yourself, and you can't be responsible just by being the church. As Bonhoeffer said when he was a leader in the Confessing Church, "Let the church be the church." But in the ETHICS he sees that we have to add, "But let family, government, and work be themselves, too."
As a parishioner it is my role to be a testimony of the Word of God to my fellow parishioners and to support the ministry of the church through prayer and acts of encouragement and service. But it is also my role to be politically informed and to vote in support of candidates that uphold biblical principles (sanctity of life, protection of the sanctity of marriage, exercise of individual freedom and industry, etc.). It follows that, in this 2008 election, we are about to choose between two imperfect candidates– yet, only one presidential candidate stands for the above principles of sanctity of life and the institution of biblical marriage and family. In sharp contrast, the other candidate has stated the following in the Illinois senate: [If we make it illegal to save babies who survive botched abortions,] "We're saying they are persons entitled to the kinds of protections provided to a child, a 9-month child delivered to term. I mean, it would essentially bar abortions, because the equal protection clause does not allow somebody to kill a child."**
Of late, the 2008 campaign has been mostly about “the economy.” May this time of decision be a time of deeper contemplation upon the ethical values that are the essential, biblical foundation of our society. These values such as the sanctity of human life and the sacredness of all of creation are essential for the continuance of human life and its flourishing. We demonstrate the importance of these values as we exercise dominion within the “economies” God has ordained– family, church, government, and ultimately the “Economy” God sustains in partnership with our dominion over planet Earth.
* Bonhoeffer for the Twenty-first Century an essay by Robin W. Lovin, Professor of Ethics at Southern Methodist University.
**Illinois Federation for Right to Life News