This National Review article by Kevin D. Williamson sent me searching for more information on Sohrab Ahmari and Catholic Integralism, leading to articles by the New Yorker and Church Life Journal. Essentially, some California libraries allowed drag queens to read stories to children, prompting Ahmari to launch a public crusade in support of Integralism. Integralism holds that the church should be an integrated part of the government, and that the government should legislate & execute in order to enforce Christian moral law. Ahmari wants the government to prevent drag queen story hours by force, and if that requires amending the Constitution to give the government more power to interfere with the freedoms of religion, speech, and association, so be it. The articles discuss several Conservatives who have come out strongly against Ahmari, but the debate also raises the question: what is our Christian framework for government?
Scripture tells us that mankind is fallen and therefore imperfect. This renders us unable to achieve salvation by following God’s law as given in scripture. The Biblical story also shows fallen mans’ inability to live under a government with God as its formal head and those laws as its formal statutes. This plays out through three major sections: the original laws and covenant with Israel, the reign of the kings, and the life of Christ.
The original covenant given to the Tribes of Israel had no human central executive or legislative authority — that role was reserved for God. He did call Judges, but they generally did not go out and seize lawbreakers, instead waiting for controversies to be brought to them. (See Judges 4:5). Execution of the judgements were also left to the parties. (See the “avenger of blood”, Exodus 21; II Samuel 14). The sole “executive” function was that the Judges either led or appointed a leader to command Israel’s armies against foreign invasion. The Bible says this system resulted in “every man [doing] what was right in his own eyes”, and a pattern wherein Israel shunned God and was conquered, to be rescued after repenting and receiving a Judge sent by God, only to again fall away. Despite having God as the formal head of government with His laws as its statutes, Israel repeatedly failed to live righteously and in accordance with that law, either as individuals, or as a society.
After generations of what was in effect tribal anarchy, Israel begged the prophet Samuel to anoint a king. God told Samuel that Israel’s desire for this temporal executive was a rejection of God as the nation’s leader, and also told him to warn the people about all the abuses a king would subject them to. (I Samuel 8:7). God ultimately appointed a king, and the kings went on to rule with absolute authority, some well, most bad. As the king went, so did the nation, still in the same pattern of regularly falling away and then temporarily coming back, culminating in Israel’s destruction as a nation. Most kings did not use their power to enforce God’s law, and some of them even used it against God. (See I Kings 18:4). Again, we see the parallel of fallen mans’ inability to follow the law personally, and of society’s inability to function righteously despite having a human executive who was empowered to fully enforce God’s laws.
Israel expected Christ to establish an earthly kingdom when he came, but He told the Apostles that it was not for them to know when that would happen. (Acts 1). His most direct statement on government was to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Mark 12:17). During His many interactions with those in power, he never ordered them to step up the enforcement of Biblical law. However, He did step in several times to prevent its (literal) execution. (E.g., John 5:10 and Exodus 15:32–36; John 8:7 and Leviticus 20:10). Actions like this led to accusations that He sought to destroy the law, which He denied, saying that He had not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. (Mathew 5:17). Our parallel stories here come to a single resolution. Christ’s first coming, death, and resurrection perfectly fulfills the law for our personal salvation. His eventual second coming will involve His personal rule and the purification of our fallen nature. But until that day, what are we to do about government?
Historically, Christianity grew for several centuries with no political power. Once it became the dominant religion, the Church charted the same integrationist course that Ahmari is pushing, and it remained the norm in Europe for over a thousand years. The results of that rule are telling, as the Church became corrupted with lust for temporal wealth and power, and the behavior of its leaders mirrored the Kings of Israel. Popes who claimed divine inerrancy schemed, murdered rivals, were murdered, murdered true believers, fathered illegitimate children, and made religious proclamations solely to further their own wealth and power, to name just a few of many abuses. This corruption of the church and its structure ultimately led to schism, and since the new churches remained integrated with the sword of government, that led to centuries of Christian slaughtering Christian for the sake of earthly power.
This bloodshed is what led to the modern “liberal” consensus of freedom of religion and speech, formulated by Christians to divorce questions of doctrine from the sword of government, ensuring that none would be murdered for following their conscience. They recognized that the sword cannot purify the heart of a people — only God’s grace and a healthy Church can do that. Eventually, Christ will return in perfect fulfillment of the law as the head of government. Until then, our inability to perfectly hear and obey God’s orders means that there can be no true government by God, only government by men. Scripture and History both show that integrating (still fallen) church leaders into government does not purify the government, but pollutes the church. Matthew 6:24 tells us why: no man can serve two masters. The Church can be God’s instrument to change the heart of humanity, or it can wield direct political power, but it cannot do both.