Civic participation vs. non-participationby Rit Nosotro
Make a cost-benefit analysis of personal civic participation vs. non-participation. Does the cost of time, effort and knowledge requirements outweigh the benefits of exercising civic rights?
Though civic participation requires time and effort, it is a duty worth the time and effort.
The importance of civic participation is greatly debated in the Christian community. Some Christians do not see how it could be worth the time and effort. However, others see it as a duty to God and the nation. It is a way to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-14) to the nation. Civic participation does not need to take large amounts of efforts and time. It can be just as simple as voting on election day. If every Christian participated just a little bit, God could use the participation to make a big difference.
There exists today a division among Christians as to the question of involvement within the government and society. In reality, this division appears among all people, but in Christian circles the arguments have a number of unique facets. Many drawbacks accompany active civil involvement, enough so that some people would not consider the outcome of participation worth the cost. However, amidst those negative possibilities emerge a series of positive opportunities, rewards, and something even more important.
Microsoft Encarta defines “civil” as “relating to what happens within the state or between different citizens or groups of citizens.” Other possible definitions of the world relate to government work or a common law among citizens.1 With these definitions, civil participation presents itself as a very wide field, one filled with options. But involvement takes time. Becoming a part of something, no matter the extent of the involvement, requires a sacrifice of time. In our busy world people guard their time preciously; after work and school comes the myriad of choices for how to spend the few remaining hours. Christians particularly feel this strain because they ought to more completely understand the need to examine all these choices in the light of spending time as a family. In addition, involvement requires effort. Quite frankly, many people would rather spend the small amount of free time they have left doing something that does not require such an expenditure of energy. Finally, in order to participate in the workings of society, a person must understand how it works. This requires investing even more time to attempt to understand the workings of the government and the courts on some level.
In evaluating these cons, none of them appear insurmountable or even a genuine problem. Civic involvement does not have to occur on a giant scale. Some citizens may feel called to run for office or spend vast amounts of time actively campaigning for a cause. But civic participation is not limited to something of this magnitude. Many less time consuming opportunities exist. People can write a state representative or help with a campaign on a small level. If more people simply voted in elections it would make a big difference. For those who live in the United States, God has placed them in a country whose government has its history in the involvement of the people. Americans do not live in a democracy led by mob rule, but rather their founding fathers began the development of a republic where they can elect trusted officials to make decisions. By choosing not to vote, contact public officials, or run for office, citizens still participate in the process by indicating a lack of care and forfeiting the right of involvement. Furthermore, civic involvement can emerge as volunteer work. Christians volunteer knowing that God has called them to serve other in their community. "It is more blessed to give than to receive." Civic involvement is often relatively painless and has some actual rewards. Those who involve themselves in the workings of their community and their country can have the personal satisfaction of knowing that they have participated in something that could actually make a difference. Although they themselves may not see large-scale results, they have at least made an effort and a contribution.
Civil participation is not merely an endeavor where the pros outweigh the cons:
it is an obligation. Romans 13 tells Christians to "be subject to higher
powers." The power in the USA is a government of the people. The people
should not passively sit by and complain about the way something works. Discontentment
should spur citizens into appropriate action. Could this be part of what it
means in verse 5, "be subject... for conscience sake." There are channels
of change imbedded in participatory democracy to which citizens need to be subject.
"Do all things without grumbling or disputing; that you may prove yourselves
to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of
a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world"
God lays out a path for each of His children to walk in. When He opens eyes to issues in a community He has done so for a reason. Those who have the eyes to see have the obligation to act. “The involvement of righteous people can significantly influence government for the better.”2 Christians can observe their government and complain about all the corruption and weak leaders they see, but if they make no attempts to change any of that then they have no right whatsoever to express dissatisfaction. If they themselves are not willing to spend their time energy in leadership and bringing about change, then they certainly cannot waste time by finding fault with those who do. In time God will hold the leaders of this world accountable for their actions so it is not our position to do so now.
Perhaps a disproportionate amount of weak leaders occupy public positions due to people who passively sit back and grudgingly follow, discontent and complaining but too apathetic to make any effort towards change. God has called Christians to act as salt and light to the world. Parents who do not both model civic participation and involve their families in the process do their children a great disservice. How can children be expected to impact the world with an example of parents simply sitting back and griping?
People may protest that even if they become involved it will not make a difference; their tiny, single lights cannot possibly shine bright enough. If those people acted with prayer and faith the result might very well surprise them. But even apart from that, even if they have not witnessed the victory, at least they participated in the battle. And as Charles Colson said, “Christians are to do their duty as best they can. But even when they feel that they are making no difference, that they are failing to bring Christian values to the public arena, success is not the criteria. Faithfulness is.”3
Civic participation is more than just a good thing, it is a right and duty given to the citizens by the nation and God. Many Christians do not believe in civic participation because Jesus told Christians to be in the world but not of it (John 17:16). However, these people miss the fact that civic participation is a way for Christians to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-14). If Christians are active in their government, then the people of that nation will be greatly influence by Christianity. All Christians should obey their government (Romans 13). A government full of Christian participation is much easier to obey than one that goes against Christian principles. Therefore, civic participation is a very Biblical activity.
up1Microsoft® Encarta® Reference Library 2002. © 1993-2001 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.
up2David A. Noebel. Understanding the Times. ASCI and Summit Ministries. Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs. 1995. Page 301.
up3Charles Colson. Kingdoms in Conflict. Page 77. (As quoted in Understanding the Times by David A. Noebel.)
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