Healthy Government

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 1 Timothy 2:1-3

Over the past fifty years, there have been monumental shifts in how the American public sees its government and its purposes.  The Constitution of the United States was written as a grand experiment in democracy in a loosely held confederacy of states in a largely agricultural society.  The founding fathers had wisdom, but could not have anticipated the modern empire. 

Government in the immediate post-colonial America was basic and austere.  The infrastructure of the nation was largely non-existent and states were largely responsible to promote commerce.  The military was very low tech, and was mostly dependent upon militias.  Initially, there was no Navy, Marines, or Air Force.  There were no public schools, health care systems, social security, business regulatory agencies, or environmental protection functions.  Civil rights was largely relegated to White land owners and immigration was encouraged.  Government was a completely different animal than it was today.

It is then very difficult to have discussions about the role of government from the perspective of the founding fathers, when the object to be governed is so drastically different than the original. 

Take for instance, the right to bear arms.  The right to bear arms was seen as the ability of a region to develop militias for protection, in light of the tyranny of the British.  Arms in those days consisted of muskets and single shot pistols that typically were only accurate withing 50-60 feet.  Although these weapons were impacting, the potential for mass destruction and brutality was significantly less than today.

During the history of the United States, its supreme court has constantly, and rightly, reinterpreted the constitution in light of new contexts (new technologies, need for expanded militarization to go with an expanded economy, etc).  Additionally government expanded dramatically to fulfill roles that were not present nor anticipated in the colonial era. 

The key is that healthy government reexamines itself based upon its context and the needs of its people.  Public schools became a governmental issue because leaders began to see that a largely uneducated population is a dangerous population.  A majority of the citizenry in the nineteenth century, could not afford education, so it was seen as a investment into the common welfare of the people. Government had decided that it was to provide services for the wellbeing of the populace in general, particularly those vital to the basic tools for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Healthy government is a government of the people, and by the people that seeks to provide services that promote the welfare of the society in general and offers basic resources that are basic for human flourishing.  In 1790's, that was providing security through militias.  In the mid-nineteenth century, that was public education on a mass level.  In the 1860's, it was a strong centralized government that promoted union preservation.  In the turn of the twentieth century, it was business regulation and anti-trust provisions.  In the mid-twentieth century, it was expansion of basic civil rights and access. 

The nature of the services offered by healthy government will be ever changing and cannot be defined consittutionally or through the nostolgia of the founding fathers.

As you enter into debates, listen to discussions, or read columns from your commentators of choice, please keep in mind that the purpose of government is to provide services and resources for the welfare of the nation, particularly services that are vital for the basic needs for success and flourishing.  So here are a few quick flashes using that paradigm:

1. Large Government and Small Government can be healthy.  Function determines structure.
2. Healthcare, employment strategies, public education, and immigration policy must be seen as priorites for the common welfare of the masses.
3. Our militarization is a problem economically and in our desire to be global partners. 
4. Large scale dismantling of business, safety, and enviromental regulations show that we value money over health.  Despite financial crisis stemming from a lack of regulation (think bank derrivatives), some politicians are calling for even less regulation.  Regulation is the right of government to promote the general welfare of its populace, and unregulated business results in monopolies and manipulation.

Government is not an evil entity, nor is it a meter of morality and justice, it is simply what we have made it.  It is a reflection of our own values and flaws.  In democracy, we are empowered to take ownership of its direction, priorities, and values.

Christians are called to pray for government, to participate in government, and to challenge government.  It is a privilege to do so.  Our role is to be a prophetic (speaking truth to power) and priestly (interceding for others, particularly those without a voice) influence in government and to government.

I am praying that you will take your responsibility and privilege of citizenship serioiusly,

May God bless you,

Pastor M Traylor
(BTW: Masters in Public Administration, 2001, So I have been thinking about this for a while :-))