Is the State Supreme: Can it Ever Be Wrong? The Ever-Present Danger of Statism
R.C. Sproul tells the story of when he shared a taxi cab in St. Louis with the late Christian thinker Francis Schaeffer. Sproul writes, “I had known Dr. Schaeffer for many years, and he had been instrumental in helping us begin our ministry in Ligonier, Pennsylvania, in 1971. Since our time together in St. Louis was during the twilight of Schaeffer’s career, I posed this question to him: ‘Dr. Schaeffer, what is your biggest concern for the future of the church in America?’ Without hesitation, Dr. Schaeffer turned to me and spoke one word: ‘statism.’”
Put simply, statism is the belief that the State—meaning the civil government, or man via civil government—is the ultimate authority on the earth in terms of law, morality, and righteousness. In other words, statism is the belief that no one, not even God, has the right to contradict the established laws of the State. In short, the State is supreme. For example, if the State determines that it is ok to kill unborn babies, then this is the final word on the subject. It doesn’t matter what the Bible has to say, or anyone else for that matter, on the subject. The same thing is true of State approved same-sex marriage, illegal immigration or euthanasia. If the State has “spoken”, then the issue is over.
As Schaeffer pointed out so well in his writings, there must always be an absolute authority in every culture. Schaeffer reminded us that every law in a society is the legislation of someone’s morality. This is true of laws against murder, rape, incest, stealing, kidnapping, fraud, child pornography etc. All such laws are attempts to legislate morality. The real issue is not about legislating morality, but whose morality will be legislated—God’s or the State’s? Make no mistake, Christians are called to obey the State, unless that State has legislated something that is in direct violation of God’s holy Law. Such is the case with abortion or same-sex marriage.
Here’s the bottom line: as a culture drifts further and further from God’s moral standards, it will inevitably become more and more intolerant of dissent. It has to. Once God is removed as the moral authority, the State must assume the supreme role. As such, it must become increasingly hostile to nonconforming voices. Dissent from the moral orthodoxy of the State is viewed as tantamount to blasphemy and worthy of criminal prosecution. If the State is no longer under God’s law, then the State must persecute and prosecute moral disagreement with holy zeal. And it will.
A classic example is when former presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke said that he would support the revocation of tax-exempt status for any church or school that did not support same-sex marriage. In saying this, O’Rourke was simply operating as a mouth piece for the doctrine of statism. The State has determined what is “legal,” therefore everyone had better get in line. If not, the State will lower the boom. This is the crushing nature of statism. It is absolute. It is intolerant. It is uncompromising. It is extreme. And it has become the political orthodoxy of western culture. The very nature of statism (fanatical and unbending) is one reason why political discourse has become increasingly hostile in modern times.
Christians must remember that we are called to be good citizens, but that first and foremost, we are all citizens of Heaven. As such, we are called to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and unto God what is God’s (Matthew 22:21). Anything else is blasphemy. It’s putting the creature above the Creator.