Saturday, November 1, 2008

Dominion 101 - Spheres of Responsibility

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


Anonymous said...

HotPoint Questions: Can a Christian be a Democrat? Must a Christian be a Republican? Does true faith segregate along party lines? It would be hard to argue that it is important for each individual to make his/her voice heard (or choose your favorite metaphor: salt, light). We might go as far as to say it is one's responsibility, and in this country, if nothing else it is our "right" if we so choose. In application to the Presidential Election, what is often overlooked is that we only have two choices (really): McCain/Palin or Obama/Biden. Republican or Democrat. In all honesty, two is not enough. Think about that statement. Would you choose a mate from a sample size of two? What about a University? Your new car? And yet we choose our leader from a sample size of two. Granted, whittled down from other choices, but the point is: NEITHER ONE IS PERFECT. For most, I would venture that there are some issues of disagreement with each candidate. We are then left to sift through these and weigh the good and the bad. Abortion becomes a HOT issue. Taxes. Economy. Morality. Choose your bandwagon, scream your rally cry, wave your sign. For me, it's about realizing that I am choosing from sample size of two, both imperfect, and therefore I must weigh all aspects, realizing just how much influence the next President will have on that particular issue (some to none in most cases). There are things I want. I want a leader who is strong. I want a leader who can help repair our damaged image in the world. There are things I don't want. I don't want a further loss of morality in our country. I don't want to be part of an economic depression. I will prioritize my wishes, measure the candidates, and vote accordingly. Make the decision for yourself. Make it YOUR vote. Make it because of YOUR expectations, not because it's expected.

John Silvius said...

Hello "Writer98", and thanks for your thoughts which I just ran across tonight after five years. Indeed, now "seasoned" by the unfolding of events since 2008, your points are even more valuable. For me, your point about "making it my vote rather than the expectation of the culture one is a part of (e.g. because it is expected that a Christian would vote Republican) becomes even more significant when we consider that each party tries to become associated as "the party of." For example, the Republicans hope to be "the party of the moral conservatives/Christians" or "the party of free market economics"; and the Democrats, "the party of labor unions, immigration" or "the party of minority rights--racial, pro-choice, same-sex marriage, etc." However, each election cycle, we should put aside party labels and look at each candidate to determine who will best address the combination of priorities we have for our country such as those you listed. Looking past the labels and slogans may make the choice more complicated, but with freedom comes a major responsibility to take our choosing seriously. Hope this adds to the discussion. Thanks again!