Briefly Noted: Hail to the Chiefs: Should the USA Opt for Co-Presidencies?

In a recent article in The Chronicle Review, David Orentlicher argues that two are better than one, at least when it comes to the United States Presidency.[1] Citing falling approval ratings, intractable political scuffles between the President (past and present) and Congress, and abuses of executive power (e.g., Watergate and Guantánamo) Orentlicher argues that the U.S. ought to adopt a system whereby each major party has a President, serving at the same time.

Orentlicher believes the problems with Congress are structural failings – “the decision by the founding fathers to place a single president atop the executive branch” (B4). While the original plan was for the legislative and judicial branches to check the power of the executive, according to Orentlicher, that increasingly does not happen. Thus, while we may not be able to reduce the amount of power in the Presidency, “we can, however, channel executive power in a more productive direction” with two instead of one at the top (B4).

Orentlicher cites examples from Switzerland and France, where politicians from different parties served in apparent “cohabitation” to bring about governing successes. Orentlicher believes that shared power, far from fostering an extended and destructive gridlock, would instead create an environment of cooperation because of the incentive both persons would have to build their legacy. Moreover, he cites game theory as a supporting idea–two people in a continuing relationship are more likely to cooperate (B5). According to Orentlicher two is better than one.

For my part, I’m more than a little bit skeptical. However, since I am not a political scientist, I’ll limit my comments to a related, and more theological, set of issues surrounding the intractable political scuffles and abuses of executive power to which Orentlicher refers.

The roots of any political dysfunction are complex and multi-faceted; they can be social, moral, practical, geographical, historical, etc., but almost always they involve a religious element. Politics is a function of the broader culture, and at the heart of culture is religion. In other words, an “ecology” of our American socio-political environment would show that the “roots” of the socio-political tree are “faith.” At the bottom of dysfunction in general, and political dysfunction in particular, is the direction of the human heart. A society is populated either by those who love, trust, and obey God, on the one hand, or by those who love, trust, and obey idols, on the other hand.

The United States, like other countries, is a teeming ecosystem of idolatry, providing a lush environment in which citizens may cultivate an inordinate love for sex, money, power, success, and the approval of man. These types of idols exist in a co-dependent relationship and foster the “isms” that dishonor God and disable human flourishing—isms such as consumerism, relativism, eroticism, naturalism, and scientism. Only as citizens find Christ can they be set free from enslavement to idols and for conformity to Christ.

Jesus Christ is Lord over the social and political process, just as he is Lord over everything else, and this Lordship is best understood in relation to three great truths. First, God created us as social and cultural beings. He endowed us with the spiritual, moral, rational, creative, relational, and physical capacities necessary to interact in the public square.

Second, political activity is marked by a great antithesis. After the fall, humans have lived in the midst of a great struggle between the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness, between Christ and Satan, and between truth and error. These invisible realities, represented by certain principalities and powers, are manifested in visible, tangible cultural realities such as greed, vitriol, dishonesty, and relativism in politics. This great struggle between light and darkness cuts across the entire creation and every human culture. Christians should resist this comprehensive assault on our shared cultural life. We should fight it tooth and nail, not only from the pulpit, but also from the public square.

Third, political activity takes place within an ordered realms which has its own creational design. Human cultures can be divided into a variety of realms—such as art, science, business, politics, and education—which have their own creational design and God-given integrity. Because we live in a fallen world comprised of sinners, these realms will be to some extent corrupted and directed toward wrong ends. In each realm (including the political realm), we should ask three questions: What is God’s creational design for this realm? In what ways has this realm been corrupted and misdirected toward wrong ends? How can I bring healing to this realm by redirecting it toward God’s creational design in Christ? To the extent we engage the public square with those questions in mind, we glorify God and provide our neighbors a preview of God’s future rule over a renewed and restored creation.

In other words, academic activity should take place under the absolute Lordship of Christ. Christ is the creator and King over all things, and one day will restore all things. He is not merely the Lord over my quiet times; he is Lord over my work, my leisure, and my politics. He is not merely sovereign over local church gatherings; he is sovereign over the public square. No piece of our (“secular”) life is to be sealed off from Christ’s lordship. Every square inch of it belongs to Christ and ought to be made to honor him. Missional Christians not only proclaim the gospel with words, they promote it in their public and political lives.

[1] David Orentlicher, “Hail to the Chiefs” in The Chronicle Review (April 12, 2013: B4–5)

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