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Four Stage Model for Creating Public Policy from Faith4 min read

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I just found this 2 hour (!) 2009 lecture on politics and religion, and it has some really good content, especially towards the end. The speaker, Nicholas S. Lantinga, is a PhD, and obviously knows more than he can talk about in a 2 hour lecture. But here’s a couple helpful things I learned from the lecture.

He lays quite a historical foundation for why we should NOT omit religious world views as a foundation for morality and public policy, and that secular assumption are just as ‘religious’ in that they make philosophic and theological assumptions.

Additionally, having religious assumptions does NOT require that you have religious laws or a ‘theocracy’ unless you skip step 3 – defining the limits of governmental authority before legislating public policy. Here are the four steps he outlines in the second half of the lecture (starting at 40:21).

Politics and Religion: Moving Forward in a Pluralistic Society from The Veritas Forum.

1. Fundamental Assumptions and Values

We all have fundamental assumptions about the nature of man, and what is moral or immoral. We should be explicit about these assumptions. Such things as the higher value of man because of the imago dei, or our responsibility as stewards of the earth, not owners, are two Christian fundamentals regarding what is valuable.

Secularists may assume that man is an animal, and no more important than animals, or that individual autonomy is foundational. Bertrand Russel sought foundation in the logos, or the logic of human reason.

2. Ethical Norms

We should next establish ethical norms that flow from our assumptions. How ought humanity ought to act given these first principles? We must infer proper behavior from the principles.

We may make mistakes in these inferences, and may need to change or refine them over time, even if we keep our foundational ideas about reality, man, values, and government.

But how are these specific ethical demands supposed to be enforced or encouraged? Should all ethical norms, like taking up arms, generosity, or sacrificial giving be legislated?  What about religious attendance? Or higher education? Or voting? What about punishing promiscuity, or divorce, or having more than one child, or criticizing political leaders, or Allah?

Step 3 decides these things.

3. Differentiating Authority

We must develop a social theory of government. Who should do what? This is where we may end up choosing a socialist, theocratic, conservative, or libertarian view, for instance. I think the founders of our own country had it right with the limits placed on government in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. For example, government ought to be limited to:

  • Establish Justice
  • Insure domestic tranquility
  • Provide for the common defense
  • Promote the general Welfare
  • Secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity

This step of circumscribing government responsibility and authority is very important. For a decent overview of Biblical views of God and government, see the following:

4. Public Policy

Now that we have limits to what government should do, and a list of ethical norms for human society, we can put them together and craft meaningful legislation. From here, I only add that government has a range of options to choose from, including:

  • Promoting or rewarding positive behaviors – like charity or home ownership
  • Protecting rights – of course, the Declaration outlines our basic rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”, and the Cosntitution details those rights in the Bill of Rights, including our rights of freedom of speech, press, assembly, religion, and petition
  • Prescribing necessary behaviors – like paying taxes or attending school
  • Prescribing consumer labeling – like ratings for movies or food ingredients
  • Controlling substances – like alcohol, tobacco, or firearms
  • Punishing criminal behaviors – like theft, murder, slander, etc.

This model will not remove all disputes over what should be legislated, but what a great model for removing a lot of wasted energy over NOT following such a model.