Beckwith describes his book as an introduction to politics – an introduction that should inspire continued study for the Christian. Beckwith looks at politics through the lense of liberal democracy. Although Liberal Democracy has been absent for most of Christian History, it has been embraced enthusiastically by Christians in the modern era for four major reasons: (1) it affords Christians the liberty to worship, (2) it protects the people’s power to hold the government accountable, (3) it allows citizens to participate by voting, forming political parties, running for office and / or campaigning for causes and candidates, (4) it seems consistent with and supported by a Christian understanding of the human person as well as the natural law and natural rights tradition that spring from that understanding.
In other words, liberal democracy seems to enhance many of the ideals the Christian faith does.
Beckwith takes care to define liberal democracy, liberal referring to the liberties or freedoms the government is supposed to guarantee, and democracy covering both a government that is accountable to the people, and has a developed civil society.
The question Beckwith seeks to answer is what does it mean to be a Christian citizen in a liberal democracy, and how should we interact with politics in relation to our faith. Beckwith’s plea is not necessarily that ALL Christians should become involved politically, but that ALL Christians should be politically AWARE. They should understand the effects of legislation that is passed by governments and make measured responses to any injustice or hindrance such legislation may make, especially upon the gospel. Beckwith writes: The scriptures seem to teach that people have an obligation to understand the nature of their government and its laws, and employ that knowledge so that the gospel is not disadvantaged by the state.
One interesting example that Beckwith sites is a 2003 ruling in Massachusetts which required the state to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Catholic Charities which were at that time helping families to adopt children were told that they could no longer exclude same-sex couples for consideration. Of course, the Catholic Charities were not prepared to abide by this ruling. The sad consequences was that these worthy charities withdrew from offering children for adoption. This ruling, while seemingly removing discrimination for one group, now discriminates against another group – a group whose outstanding record in placing children in good homes.
It is examples like this that Beckwith argues should inspire Christians to resist such intrusion by the state on the churches moral theology.
Beckwith has a wonderful discussion on how the apostle Paul used political knowledge and status for himself and the gospel.
Another very interesting discussion is who should Christians vote for. What if a Mormon gets into the general election? Beckwith, somewhat provocatively writes, One mistake is to be inordinately concerned with a candidates creedal allegiance to a particular faith, which may cloud people’s judgment and cause them to ignore or down play the point of politics – to do justice and advance the common good.
Insightfully, Beckwith provides us with two mistakes the we as Christians involved with politics must be careful to avoid. The first is the Kennedy Mistake. In 1960 Kennedy, in response to concerns about his Catholicism seemingly dismissed his beliefs as almost irrelevant or inconsequential to any decisions he would make as president. The second mistake is the confessional mistake. This is when a candidate believes that his creedal belief or theological confession are the BEST standard by which to judge the suitability of his candidacy.
For Beckwith we need to hold a balance in respect to politics. Politics is not everything, but neither is it nothing. It has its place. That is why Christians need to be informed of the laws and statutes of our land and discerning as to when they need to or should get involved.
I think this is a valuable book for those seriously interested in politics. It has some wonderful insights, simply lays out the various areas of study in politics and succinctly discusses the major issues. Finally, it points you to further study.