Editor’s Note: Mark Melton is Deputy Editor of Providence: A Journal of Christianity & American Foreign Policy. The magazine’s inaugural issue will be released in Fall 2015. To attend the official Providence Launch Event on November 6, 2015, simply RSVP online. Also make sure to visit www.ProvidenceMag.com to learn more about Providence and read cutting-edge foreign policy analysis from a Christian perspective.
“God created war so that Americans would learn geography.” I really enjoy this Mark Twain quote. Sometimes it gets some chuckles, but the chuckles often turn into a tinge of sadness because there is some truth in it.
Many Americans do not pay attention to geopolitics until something dramatic gets our attention, at which point there’s a risk of acting unwisely. I understand that I spend a lot more time following international relations than the average citizen, but I’m still amazed when I meet someone, even someone who is very intelligent with advanced degrees, who doesn’t know roughly where Crimea is or what Russia has been doing in the area, as happened to me last week. I could despair about this ignorance. But my hope with this new project is to fulfill what Thomas Jefferson advised, “Do not be too severe upon the errors of the people, but reclaim them by enlightening them.”
This project will have a Christian realist perspective. As a Christian I believe that I am a sinner and that everyone else alive is a sinner. To put it in secular terms- we’re not perfect; we are prone to failure, selfishness, greed, etc.. Therefore, as a sinner living amongst sinners, or an imperfect person living among imperfect people, I do not believe that we could ever construct a perfect societal structure that creates pure happiness and bliss. Our best attempts to create the perfect structure will fail because imperfect people are still in those structures. Or, to borrow Christian terminology, we can never construct the New Jerusalem until God brings the New Jerusalem down to earth.
This state of our nature should not surprise us, and it did not surprise James Madison, who wrote in Federalist 51, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”
What I love about this quote is that Madison not only understands that humans are not angels but that humans should do their best to construct a government that maximizes liberty, even if the society and government can never be perfect.
Christians, and many non-Christians for that matter, may want to escape this sinful, broken world where government is necessary. But we still have to live here. While we long for and pray for God to bring about the New Jerusalem, Christians who are interested in government, or at least vote, should understand how they can engage positively and wisely in politics and geopolitics. For instance, should the government be allowed to use coercion? Clearly, government is allowed to collect taxes, which is an incredibly coercive power. For most people, the collection of taxes is the most coercive thing a government will ever do to them.
My hope is that this new journal would help Christians who are in government, interested in government, or who just vote for government to better understand how government can use its power wisely and responsibly, not just within our artificial borders that we have created but abroad as well.
I admit that I am still a sinner who does not have perfect knowledge as God does, but I am confident that a healthy debate on these issues will create a more enlightened citizenry. I am eager to learn from everyone else, and I invite you to join us.