Should U.S. public policy reflect viewpoints arrived at because of religious beliefs?

Prompted by the spirited debate on this blog over the issue of same-sex marriage and public policy, I began a series of posts on my view of the proper relationship between religion and public policy, including debate in the public square of the United States. In my first post I approached the issue from a historical perspective here. In the second post I approached it from a philosophical and observational angle here. Now I want to take a look from a theological perspective.

But first, no apologies, a little history. Christianity's parent religion, Judaism, made no fundamental distinction between religious life and ordinary life. The religious community was the tribe and eventually the nation; In this respect the Jews were like about everyone else in the premodern world. The Jewish prophets went beyond what was usually seen in paganism and held the people and the rulers accountable to the Law in all aspects of life from diet to care for the poor: ethics was firmly a part of religion. When Christianity arose as a minority sect within Judaism, it arose within an existing Greco-Roman society. The New Testament, perhaps because of an expectation of the immanent return of Jesus and the fact that "not many mighty" were Christians, contains no explicit call to conform the larger society to Christian beliefs and practices. Instead, the community is to live according to its own moral code within the larger society whose laws it is to obey except where these conflict with Christian morals. But, when Christianity grew larger and obtained a privilaged place within the Roman Empire, the relationship between public policy and Christian faith had to be revisited. Short summary: in the Eastern Empire (Byzantine) church and state formed a complex whole under the leadership of the emperor; in the fragmenting Western Empire, power within the church consolidated under the Bishop of Rome (pope) who engaged in power struggles with the various rulers, all the while advocating the position that all of life must be brought under the rule of Christ. Similar positions obtained in other Christian kingdoms such as Ethiopia and Armenia. Theologically, to summarize crudely, this change was justified on grounds such as the Lordship of Christ over all Creation, and the growth of God's Kingdom. Outside these areas in places such as along the Silk Road to China and in the Persian Empire, Christian communities continued the earlier pattern of living as small communities with little power. In the West, the Protestant Reformation did not basically challenge the organic nature of society--linking public policy and Christianity (though Luther's theology separates the two more than Calvin's), except for some of the small and persecuted Radical groups who did advocate a separation of church and government. When the story gets to America, see my first post. My own view is below.

I am a Calvinist. That is, I am a member of the Reformed tradition that looks back to John Calvin and other reformers in Switzerland, and think and speak from within that tradition. Specifically I am a Minister of Word and Sacrament of the Reformed Church in America, the continuation of the old Dutch Reformed Church in New Amsterdam (Presbyterians are Scottish Reformed). This is what we believe regarding Christianity and public policy.

To quote I. John Hesselink's book On Being Reformed:

"[The Reformed tradition] have seen the world not only as the realm of the evil one but also as that sphere in which God is seeking to bring about a kingdom that comprehends more than individual Christians or even the church. This is why Reformed Christians often speak of a Weltanschauung" [a life-and-world view, or in Kuyper's phrase, a Life-System].

"From John Calvin to the late A.A. van Ruler, there has been a beautiful blending of a robust individual piety with a very practical concern for an involvement in the world. Calvin begins his Institutes with a discussion of how we can know God. . . . He ends the Institutes, however, not in the manner of a traditional dogmatic treatise with a discussion of last things (heaven and hell, the resurrection, etc.) but with a powerful chapter on the civil magistrate! Calvin saw the state as a divinely appointed agency which, along with the church, was a means toward establishing God's order in the world. In Geneva, he not only preached several days each week and continually lectured on the Bible, but he also showed concern for such mundane matters as interest rates, sewers, safety features in homes, and immigration policies. . . ."

"The true Calvinist, while fighting evil in all its forms--personal as well as corporate--will not rest content until 'the kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ' (Rv 11:15)."

Obviously, I think that Christianity is personal but never private. I think that the Creator God is at work redeeming/recreating the world. Creation, including human society, is fallen but not forsaken. Paul in Romans 8 speaks of the redemption of the created order. And, since the Old Testament is part of Scripture, the prophetic concern for a just social order remains a mandate.

How to work for this goal in the context of modern America? I'll try to think that one through in my next post in the series when I look at Religion and Public Policy from a political perspective.