Bad Theology Makes Bad Public Policy

Tom Parker, chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court explained the rationale of the court’s recent ruling stating that embryos were people.  “God created government, and the fact that we have let it go into the possession of others, it’s heartbreaking,” Parker said. Parker went on to explain that he is calling and equipping people to step back into the Seven Mountains Mandate — the belief that conservative Christians are meant to rule over seven key areas of American life, including family, religion, education, media, entertainment, business, and government.[1]

Parker’s thesis is faulty from the start. His extrapolation has devastating consequences as anyone aware of the history of the Western church will understand. I have written on the Seven Mountains Mandate and its undergirding dominionist ideology elsewhere. Did God create government, or said another way, is there a singular governance model that can be identified in the Bible as the ideal government model? As a biblical scholar, I am hard-pressed to identify a model. Government as used in the Bible doesn’t designate a form of governance – rather it identifies a function of governance. The distinction is important.

As to forms of governance, the Bible contains tribal alliances, warlords, strongmen, monarchies, familial alliances, Imperial dictatorships, stratocracy, plutocracies, and theocracies.  None of these are set up by divine mandate, other than the theocracy. At best it can be said that God worked despite the form of governance. The history of a true theocracy was short-lived as Israel rejected their theocratic form of government in favor of a monarchy. The cultural, geographical, and chronological diversity of the Biblical record makes it a fool’s errand to try to pick out any particular form of governance as divinely mandated.

Regarding the function of governance, in whatever form it takes, the Bible is abundantly clear. Governance is to care for the marginalized, ensure the ability of people to flourish, protect the weak, include the outcast, provide for health and wellbeing, work for justice, reject false reports and malicious witnesses, reject partiality and bribes, provide a social safety net, pursue knowledge and wisdom, ensure the rights of immigrants, protect the poor from exploitation, and work toward peace (Ez. 34:1-6, Ex 23:1, Lev. 19:15, Deut. 10:18, Proverbs, Deut. 27:19, Ecc. 5:8, Is. 59:8).

Does the church have a charge to be the focal point of governance over any nation? What form of governance would the church use? The history of the church and its relationship to the state is at best complex and no wonder given the cultural, geographic, and chronological diversity of the church’s experience. I am not opposed to the influence of the church in its social setting, I expect it. What does give me great reason of pause is the insistence that the church should be the locus of the state and governance. Why? Because in my experience the church has difficulty maintaining its moral center in local settings, I can’t imagine what the church would do with the full power of governance at its disposal – start a new inquisition?

Wise leaders in the church have recognized that church and state live separate and complementary existences.   Parker’s statements seem to conflate the two, dominionist ideologies like those expressed in much of what is written in the Seven Mountains ideology distort the church with tortured definitions of what it means to be given dominion over the earth.

I’d rather see the church exert its moral and spiritual influence in holding itself and the government to the outcomes of governance the bible provides. I’d rather see the church think in deeper terms about moral and legal issues than make simplistic statements about the “law of God” as Parker does. What law? Are we talking about the application of Levitical law, a natural law? Here the apostles recognized that in the expansion of the church, it was too much to ask the Gentiles to adhere to the Levitical law. (Acts 15)

Instead, the apostles summarized the expectations they had for the church. The Levitical law had little or no functional bearing on the Gentiles. James summarized the Jerusalem council’s advice, “that we should not trouble those gentiles who are turning to God,but we should write to them to abstain only from things polluted by idols and from sexual immorality and from whatever has been strangled[d] and from blood.” (Acts 15:19, 20 NRSVUE).

Paul later expanded what it meant for the church to enforce its morality, “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral persons, not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since you would then need to go out of the world.” (2 Cor. 5: 9, 10 NRSVUE). To restate, I cannot expect those who don’t know Christ to live as though they do. The mission we have to the world is to live in a way that reflects the love of God and to be those who help the world reconcile with God. Reconciliation is not accomplished through dictating moral law. It is accomplished by living in the transformation brought about by Christ’s resurrection.

In my view, attempts like Parker’s to apply moral law to contemporary issues result in both distorted theologies and bad public policy that cannot see beyond the gnat at which they strain. As I’ve written elsewhere, public policy emanating from pro-life proponents fails to take into account the myriad of tertiary healthcare issues that have to be addressed.  The decision in Alabama fails the biblical function of governance while purporting itself to be biblically based. My brain hurts at the contorted reasoning.

A quick survey of the overwhelming amount of scholarship on the relationship between the church and state recognizes that simplistic answers cannot begin to address the complexities around healthcare or other social challenges. Being the church in the community takes a deep commitment to reconciliation, learning, humility, courage, engagement, dialogue, and love. Pompous proclamations and ignorance not only fail to meet the challenge they stand condemned by the God who is often cited as one’s ideological legitimization.

If Parker wants to work on public policy that involves a theological influence, then he should sponsor a workshop with real theologians represented in his community, not just Christian theologians, but also Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, and Atheists and medical providers on how to address the complex healthcare issues around right to life. Right now, Parker sounds like he’d rather set up a predominately white theocracy where his views dominate. Does he want to claim that kind of divine fiat?

[1] Suorce:; Accessed 23 February 2024.

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