Should a Christian Work for Government?
Lately I’ve been reading a lot of Hauerwas. Earlier I read a lot of Yoder and still do pick him up occasionally. Neither one says Christians shouldn’t work for government, but things they do say about Christianity and government incline that way.
Of course there are government jobs where no conceivable conflict with Christian faith and morals would arise—the drivers license bureau, etc. At least one would be hard pressed to think of such conflicts. (Of course, conflicts could arise if a supervisor asked you to do something unethical, but that can happen in any job. Here I’m wondering about conflicts that automatically come with the job or probably will.)
What really got me wondering about this was last Sunday’s (May 13) episode of “60 Minutes.” They interviewed a former top US spy who had a lot of interesting things to say about strategies for information gathering. One that caught my ear was providing pornography to foreign diplomats and agents. He said he never met a diplomat of a certain country that didn’t love pornography and that he and other US agents provided pornography to them in exchange for information.
I had never thought about that before. I knew that as a US secret agent you might have to kill people, but provide them with pornography? Now that’s another question. Can a Christian do that with a clear conscience—for whatever payoff? Does any end justify such an immoral means?
As I watched that I wondered how many Christians watching the show shuddered at that method of obtaining secret information about our enemy countries. I suspected that many who wouldn’t hesitate to defend torture or even assassination did shudder at that and wondered to themselves whether they could do that with a clear Christian conscience.
Where exactly are the limits? I know that there are evangelical Christians working in intelligence gathering for the US government. What will they absolutely refuse to do—no matter what the pay off might be in terms of obtaining important information that might make us more secure as a nation?
Let’s consider torture. I have heard reasonable people defend torture as a last resort. (You can call waterboarding whatever you want to; to me it’s torture.) Okay, let’s agree to disagree about that. (I think torture is always wrong and should never be condoned by policy.) What about torturing a suspected terrorist’s wife and children—if torturing him doesn’t work?
Absurd, you say? Well, it has happened in history. I have read accounts of it being done by Nazis, so it isn’t literally absurd.
No, you say? Never? Why not? What justifies drawing an absolute line between torturing a suspected terrorist to extract information and torturing his wife and children if it is likely to work? (Remember, he’s only a suspected terrorist, so saying torturing him is justified whereas torturing his wife and children is not because he’s guilty and they’re innocent won’t work.)
I think some Anabaptists (and perhaps others) prefer not to work for any government agency or branch because it is impossible to discern the line between what is participation in unchristian, immoral acts and what is not. And there is always the danger of being asked to participate, however indirectly, in violence or immorality such as providing pornography to someone.I’m not convinced that Christians should never work for government, but I wonder if average, run-of-the-mill evangelical Christians put much thought into what branches of government they would work for and why (or why not).
Again, I suspect many conservative evangelical (and other) Christians would balk at supplying graphic pornography to enemy agents but not balk at participating in torture or assassination or capital punishment (assuming they are constitutionally able to stomach such things).
I don’t agree with Hauerwas or Yoder about everything, but I think they do (did) the church a great service by at least raising questions about Christian virtues and government practices.
In Hannah’s Child (his autobiography) Hauerwas writes about the backlash he felt from theological friends when he criticized America’s invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. One well known theologian with whom he was close walked out on a talk he was giving and later wrote to ask him if he felt no “natural loyalties”—meaning to country, I take it.
I guess I would ask that theologian if he would provide pornography to an enemy agent if it would result in the likelihood of obtaining information that would help make our country more secure. If his answer was “yes,” I would ask if he would provide LSD or other mind-altering drugs. If the answer was “yes,” I would ask what he WOULDN’T do to obtain such information. If there was ANYTHING he wouldn’t do, I could ask him if he felt no natural loyalties.
Hauerwas believes it is always wrong for Christians to kill fellow Christians. Whether he is a strict pacifist is somewhat difficult to discern. I thought so, but then I read an article by him that muddied the waters a bit. He seemed to back off absolute pacifism into a kind of “war is always evil even when it’s a necessary evil” position. But one thing is clear—he wants Christians to be in the forefront of abolishing war (and capital punishment, etc.).
Should natural loyalties over ride Christian brotherhood? C. S. Lewis thought so. What did Christians of the first three centuries think? For the most part they did not participate in war or serve in the military.
Can anyone imagine the Apostle Paul, just to choose one first century Christian, providing pornography to anyone for any reason? Participating in torturing someone for any reason? Taking up arms to kill someone for any reason? I can’t. (I’m leaving Jesus out of the equation here just because I don’t want to play “the Jesus card.” It’s too easy to say “He’s the exception” or something like that.)
So why am I even posting about this? I wonder if, in our American evangelical Christian churches, we have given enough thought to what Christians should and should not do or participate in, in terms of sinful behavior, for the greater good of our country? At times it seems to me that we simply assume that we should do whatever our country asks us to do—especially if we are in the government’s service—without question.
Hauerwas has been vilified even for suggesting otherwise. Perhaps at times he expresses his own ideas in rather extreme ways, but at least he forces us to stop and think about the issues.