Originally published anonymously in 1905, this poignant essay from Mark Twain is still remarkably applicable to modern America.
Is there such a thing as Christian citizenship? No, but it could be created. The process would be quite simple, and not productive of hardship to any one. It will be conceded that every man's first duty is to God; it will also be conceded, and with strong emphasis, that a Christian's first duty is to God. It then follows, as a matter of course, that it is his duty to carry his Christian code of morals to the polls and vote them. Whenever he shall do that, he will not find himself voting for an unclean man, a dishonest man. Whenever a Christian votes, he votes against God or for Him, and he knows this quite well. God is an issue in every election; He is a candidate in the person of every clean nominee on every ticket; His purity and His approval are there, to be voted for or voted against, and no fealty to party can absolve His servant from his higher and more exacting fealty to Him; He takes precedence of party, duty to Him is above every claim of party.
If Christians should vote their duty to God at the polls, they would carry every election, and do it with ease. They would elect every clean candidate in the United States, and defeat every soiled one. Their prodigious power would be quickly realized and recognized, and afterward there would be no unclean candidates upon any ticket, and graft would cease. No church organization can be found in the country that would elect men of foul character to be its shepherd, its treasurer, and superintendent of its Sunday-school. It would be revolted at the idea; it would consider such an election an insult to God. Yet every Christian congregation in the country elects foul men to public office, while quite aware that this also is an open and deliberate insult to God, who can not approve and does not approve the placing of the liberties and the well-being of His children in the hands of infamous men. It is the Christian congregations that are responsible for the filling of our public offices with criminals, for the reason that they could prevent it if they chose to do it. They could prevent it without organizing a league, without framing a platform, without making any speeches or passing any resolutions -- in a word, without concert of any kind. They could accomplish it by each individual resolving to vote for God at the polls -- that is to say, vote for the candidate whom God would approve. Can a man imagine such a thing as God being a Republican or a Democrat, and voting for a criminal or a blackguard merely because party loyalty required it? Then can we imagine that a man can improve upon God's attitude in this matter, and by help of professional politicians invent a better policy? God has no politics but cleanliness and honesty, and it is good enough for men.
A man's second duty is to his family. There was a time when a clergyman's duty to his family required him to be his congregation's political slave, and vote his congregation's ticket in order to safeguard the food and shelter of his wife and children. But that time has gone by. We have the secret ballot now, and a clergyman can vote for God. He can also plead with his congregation to do the like.
Perhaps. We can not be sure. The congregation would probably inquire whom he was going to vote for; and if he stood upon his manhood and answered that they had no Christian right (which is the same as saying no moral right, and, of course, no legal right) to ask the question, it is conceivable -- not to say certain -- that they would dismiss him, and be much offended at his proposing to be a man as well as a clergyman.
Still, there are clergymen who are so situated as to be able to make the experiment. It would be worth while to try it. If the Christians of America could be persuaded to vote God and a clean ticket, it would bring about a moral revolution that would be incalculably beneficent. It would save the country -- a country whose Christians have betrayed it and are destroying it.
The Christians of Connecticut sent Bulkeley to the Senate. They sent to the Legislature the men who elected him. These two crimes they could have prevented; they did not do it, and upon them rest the shame and the responsibility. Only one clergyman remembered his Christian morals and his duty to God, and stood bravely by both. Mr. Smythe is probably an outcast now, but such a man as that can endure ostracism; and such a man as that is likely to possess the treasure of a family that can endure it with him, and be proud to do it. I kiss the hem of his garment.
Four years ago Greater New York had two tickets in the field: one clean, the other dirty, with a single exception; an unspeakable ticket with that lonely exception. One-half of the Christians voted for that foul ticket and against God and the Christian code of morals, putting loyalty to party above loyalty to God and honorable citizenship, and they came within a fraction of electing it; whereas if they had stood by their professed morals they would have buried it out of sight. Christianity was on trial then, it is on trial now. And nothing important is on trial except Christianity.
It was on trial in Philadelphia, and failed; in Pennsylvania, and failed; in Rhode Island, and failed; in Connecticut, and failed; in New York, and failed; in Delaware, and failed; in every town and county and State, and was recreant to its trust; it has effusively busied itself with the small matters of charity and benevolence, and has looked on, indifferent while its country was sinking lower and lower in repute and drifting further and further toward moral destruction. It is the one force that can save, and it sits with folded hands. In Greater New York it will presently have an opportunity to elect or defeat some straight, clean, honest men, of the sterling Jerome stamp, and some of the Tammany kind. The Christian vote -- and the Christian vote alone -- will decide the contest. It, and it alone, is master of the situation, and lord of the result.
Bill Fortenberry is a Christian philosopher and historian in Birmingham, AL. Bill's work has been cited in several legal journals, and he has appeared as a guest on shows including The Dr. Gina Show, The Michael Hart Show, and Real Science Radio.
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