The Morality of Political Action:
An edited transcript of 3 lectures held June 22,
June 29 and July 6, 1983 at the Free Congress
Research and Education Foundation
William H. Marshner
Enrique T. Rueda
The Free Congress Research and Education Foundation
Officers and Board Kathleen Teague, Chairman Dr. Charles Moser, Treasurer Margaret Johnson, Secretary Dr. Robert J. Billings Senator William L. Armstrong William Marshner Michelle Laxalt
Paul M. Weyrich, President
Connaught Marshner, Executive Vice President
Eric Licht, Vice President for Operations
Laurie Ramsey, Vice President for Development
John Grecco, Comptroller
The Morality of Political Action: Biblical Foundations
Copyright © 1984—The Free Congress Research and Education Foundation 721 Second Street, N.E.
Washington, D.C. 20002
Library of Congress Catalog Card No: 84-82044
First Printing Price $4.00
The Free Congress Research and Education Foundation is a 501(c)(3), tax-exempt, research foundation, engaged in educational projects in two separate areas of concentration.
The Institute for Government and Politics of the Free Congress Foundation includes a Political Division and a Direct Democracy Division. Both divisions conduct research, publish brief monographs and hold conferences. The Political Division publishes a weekly newsletter, The Political Report, which provides nonpartisan, unbiased coverage of House and Senate campaigns and elections. The Direct Democracy Division publishes the monthly Initiative and Referendum Report, which reports on state and local ballot measures, and supervises the Institute’s Judicial Reform Project.
The Institute’s major areas of concern include: American elections, voting behavior, political parties, campaign finance, citizen involvement in the political process, state and local ballot measures, constitutional issues and the judiciary, and criminal law.
The Child and Family Protection Institute’s major areas of concern are trends affecting the stability and well-being of American family life and analysis of public policy and its impact on family life. At a time in which there is great societal and media discussion of all the points of life from abortion to euthanasia, the Institute seeks to give balance to the debate by presenting the enduring and traditional alternative to the modern reader. The Institute affirms the centrality of the family in American society at present and in the future.
The Institute publishes a monthly newsletter, the Family Protection Report, which covers such topics as: adoption and custody laws, child welfare, education, sex education, judicial nominations, domestic violence, abortion, homosexuality, in vitro fertilization, medical ethics and the economic well-being of the family. It focuses on legislation of importance to the family at the state and national levels.
None of the statements made here should be construed as the policy views of the Free Congress Research and Education Foundation.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
William H. Marshner is Professor of Theology at Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia. A former journalist for The Wanderer, he is a prominent lecturer in Theology, Philosophy, and Hebrew, and belongs to the American Catholic Philosophical Association and the Mariological Society of America. He is the author of The New Creatures and the New Politics, a defense of Christian political activism, and of The Right to Life.
Fr. Enrique T. Rueda is a native of Cuba. He came to the United States as a political refugee in 1961 after having spent a brief time in a Communist prison under the government of Fidel Castro. He presently resides in Washington, DC, having been ordained a Roman Catholic priest in 1968. Fr. Rueda was ordained by Cardinal Terence Cooke in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, New York City.
In 1981, Father Rueda became director of the Catholic Center at the Free Congress Research and Education Foundation. He developed a training program for teaching Catholics skills for becoming more effective in their local parish and diocese. Presently, he is the Senior Contributing Scholar for the Center. In that capacity, he writes articles, analyzes social and political issues from the Catholic viewpoint, conducts training conferences and works as a consultant.
Father Rueda is the author of The Homosexual Network: Private Lives and Public Policy, and Roman Catholicism and American Capitalism: Friends or Foes?
Father Rueda received his Bachelor Degree in Chemical Engineering from Catholic University of America in 1963. He has earned the following Masters degrees: Masters in Divinity, St. Joseph’s Seminary-1967; Masters in Theology, St. Joseph’s Seminary-1968; Masters in Business and Public Administration, Southeastern University, 1980; Masters of Arts-Political Science, Fordham University, 1968.
There is no question that God has a plan for each one of us; and since we, according to the talents He has allotted us, the opportunities He has granted, the trials He has set before us, are diverse, it must follow that these plans are very different.
Yet since God is One Father, His plans for us resemble one another in essential features. Can a man be following God’s plan for his life, if he is not walking in justice, abounding in mercy, advancing in love? Will God lead anyone into laxity, cruelty or indolence? You may put it like this: God directs us towards perfection; but perfection is, attribute by attribute, what He already Is. The One who is All-in- all must, for very want of an alternative, guide us towards Himself. So, in every pair of shoes, a life’s journey which is God-directed is a study in God-likeness.
In that light, think of this. The God of Abraham, the God of the prophets, the God of Jesus and His apostles, is a God who involves Himself in human, public affairs. He does not scruple to make history. What wonder, then, if this God also demands from those who put their trust in Him a similar involvement?
As with all His demands, the specific way in which an individual is led to meet it is a result of many conditions. The private background of each believer, his spiritual dispositions, the changing shapes of public emergency — all are concurrent factors in this personal process, in which an individual finds the details of his own call to public awareness. But the call itself, like the moral call to God-likeness, is there for all.
For most believers, of course, the involvement requires few actions beyond voting. But some are called to act in roles of increasing leadership. Whereas the majority are challenged just to respond to existing conditions, a minority is called to alter these conditions, to be at the forefront of the political struggle. And this latter, as we know all too well, is neither a pleasant nor a popular place to be.
Whether they hold elected office, or head lobbies, or direct political action committees—consider the plight of our Christian political leaders. Let them once gain a solid competence to win some victories, and they are forthwith denounced from two fronts. Bellowing starts from the gored oxen of This World: bigots are stalking the land, the “American way” is being violated, moralistic simpletons are usurping high places. These are the first and heart-felt cries of defeated liberals. These slogans are the weapons of the first front. But the liberals also have a craftier line of attack, in tandem with a certain religious Establishment. It goes like this: the Gospel of Love is suffering pollution; and oh, the true interests of Religion— how they are being injured by these pushy politicians and their nasty allies in TV evangelism! An appeal to the spiritually minded, this line of attack disturbs many of our own brethren, as it is tirelessly insinuated in the liberal media. Zest for the battle yields, in many minds, to a certain war-weariness. Even in sound churches, a chilling air of opinion begins to circulate, indistinct but tangible, ready to suspect that the whole venture of the Christian Right has turned sour, or become a net negative. And so the howls of the wounded Left find their serviceable echo in the pews of the Right, as though the blues of a posh night-club had been piped into the parish hall. To change the figure: when Georgetown eats sour grapes, it knows how to set teeth on edge throughout the country. A second front is opened, by induced negative feelings.
In proportion as these feelings take root, the tokens of victory in our leaders’ hands—the mailing lists expanded, the monies raised, the strategies implemented, the elections won—these tokens become the very grounds of suspicion against them. This leader or that is felt to have become too controversial, too big, too political, too worldly. Our leaders stand in the glare of the media undefended and misunderstood, while all too many Christians, who ought to support them, revert instead to the self-defeating conviction that politics, especially big-time politics, is a game too dirty for plain folk to play.
That conviction is infectious. It can pass from pew to pulpit, and into the hearts of our leaders themselves. Doubts assail them as to their motives and methods. Political life is tough and contentious. Can it be hard-ball played for the Lord, or is that very idea a contradiction in terms? How is God’s leading verified in this curious sort of career, where mercy seems irrelevant, and justice is cut to a partisan measure? The straightforward ways of private life tempt our leaders; visions of cleaner moral choices beckon them back to hometown America. If they yield, they are gone. But sweetness is tasted in Georgetown.
The purpose of the present monograph is to counteract, at least in a small way, the danger of this second front. The two authors, Fr. Enrique Rueda and Professor William Marshner, seek to dispel Christian suspicion of Christian political leaders by dispelling Christian misgivings over the things a political leader has to do.
The three chapters which follow represent three talks, given in successive weeks last June and July, at the headquarters of the Free Congress Research and Education Foundation. They are aimed at two audiences, a narrower one of Christian leaders themselves, to analyze and resolve various problems of conscience which they have raised, and a broader audience of other interested Christians, to create a medium of moral understanding between the grassroots and these leaders.
The talks were given before live audiences, whose questions and comments have been retained in these lightly edited transcripts.
As originally planned, the talks were intended to be self-contained, in the sense that the whole issue would be revolved in each; hence a certain amount of repetition has been unavoidable.
Another ground rule, more important, was that all the moral principles and insights employed were to be derived directly from the Word of God, cited according to the familiar and beloved version authorized under King James.
One of the difficulties that people in public life face, when they have a conscience, is that they have to make choices based on it.
As you well know, not everyone who is in public life has a conscience, at least a conscience based on the Scriptures, based on the Christian faith.
It is very tempting when one is in public life not to think in terms of conscience, but rather in terms of convenience; not to think in terms of responsibility, but rather in terms of power; not to think in terms of service, but in terms of exploitation—that is, how one can best get ahead.
It is obvious that for people who do not have a conscience, or who fall victim to what I will call the temptation of power in public life, things are rather simple. Their rule is: you get what you can any way you can. On the other hand, from the point of view of someone who is rooted in the Christian Scriptures, we do not think that their rule is going to work. Ultimately, if you act against the teachings of the Scriptures, against Faith, you will not obtain the kind of results you originally wanted; somehow nature and the Lord have a way of striking back. Somehow, if you do not behave ethically, things are going to turn around and result not only in detriment for the commonwealth but in detriment for each and every one of the individuals who are involved. Of course, it takes Faith to accept this. If we had the omniscience which belongs to God, we could see that it will happen. But we cannot see it, so it takes a modicum of Faith to be able to understand that “the race is not to the swift.”
Moreover, it is not easy for people to make decisions in situations that appear to be ambiguous. Although choices are really not ambiguous, they appear so to us, because we do not have the intellect, or the finesse of conscience to allow us to understand exactly what are all the details of a situation. And indeed, if you believe in the presence of the Spirit of God, in your heart and in your life as a guiding force, you know that the more you are in tune with the Scriptures, and the closer you are to that Spirit of God, the closer you are to being able to make those decisions. Now, it is not an easy thing to understand how this is possible. Our decisions in Faith are really mysterious. Besides the purely human dimension, we believe that God is also present.
This seminar was conceived to try to explore and address some of the questions involved in what to do when you are faced with a political choice that appears to be ambiguous, or with a choice that someone might criticize by saying, “Well, this is too harsh a thing to do,” or “As a Christian you ought to act differently,” or “We have a kind of commitment that goes beyond that which is purely called for by this world.” Indeed, some people would say, “Well, nature may allow us to do this, but the Scriptures give us a calling that is above and beyond the things of nature.”
You have, for example, the situation of what to do if your congressman is voting his conscience, but it is not your conscience. To what extent can you go and put pressure on the congressman? To what extent can you almost threaten that person with political extinction: “If you do not vote this way, I will destroy you”? If you think through what you are doing, you are actually telling the person that perhaps he or she is going to have to vote against his conscience. You are putting the person in a bind, and some people might think that you are putting the elected official in an occasion of sin. You can see how that can happen in many, many instances.
Or, to what extent can you support someone who you do not think is living the kind of righteous or ethical life that is demanded by your beliefs? Can you support someone like that, or must you assume the person has been converted? What if you think the person has not accepted conversion? And here it is not a matter of considering oneself superior to anybody (self-righteousness, of course, is incompatible with the Christian faith), but it is a matter of being able, somehow, to assess, based on your faith, whether this person is going to be able to do a good job or not. Moreover, the unconverted person may take some position that you want, and his opponent may take a worse position. What do you do in that case? Or are you looking for the ultimate Christian to run for public office? Are you saying that only people who are leading a purely honest and totally crystal-clear life, who have no admixture of evil in any way, shape or form, are really eligible to run for public office, because otherwise a person is tainted by sin?
Indeed, you can see how all these questions can come up. Questions like these, as I said in the beginning, only come up for those individuals who have a conscience. If you are the kind who says “I am going to get as much as possible, come what may,” then you have no problem. Moral decisions never enter the picture for a person without a conscience.
Now, let me give you a couple of premises upon which I am going to speak, and I am sure that Professor William Marshner will share at least the general view of what I am going to present. Because we are basing this kind of understanding of political action on the Scriptures, on the holy Bible, we first have to address what we think is the role of the Scriptures. I will state this briefly.
We accept the Scriptures as the Word of God, as Word of God in its entirety. There is no more Revelation than the Word of God, and it is the total and entire Word of God that we accept as truthful, with no admixture of error in any way, shape or form. We accept this totally as coming from God and being entirely truthful. Otherwise we would have to set ourselves up as critics of the Scriptures, and we would have to have another source of information or way of making decisions and choices that involve what God said. And that is incompatible with total faith in God. For total faith means total acceptance of God. It is not compatible with our being able to set ourselves up as judges over the Word of God. The Word of God we accept as the judge, as the two-edged sword that is able to divide truth from falsehood. We accept it as the norm, as the canon for life—for individual life and also for collective life, since I do not think one can limit the insights that the Scriptures give us to our own individual lives alone. It is not a matter of imposing our belief on other people, or saying that everyone must accept the Scripture, whether he is a Christian or not. It has nothing to do with that. But it has to do with the knowledge and the certain perception that the truths that are presented to us in the Scriptures are valid and are valuable, not just for individual life but also for public life.
In a spirit of evangelism, our understanding is that we can share this truth with other people—if not in terms of faith, at least in terms of common sense. Some people might not have faith, but I am sure we can convince them that loving one’s neighbor and being just to one’s fellow man, which is part of the teaching of Scripture, works, whether you believe in the Scripture or not. So there is an awful lot of truth in the Scriptures that you can share with other people, even people who do not have any belief at all, which can become normative for common life, for believers and non-believers alike.
Obviously, we take the Scriptures to be authoritative. Objectively speaking, the authority we rely on has to be in the Scriptures, which is what we Christians have in common. Now, some people might have other sources of authority and understanding, and that may be fine for other purposes. But for the purposes that we are talking about, the only authority that Christians share, regardless of denomination, is the Holy Bible.
Subjectively speaking, for each of us as individuals the source of authority has to be our faith, because that faith means that we have internalized the Scriptures, the word of God who is Jesus Christ. The primacy, therefore, for individuals has to be in the conscience. And, as you know, it is not up to us to judge other people’s consciences, even though in public life we have every right in the world to judge other people’s behavior. Public behavior must, and can be, judged by people who are citizens. Otherwise we are not living up to our responsibilities as citizens, as I think we are going to see in a short while.
Since we are talking about political action, I should like to turn next to some of the premises that need to be established about the nature of the political system in which we live. I do not just mean the American political system but political systems in general. Because it is from that kind of generality that we can derive some ideas on how we as Christians can interact and interface with the political system.
A political system is first and foremost a system for allocation of power. Power means capacity to influence other people’s behavior effectively and efficiently. So the political system basically is part of the arrangement of people living together. There are many other parts of the arrangement, but the part that allocates public power is what we call the political system. If it is public power, obviously, one is talking about the commonwealth, the state.
It is very important to understand that there is not only one system for the allocation of public power, but that there have been many systems throughout history. In all of those systems we believe, in some way, somehow, Christians have been capable of actualizing their Christianity, coming to believe in the Lord Jesus and giving their life to Him. That has been a constant throughout history. Right now in the Soviet Union, which is the most God-less system one could think of, you have, for example, people who are Baptists who are relating to Jesus Christ in a rather dynamic way, even though the system is not geared for that to happen. Since it is not up to anyone, not even the Communist Party, to determine how faith is allocated and who gets converted and who gives his life to God and who does not (all of that is up to God), God can work within any system—even though it may be an evil system. Such was the Roman Empire. We are going to see later how the apostle Peter was telling people to pray for the Emperor and to pay taxes, even though the system might have been evil. You can have a legitimate system in which evil people are in charge, and you have to use some rules of prudence as to how and to what extent you can do something to change that system.
Next, political action is determining, according to certain rules and certain norms, how power shall be allocated. How are decisions to be made, and who shall make them, and on what basis are they to be made? Now it is very fundamental that we understand this, because under a system of democracy, which is what our country operates under in part, this responsibility does not belong only to one individual or to a group of individuals. It belongs to all the individuals under the Constitution, and therefore participation in that system, according to the way the system is devised, is incumbent upon all individuals. It cannot be reserved just to one group. What I hope to show is that each and every Christian, by the mere fact that he is a citizen, has the responsibility of participating in the political system, according to the rules of the system, so long as those rules do not conflict with the teachings of the Scriptures. The moment they conflict, of course, what Peter said stands: “It is better to obey God than it is to obey men.”
In a free political system, the political action which allocates power is competitive. Many Christians have the temptation of thinking that competition is bad. Now I’m sure that in the economic sphere we do not think ill of competition, because we can see the good results. But when competition occurs between individuals vying for power, we often think there is something bad with this; that is—that a system where there is conflict or opposition, where there are two sides trying to occupy the same space, with one having to displace the other, is necessarily bad. I contend that that is not true.
I contend that our adversarial system is not ipso facto a bad system, even though it can be a source of temptation. It can result in sin by some people who cannot apply the appropriate discrimination. Instead of seeking the good, they are seeking only for themselves. When that happens, they cease to be servants and become lords.
There is a change of heart which the Gospel has demanded, and it has ramifications in economics, in politics, and in all other secular relations. This change of heart, despite these consequences, is not a change in the basic social roles of individuals. That is, a man continues being a man, and a woman a woman, the owner of a factory is still the owner, and the employee the employee, the president is president, and the citizen’s a citizen. But the inner nature of the relationship has changed because of Christianity. That is why the apostle Paul could say that there were no more Jews or Greeks, men or women, slaves or
masters. This was not because there were no more factory owners or employees (because if you eliminate that there would be anarchy) but because the kind of respect, understanding and relationship (which means nothing but the ordination of one person to another, of one thing to another) between people has changed. To be precise, authority has become service.
In Christian terms, authority must be service, and political action must be understood in terms of service. Each of us who in any way gets involved in the political process, whether we are running for office or volunteering in a campaign, or just going to vote, must understand that it is not an action of seeking ourselves. It has to be an action of seeking the good of others, that is, seeking the common good.
The common good is not identical to anyone’s private, particular good but does not exclude it either. Under our system, we believe that if everybody tries to get ahead, we all get ahead somehow. Nevertheless, as Christians, we have to purify our intentions constantly; we do this in the same way the Lord came to earth to do; that is—to serve, not to be served. In a way, it is sharing our life. Something as simple as sacrificing ourselves to get out of bed at 7:00 in the morning and going to vote, when we could have gotten up at 8 and not bothered with it, has to be understood as service. Otherwise, it is not a Christian action. Christian life has to be a life of service. We are servants in imitation of Jesus Christ.
Still, the transformation of political action into service does not eliminate conflict, and we should thank God for that fact. For there are two great values to conflict. One is that if helps us sharpen our opinions. It helps us to understand both sides better, and what our own objective is. If you have a totally mushy-mushy pattern of cooperation and nobody ever challenges you in any way, shape, or form, I dare say that you probably would become very dull. Your mind would become very dull, and your opinions would not be clear. You would not have even the possibility of changing your opinions. If a politician were not threatened with political extinction, he would really have a great temptation to become very lazy and not serve his people. The fact that a politician is always under threat is positive, not in the malicious sense, but simply in the sense that, by being under threat, one has always the perception that, if one wants to continue being of service, one must work hard, and indeed, perform a service.
The other important thing that conflict does is to help define boundaries in organizations. The pattern of an adversarial relationship helps you as an individual to perceive who you are as a member of a group, and helps the group to define itself. If you have a group that encounters no opposition, that encounters no challenge at all, ideological, political or otherwise, the group really ceases to be an identifiable group. The reason it ceases to be identifiable is very simple: because there are no boundaries. There is no clear concept of what you are anymore.
Next, when we talk about political action, we are talking about human action. A key characteristic of human action, is freedom and responsibility. I have a quote from the first Epistle of Peter which orients us on this point. It is 1 Peter 2:13-17:
Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether it be to the king as supreme, or unto governors as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God that with well-doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men; as free, and not using your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness, but as servants of God. Honor all men; Love the brotherhood; fear God; honor the king.
When he is talking about well-doing, it is well-doing in our condition as citizens, not just any well-doing, because it is very clear that he is talking about our submission to people who are in authority. And he speaks of doing this in a spirit of freedom because responsibility, of course, requires freedom. They are correlates to each other. To the extent that you are free, to that extent you can be responsible. And to the extent that you are responsible, you are acting in freedom. They both go together.
The fact that we must act as citizens in freedom and responsibility is why political action is a subject matter for ethics. Indeed, I think politics is a subdivision of ethics, and of morals. Politics is never, and could not possibly be, just a matter of convenience no matter how you look at it. Politics has to be normative. Politics cannot be purely descriptive. One problem that we have under secular humanism is precisely that politics is presented not as normative but as descriptive. That is to say, when people discuss a certain action, a certain behavior, a certain pattern of relationships, a certain set of institutions, they are only described, and there is no moral judgement made of them. That is equivalent to saying that all moral judgements are irrelevant; and if all moral judgements are irrelevant, then it does not make any difference what the action is. In fact, you are already making a moral judgment—you are becoming a relativist.
So politics, indeed, is a matter of ethics. Now this is not yet to speak of religion, because I do not think that ethics and religion are the same thing, not at all. Religion is about being transformed unto God as a result of having faith, while ethics has to do with the value of human action. Religion presupposes ethics, because if you are an unethical man, you cannot be a religious man. If you are not struggling at least to lead a good life, to lead an honest life, then you can hardly be said to give your adherence to the Lord. At the same time, ethics is a consequence of religious life, because to the extent that you are united with God, and Jesus Christ has taken charge of you and you accept the teachings of the Scriptures, to that extent you have the power to act in an ethical way. But ethics is not the same as religion. Otherwise we would be saying that the only kind of people who can do any good, in any way, are people who have sound religion, and I do not think that is true.
Now ethics is about good and evil in human action, and that brings me to what I call the natural law perspective in our understanding of political action. There are three ways of understanding the foundation of good and evil. I will start with the third way. The third way would be that good and evil are founded in the purely arbitrary will of God. That is to say, God could make something that is evil good, and something that is good evil; that God could have decided that a lie would be good, or that adultery would be good, or that inflicting pain for pain’s sake would be good. I do not think that that is possible. I believe in the total majesty of God, but I think that it is in the very nature of God to be holy. And His holiness has to be reflected in His creation, if He chooses to create. In a way, when God created, He bound Himself by that creation, by the way He created. It is a great mystery to say this, but for me to think that God could make lying good is impossible. It is very clear in the Scriptures that God is holy, and this does not mean arbitrariness.
But there are two other ways of understanding this source of good and evil. One is positivism, a positive law concept of good and evil, and the other is a natural law concept of good and evil. The positive law view is that whatever we in society have decided, and whatever conclusion we feel is proper, is indeed proper because we decided it. And tomorrow we could decide the opposite, and in five years from now we could decide the opposite, and in another generation, another age, something else could be decided.
The natural law concept of good and evil means that in the very design of God, when God created, there is implicit what is good and what is not good. Hence, even for those who do not believe in revelation, good and evil exist because they are implicit in creation. It may be impossible for men to live according to the laws of good and evil without grace; maybe they are helpless to avoid an evil life, if they have not received help from God. That is an entirely different question. For even without God’s grace, good and evil are still meaningful concepts for them, for the very simple reason that it is implicit in God’s design that there is a difference between the one and the other. And that is not only part of New Testament teachings, but part of Old Testament teachings as well. It is not as clear in the Old Testament as it is in the New Testament, but it is there. Look at Isaiah 24:1-5 and you will see what I mean. This is part of what is called the Apocalypse of Isaiah. It is a description of the final judgment. It says,
Behold the Lord-Maketh the earth empty, and maketh it waste, and turneth it upside down, and scattereth abroad the inhabitants thereof. And it shall be, as with the people, so with the priests; as with the servants, so with the master; as with the maid and so with her mistress; as with the buyer, so with the seller, as with the lender, so with the borrower; as with the taker of usury, so with the giver of usury to him. The land shall be utterly emptied and utterly spoiled, for the Lord hath spoken His Word. The earth mourneth and fadeth away; the world languiseth and fadeth away; haughty people of the earth do languish. The Earth also is defiled under the inhabitants thereof because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant.
This “everlasting convenant” does not apply only to the Hebrews, nor could people be bound by a covenant they did not know anything about. This is the everlasting covenant that God made with people because they are people, just because you are who you are. It is made clear in Romans 2:11-15:
For there is no respect of persons with God. For as many as have sinned without the Law shall also perish without the Law; as many as have sinned in the Law shall be judged by the Law; for not the hearers of the Law are just before God, but the doers of the Law shall be justified. For when the Gentiles which have not the Law, do by nature the things contained in the Law, these having not the Law, are a law unto themselves, which shows the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the meanwhile accusing or else excusing one another.
That is to say, within the very heart of each person you have the blueprint. It could not be the law in the sense of the revealed ritual law, meaning the observance of Passover and the sacrifice in the Temple and all the Commandments of the law that have come to be associated with the Torah as a whole, because that is not part of everybody’s conscience. It had to be the moral law. It had to be the basic content of the Ten Commandments. If you understand that there is a God, you understand that you have to worship God alone. If you understand what parents and children are, what property is, and truth is, and what a wife is, you have an understanding automatically of respect for your parents, respect for property, respect for truth, respect for sexuality, etc.
In other words, there is a blueprint within each one of us. And the wrong that St. Paul is talking about is clear in Romans 1:29:
And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient, which are being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malignity, whispers, slanderers, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventers of evil things.…
and so on and so on. These are the very things that people could have shunned but did not. There is no question about this because the distinction between right and wrong is not the result of an arbitrary decision of man. You can not come out now and say that envy is okay because the majority of us decide that it is. Nor can you be like those who want to decrease the crime rate by making some crimes legal. If you make adultery or prostitution legal, then the crime rate is going to come down by a fiction of law. Amazingly enough, we live under the shadow of such fiction (as you can see by recent decisions of the Supreme Court on abortion and other kinds of horror stories like that). In other words, many people think they can change reality by making a decision.
As an incidental to this, you know very well what is happening with AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). You just cannot fool Mother Nature. When you begin violating nature, it somehow comes back to you. The design of things is such that you can not escape. I cannot jump from the tenth floor and not expect to break my legs. I may wish it would not happen, but this is what the design of nature imposes. That is what I mean by natural law.
But it is vital to see that it is not limited to matters of biology or individual conduct. Natural law extends to the social sphere. By the mere fact that you live with other people, you have an obligation and responsibility toward them. It is not a matter of free choice.
I stress these premises because I think they provide for us some insight for our working in a pluralistic society. Natural law gives us our bearings for working with non-Christians and gives us our charter for involvement. If we do not have our bearings clear, we shall not know how to act in a pluralistic society. We might think that our Christian moral insights are irrelevant to such a society. But natural law is alway relevant, and our Christian insights are just exactly the natural law strengthened by supernatural revelation. If we say that we will not get involved, our society will not only be that much less Christian but also that much less natural and also that much less pluralistic. It will be solidly the way non-Christians want it!
But speaking of the supernatural, let us turn to face the fact that a Christian really lives in two realms. On the side we are not of this world, but on the other side we do live in this world. You remember the words of Our Lord in what we call the prayer to the Father during the Last Supper. This is John 17:9 and following, especially verse 15, where he says, “I do not pray that you take them out of the world, but that you preserve them from evil.” We live in the world, and living in the world does not mean living in this physical structure. ‘World’ here means the secular, it means wordly affairs, day to day affairs, that which is not transcendent.
I am emphasizing this because it is terribly tempting to try to escape the world. In my Church we have the institution of monasteries, where people go and pray; and you might think that they are exempting themselves from the world. But even monks think of their role as being specialists in prayer for the needs of the world; they conceive of their role as trying to transform society by this specific means. They are very involved in the world, and people who go there are drilled in the idea that they are not abandoning the world: they are abandoning some features of the world for the sake of looking for God in a different way, in giving witness to transcendance. You cannot seek perfection by escape.
I pray for them. I pray not for the world but for them which thou hast given me, for they are mine. And all mine are Thine, and Thine are mine, and I am glorified in them. And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through Thine own name those whom thou has given me, that they may be one, as we are one. When I was with them in the world I kept them in Thy name. Those that thou gavest me I have kept and none of them is lost but the son of perdition, that the Scriptures might be fulfilled. And now I come to Thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world even as I am not of the world. I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.
It is not clear if this means evil doing or if he is speaking of the evil one, meaning the devil. But in either case, he is not praying that we will be taken out of here, out of our responsibility in being here and all that it implies; but that we will not be tainted by evil, which is the danger.
In a certain sense I would say — and it might sound very strange and I am not sure that I would back it up completely—that it would be better that we take the chance of being tainted by evil than that we try to escape. Because at least in taking a chance of being tainted by evil we can still struggle. Escaping is even refusing to struggle; it is taking the easy way out.
What, then, must our relationship be to that part of the world which is the political order? To answer this we need to distinguish between the Church and the Christian—the Church as one or more institutions, and the Christian. The work of the Church is strictly supernatural. The work of the Christian is more diverse; as an individual, of course, he has to be saved, but the Church is not the only institution in which he exists. He also has a responsibility in the world. Thus, the concept of separating church and state is good, if, by union of church and state, we would mean that the church would control the state, or the state would control the church. We should not have church personnel, the clergy, running state affairs. In the past, when it has been tried, it has given poor results. So that is not a good thing.
It is different for the individual Christian though. It is important for us as Christians to exercise our civic responsibility precisely because we have a commitment as Christian citizens to do so. This does not mean imposing our own values, but it means sharing those values. If people who are atheists have the right to try to pass laws in which they are, in fact, imposing their godlessness on the rest of us, why can’t we say, for example, in relation to abortion, that this is an unspeakable evil, if that is the way we perceive it? Or why can’t we say in relation to prayer in schools that, if you respect other people’s personal freedom, then people should have the right to pray? And so on, for all the things that we hold sacred.
It is not a question of supernaturalizing the state; the state is a human institution, and like all human institutions it cannot be made supernatural. There is no way of making the state sacred. And the reason is that the function of the state is the temporal common good; the state has to create conditions in which people can develop in a secular sense.
But this function is not at all irrelevant if salvation is going to be achieved. In the past, people who could not read, could still receive the Gospel. But is it not true that people who can read have access to the Scriptures better than those who cannot read? Isn’t it true that if we have a well-oiled communications system, we can communicate the Gospel in ways that we could never do years ago? And does not government policy help or impede us in having such a system? Not that the state would put it there for a religious purpose; but in fact, I believe that there is a convergence between God’s purpose in nature and God’s purpose in salvation. If God’s purpose in nature is achieved better, God’s purpose in salvation is going to have a better chance of being achieved. It does not happen automatically, to be sure, as a result of seeking the natural common good; it is not the case that if the state functions well, people then are going to be saved. No, it takes a personal act of commitment to Jesus Christ. But I contend that, theoretically at least, and in general, it is more possible for people, easier for people, to make this personal act if we live in a well ordered society. I am talking here, of course, in human terms. God can save people any way he likes; as I said before, in the Soviet Union you have people who are being saved right now because of God’s action. But surely, if someone could go on television and preach the Gospel in the Soviet Union, more people could hear the Gospel. That is a matter of common sense.
Let us now turn to a more detailed consideration of the nature of evil. In the world, of course, we have evil. We have to recognize that as Christians we have the responsibility of contending with that evil. Indeed we have no choice. We have the responsibility of giving witness to those values that we know contribute both to the common good and to salvation; because if we do not do that, and we do not contend with evil in this way, we are, in fact, giving scandal. To the extent that we do not try to contend with evil we are contributing to it, and that is similar to the words of Our Lord, “He who is not with Me is against Me.”
But how does this apply to the political order? If we act in politics, are we contending with evil (as we ought) or are we participating in evil (as we ought not)? Is it possible that the political order as a whole is an aspect of the world’s evil? To this I respond that when the Lord God created, at the end of each day of creation, He said that it was good. “And God saw that it was good”—and that extends to everything that is natural. Now, I just finished saying that we have evil; we have unspeakable evil; in practice today we are contending with the most evil concoction of forces that I think have been seen in many, many centuries. It is as if the whole work of the devil had come together from many different directions to try to destroy God’s work. But in spite of that, in spite of the presence of evil in the world, and in spite of the presence of evil in the political order, the fact remains that the political order is part of God’s creation. It is not the result of our free choice, as though we sat down one day and said, “Oh, let’s have a society, and let’s have a state.” It never happened that way. The specific shape of society is partly up to us, but the fact that there is a society is universal, and it is absolutely essential if people are to develop. We could not even talk if we did not have society; we could not even think if we did not have society. If you look at the relationship between language and thought you will understand what I am saying. The Gospel could not be proclaimed if we did not have society. Society, and society organized politically, is part of God’s whole package, as we shall see in a moment in Romans 13. It is as natural and beautiful as the trees growing outside.
So the political order itself is not evil. Rather we need to evaluate a political order in terms of the good and evil in particular actions. Every time you have people making free choices you must make that analysis. Every time you have people making choices you have to decide, “Are these choices good or evil?” But that does not preclude saying that there is goodness, intrinsic and implicit goodness, in the design of God; because this political order is part of God’s design for man, in one way or another. And for those of us who appreciate the specific system under which we live, no matter how many problems we have, there is intrinsic good in it too. I can speak as somebody who opted to be part of this system, because I was not born here. I feel that we in the United States really have it better than most other people.
That we have to evaluate our political order was made clear to us by Our Lord when He said these words which are rather cryptic, “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and unto God that which is God’s…” Some say that by answering this way, He meant to avoid the question. I prefer the interpretation that He was saying there are different realms in which we operate, which have to be looked at and analyzed each from its own perspective, and that we owe allegiance to both realms. We owe allegiance to the realm of God, which I would call the supernatural, the transcendent, the realm of the Gospel; but we also owe allegiance to Caesar—that is, to the state. These two allegiances are not wholly equal of course. I want to re-emphasize what the apostle Peter said; If we have to choose whether to obey Caesar or God, we have no question about whom we are going to follow. And when there is a law that commands us unto wickedness, there is no question as to what we have to do. We have to follow God. If the state tells me to lie, tells me to cheat, to violate my conscience, to violate somebody else’s rights as a human being, I cannot do it. But that does not mean that I do not have a legitimate realm of duties to Caesar, just because it is different from the realm of duties I have to God.
The essential goodness of the political realm is clear from the very famous passage of the Epistle to the Romans (Romans 13:1-5) which constitutes one of the foundations for Christian political analysis. This is something we should know by heart. It says:
Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God, the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God; and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same; for he is the minister of God to thee for good.
This ordinance of God is for the good. I mean, the state is not just a punisher of evil. People who think of the state as something improvised for punishing people who are doing evil, as a curtailer of freedom, do not understand the Christian model of the state.
But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain; for he is the minister of God, the revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but for conscience’s sake.
So the matter of political subjection is a matter of conscience, not a matter of convenience. The primary function of society is the promotion of good, not the control of evil. The control of evil exists because sin and death have entered the world and are something we have to deal with. But in itself the state is not for evil; it is “a minister to you for good.” And you do not obey it just because you are afraid. At times we may obey out of fear, but that is a very imperfect way of being a citizen. We are good citizens because God has ordained that we obey civil authority.
Now notice how different this is—and I started by saying this already today— from other people who have no conscience. In this case you are acting for conscience sake. I have already read from 1 Peter 2:13-15, where St. Peter was asking us to honor the Emperor. That was Nero he was asking us to honor! Titus 3:1 is also relevant in this regard, but for the sake of time let me press on to Timothy 2:1-3:
I exhort therefore that first of all supplications, prayers, intercessions and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and for all that are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.
In other words, by the proper exercise of authority we are able to live a quiet, peaceable life of godliness and honesty. The function of those who are in authority is to create conditions in which we can do this. If those in authority do what they are supposed to do, they create conditions in which we can live as God wants us to live. Obviously, then, there is such a thing as public morality; obviously there is such a thing as objective conditions that make it easier for us to behave the way that we are supposed to.
Let us now get down to particulars. What is the role that each particular Christian has in this political order? It is participation according to one’s calling. We are called as human beings, with all our human dimensions, to live for Christ. One of our dimensions is the fact that we live in society, a society organized politically. So that is part of our call.
But obviously the call for each of us is specified differently. If everybody were a minister, we would all be swimming in garbage, because nobody would be collecting it. If everybody were a teacher, there would be nobody to fix the light bulbs. If everybody were running for office, there would be no volunteers. Everybody has a different calling, and it is a matter of discerning, with the aid of the Spirit, to what degree one should get involved, and on what aspect one should work.
You always have to make those decisions in conscience; not out of fear, nor for convenience, but as service in conscience. Granted, the degree to which you get involved depends on many factors. If you have 15 children, then you cannot go to meetings every night; you have another kind of responsibility. Maybe all you can do is vote or maybe write a letter once a month. It depends on how much you can discern, and only God can be the judge of that. Remember, New Testament morality is not primarily a morality of precepts; it is a morality of generosity, and generosity cannot be legislated. You know, the Lord said, “Love your neighbor.” If I give you every cent I have in my pockets, I love you; but maybe I cannot do that. It is up to me to decide how much money I can part with, or how many hours I am going to devote to one or another activity. However, the concept of the responsibility to participate according to one’s conscience, one’s calling, arrived at in prayer, must be maintained. Everyone who is a Christian must sit with the Lord and decide to what extent, and in which way, God has called him or her to participate in this political process.
As I already mentioned, there is a relationship between the common good and salvation. When Amos was preaching the need for godliness (Amos 2:6-13), he talked about all sorts of items having to do with social justice, from drunken priests, abandonment of the offering of the altar, to abuses of widows, and I think that is also the passage where he talks about not having the scales properly marked. When he is doing that, the reason is not only because somebody’s individual rights have been violated, but also because if I purport to be a Christian, and I am abusing you, not only is there evil done in that you are being abused, but also you are being scandalized in me, and to that extent the possibility for you to give yourself to God objectively diminishes. When the church scandalizes people—as with this homosexual problem that we have in so many churches, you know, taking them in and giving them space to openly promote the homosexual lifestyle—the church makes it less possible for people to accept the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
Let me now go back to the issue of ethics. The center of Christian ethical analysis is something interior. If I am opposing so-and-so in the Congress, what is it that I inwardly seek to do? If I am pushing for this law, what is my inward intention? What do I really want to get? I would like to read Isaiah 29:13-14 where it says very clearly that these people serve God with their lips and with their rituals, but their heart is far from Him. The prime locus of morality is the heart; you have to search in your heart and find out what you really want. If you are looking for something for yourself in a narrow sense, then you are doing something wrong. If your intention is pure, if you look at yourself honestly in prayer in the face of God, and say “What I am really looking for is the good of the country; I am looking to create the conditions referred to before, that would enable people to get closer to God, even though they look very secular,” then you have, I would say, the Bible on your side.
A lot of people do not reflect on their intentions because it is almost instinctual with them to go for the jugular first, and think later. Now, we cannot do that. For a Christian it is not right. You must look at your intention. The main specification of morality in political action, or in any kind of human action, is the intention. This is not to deny that there is an objective order. You cannot say, “Well, I have this good intention,” and then throw acid in somebody’s face. You must pay attention to the nature of the action itself, to any harm which may be inseparable from doing it.
For difficult cases there is in spirituality an important principle which is not trusting oneself. Sometimes it is good to check with somebody else. What do you think of this? What do you think of that? Somebody you trust, somebody who has sound judgment. That is always a good prudential principle.
But in the final analysis one is responsible for one’s own actions, no matter who else tells you what to do. In the long run, it is you and God. There is nobody else in between, and nobody can be in-between. You cannot throw the burden of your life onto somebody else’s shoulders. Therefore, as I was saying, you must clarify your own intentions, and after you have looked at intentionality, you must look at the action’s nature, objectively speaking. As I was trying to think how I would present this to you, I looked at Galatians 5:13-26. There St. Paul says:
For brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion of the flesh but by love serve one another; for the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye not be consumed by one another. This I say then, walk in the Spirit and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: adultery, fornication, uncleanliness, sensuality, and idolatry… But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness.…
The principle here is that some actions are intrinsically wrong, intrinsically an abuse of liberty. You must do something that of itself is good, lest you sin as a result of pretending to do good and using bad means to do it. You cannot do something that is objectively wrong, even if you have a good ulterior purpose.
A further problem arises, however, because most of the actions that we are talking about, in my experience in political action, are morally grey. Many actions are ambiguous, and sometimes you have different effects coming from the same action.
Let me go into one of these grey cases. It comes out of the White House Conference on Families, which was dominated by people who were very much anti-family in terms of the Scriptures. In other words, they wanted to create conditions that would be extremely destructive for the American family. They were a part of a whole movement that exists in this country to destroy the family, redefining it in terms which are (a) utilitarian, and (b) purely economic and self-centered. It is just the satisfaction of each individual, each person for himself, rather than the traditional concept of family, wherein people give themselves to each other completely. Some of those who were at the conference but were trying to help the family proposed, “Let us vote for the worst possible proposal, because if we pass mild proposals here, we will not reveal the true nature of this conference.” Now the question is: Is that right or wrong?
The objection to this, of course, is that you cannot vote for something that you and your pro-family people, whom you represent at the conference, do not believe in.
Let me answer with two points. The first concerns the nature of representation. When you are elected someplace, it is you who are doing the voting. You do not represent the collective will be of the people who elected you. A Congressman represents his whole district, not just those who voted for him. In terms of the way our system is structured, in fact, you have to vote your conscience, whatever your conscience is. Why? Because it is you who has been elected and it is up to you to make decisions. These decisions are YOUR decisions! Other people can try to influence you, and well they may, and well they should. But in final analysis it is you who is making that choice.
Now, when someone is elected to office, I do not believe that the elected official is obligated to feel the way the majority of the people feel. A person is elected to office precisely because the people put their trust in the candidate and in the candidate’s choices. Of course, if a candidate makes crazy decisions, he will be voted out of office very quickly. But an elected official must make rational judgments based on his/her conscience and not simply be a parrot of the majority voice. If you are a Christian, then your decisions must be based on Scripture and nothing else. For instance, a Christian cannot say “Well since the majority of the people believe in abortion, even though I personally oppose it, I will vote for it.” Since we live in a democracy, we are able to elect people to office. We give them the power to represent us and we expect them to act in a moral way and to make conscientious decisions. Our political process enables us to participate in the electoral process. However, once we have chosen our representative, we rely on them to make responsible decisions. That is why it is so important to elect Christians to office. We need people in office who have a strong conscience because once they have been elected, they are the ones who will speak for us. We can let them know how we feel about particular issues, but it is their responsibility to decide how they are going to vote.
The other point is: are you really lying when your vote appears to give approval to a certain proposal but your real motive is different? This sounds like a lie—“I am voting for this when I am really meaning to achieve that,” but does it really constitute a lie? If you recognize that the nature of this conference is what is going to be represented by whatever choices you make, then I would say that your vote is not a lie, and you may cast it. In other words, if you would vote for the milder proposition, what really would be happening is that the conference would seem different than it really was—that the conference was run by a bunch of moderates when you inside know that they are not, that that is not what the conference represents. So in a very true sense it is truer for you to do whatever you can to present the conference for what you know it to be. Assuming that you are convinced that this is the nature of the conference, it behooves you to avoid being manipulated by some of the people who are purporting to be something when in fact they are something else.
Now, the other question that arose in this particular case: Is it okay to walk out of a conference? Can I just walk out and say, “Well, this conference is crazy. I am going to set up another conference?” This is something that Connie Marshner did rather effectively when she set up an alternative conference on families. Is it okay to do that? Well, the objection is that it is wrong, because as elected members of the conference, you were bound to participate. The question you have to ask yourself is, what does participation mean? Does it mean that I go along with proceedings that I know to be, to say the least, engineered for an ulterior motive? Or do I rather participate by expressing in this particular way, with this particular set of actions, something which effectively says what I think of the conference, because that is also a way of participation. If you do not think that organizing half the population to abstain in an election is not participation, then you do not understand politics. There are numerous ways of participating. For example, a strike is participation in the labor process.
The question that is a matter of debate is when and how you exercise your responsibility as a representative in this way. You may think that the action of walking out and setting up an alternative conference was not prudent. But we are not talking about the prudence of walking out; rather we are talking about whether it was a good morally acceptable tactic at that particular time. And I want to emphasize again that there was no lack of participation when they walked out, it was simply a different way of participating in the process. They were expressing exactly what they thought of the conference and doing so in a rather effective way. In fact, they got more attention for their views by using this tactic.
Let me go into another case which I believe is more controversial than this one. Is it all right to try and force someone to vote in a particular way that he does not believe in? Is it all right to sow confusion in the opposition? Can you act in such a way that the people who are opposed to you will be so confused that they will not know what you are up to? If you read what happened to Paul when he went on trial in Acts 23:1 and following, you will see that the tactic of confusing the opposition was not invented by Paul Weyrich.
Then Paul, looking earnestly at the council, said, ‘Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.’ And the high priest Ananias commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, ‘God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! For you sit to judge me according to the law, and do you command me to be struck contrary to the law? And those who stood by said, ‘Do you revile God’s high priest?’ Then Paul said ‘I did not know, brethren, that he was the high priest; for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of the ruler of your people’. But when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, ‘Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee; concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead I am being judged!’ And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees; and the assembly was divided. For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection—and no angel or spirit; but the Pharisees confess both. Then there arose a loud outcry. And the scribes who were of the Pharisees’ party arose and protested, saying, ‘We find no evil in this man; but if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him, let us not fight against God.’
In other words, what happened is that the Jewish community at that time was far more divided than it had ever been. There were those who believed that there were spirits and angels and those that did not. The Sadducees were really materialists except for their belief in God. Paul was taken to trial because he was a Christian. He realized that the Pharisees and the Sadducees belonged to two different camps, and what he did was divide and confuse them. He sided with one saying “They are condemning me because I am like you.” So that side said “Well, there is nothing wrong with this man.” It was a very good tactic for Paul to confuse and divide the council. In a way, you could say that he made the Pharisees do something they would never have done—if he had divulged his whole position. How come he did not say, “I also believe that you do not have to be circumcized”? He was not lying, but he certainly did not say everything that was in his mind. What he was doing was confusing the opposition because he knew exactly what they were after. What they were doing was evil because they were trying to prohibit Paul from preaching the Truth. Paul knew that he had no way out of the situation except to divide them against each other.
Now, did he use evil means or ends? No. What he said was truthful, and his intention was good. Truly, he had been raised a Pharisee and therefore, was one of them. Yet, he knew that by what he was saying, he would cause confusion and division. “And when there arose a great dissension, the commander, fearing lest Paul might be pulled to pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and take him by force from among them.” (Acts 23:10). What Paul did was stop the legal proceedings. He realized that this was a kangaroo court, and so he used his reason in order to bring about disorder and stop the proceedings. He made the Pharisees do something they would have never done, had they known the whole story. Did he then cause them to act against their conscience? The Pharisees were responsible for their own consciences. Paul was not responsible for their consciences, but only for his, just as we are not responsible for the consciences of those in Congress. Each of us must act in accordance with his own conscience.
There is another interesting example. In Judges 1:22-25 we find one of the many instances of the Jews trying to destroy a city.
And the house of Joseph also went up against Bethel, and the Lord was with them.
So the House of Joseph sent men to spy out Bethel. (The name of the city was formerly Luz.) And when the spies saw a man coming out of the city, they said to him, ‘Please show us the entrance to the city, and we will show you mercy.’ So he showed them the entrance to the city, and they struck the city with the edge of the sword; but they let the man and all his family go.
This is a very short statement but in fact what they did was bribe the man into being a spy. And this man is praised. Why? Because he helped to fulfill God’s plan. Did he know it was God’s design? Not from what it says in the passage. They employed this man as a spy because they knew that they had the right intention and that what they were doing was right. They were trying to take over the city with their understanding that God had put it into their hands, and they had no responsibility for this man’s conscience because each one is personally responsible only for himself.
Now, was the action of the spy right or wrong? We cannot go into the spy’s understanding, because we cannot know what was actually the intention of this person. Only God can know whether this action was right for this man. But we are told in the Bible that the city was being destroyed with the understanding that God was telling them to do so. Therefore, we can accept the action as objectively good because it was God’s command. The spy was pressed into action because he was needed as an instrument in God’s plan. He could have said that he could not become involved because it was against his conscience. Then it would have been wrong for him to spy. However, the passage does not suggest any thing of the kind and therefore, it was a proper action.
Now, if you have any questions or observations I will be happy to take them.
Q. “This example that you just used from the Book of Judges was covert action was it not?”
A. “Well, I did not write the Book of Judges, I am only following it. However, it does appear to be covert action.”
Q. “You know, another example along the same lines is in Joshua 2 where Rahab the harlot harbored spies. And then she wound up in the lineage of Jesus.”
A. “Absolutely. And they praised her endlessly. There are plenty of similar examples where this kind of behavior is praised. I just picked one example, but I am sure that you will be hearing more of them during Prof. Marshner’s lectures.”
Q. “Let us bring this discussion now to a hypothetical case which people here might be familiar with. Let us use a very extreme example because you can only teach by extreme examples. Let us say that you have a member of Congress who has no convictions, and he is neither conservative nor liberal; so a group here targets him on a question like school prayer. And let’s say that the targeting consists of multi- faceted activities. First of all, people inundate him with mail, and wherever he goes he gets asked questions by people who say, “If you do not vote for prayer for the schools you are in deep trouble”. And then let us say that coming up to a vote a delegation from this group goes to see him and says “Listen fellow, if you do not vote the way we want you to vote, we are running a candidate against you. We are going to run this guy against you in the primary, and furthermore, if we do not beat you in the primaries, we are running a candidate in the other party primary to see what we can do there. And if we do not do that, we are running an independent in the November election so that we can drain off enough votes to elect the other guy.” And let us say that this pressure is so intense, because the letters have been pouring in, phone calls have been pouring in, that this guy is agonizing over this to the point that he gets so upset by the pressure that he goes and commits some violent act. Say he goes and he kills a couple of people because he cannot take the pressure any more. It would be charged, I am sure, that you people in the name of “Christianity” drove this guy to violence, and that you caused him to act in such a manner because the pressure was so intense. You did not take into account his humanity and his personal feelings on these things, and now some innocent people are dead, and his actions are on your conscience. Now that is an extreme case, and of course I have never heard of anything like that happening; but I have heard of people breaking down, mentally breaking down, because of pressure. But let us use this violent act as an example. Now, what is the responsibility of those people who planned this action against this guy?”
A. “As I said before, his actions were not your responsibility, because you did not intend for him to go out and kill those people, nor did you foresee it. You intended to make him vote for school prayer. If you had intended to make him commit this violent act, then you would be responsible for some part of that action. However, in this case, your intention was for him to vote on the school prayer issue. Moreover, what you intend is not necessarily altered by what you foresee. If you do foresee that he might go out and do this violent act, then your intention remains the same, but you acquire an additional responsibility: the responsibility here would be to do whatever you could to stop him from doing the violent act. You may call the police and say, “I know that Congressman so-and-so is going crazy and that he is likely to kill these people and you better do something about it.” But what we are talking about here is whether it is legitimate for you to put pressure on him politically. It is definitely legitimate. The nature of our system is such that we are encouraged to go out and manifest our opinion in a forceful way. Again it is the intention that counts. If you intend to put pressure on him in order that he vote in the morally proper way, then any other action that he commits in relation to the pressure that you are putting on him is not your responsibility. What you intended to have him do was vote right. What he actually does do, which falls outside of your intention, is not your responsibility.”
Q. “The Scripture is very clear about the responsibility of an individual when he is committing scandal or when he causes scandal. There are several references in Scripture that are very explicit. Now, supposing that I know that this guy is very flaky and that if I push him too far I foresee that he is probably going to explode, or something is going to happen to him. And the resulting publicity and coverage, that we as Christians get, is going to give the whole movement a bad name.”
A. “Well, now you are bringing in a different angle. Ethically, this is a very different thing from what we were just speaking about. What you should do in this case of course is decide which is the most prudent thing to do. An action of putting pressure on him will have a double effect. Now, I have to say, in my present judgment, where is the greatest evil? If you come to the conclusion that scandal is going to be so enormous that you are going to be driven out of town and that you may never be able to come to Washington again, you might say that you cannot do it. But that is a prudent judgment and it has nothing to do with the morality of putting pressure on him. You are foreseeing a bad effect of your action and you have decided that you do not want to assume the consequences of this bad effect. You have to apply some proportionality to this problem. Now, if the scandal is from people who hate you already, then there is no harm. If, in fact, you foresee that because of the press and the way that the press is structured, nobody will give you a cent for your operation and you will become totally ineffective, then I would say that it would not be a practical thing to do. Proportionality and practicality are really very close to the same thing. In other words, what is the most prudent thing to do? I mean if your conclusion is that my wife is going to desert me, my house is going to burn down, and I am going to be driven-out of the office and out of town, well I guess I would not put the pressure on him. In that case what you would do would be to wait until a better opportunity arose. This is different than discussing whether or not the action is moral or ethical or Christian.”
Q. “It would seem to me that if I perceive that I am forcing a congressman or anyone to act against his conscience, I am doing something that is wrong even though my intention is good. Isn’t it wrong to force someone to go against his conscience?”
A. “First of all, it is impossible to know what is in someone else’s conscience. I mean, you cannot ascertain what is in someone else’s conscience, and you have to look at their actions. If you perceive that someone in public office is doing something unrighteous, you have no right to judge what is in his conscience. Yet, you can judge his action.”
Q. “But you do have a right to persuade him to change his actions so that they are in line with your thinking?”
A. “Most certainly. Once again I want to state that we all have the right to judge his objective behavior. Our society is organized in an adversarial system. It is not bad because it is adversarial, is not unchristian, is not unholy; quite the contrary, it is designed to be that way. Our whole system of government is designed in an adversarial way. There is the state and the federal, the local and the state, the House and the Senate, the committees and so on. The whole system is organized on one principle and that is the principle of adversarial relationships. An adversarial position has many positive features to it that really work. It behooves you to put as much pressure as you can (in practical terms) on an elected official to get him to change his vote. That is what our system is set up for us to do. Now you cannot get into his conscience and say “Well, is he really being honest about what he is doing?” This is a problem which he has to face with his God; it is not a problem for you. Your problem is what effect his actions will have on the rest of the population, because as a citizen you are also responsible for the rest of the population. As a citizen under the Constitution, it is your responsibility to elect moral representation for the government.”
Q. “Well, the Scripture says, “judge not lest you be judged.” Isn’t it really referring to a person’s conscience?”
A. “Absolutely, but here we must also distinguish between public life and private life. What people do in their private lives is really not our political concern. We must be very careful that we do not judge someone’s private actions, because our political purposes do not give us the right to do so. However, when someone exposes himself to public office, then we are discussing an entirely different situation. At this point his actions are not private any more. Someone who goes into Congress and begins to vote for immorality, whether he is convinced of it or not, is doing something that is objectively wrong. Religious leaders have the same problem. When someone chooses to become a public figure and to represent some portion of the population, then his actions are under public scrutiny. Again this is very different from judging his private life, and we must be very careful to always maintain that distinction.
There is another point that I would like to make here. What we have right now on Capitol Hill are people in the Congress and the Senate who feel that, when they vote, they are not making their decisions based on their own consciences but are representing their districts. And so conscience and morals go out the window, because they no longer fall back on personal accountability. The most typical example is the abortion question. Many Christian Congressmen and Senators will suggest that, while they are personally opposed to abortion, in representing their districts, in representing their people, they must vote for abortion. The people who vote this way obviously have no convictions of their own.”
Q. “What do we do about situations like this where our representatives have suggested that they have no personal accountability?”
A. “It is imperative that we do everything in our power to try to get them to change their point of view on these types of questions. You will never get anything if you do nothing; but if you fight hard, you may get some of the more conscientious public figures to understand the contradiction in such an action. There is no question at all that we have a responsibility to fight for what we believe is right. We must keep in mind that we are talking here about that which we perceive is good and holy, and not something that we are fighting for just to advance ourselves. For instance, if we did not want the government to pass a certain law that had to do with stocks because we want to make more money in the stock market, then that is a different situation than the example of the abortion question. What we are discussing here are those decisions that have moral implications.”
Q. “I want to back up a second. You talked earlier about the proportionality of evil and good. How do we square that with the commandment in Scripture that says flee evil? It does not say flee that which is the greater evil. It just says flee evil.”
A. “When I was discussing proportionality, I was discussing it in the context of the different effects. In other words, something has a good effect and something has a bad effect.”
Q. “Well that is fine if you can come out with a good effect and a bad effect; but what if, for example, both effects are bad?”
A. “Then you cannot do the action. You must intend some good effect. If you say that your intention is good but both effects are bad, then you cannot do it.”
Q. “In the Scriptures it says that “by their fruits you shall know them.” Would you agree that in terms of the members of Congress, their fruits are their voting records? If so, is it possible that we have the right to judge their voting records because that is the fruit that they have produced? And therefore it is perfectly proper for us to assess whether their action will have a good or an evil effect?”
A. “Absolutely, a representative’s voting record can be judged on moral grounds. Yet, judging his record is different than judging his private life.”
Q. “But many people confuse this. I was on television with Frank Church after the elections and Frank said to me, “You say that I wasn’t a good Christian.” I said to him, “I said no such thing. What I said was that your voting record was not in accord with Christian teachings.” And he said, “Well, my son is a missionary and I go to church.” And I said “Fine, I hope you go to heaven; but we are not concerned here with that; what we are concerned with is your voting record. And your voting record is immoral.”
A. “You make a good point. When you elect someone to office you elect them to engage in political action, to get society organized in a certain way. Now we might have different ways of organizing society; so we can have some differences with each other. We organize society in a way which we perceive is going to advance the development of individuals and therefore allow them to reach salvation. In the Christian sense, you always have to look toward that. Now when a Congressman votes against those things that are in line with Christian faith, then you can objectively say that his actions are immoral. However, this is not to say that we are judging his conscience because, as I indicated before, we can never judge anyone’s private conscience. But it is to say that we are judging their public action as our legal representative.”
Q. “This idea has some interesting consequences though. Our pastor, Bob Thoburn, ran for the Virginia state legislature and was elected and said that God’s Law was the law he intended to follow in all regards. And to everyone’s complete astonishment his years in public office reflected this, but he was defeated the next time he ran.”
A. “Sure. This is possibly the consequence that you are going to have to face if you vote in line with God’s law. The public may look at you as an extremist or as a holy-roller. But this is something that you will have face in a society in which many people do not believe in God and do not make conscientious decisions. In other words being in public office and following God’s law is witnessing to society and spreading God’s message.”
Q. “Wouldn’t you say that one has to make some judgments as to what the public is prepared to understand? In other words, I have no quarrel with how Bob Thoburn voted; quite the contrary, I think he had an excellent voting record. However, his explanations of his voting record which made it into the media were such that, although they were objectively correct, they made him appear as though he were out of the main stream. And the judgment, it seems to me, that a person has to make is whether it is better to survive and perhaps not explain these things as fully as he did, or whether it is better to explain them and go down in flames because one speaks the Truth.”
A. “This is a matter of communications, and please remember something. Communication is not about what you say but about what someone else hears. You may say something that makes a lot of sense and is rational, and you are satisfied with how you have said it; but when it gets to the other side, it is perceived differently. What you have said and what they have perceived or heard are two different things. Once again, this is where prudential judgments come in.”
Q. “I think that the point that was just made is correct. He was asking, as a Christian, do we have an obligation to lay everything out and to let everyone know where we stand as a candidate, when people will not understand everything from a theological perspective? Does a candidate have to explain his voting record from a perspective that most people may not understand in the meanwhile kill his chances for re-election?”
A. “It depends on the situation, but I would have to say that no, a candidate would not have to always explain his position from a theological standpoint. Let me give you an example. In Romans 13 it says that all authority comes from God. Since I am bound by the Scriptures, I think that all authority comes from God no matter who is in authority. But if I were to state this belief without putting it in context, people might think that somehow I believe that Ronald Reagan or Jimmy Carter or Ted Kennedy was anointed by God to be in their position. Now, I do not believe in the divine right of presidents in public office, and yet I do believe that they derive their authority ultimately from God. Clearly, a public official may be operating as the legitimate authority and yet may be using his authority in an immoral way. So one must have a prudent regard for what point one is communicating. Nero’s authority also came from God. That is why St. Paul says we should pray that they act well, so that we can live in Godliness and honesty.”
I would like to thank you all for coming today to this first session of the Morality of Political Action seminar. The second session will be next week and it will be conducted by Professor Marshner. I will also be there if anyone has any questions to direct towards me. Let us now end with a prayer.
“Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed by Thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory now and forever. AMEN.”
Good Afternoon everyone, and welcome to the second session of the “The Morality of Political Action.” Let us begin with a prayer:
“Heavenly Father, open our hearts and minds this afternoon, as we seek to understand the things of Thy Word; vouchsafe Thy light unto us, and grant that, as we look into these difficult moral problems, we may be moved and instructed wholly by Thy Spirit. If there is anything that we are prepared to say, O Lord, which is inconsistent with Thy Word, let the words stop in our mouths. Spare us from saying anything false. And as we search our hearts in consideration of these things, spare us from any rationalization; spare us from any base motive, but rather, be Thou our light and our life, as Thou hast lifted us up to heavenly places in Christ Jesus, through whom we offer this prayer. Amen.”
Fr. Rueda began last time with a series of principles which help us to understand the way in which Christians are to act in politics, principles which are to guide the morality of our action. I want to review them briefly and add to them.
Our motive for looking at these principles is very simple: we are up against some extremely difficult cases of action, difficult from the point of view of a Christian conscience, and yet inseparable from the conduct of politics as it goes on in our country today. We must lobby our elected representatives—but how importunately, how heavily, how toughly may we lobby them, before we begin to sin against precepts of mildness? We have a complex interaction between our leaders and the media in our political life, and every once in a while it is useful to take a story and leak it to the press. May we do so, or would doing so count as a violation of that innocent, above-board behavior to which we are called in Jesus Christ? It is difficult, moreover, and maybe impossible, to conduct political strategy in an intrigue-filled town like Washington, D.C., without practicing a certain deviousness, or (to put it more mildly) without having more cards in our hand that we are prepared to lay on the table. May we conduct politics that way? Or are we not rather under an injunction to be separate, to be different, to live lives that are conformed to the perfection of our heavenly Father? “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (MT. 5:48). Can we be such, and still devise devious political strategies for the sake of success?
These are the kinds of questions we want to address, and I will have some further cases to mention later on. Let us briefly review some of the principles that we will be using in trying to resolve them.
First of all, our most basic principle is this: we shall defend and develop our answers out of the resources and the authority of the Word of God. We accept the authority and inerrancy of the Scriptures as the norm, not only for our private life but also for our public life.
Secondly, we accept on the authority of reason, but also on the authority of God’s Word, that we have obligations as citizens. St. Paul tells us in Romans 13 that authority is “of God.” Governments are established of God. In a democracy we have duties toward our government which, in the ancient Roman autocracy, the citizens did not have. Roman authority was simply established; all the citizen had to do was stay clear of the law and pay his taxes. But in a democracy it is not so simple. In a democracy the authority which is of God is also sustained and directed by the efforts of the people. Now, we know that “when the righteous are in authority the people rejoice, but when the wicked beareth rule the people mourn” (Prov. 29:2). So, if we have it in our power to decide whether it is the righteous who shall rule or the wicked, we have an obligation to the government, and to the public weal, to see to it that it is the righteous who rule.
Thirdly, we accept the truth that Christianity changes our social relationships. On the basis of natural facts, we have certain political relationships, and yet Christianity changes all of our relationships. “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Cor. 5:17). And there is a definite content to how our relationships are changed.
I refer you, first of all, to the 13th chapter of John’s Gospel, verse 35: “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples: if ye have love one to another.” The word that is used here means disinterested love, not the love between the sexes (eros), nor the love of friendship (philia), but that love which consists in seeking the good of the other (agape). So by this shall men know that we are Christ’s disciples, that we have this kind of love for one another in all of our relationships.
Next, I refer you to Galatians 6:10. “As we have, therefore, opportunity, let us do good unto all men.” And then it adds, “especially unto them who are of the household of faith.” So our seeking opportunities to do good is not limited to our brethren within the church; it says especially to do good to them, but it doesn’t say only. Seek opportunity to do good to all men: that includes sinners, that includes the unsaved, that includes politicians.
Finally, I refer you to Matthew 5:16: “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”
These three Scriptures together, to my mind, make up a powerful chain, a chain of authority and command that lays upon us a life of beneficence, a life of well-doing, a life of kindness even in the public sphere. Our deeds are to be such as to inspire those who are unconverted, those who are not of the household of faith, so that when they look upon us they will see that we are disciples of Christ, and more than that, they will see in us nothing that will bring the name and the Gospel of Jesus Christ into disrepute. All of our actions are to be service.
Does it not follow from these verses that we must be so mild, so beneficent, so open, so above-board in our dealings with all men that politics-as-usual, the deviousness of politics-as-usual, is excluded for us?
Before we leap to that conclusion, we need to remind ourselves of Matthew 10:16, which brings out another perspective. It says, “Be ye wise as serpents, but harmless as doves.” Now that verse suggests that there is some complexity to the behavior which is demanded of us. Yes, we are to be innocent as doves, but we are not to be anybody’s fools. We are to be wise as serpents. Still, it would be a mistake to read too much into this injunction. I should like to be as wise as a serpent, but I should not like to act like a snake. Clearly, “be ye wise as serpents” is not an open- ended invitation for us to assume a cloak of malice. We need to weigh carefully what Christ could have meant by this saying.
The right way to ponder this is to face another consideration, a very paradoxical one. As you read these verses, “do good unto all men… let your light shine before men … and by this shall men know that ye are my disciples,”—you would get the impression that our relationship to the world is a very simple one. With clear deeds, we simply shed light around, and by our exemplarity we draw men to Jesus Christ. Would that it were so simple! For a paradox emerges in John 15:18-19. “Do not marvel if the world hates you.” Not marvel! Here I am, doing good to all men, my deeds positively luminous, and I’m not to marvel if men hate me!? If we were of the world, says Jesus, the world would love us, but we are not of the world and therefore the world hates us. Don’t worry about that, He says; the reason the world hates us is because it hates Him. And as He says elsewhere, “Is the disciple any better than the Master?” If it hated Him, it will hate us. So the paradoxical side to all of this well-doing and shedding of light is that we are not to expect in return that the world will beat a path of repentance to our door.
This oddity is actually a symptom of a deeper paradox, which lies at the heart of fallen man. Yes or no, does fallen man seek goodness? Does he want redemption? We are all fallen men. Is there any one of us who hungers and thirsts for righteousness? Yes, there are some, and St. Paul says that the whole of creation groaneth and travaileth together until now, waiting … for what? Waiting for the redemption of the body (Romans 8:23), waiting for righteousness, waiting for light, waiting for the presence of God. Yes, men have a hunger in their hearts to be free of their sins. We want the light. “My soul waiteth for the Lord more than they that watch”… for what? For the morning, is it not? (Ps. 130:6) Men do not like darkness, they want light. But when the light comes, what happens? They do not like that either. When the light comes, it says: “the light shineth in darkness and the darkness did not comprehend it.” Why not? Men prefer darkness to light. Why is that? Because their deeds are evil (Jn 3:19). Quite a paradox, eh? And we see it in our own lives: we are half converted, we are double-minded, we are lukewarm; yes we want the light, but we cling to darkness. When the light comes it is inconvenient. It is a disconcertingly harsh light, this light of God. Yet, in itself, what could be more gentle? “Smoking flax he does not crush.” What is more gentle than the light of Christ? Yet it is harsh to us; it shows up our sins; we are scared of that light.
Here is the paradox at the heart of human existence: men want God but are afraid of Him. They are attracted to God and repelled by Him. They want to repent but do not want to give up their pleasures. As the famous prayer says, “O Lord make me pure… but not yet.” So, there is this problem: what we should expect to work, the simple doing of good to all men, the simple letting-our-deeds shine, is not going to have salvific consequences in any straight-forward way, because we will be hated; men do love darkness rather than light when push comes to shove. We must keep that in mind. It is a balancing consideration, to whose practical relevance I now turn.
If we are going to be hated, then we have to have a different stance towards men. If I know that you hate me, I am going to be on my guard with you, am I not? If I do not know this, I may be very open with you; I may share in a very candid way my innermost thoughts with you. But as soon as I know that you hate me, that you are waiting to stick a knife in my back, that you are waiting to misrepresent my every word, I’m going to put on my poker face in my dealings with you. Later on we will see an example of this in our Lord’s dealing with His own relatives.
Well then, which is it to be? Am I to be closed and wary with the children of this world? Or am I to be open, beneficent, friendly and giving? Our Lord, we have seen, rejects this question. He says it is not a matter of either/or but a matter of dove and serpent. That ‘and’ in Matthew 10:16 is one of the most important conjunctions in the Bible. We must discern when the one course of action is appropriate, and when the other is. Neither is wrong, but the circumstances and the condition of spirits will determine, in a given case, what our conduct is to be. It takes spiritual insight to live the Christian life, after all. There is no recipe for how to live it. Practical Christianity cannot be memorized; it must be lived with the help of the Spirit of God and with moment-by-moment discernment of what is God’s will.
Now, there is a final factor that has to be considered. Since we know that the world hates us, and since we know that the world is a hostile power, it is time to look at what St. Paul says about separation. You know the text to which I’m referring, in 2 Corinthians. There, at the end of chapter 6 and the very beginning of chapter 7, we have a very strong word. Beginning with 6:14 we read:
Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers; for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness, and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial, or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? For ye are the temple of the living God; and God hath said, “I will dwell in them and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. So, come out from among them and be separate,” saith the Lord, “And touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.”
Yes, this is the command of separation. We are to cut ourselves free from that which is unclean, from that which has no affinity with the work of God.
Now we seem to have another paradox on our hands, don’t we? On the one side, government is ordained of God and we have duties as citizens; on the other side, we have the requirement to be separate. If we are to be separate, how can we do our duty as citizens? For doing this duty throws us together cheek by jowl with all sorts of — pardon the mix of my metaphor—with all sorts of odd fish. How are we to be political, then, and be in with all those strange bedfellows, and yet be separate as St. Paul requires?
Well, part of the solution is given by Paul himself in his other epistle to the Corinthians. When you read the separation passage in 2 Corinthians you should also have in mind 1 Corinthians 5:9. Paul says, “I wrote unto you an epistle not to company with fornicators.” (He may be alluding to the very passage we just read. There may be parts of 2 Corinthians that were written before 1 Corinthians. That is what many scholars seem to think today, and it makes a certain amount of sense. Whether they are right or not, Paul is alluding to some such teaching as the one we have just seen.)
I wrote unto you an epistle not to company with fornicators; yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world. But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—with such an one not to eat.
So apparently people had read the injunction to be separate and had applied it to everybody. To correct this mistake, St. Paul says he did not mean all the fornicators, covetors, idolators, and so on, of the whole world. They are not the ones we have to be separate from, but those who are called brothers—he means Christians who are guilty of these things. We must be separate from Christians who are notorious and public sinners. We must separate ourselves from those whose lives are a scandal to the name and cross of Jesus Christ.
But now see what St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 5:12: “For what have I to do to judge them that are without?” he asks. “Do not ye judge them that are within,” he asks rhetorically, and he concludes, “but them that are without God judgeth.” So the rule for our dealings with people in public life—people whose faith or lack of it may be wholly unknown to us, or whose faith may be alien to us — the rule for our dealings with people in public life is that God is the judge of them. I am not under an obligation to practice separation from them. When I put my Christianity to work in the public order, I do not need to be afraid of cooperating on a political basis with those who are not brethren at all. Of their conduct God is the judge; it is not my business. But if it is a Christian who is giving scandal, a member of my fellowship, then I have a problem about cooperating with that person.
So we have principles of doing good to all men, yet knowing that the world hates us, maintaining separation, and yet not leaving the world. This makes for a complex body of principles for what started out looking like a simple arrangement. Thus, there is no easy way to describe the relationship between the Christian and the things of this world, such as politics. Now, you may think this point evasive, or trivial, or both. Oddly enough, it is neither. It is actually very important. For our next general principle that we wish to stress in these talks is that Christianity is not an ideology.
You agree, I hope, that Christianity is not an ideology. An ideology is not only a false belief, but is a belief which makes people behave in simplistic and irresponsible ways. Now the relevance of this consideration is very direct: if Christianity is not an ideology, then it stands to reason that there is no simple model for how we are to react to people in different walks and conditions of life. For if Christianity were an ideology, it would be all very simple, very black and white. That is how ideologies work.
Think of it this way: an ideologue is a person who holds some body of beliefs, and who holds all of social reality up before the bar of those beliefs. He puts the burden of proof on everything and everybody. His stand is this: “I will not accept anything that is done, anything that is conventional, anything that is part of the world, unless it follows from something I believe that it is acceptable.” Think of all those earnest young women who, back around 1967, started being converted to feminism. They shouldered a body of beliefs, and suddenly it was a big question for them whether they could still wear normal underwear. Was it still all right to get married? Was it still proper to have a family? Was it acceptable to take a husband without having a written contract in advance? Could one still believe in God? Could one say “Our Father” instead of “Our Mother”? Well you see, these women did not know how to answer, until some deduction from feminist beliefs decided the issue.
Now look at the opposite of ideology. Let your presumption towards social reality be simply this: it is part of God’s creation; every political fact is presumed all right, unless it follows from something in our belief that it is wrong. Think of those earnest young converts to Christianity in St. Paul’s churches. They were all filled with the newness of the Gospel. They had a thousand questions, too. They asked whether it was still all right to hold a job, or should one just pray all the time. Was it still allowed to be a slave, or did one have to run away? Was it still proper to marry or to give one’s daughter away in marriage? As you read St. Paul’s epistles, you see how he answers these questions. It becomes clear that all the normal arrangements of social life are acceptable, unless there is something in the Gospel that clearly says they are not. So, for example, promiscuous unions are ruled out, along with pagan worship and idolatry. But yes, you can have a job, continue as a slave, marry or give in marriage. So normal social arrangements are all right. Christianity is a perfect case of a body of beliefs that make a tremendous difference, yet do not impose an ideology and are not meant to be held in an ideological way.
Now, there is a psychological trick that we can play on ourselves: even though something is an ideology, we can hold it as though it were not. Sometimes you meet a socialist—and socialism is an ideology—but this particular socialist is a jovial chap, who takes with a grain of salt all those parts of socialism which deny our normal social arrangements; we would say about that man, “Well, he is a socialist, but he is really not an ideologue. He is sort of a reasonable fellow.” Now vice versa. Christianity is not an ideology, but you can have a person who holds it as though it were. He has the experience of being born again, and then all of the conventions of social life, which he used to take for granted, begin to appear sinister to him, as being the unsaved world’s way of doing things. Whereupon he gets himself into the posture of saying “I am not going to accept any of it; unless I can find a warrant for it in Scripture, I am not going to touch it.” That’s a dangerous attitude for us, because it will turn us into ideologues who have to try to find in Scripture what God did not put there. God did not put in Scripture anything that said you could wear a business suit, isn’t that right? In the Bible it talks about the tunic. Does what I have on count as a tunic? I have another suit in my home; does that count as two tunics? Am I sinning against Matthew 10:10? Of course not, because we do not have to justify everything that is part of conventional life. God assumes that we receive His word in a context in which we already have some common sense, some knowledge of reality, some knowledge of His creation. After all it is His creation, so it deserves the benefit of the doubt. Things that are a part of normal social life are presumed okay unless, of course, it follows from something in the Bible that they are not. So we look for what is immoral, not for what is to be accepted. We presume things all right, until they are convicted. We use a rule of innocent-until-proven-guilty in applying Scripture to the things of the world.
So we are not to be ideologues, and this fact is perhaps the single most decisive point for our view of political morality. It means that our preliminary attitude toward even the most hard-ball practices of Washington politics is not one of alienation from the unsaved but one of openness to reality.
Now, let us come down from these very general principles to some more specific ones. We try to do justice to the many aspects of the problem of how we relate to the world; but when it comes down to cases, we begin to look at definite actions. We ask the question whether some particular action, not just some general orientation, is moral or immoral. And the prior question is, “How are we to answer this?” Suppose it is an action which is not explicitly mentioned in Scripture? Then we have to take the principles which are in Scripture and apply them to the case. It is not always an easy job. Three years ago now, we had a terrible prospect that the Department of Health and Human Services was going to start funding experiments in in vitro fertilization. A brand new technique—and it reminded us all of the hatcheries in Brave New World. We knew in our bones that there was something wrong with it. Well, a fellow called me up and said, “I hear you are writing on this. What have you found in Scripture against in vitro fertilization?” I must admit, I had to stammer into the telephone for awhile because I had not been able to dig out anything very direct. It was one of those cases where Scripture speaks to the question only through the general principles which it contains.
Now, fortunately, this task of reflecting on the principles that are in Scripture and seeing which ones we need to apply to different cases, has been going on for a long time. We have some “shoulders of giants” to stand on here, and Scripture itself is very clear about which principles are crucial. The very first principle is one that was also mentioned last week, and I want to remind you of it again. It is that inward disposition or upright intention is the key determiner of moral goodness or evil. We saw last week the bearing of Isaiah 29:13, “This people draw near me with their mouth and with their lips do honor me, but have removed their hearts far from me.” That is the problem—bad interior disposition.
Psalm 51 is a little textbook on this subject. In Psalm 51:6 David says, “Behold thou desirest truth in the inward parts.” Verse 10: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” Verse 16: “For thou desirest not sacrifice, else would I give it; thou delightest not in burnt offerings …” See, it is not the external deeds, “ … The sacrifices of God are a broken heart; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise.” Hence the importance of inward disposition. And hence, of course, the key verse on this whole theme is Matthew 15:19: “Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies; these are the things which defile a man; to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man.” So it is not the outward conduct that is most decisive for judging morality; it is the intention, the inward disposition. For our intention is the description which we form within ourselves of what we are going to do (our means) to achieve what purpose (our end). And by that self- description we are defining our very selves in our stance towards good and evil.
But now, we need to square this basic principle with a whole series of texts which show another principle. So far, the guy who likes situation-ethics is with us. “All that matters is the inward disposition of the heart; therefore, you won’t mind, really, if I slit your throat, because my heart is pure; it seems like the loving thing to do.” That’s situation ethics. But it is not Biblical ethics. Scripture supplements the interior principle of intention with a second and less subjective principle. It is this: many deeds are intrinsically evil. How do we know that? Well, Exodus 20 is a good start. In Exodus 20 we find the Ten Commandments. It says certain things thou shalt not do. “Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not bear false witness.” These things are simply forbidden. Three places in his letters St. Paul makes a list of deeds, such that, if you do them, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. He is very tough about that. The three places are: 1 Corinthians 6:9-20; Galatians 5:16-25; and Ephesians 5:2-14. Three places, with very similar lists. You all know what is listed: envy, gluttony, fornication, adultery, homosexuality, murder, witchcraft. It is quite a list. So certain deeds are intrinsically evil.
Now, think along with me. On the one hand, what is morally determinative is uprightness of intention, cleanness of heart. On the other hand, there is a list of deeds that you may not do, no matter what your intention is. How do we reconcile these two teachings? Well, how indeed, unless intrinsically evil actions are such, because they impose upon the doer an evil intention? Why are those actions intrinsically evil? Because, if you are awake, if you see what you are doing, if you intend to do what you are doing, then already in intending it, you are choosing to violate some good, maybe to have pleasure by violating chastity, to have wealth by violating honesty. You are intending something impure. No one can do these acts without intending evil, either as his end or as his means.
That is why the Holy Spirit can’t abide these acts. In all three of the places where Paul gives those lists, he says that what is wrong with those deeds is that they conflict with the Holy Spirit; they grieve the Holy Spirit. They are not acceptable to God, because they drive out that pure heart, that broken and contrite spirit, which alone is an acceptable sacrifice to God.
So here is how we put these principles together: intention is the key thing, but certain acts are intrinsically evil because they impose an evil intention.
Right there is the gist of moral analysis. Those two principles already form the heart of it. Of course, there is more. Moral theology is a professional field of study which takes many years to master. But with these two principles in hand, I at least know where to begin. When I want to ask myself about a certain activity, a certain way to lobby, a certain case of leaking, and so on, I at least know what to ask about it. Is it imposing on me an evil intention? Am I intending something evil either in my end or in my means? These are the key questions.
Now, we have a couple of cases before us that we ought not postpone any longer. Here is a specific case. A leader of the House Democrats had managed a Democratic bill in Congress and lost it. It had been a bad bill, and we did not want it to come up again. But now another congressman was going to bring it up, try his own management, and maybe win. So we convinced the first leader that this second congressman was going to use his victory in order to make a grab for the leadership. The bill’s victory would make the original leader look bad. So that leader’s reaction was to arrange for some of his people to vote against the bill, even when he seemed to support it. Our real intent was that the bill should be defeated. The leader was prima facie in favor of the bill, but we convinced him that, if it passed, it would be an embarrassment to him, and so he worked with us behind the scenes to see that it did not get passed. Now what about that?
Some people feel that, in pulling off this particular political coup, we caused that leader to do something immoral. We caused him to get people to vote against this bill even as he appeared to support it. In other words, we made him act deviously. We encouraged him to adopt a line of conduct which was not open and above-board.
Here is another case. A certain woman was nominated for a position with the Department of Education. She was good enough, though was not part of the New Right. But she was having problems with her nomination because of opposition from liberal Republicans, who thought she was too conservative. So we wanted to help her out. But if we came out and said, “She is wonderful, we are behind her a hundred percent, please nominate her,” that would convince the liberal Republicans that they had been right to oppose her. So, we said, “Let’s trick ’em.” We considered the strategy of proposing another woman, making her our candidate, somebody who was incredibly conservative—not because we thought they would nominate this person, but because it would make the liberals think that the original candidate was not so bad after all.
The objection is that this was immoral because our true position and purpose was being concealed. Is that wrong?
In applying our general principles to these cases, we want to take advantage of some more specific information which is in Scripture. What we are really dealing with is the issue of holding back some of our true feelings, some concealment of our true design, and in some cases we may be dealing with real mental reservation. Now there is specific guidance in Scripture on these things. Let me begin with some lesser texts, and then I want to build toward the key text on this topic.
Let us start with some texts in the Book of Proverbs. Now Proverbs is a wonderful treasure of advice for Christians who are active in politics, because these proverbs were, after all, collected by a king—somebody who knew good political advice when he saw it. Moreover, God says that these are sound maxims for our instruction. “The proverbs of Solomon, the son of David, King of Israel, to know wisdom and instruction, to perceive the words of understanding.” So they are meant for our instruction. Now Proverbs 11:13 says, “A talebearer revealeth secrets, but he that is of a faithful spirit concealeth the matter.” That is not only about keeping secrets but about a general virtue. Turn over the page to Chapter 13:3: “He that keepeth his mouth, keepeth his life; but he that openeth wide his lips shall have destruction.” These passages tell us to keep a guardianship over our lips, and a prudent watch over our counsel.
Now, more suggestive than either of these is Proverbs 20, verse 14. You know how it is when you are in a situation of business dealings with somebody. Let us say you are at a garage sale, and they have on sale a chair. The perfect chair. Now, you do not know how much they want for it, because it is not marked. You do not want to go up and say, “That is the most wonderful chair I have ever seen. I would pay anything for it.” No, no, they will jack up the price. So you say “Well, that chair you have there … I don’t know, what do you want for that piece of junk?” Would you look now at Proverbs 20:14, “ ‘It is naught, it is naught,’ sayeth the buyer, but when he is gone his way then he boasteth.” In other words, “It is no good, it is no good,” says the buyer; but when he has gotten the price down, then he goes and says, “Oh, such a deal I got.” In the course of the commercial transaction, he concealed his true feelings. What does the Bible say about that? It says, “Fine, that is life.” These are Proverbs, for our instruction, for wisdom, for guidance.
Now for the key text on this whole matter of concealing your intention, of mental reservation and so on. I want you to turn to the Gospel of John, chapter 7:1-10. Now Jesus, it says, was in Galilee at this point. He was not walking in Judea anymore, because the Jews there sought to kill him. But the Feast of Tabernacles was at hand. “His brethren therefore said to him, ‘Depart hence, and go into Judea, that Thy disciples also may see the works that Thou doest.” Jesus had disciples back in Judea, and his relatives were saying to Him, “Go ahead back into Judea. Your disciples need to see You.” They added, “There is no man that doeth anything in secret, and he himself seeketh to be known openly. If Thou do these things, show Thyself to the world.’ For neither did His brethren believe in Him.” They were telling him, “You want to show the world Your ministry and how wonderful You are. Go ahead, go up to Judea.” But Jesus, said, “My time is not yet come; but your time is always ready. The world cannot hate you; but it hateth Me, because I testify to it, that the works thereof are evil. Go ye up unto this feast; I go not up unto this feast for my time has not yet fully come.’ ” So he says to His relatives, “You go. You don’t have this mysterious internal clock. You don’t have to keep asking yourself if your hour has come. So go ahead, go up to the feast, but I will not go up.” Jesus was conveying the impression that He would stay in Galilee. Verse 10: “But when His brethren were gone up, then He also went up unto the feast, not openly, but as it were, in secret.” Very interesting.
Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Jesus Christ does not do anything wicked. Jesus Christ is the paradigm of righteousness. He has the whole perfection of the Heavenly Father. Jesus Christ is himself perfect. He is like us in all things, except sin; therefore there is no sin here. But what did he do? He misled His relatives, His own flesh and blood. He let them form a false impression. They said “Go up to the feast.” He said, “I’m not going up to the feast. My time has not yet come.” In the context they would take that to mean He will go up next year, maybe. This year He is not going. Yet no sooner do they leave than He goes up, but in secret.
Now, has He lied to them? No. He did not say, “I am not going up to this feast in any way, shape or form, openly or secretly.” That He did not say. That would have been a lie. He said, “I am not going up to the feast”—meaning, by mental reservation, “publicly.” Secretly, yes; but they did not know that He was thinking that. He allows them to arrive at a false impression. Why? Well, He must have had an important reason to do so. Maybe his relatives could not keep secrets; the world is full of people like that. You tell them, “I am going up to the feast, but do not tell anybody. I am going up secretly.” And what do they do? They get down to Jerusalem and say, “Shhh, Jesus is coming, but secretly. Spread the word, He is coming secretly.” Of course! You can’t trust people with secrets. So, there are occasions when you have to let people reach false impressions. In politics it is very common. Here it is done by Jesus Christ Himself. Is there any malice in this? No. His end is not to deceive; it is to keep a secret. His means is not to lie, but to say an ambiguous thing.
You might say, “How can that be acceptable? Words are to convey information. Doesn’t it cut against the very nature of speech if we use words in such a way that they do not reveal our intention?” Not, necessarily. There is much more to words than self-disclosure. Words do not only convey information. There is a whole book on the philosophy of language, the title of which is How To Do Things With Words. It is a good title, because there are many things we do with words, such as send signals, that have nothing to do with what the words mean. You sit next to somebody on the bus, and he says to you, “Nice weather we are having.” Now, that does not mean “I would not mind starting a conversation with you.” That is not the meaning of the words. The words are about the weather. But that is the signal they give. That is the implication that saying them carries. So words serve to give signals of all kinds. Words serve to create impressions that have nothing to do with their meaning.
So we use words in many ways to give signals, to change the subject, sometimes to put people off, to fudge, to delay, and all of these purposes may be appropriate in their time and in their circumstances. There is no misuse of language when we carry out these purposes. They may be good and virtuous purposes. They are at least morally indifferent, because there is no evil intention imposed. But look at the difference now with lying. Lying is saying what is unambiguously false, and what you know to be false, for the deliberate end of deceiving someone who has a right to the truth, or at least a right not to be deceived. There is malice imposed in the very intention of that act, because you are intending to violate someone’s right.
I have another case of mental reservation which clarifies the difference between it and a lie. The Nazis were rounding up children who were deformed or retarded. There were various homes in Germany that took care of retarded children, but the Third Reich maintained that these were weaklings, race inferiors, who were to be rounded up and turned into soap. There was a convent of nuns whose work was to take care of retarded children; they had a house full of them. One night the SS came knocking on the door.
“Sister, do you have any retarded children?”
She said, “No.”
“No? We thought this was a clinic for such.”
“Well yes,” she said, “but just now we have no such children.”
“Do you mind if we search?”
Of course, they had hidden them all. So the storm troopers searched through but did not find any and left. Did she lie? I don’t think so. Did she practice mental reservation? Yes, certainly. To see the difference, you must look at what the question meant in the context. Don’t just look at the words; look at the implication, look at the context. Just as the words, “Nice weather we are having,” from somebody sitting next to you on a bus, implies, “I would like to start a conversation with you,” so also a storm trooper at the door of the convent asking, “Do you have any retarded children here?”, implies “Do you have any children for us to destroy?” Then the answer is “No, we have no such children. None for you butchers.” That is what the answer means. So we use words to let the criminal form his own misimpression; not a lie, but a mental reservation.
You know that famous old case of what to do when mass murderers are in the house. They have shot mama, they have shot papa, they have shot your big brother, they have shot your little sister, and now they are holding you, gun to your head. “Any more children here?” And you know that your little brother is hiding in the closet. What do you say? “I cannot tell a lie, he is hiding in the closet.” Is that what you would say? Come, come. “Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” Do not betray your own flesh and blood to murderers. Have a little common sense, and imitate the example of our Lord. Use mental reservation when the time is appropriate and say, “Other children here?” “Oh, no,” meaning “No more children for you to kill.”
The same principle applies to our two political examples. The Democratic leader was saying, “I support this bill,” but with the mental reservation, “in principle, and not for immediate passage under this other Congressman’s management.” When we thought of backing our own nominee for the Education post, similarly, we were saying, “We support Mrs. X,” but with the mental reservation, “Only to make Mrs. Y more acceptable.” Scripture teaches us that mental reservation is sometimes acceptable. It can be a morally acceptable means to achieve important ends. In both of our cases, we had important and morally good ends—to defeat a bad bill, and to secure a good nominee. Therefore, neither our ends nor our means were immoral in these cases.
Now I should let you raise your questions and objections.
Q. “What about when you are trying to get information, and you say you are somebody else? Is that permissible? Life and death situations are one thing. What if you are just trying to get some information from someone who does not want to give it to you?”
A. “Well, remember that the use of mental reservation is an action which cannot be justified without some good reason. In particular, it may not be used against those who have a right not to be misled. But not everyone we meet is in that condition. You see, we are on a certain footing with those who are of the household of faith, and those who are close friends of ours, and those with whom we are in normal social contact. They have a right not to be misled. On the other hand, we have some relations even in the conduct of everyday life with people who have forfeited that right. This is something that many people do not understand, but it is true. Let me illustrate from another quarter.
When you join the Army, you make a tremendously important sacrifice for the good of your country. You sacrifice your right not to be shot—the inviolability of your life. War is an institutional arrangement in which, by common consent, a soldier lays down, as a sacrifice for the good of the community, the inviolability of his life, and he goes out to face another soldier who has also laid down that inviolability. Each soldier is thus fair game, and the normal rules against killing and deception are off. Think of Rahab’s conduct in the warfare between the people of Jericho and the Israelites. Think also of Ehud in Judges 3.
Now, war is the extreme case. We have in our society a large variety of institutions which are not as extreme as war but which resemble it in that we set up, by convention, relations of rivalry, relations of conflict, in which casual codes of openness and plain dealing are called off. More devious dealing becomes fair. Suppose that you have been unjustly arrested on a charge of theft. The government thinks they have evidence; it is a case of mistaken identity, perhaps, but the government has a case, and they are going to prosecute you. You do not want to be represented by some shyster, so you go to a good Christian lawyer, who agrees to take the case and works out a defense strategy. Now what would you think of that lawyer if he said, “Well, you know, we Christians have an obligation to be open and above-board with all men. So I’m going down to the DA and tell him what our strategy is?” I would fire that lawyer. What is the point of having a Christian lawyer if he is going to be a lousy one? Law is an adversarial relation in which you have to hide your strategy from the other side. If the prosecution tries to trick out of you what witnesses you are going to put up, what evidence you are going to be using, you conceal that. That does not give you a right to stab the other lawyer. I said war is an extreme case, but it gives you a right to mislead the other lawyer in various ways; to conceal your intent in various ways. Now finally to your question.
May you use mental reservation in order to get information from some other party? I presume the cause is important; I presume the information is vital. I also presume that you are not going to lie. If you are going to lie, if you are going to tell an outright falsehood to get this information, you may not do it. But you may concoct some misleading song and dance that is, if pressed strictly and filled in with certain mentally reserved lacunae, true. You may do it, provided that you are in one of those adversarial relationships. Now you see the point of my digression. Politics is an adversarial relationship. It is supposed to be. We are pitted against an opposition party. That does not make everything fair in politics. Even in war not everything is fair, and war is an extreme case. But we must not be Pollyannas about political opposition, either. And here I am speaking of our case at the moment. It is one thing when your political opposition consists of people who hold in honor the same institutions that you hold in honor, for then both sides are playing the game with the same honorable intentions to serve the country, to uphold the institutions of our democracy, to uphold the structures of the Constitution, to uphold our civilization. It is quite another thing when the other side is ideologically subversive, for then the adversarial relation of politics begins to approach the intensity of war.
Is it not a paradox for a free society, that we are supposed to play by the rules, while ideological extremists are using every break, opportunity, and freedom that our society gives, to subvert it, to destroy it? I submit that, precisely because we know that they are not playing the game honestly, we must be prepared to play more hardball with them than we would with people who share our basic values. Ideologues of a subversive opposition have forfeited more of their right not to be misled, if I may put it that way. Why? Because they are enemies of society; they are enemies of God and man. I say treat them as adversaries in so far as the law allows. They have forfeited their right to the normal conventions of social interaction.”
Q. “I am doing a research paper on the homosexual movement in the country, and I put some student on the project, and she calls up one of their organizations and says, “I am a college student and I am doing a research paper, and I would like this and that information,” and they volunteer it even though, in fact, I am writing a book to expose them. Have I met your criteria?”
A. “Yes, if the student is actually your research assistant.”
Q. “I did not hear the answer to the first problem, which was the problem where the majority leader was convinced to do something against his own position on the issue—something which he did for his own purposes, but which helped us.”
A. “Okay, let us go back to that case. Votes in a legislative body, such as votes in the House or the Senate, have many purposes. Just as the same body of words can convey information about the weather and also signal you that I would not mind starting a conversation, so also a vote can advance some piece of legislation but can also confuse the opposition, create a damning record, etc. I might champion some piece of legislation because I know that, if I champion it, it is sure to lose. I might also vote on something just in order to embarrass an enemy or rival politician. Jones from Oklahoma, perhaps, is torn in two: his district is split down the middle, he can’t win on this one; so he is desperate for the bill not to come to the floor. Ah, but he is trying to take the leadership away from me, so I think I would like this to come to the floor—not because I believe in it, not because it will pass, but just because of what it will do to Jones. So there is no intrinsic dishonesty in voting for a piece of legislation while, for purposes of one’s own, working behind the scenes for its defeat. Public professions of support for the legislation could then be cases of mental reservation: “I support this bill” (but not for immediate purposes, not for passage under my rival’s management), etc.”
Q. “Are you, in fact, saying by this that intentionality is a rather complex thing, like human relationships and that you cannot describe relations between people in society in very simple terms, and that it is a fallacy to oversimplify? For example, when you talk about language, thinking that words are just what they mean and nothing more; really what stands behind that is a very oversimplified view of nature and social nature. This, I think, is what I read in what you are saying.”
A. “Yes, that is very true. Our intentions often are complicated—and not necessarily because we are “deep” or “tricky” persons, but just because our social reality is complicated. Often times one and the same act will be the object of a right under one description, and a crime under another. Think of this: Do parents have the God-given right to raise their children as they see fit? Yes, we insist on that. Well, now, here is a fellow whose way of raising his child as he sees fit includes a good deal of physical violence. He beats that child. There comes a point when we want that fellow stopped for child abuse. Different people will draw the line in different places, but there comes such a point. One and the same act of beating that child is then the object of a right (I’m raising him as I see fit) and a crime (child abuse). You see, we have to decide through the courts which description applies in the case at hand. We haul him in. What does the law say, what kind of standards does the law set down? Suppose somebody’s way of raising his child is to teach that child error, horrible blasphemies, atheistical lies. He is raising the child as he sees fit, and he is committing a terrible sin. But sin or not, is his act of doing so the exercise of a right, or is it a crime? Should we step in and take that child away from him? Is there mental child abuse? Apparently not. Our law does not draw the line there. In our society, we would not take away a parent’s children simply because we disagreed with what the parent was teaching the child. But for physical violence we would. So, different cases we resolve on different bases; the complication that you are talking about is very genuine. Sometimes the way in which our own acts are open to different descriptions leaves us in a great deal of perplexity. Which description is right? Which description should be morally controlling?”
Q. “I want to back up to the question of lie and deceit. Suppose I am in a situation where I do not want to go to a meeting or dinner, and I say, “I can’t come tonight. My father is in town.” Suppose it is true that my father is in town, but I, in fact, have no intention of seeing him. Now I linked the two phrases together, and in your mind it causes deceit. I have not said any lie, I have not said any untruth. Everything I said is actually factually true. However, in your mind you have linked the two together and come up with a lie.”
A. “No, I’ve come up with a misimpression.”
Q. “But I have sown that misimpression on purpose. I have intended for you to have that misimpression. I have intended for you to come to the wrong conclusion by giving you factually correct information. The Scriptures talk a lot about the spirit of the law, not just the letter, or the legalistic specifics. I think in this case I am violating the spirit of the law, when I have sowed deceit.”
A. “You have sown the misimpression “on purpose” but hopefully not “with the purpose” of deceit. More likely you had some good purpose, such as to spare the feelings of whoever invited you. As I said, if you have a good reason, mental reservation can be a morally licit means. If you have no good reason, on the other hand, you would certainly be violating the spirit of the law. And it is really a question of the spirit of Christ. We are to be as open and above board as possible.
The whole spirit and direction of Christianity is the absolute opposite of legalism. If you think of all the acts that we are capable of performing as being arranged in a field, and think of a circle in the middle of the field, and inside the circle are all of those acts that are morally acceptable; and outside the circle are all those acts which are wicked and wrong; then legalism is the attitude of the man in the circle who is always pushing toward the circumference. He is always pushing to see how much he can get away with. Christianity, on the other hand, is the opposite orientation; we are always pushing towards the center. We are always looking for what is more noble, more generous, more upright. “Whatsoever things are lovely, think on these things.” Christianity opposes legalism in its basic thrust; however, you may have important reasons to do an action near the circumference.”
Q. “Isn’t that pushing to see how far you can go before it breaks?”
A. “Not necessarily. What constitutes the perimeter of the circle is a body of objective considerations. On the circumference are things that are morally neutral, that is to say indifferent. Moral indifference is a technical term. It means that the action may be moral and may be immoral, depending upon other circumstances and your intention. Using mental reservation, as in this case, is an action which may be moral or may be immoral depending on the circumstances and intention. We just got finished talking about John 7:1- 10. In that passage Jesus practices mental reservation on his own brethren. My point is that there are occasions when it is appropriate; but there has to be a good reason. You may not resort to such a practice lightly, and you may not be the sort of person who is always using it. The figure of the circle, with our striving toward the center, helps to show where a Christian’s spirituality and prudence come in. You do not want to end up like poor “Tricky Dick,” you know, always unable to drop the postures of secrecy and political calculation, never able to just relax and be somebody’s friend. You have to beware of that.”
Q. “It is a difficult line to draw, and it is difficult because we cannot engage in politics as normal. We cannot adopt every tactic under the sun and justify it away by saying, “We are striving for a Christian principle, so our ends justify our means in this case.” We have to be above board. Our tactics, our mental reservations, have to be so pure that when people look at us as Christians (and for many people we are the best Christians they have ever known) we are not going to be a stumbling block to them. Paul talks at great length about being a stumbling block to one’s brethren in Romans.”
A. “That’s right, he does. We are under an obligation not to give scandal. We are under an obligation to avoid the appearance of evil. But we are under other obligations as well. We are under obligations to achieve something effectively in the public order. I said at the beginning of this talk that the kind of witness that we bear to others, through upright conduct, (“Let your light so shine before men that they see your good works”) cannot be used as a reason to avoid tough-looking political actions, because we cannot expect that abstention from toughness will win us the world’s love. We will be hated. Paradoxically, the goodness of our deeds does not necessarily mean that they will be admired. So we must not seek admiration. In a nation where prayers are banished and babies are murdered, there is nothing more horrible than that Christian narcissism which says “I am not going to get involved in all these political problems. It is such a stinky field! I have to let my light shine before men. Now, please observe me: a-political, my posture perfect, every moral hair in place. I just look so loving; I would not abandon this posture for anything or anybody.” No, we can’t be that way. This is not an admiration society. We must shoulder our obligations. These obligations can be very strange. I am going to bring up a proverb, and then I am going to turn to a place in the Gospels which has a similar message. Proverbs 14:35 “The king’s favor is toward a wise servant, but his wrath is against him that causes shame.” See, if you want to please the king, you have got to be smart. He wants a wise servant; but if you are an embarrassment to him, if you cause him shame, it does not matter how pure and upright you are; you are an embarrassment; you are not doing the king any good. He will get rid of you. Now, as if that were not strange enough, turn to Luke 16:1-9. It is the parable of the unjust steward. This is a famous chestnut to interpret. Let me remind you how it goes.
There was a certain rich man who had a steward, and the same was accused unto him that he had wasted his goods. And he called him and said to him, ‘How is it that I hear this of thee? Give an account of thy stewardship, for thou mayest be no longer steward.’ Then the steward said within himself, ‘What shall I do, my lord taketh away from me the stewardship? I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed. I am resolved what to do, when I am put out of the stewardship, that they may receive me into their houses.’ So he called every one of his lord’s debtors, and he said, ‘How much owest thou my lord?’ and the man said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ And he said, ‘Take your bill, quick write 50.’ And he said to another, ‘How much do you owe my lord?’ And he said, A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said, ‘Take your bill, quick, and write 80.’ And the lord commended the unjust steward because he had done wisely; for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light. And then he says, ‘Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.’
Now this parable has always been difficult to interpret because it seems to be commending evil deeds, crooked bookkeeping, etc. There is a deep, rich and delicious irony in this parable, however, and to understand it you have to look at the last verse. That is the key to the interpretation, verse 9. “Make to yourselves friends with the mammon of unrighteousness” that is this world’s money. Friends where? Remember when the unjust steward gets fired he wants to be received in the houses of the other people, to whom he said, “Here,” you know, “shorten the bill.” He wants to be received in those houses. In verse 9 we learn that those houses are eternal habitations, i.e., mansions of the just. Now you do not understand this parable so long as you make the mistake of assuming that the lord in this parable, as in most of the others, is God. In most of the other parables, the lord or king represents God. Here he does not. Here the lord is the prince of this world; that is why, when you are dealing with his accounts, you are using the mammon of unrighteousness. The parable says to use it slickly, so that you may make friends to receive you in eternal habitations. Now how do you do that? You do that by taking this world’s money and using it for the purposes of God. You are cheating on Satan. A famous maxim says “Give the devil his due.” Christ is saying the opposite. Give the devil less than his due; chisel on Satan. Take the money of this world, which otherwise would go into the bank accounts of the wicked, or blow through the exchanges of commerce, and make friends with it in heaven.
Now, in the same way, the goods of this world, if I may extend the metaphor, are the structures of politics, the structures of influence, the brokering of power. Power and influence are part of the mammon of unrighteousness. We are to use them too, and use them well, oh yes, but not to enrich the world, not to the world’s ends. We are going to chisel on the world. We are going to use politics, its pomps and is powers, to make ourselves friends in eternal habitations. That means we play some of the world’s games, but better, and to another end.”
Q. “That is okay if we are doing things prayerfully each step of the way. And I am not convinced that we are. In Galatians it says, “Do not be deceived; God is not mocked. For whatever a man sows that he will also reap; for the one who sows to his own flesh shall from the flesh reap corruption. But the one who sows to the spirit shall from the spirit reap eternal life. And let us not lose heart in doing good for in due time we shall reap, if we do not grow weary.” If we play by the world’s rules, we get bad results. We get corruption. We get votes like we got yesterday in the Senate on abortion. We are not going to win if we play by the world’s rules in temporal politics; particularly if we are not taking a step at a time prayerfully.”
A. “Sure. We must do all things with prayer. Pray unceasingly. But do not press that verse in Galatians further than the context will bear. Paul has in mind something very specific there. The contrast is between flesh and spirit. That does not mean a contrast between this world and the things of heaven. Paul’s contrast between flesh and spirit is much more precise than that. Sowing to the flesh and reaping the things of the flesh is following the carnal mind according to its lusts. It is going after the things of the body. It is luxuriating in the things of the flesh; from that you reap the reward of fleshly things, which is real corruption in the flesh and, of course, the wages of sin, which is death. Sowing to the spirit, however, does not simply mean prayer, although that is important. It means doing all that we do for the sake of the kingdom of God. It means doing all we do for the love of God and with detachment, so that we do not use power or money or anything for the gratification of the flesh, but use it all to the glory of God, and with detachment, so that we are not corrupted by what we use. So the moral of this pair of verses is that we can reap the treasures of the spirit, love, joy, peace, and all the rest, insofar as we use even the things of this world in a way that is detached from corrupt use and oriented toward the things of God.”
Q. “I think we all agree that anybody who is doing any of these tactics, for self- aggrandizement, for their own personal power, whether it be financial or just power to get things done, or whatever, is certainly in error, certainly in sin.”
A. “Absolutely. This is the road to hell, of course. And the road is especially broad in politics. Every profession in which you can do the devil any damage is dangerous to your soul; he will see to that.”
Q. “I do not think you are making a contention that somehow the tactics that you are proposing are evil tactics. Now, everybody would agree that if you do something, for whatever motive, that in itself is wrong, it is going to bring bad results. The question is whether the tactic is wrong or not; because I would not be willing to concede, for example, that mental reservation or pressure tactics such as we normally use politically are wrong tactics. The contention is that those are rightful tactics. When the opposition uses them, they do not get criticized because of the tactics themselves, but because their intentions are destructive. The contention is that the wrongfulness would come from what they want to accomplish. As a tactic, I think, concealing yourself in the process of obtaining some information to which you have right, and the other party would not give you if they knew who you were, is perfectly legitimate. That is a legitimate tactic in itself. But to use it for your own self-aggrandizement—like anything else you do for your own sake and not for the sake of the kingdom of God, or to the exclusion of the kingdom of God—is obviously evil, no matter what it looks like.”
A. “Yes and it is good that you reminded us of that. The point we should keep in mind is that we are dealing with two issues here. The one issue is, where does the circumference lie between right and wrong? We have certain actions, such as mental reservation or pressure tactics, which can be on either side of that line depending on the circumstances and the intention. That they are not intrinsically immoral is correct. I am defending that.
But the other issue is one of spirituality, and we do not want to overlook that issue either. The issue of spirituality is very simple. “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Make sure that your treasure is laid up in heaven. Now, when you are immersed in the battles of politics, it is hard to keep your treasure in heaven. In proportion as we are really shouldering our duties as citizens, we are acquiring a stake and an interest in this world; and therefore we require special care to see to it that we use all of these things only to the greater honor and glory of God—and therefore always with that detachment, with that custody over the heart, which is required if we are not to be destroyed by these things. So I want to do justice to both of those issues.”
Q. “I wanted to ask you if you could analyze shortly my kind of behavior when I am lobbying. I spend quite some time in the Senate and in the House. When I meet a senator or a congressman, I approach him in this way: “Oh, there comes my favorite Senator.” Then I tell him, “Senator, I want you to know I am representing such- and-such organization.” It sounds very impressive, of course, but they do not know that it is a small operation. That is actually a kind of deception, of course. And then I tell him (what is true in my opinion) that millions of people are praying for them on this particular issue that is pending. But maybe they put the two remarks together and that bothers me sometimes, you know; because when I say that I represent my organization and tell him right away in the same breath that millions of people are praying for them, then I think sometimes, “Well, you pulled the wool over his eyes,” you know. But I think that this particular introduction is justified. I also tell him that his vote is not only on the Congressional Record, but also on the heavenly records. And I also tell him sometimes, “We know where your stand is on this particular issue,” but that is not always true, because sometimes I even do not know his name. I know he is a senator or a congressman but I do not know as yet what his stand is, but the record is public and I always can look it up. Is that a right thing to say at that particular moment? You know, when I see a senator or a congressman, I do not always have the time to look up his voting record first.”
A. “Well, I think that this behavior is substantially innocent. I do not see any real problem with it. Senators know that people make slightly exaggerated claims about how well they know their record, but they also know that the information can easily be looked up. It might be advisable to use a slightly more impersonal idiom, though, like “It is a matter of record what your stand is… ” Now is it really misleading, to suggest that your organization is pulling the strings on all those millions of people who are praying that the elected official take the right position—since the power of prayer is not under our control? I don’t think so. Politicians are aware, remember, that lobbying is one of these adversarial relations in which you are entitled to create certain impressions. Now, just because your organization does not have all these vast bodies does not mean that those bodies are not out there; and other people will contact them, and there will be these consequences of voting the wrong way. As you say, millions of people are praying that the right vote be made.
So, the realities that you are talking about are there, and in order to lobby this senator you do not have to be in control of those realities. You are simply representing the social realities, pressures, and forces that are there, and you are bringing them to the senator’s attention. So I think that that is upright conduct. After all, senators are very wise and experienced people in the ways of lobbying tactics; and everybody who lobbies exaggerates the amount of importance of his lobby, exaggerates the amount of damage that he can do to those who do not do what he wants. That is the kind of exaggeration that a legislator learns to discount in this conventional, adversarial relation, so it amounts to no material deception. Similarly, we discussed the case of the commercial transaction. That is another standard case where the buyer is expected to say, “Cheap, cheap” on the goods. The seller is expected to exaggerate a little bit the value of goods. There is expected to be this kind of interplay. There is no real deception going on by virtue of the structure of the situation.”
Q. “I want to raise a question here that has little to do with what you have covered today, but is very much on the minds of many of us. It has to do with the abortion vote in the United States Senate on the Hatch amendment. Senator Helms did not vote for the Hatch amendment. Indeed, he intended to vote against it, but he ended up voting “present.” But the evidence that he intended to vote against it was contained in the release of his statement to a religious newspaper, which printed the statement several days in advance of his actually making it, to the effect that he intended to vote against it. The argument that was used by those who favored Senator Helms’ voting against the Hatch anti-abortion position, was that it was not a pure enough position. That is to say, one could not in conscience vote for something which did not achieve the full objective of stopping abortion; to vote for anything short of that was immoral because it simply would be placing the Congress in the position of judging what life could or could not be killed. That appeared to be a statement of great principle. The person was so concerned about the issues that he was willing to take a very principled position, even if it meant standing apart from everyone else. In fact, the effect of what was done, (and if one were to have projected Helms’ vote to a negative vote, the effects would have been even worse) was to deprive those of us who work in this area from having a fifty- fifty vote, in which we would have maintained that any one senator prevented a pro-life majority from being there. The real effect of Helms’ action was to give the impression that the Right to Life movement was splintered and therefore took a backward step instead of going forward in the political process. Those projections were all conveyed to the senator; he still chose to vote present, and he did so saying that he had to stand on principle, and he nearly got another senator to go along with him. So my question is, what is the moral weight that one should put on the effect of what he is doing, apart from personal conscience?”
A. “A primary principle of the moral life, most famous in medical ethics, is do no harm. When you look at the impact that a vote will have, you are duty bound to take into account this kind of collateral damage that it may do. Now, collateral damage, if it is not intended, can be allowed to occur only if you have a real reason from principle. Where the question of principle is relevant, it is the controlling question. You may not vote for what you believe to be immoral pieces of legislation: that is a standard principle. But when does this principle really come into effect? When does it come into operation?
It only comes into operation when there is danger of the immoral law going into effect. In other words, if your vote will put the statute over the top, then if there is something that you see in principle wrong with that legislation, then you have a problem, and you must follow your principled reasons not to vote for it. But those considerations are not even relevant in the case of yesterday’s vote. That amendment was not going anywhere. It had no chance of the two-thirds necessary in the Senate, and even if it did, it was not going anywhere in the House. So the morality or immorality of its legislative content was academic. The whole situation that existed, as I would analyze it, was simply this: Was the Right to Life movement as a whole going to come out of this with egg all over its face? Was the situation going to be such an embarrassment to us, because we did not have the votes, that ABC and NBC were going to cover this story prominently and put Packwood on the air to say, “I told you so. They are washed up.” That was the danger. That was what had to be avoided. As I would analyze it, the way to avoid that was to vote for this piece of Right to Life legislation even though it was inadequate; even if you thought it inadequate to the point of being immoral, you would vote for it because a decent vote total would have spared the movement from embarrassment.
The movement must live if we are to return to the fight another day, if we are to get an amendment that is any better. You cannot pursue your goals of bringing protection to the unborn by pursuing policies that will destroy your political vehicle. So, I think that the failure to take into account that kind of collateral damage, nay, the refusal to take into account the collateral damage, in the name of standing on principle, was ethically misguided. It was an appeal to principle that was out of place.”
Q. “To what extent can Christians say: “If you don’t support us on this vote on abortion, or school prayer, or whatever, you«are in the league with the devil.” I mean to what extent can Christians say that this is absolutely a Christian principle and that, if you disagree with us, then that you are simply rejecting Biblical standards. To what extent could or should Christians say that?”
A. “Well, there are two different idioms that you asked about there, and each will need different consideration. The basic rule is this: insofar as some piece of legislation is clearly contrary to Biblical teaching, anybody who supports it is objectively doing the devil’s work, is objectively out of harmony with Biblical principle. Now the conflict may not always be clear. There are borderline cases, and there are cases where the application of Biblical principle is not entirely clear; but for the sake of argument we assume it is. If the application is clear, like, for example, if somebody wants to vote for liberalized pornography, or liberalized abortion, or no-fault theft, you tell him, “Yes, absolutely, this is contrary to the Scriptures, contrary to Christianity; you are acting against Biblical principles.”
Now, may you also tell him, “You are a tool of the devil?” That one is a little tricky. Objectively, perhaps he is; subjectively, maybe not. Maybe the poor fellow is just hopelessly ignorant of these things; maybe he has been brain-washed; maybe he has diminished culpability. Just because somebody is defending principles which are objectively wrong, I have no right to use expressions which would say, “You are a card-carrying member of Satan’s band.” That sort of expression implies judgment of the person, and there we come into the scope of the Lord’s command, “Judge not lest ye be judged.” That command applies to the judgment of persons, not the judgment of issues. (If you had to apply it to the judgment of issues, you would have to be mindless.)
We are in a more difficult case when the bearing of Scripture on the issue is less than fully clear. What are our obligations in that case? Now, maybe you can help me with an example. What would you consider an example of a case like that?”
Q. “Tuition tax credits?”
A. “Okay, that is a pretty good example. On the one hand, the tuition tax credit legislation would remove from the churches a financial impediment to doing their educational mission. We are all having to pay twice to get a Christian education. That is unjust. On the other hand, if we have a tax credit for religious schools, inevitably the governnment is going to want to set standards for which schools qualify for the credit and which ones do not. We have just seen that if your school practices what Washington says is racial segregation, then you would be excluded. And if the government is going to interfere with your doctrinal preferences in one way, it may interfere in other ways. So the question can be asked whether tuition tax credits clash with the freedom for religious schools and institutions which we would think are Biblically mandated. Does it objectively pose a peril?
Most of us think the risk of state interference with the schools is likely to remain peripheral, because the tax credit goes to the parent and not directly to the school. So most of us are willing to take the risk and say “Let us support this legislation.” Now, what am I going to say about a Senator or a Congressman who is against it? Well, what I am going to say depends on the reason why he is against it. If he is against the bill because he is in sympathy with Christian institutions and he is scared that the credit is going to have these bad consequences—in other words, if this is a conservative Senator who is against it because he is a worry-wart, I am not going to say anything very nasty about him at all. I am going to say, “Well, friend, that is your political judgment. I am sorry, mine is different, but I respect your concerns.” But if it is a liberal or anybody else who is against tuition tax credits because he is opposed to the proliferation of religious education, because he wants us all in a secular-humanist melting pot, or because he is in the pocket of the NEA (National Education Association), well, I am going to call a spade a spade.”
Q. “Some people would say that the NEA is not all that bad. There are good aspects of the NEA: perhaps they are just trying to do what is best for people. So, how could you condemn it absolutely?”
A. “Well, it is hard for any institution to survive and get as big as the NEA has if it does not service somebody’s legitimate need for something. Insofar as it represents the institutional and professional interests of teachers, no doubt the NEA could be found, if you looked long enough, to have done some good. But, the fact of the matter is that their legislative record is one of the purest radicalism. And even within the educational sphere, much of their work for teachers is poisonous. Sound work for teachers would set some shop standards. What encourages any professional group to irresponsibility, to unaccountability, is not in the public interest. And that is what the NEA has done. They have made teachers allergic to merit pay, to real accountability, to using the performance of their students as a test of how good they are as teachers, and to all those measures of competence that ought to be placed on teachers. Just as you judge a welder’s work by whether the welds hold, there ought to be some shop standards in the classroom.”
Q. “What about school prayer? Do you really want your prayer to be supervised by the people who run the state education systems? Aren’t you fooling yourself to think there can be a kind of state-sanctioned prayer in that setting?”
A. “There are people who use this reason to favor a weaker amendment which would establish silent prayer. My judgment on that is that there is very little likelihood that the states will mandate some one prayer which they have composed. I do not think we will go back to that. I think the likelihood is that the state will give a teacher a good deal of leeway, the local school board a good deal of leeway; there may be a whole smorgasbord of approved prayers. I am not too worried about the institutional trap that is threatened there. The principle that ought to guide our moral judgment is this: Prayer is an honorable activity. More than that, it is a necessary activity. We cannot save our own souls, we cannot save our nation without prayer; and we must restore prayer to its public honor.”
Well, I see that we have come to the end of our time. I thank you all for your attention and we will meet again next week, when I will have some more cases to consider. Let us close with a prayer.
O God, we have asked Thee to open our hearts to Thy word of truth. We have asked Thee, O Lord, to open our ears to Thy word of promise. We have asked Thee, O Lord, to make our eyes receptive to Thy light. Thou hast said, “If any man knock, it shall be opened to him; ask and ye shall receive.”Lord, we close believing in Thy promise that if we have asked for light Thou wilt give it. We believe Thy word and we celebrate the light which Thou hast shed upon those who sat in darkness. For Thou hast translated us into Thy kingdom of light, where Thou reignest forever and ever, one God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.
Welcome everyone, to this third and last session of our series of seminars on the Morality of Political Action. Let us begin again with a prayer.
O Lord, Thou hast said that Thy word is sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of bone and marrow. Grant us, Lord, to become sharp with the sharpness of Thy Word. Teach us, to distinguish between what is Thy Word and what is man’s. Help us in all things to hear that difference, to sift that difference, to be attuned ever to obey Thy Word and to set aside what is mere teaching of men. Teach us to avoid what is only human prudence and to seek that higher wisdom which comes from Thee, that wisdom which makes foolish the wisdom of the wise; through Christ, our Lord, who is Thy wisdom, Amen.
We have a series of seven basic cases that are on our agenda for these conferences, seven cases of controversial political action. This afternoon I want to cover all of them and review the principles by virtue of which we resolve them. The foremost principles, really, reduce to three basic ones, which we may as well state here at the outset.
First of all, the Scriptures are the inspired word of God and therefore are the authority for resolving moral questions. I adhere to the view that God’s revelation is a propositional revelation. It is the communication to man of certain definite truths. In other words, what God has given us is a message, not just some sort of feeling or inspiration; not just movement or elan. No, God has given us a definite message, and it is up to us to act upon this message.
The second general principle is that the end does not justify the means. Now that is not another principle alongside Scripture; it is a principle which is already clear from the pages of Scripture. How is it clear? From the very simple fact that God’s revelation to us in moral matters includes definite commandments which take the form of “Thou shalt not…” These definite commandments are universal prohibitions on certain actions. Our actions are our means, our means of attaining our ends. If there are certain actions universally prohibited, it can only be because the doing of those actions is never justified by any end, no matter how good. That is the logic of such a commandment. So this principle is already in Scripture, implicit in the very nature of a negative commandment; for if the end could justify the means on an occasional basis, then surely we could think of cases where we had a noble enough end to murder somebody, to steal, lie, or commit adultery. But if a noble end does not justify me to go out and put a bullet in some fellow, or to sleep my way to the top, then the end does not justify the means. That is our second general principle.
Our third general principle is that Christians have the obligation to act differently from other people. Christians are under an obligation to go beyond the norms of morality. You may think of it this way: morality is universal; it is for all men. It is for the saved as well as the unsaved. It is part of the basic ground rules of human existence, and of course it is also part of God’s plan. But morality is a part of God’s plan which is, at least in its basic principles, known even to the unsaved. As St. Paul said about the pagans, many times they do by conscience what is right (Romans 2:14-15). Morality is imposed upon all men, even the pagan, because (St. Paul says) those who do certain things really know better and hence are without excuse (Romans 1:20-32). All men are under the commandment not to commit adultery, not to kill, not to steal, and so on. Christians, however, are under some additional challenges.
I like to think of it this way. Think of the law or line of morality as the top of the net in a tennis match. A ball is no good unless it goes over the net; it must clear the top. But how high it may go above the net, well, that is up to the individual players. We Christians have an obligation to clear the top of the net, just like everybody else, in our actions; but we are under a further challenge, laid upon us by our Lord Jesus Christ, when He said, “Be ye perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:45). We must go beyond what is merely the letter of moral requirement and seek always that which is more perfect, more generous, more noble. As St. Paul says, “Whatsoever things are honest… whatsoever things are pure … whatsoever things are lovely… think on these things” (Phil. 4:8). We have an obligation to aim as high as we can in pursuit of that injunction to be perfect, and so we have an obligation to act differently from other people.
We want our lives to be a special kind of witness in the world—a witness to the reality of the next life, to the reality of God’s call, to the reality of God’s kingdom, in a way in which lives which are perhaps morally upright, but conformed to this world, cannot be. They are too much involved in the things of this world to give witness to the next. Christians must, in various ways, give witness to the next world’s higher commands and higher designs. As St. Paul says “Our citizenship is above in heaven” (Phil. 3:20). The King James says, “Our conversation is in heaven,” but the word in Greek is politeuma, which means citizenship. We are citizens of the heavenly city, where we have been raised up to sit in high places with Jesus Christ. We have already been installed, in some sense, in heaven, where we are in the presence of God, through our belonging to Jesus Christ. Our citizenship is there. We have here, by contrast, no abiding city (Hebrews 13:14), and our lives must give some witness to that fact. Yes, there is a real society here. Yes, we have real commitments and obligations here. Yes, governments in this world are established by God, and so on. All very true, and yet all of that is passing. All of that will mean nothing to any of us here this afternoon in a hundred years. It is that other citizenship which will matter then, and our lives must give some witness to that. So Christians have the obligation to act differently from other people.
However, we must not lose sight of the fact that there is a curious paradox involved in understanding this third general principle. We must not suppose that we can use this Christian difference as a matter of policy, as a matter of design, to draw men to us in a simple way—as though when we hold up the standard of goodness and righteousness all men will simply flock to our banner. It does not work that way. We have a double series of texts in the New Testament which should be seen in their paradoxical relation to each other.
On the one hand, John 13:35, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” That is how we are different in our behavior from other men. Then Galatians 6:10, “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially to them who are of the household of faith.” So our obligation to do good in a special way because we are Christians is not simply an obligation that we have towards our fellow Christians (though we have it especially to them) but towards all. And of course, Matthew 5:16, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father, which is in heaven.”
If you isolate that series of texts, it all sounds very simple. We Christians are to be nicer, kinder, gentler, more beneficent and more loving than anybody else. “By this men will see” the kind of life that we have and glorify our Father in heaven. But Scripture itself warns us that it will not work this way. This line of texts must not be taken in isolation. I remind you of the great text on the other side, which is John 15:18-19, where we read, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love its own; but because ye are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.” When we hold up among men the example of Christ, when we let that light shine, man’s reaction to the light always has a certain paradoxical complexity. There are those who are drawn to the light; but there are also those who shun it, fear it, and flee the light. Why? “Because their deeds are evil.” (John 3:19). The light of Christ: as much as it may quicken admiration, it may quicken resentment and hostility. So we are not to marvel if the world hates us. On the contrary: in proportion as we do not fulfill Christ’s commandment, in proportion as we return evil for evil, and reviling for reviling, the world will say to us, “Ah, mon semblable mon frere.” It is the very practice of Christian love that creates the paradox of resentment. So we must not imagine that, when we carry out this third general principle of seeing to it that our actions are different from those of the general run of the world, we are thereby going to earn the world’s praise in some sort of easy victory. We must rather be on our guard.
Those are, in brief, the general principles that I need to state at the outset. We are now ready to plunge into all seven of the basic cases that we have to consider, and we shall see in relation to each particular case what further principles are involved in their solution.
Case (1) I divide into two parts, (la) and (lb). They both concern how Christians should act when we are attending some conference or meeting which is dominated by the other side. This case grows out of experiences at the White House Conference on Families, which was a Carter Administration effort. Now here is the question. If we have voters in some conference or meeting very much dominated by the other side, so that our voices will not suffice to pass good resolutions, may we use our votes instead to discredit the conference? Such was the proposal on that occasion. The delegates at the conference were debating various alternative resolutions, and some of the resolutions were wildly liberal, while others, more moderate, were designed to disguise their full ideological position. Now, if we voted for the more moderate resolutions, the ones that disguised the commitments of the conference leadership, well, we were voting for better resolutions. If we voted for the worse resolutions, we would be voting for resolutions that were less like what we ourselves believe, but more like what the Conference itself stood for. And so the question was, could we vote for the worse resolutions? Since we could not pass our own, could we use our vote, in effect, to discredit the conference? You may put the question this way: Must we always use our vote to advance some bill or resolution we believe in, or may we use our vote in other ways as well? That is Case (la).
I think that in order to approach a resolution of this case what we mainly need to do is understand some of the practical reality of politics. When you look at a civics book, it tells you that people at meetings have a vote, and that the purpose of the vote is to pass something they believe in. But in the real world that is only one purpose of a vote. To see that votes may serve other purposes, I think, is just the beginning of political sophistication. It is the beginning of understanding how many moves and maneuvers are involved in a well-designed political strategy. For example, you may use your vote to prevent an embarrassment to your side. You may use your vote in committee to prevent a piece of legislation from coming to the floor, even though you believe in it, simply because you judge that having it come to a vote is politically inopportune. In such a case you use your vote not to advance a piece of legislation you believe in, but to prevent an embarrassment to your side. Now, that seems like a fairly uncontroversial alternative use of one’s vote. We will see some trickier examples in a case further on; but I think that we approach some way towards a solution of this one as soon as we see that votes serve a lot of different purposes.
Now let me give you the second part of case (1) because it involves some similar difficulties. If we are delegates at a conference so dominated by the other side that our efforts are frustrated at every turn by the way the conference has been rigged —if our efforts to move our agenda in committee, to get our people on committees, and so on, all of these legitimate efforts are blocked because of the way the conference has been set up—may we walk out in protest? That is the question. Some say no, because by virtue of our acceptance to be delegates we have committed ourselves to participating in the conference’s work, in its deliberations, to the bitter end. So, we may put the question this way: Are delegates as such obligated to participate in the normal ways or may they sometimes “vote with their feet”? Such is case (lb).
Now, I treat these two parts of case (1) together, because I think that what the case comes down to, whether it is a question of using our vote or one of using our feet, is the same basic issue: may we frustrate the political efforts of our opponents to (a) conceal their true agenda and (b) co-opt us on their terms?
We are dealing with a meeting or conference set up, rigged, and dominated by the other side. In the case of the White House Conference I do not need to tell this audience how all of that was done; how as soon as they saw that grassroots Christian people were getting to be the majority on some state delegations, they quickly shifted the rules, had more delegates appointed by governors, and did everything they could to prevent such grassroots delegations from being formed in the first place, carefully designing the rules for the committee and workshop arrangements to frustrate pro-life and pro-family people from serving on them, and so on. Now a conference, like a vote, has many more purposes than its stated one. Besides its advertised purpose to advance the national discussion of family issues, this one’s purpose was also to polish the political shoes of Jimmy Carter, to create a “family-policy” rationale for a large liberal agenda, and thereby to co-opt a significant segment of the pro-family movement. Now the question is this: When it is part of the political purpose of such a conference to disguise the agenda of the other side and to co-opt us, what are our possibilities? May we act in such a way as to frustrate those two designs, or are we trapped by virtue of our position as delegates into playing out the position of, well, political gulls? I think that we not only have a possibility, a permission, to frustrate the designs of the other side, but an obligation to do so. Immense damage is done, and scandal is given, if we allow the other side to adopt in public the following line, taking again the example of the White House Conference.
“Well, we had this wonderful conference sponsored by our fine administration, to show our deep concern for the issues of the American family.”
“Yes, but were you not dominated by liberals?”
“Well, we had an open conference, all sides were invited, and all sides were heard from.”
“Yes, but what you reported out, didn’t it read like a shopping list of the liberal agenda?”
“Well, you know, the conservative pro-family side was represented: grassroots, activists, all of them were right there, part of our process. They voted and they made their concerns heard, and we all respected their concerns; but, of course, we voted the other way because of our deeper understanding of the issues. You know, a lot of these grassroots types are a little simple in their approach to public policy; but we really appreciated their input.”
Don’t you see, if we let them get away with that kind of line, in the media and in the public, what we are in effect doing is allowing ourselves to be co-opted. Our presence is used to legitimate their conference. I believe that we are under no obligation to allow ourselves to be used in that way. I think that we have the moral permission and, indeed, the moral obligation to prevent ourselves through licit means from being used in that way. Now, voting for the worst resolution to discredit the conference, is that a licit means? Isn’t it wicked to vote for something you don’t believe in? Well, if the only purpose of casting a vote were to advance legislation you believed in, then yes, it would certainly be wicked. However, if that is not the only purpose of casting a vote, then the question of morality is still open.
Let us take a case in Congress. Let us throw our minds back a couple of months into the midst of the nuclear freeze controversy. Now, I presume that we are all deeply concerned about the potentiality of the nuclear freeze movement to weaken the negotiating posture as well as the defensive posture of the United States. Suppose, that by attaching an extremist amendment to the nuclear freeze resolution we could assure that it did not pass. An amendment that said we foreswear mutual verifiability would make the whole resolution too hot for a lot of the middle-of-the-roaders to vote for. Can’t we do that? Even though we do not believe in that particular amendment, even though the amendment makes the bill worse, can we not use the amendment process to help make the bill so bad that it loses votes, and we secure our objective to defeat the whole thing? Well, it seems to me that we can certainly use our votes that way, and if we can use our votes in various politically strategic ways, then there is no difficulty about using our votes to discredit a conference of the kind that we are discussing.
The other means under discussion is walking out. Is that moral? Is that a licit means of preventing the other side from co-opting us on their terms? Well, I do not know why it would not be. Let us make the strongest possible assumption about delegatehood—that becoming a delegate is like signing a contract to participate in a certain meeting. If you have undertaken a contractual obligation to do something, you are certainly obliged to fulfill it. Even on that assumption there are certain general conditions which are controlling for a contract to remain obligatory. Suppose I sign a contract to ship a truckload of goods from New York to San Francisco. Suppose I subsequently find out that this shipment of goods is not what it purports to be; the crates are mismarked. It is not 600 crates of eggs, as the invoice says, but crates of weapons. It is part of an underground weapons shipment— let us say stolen weapons. Am I under obligation to fulfill the contract which I signed? Absolutely not; there cannot be a promise or a contract to commit a crime, and as soon as I find out that what I contracted to do is criminal, the contract is broken. And that is as true in the law as it is in morality.
Now, when you undertake to be a delegate in some conference or convention, implicit in the obligations you shoulder is the understanding that this is an open, above-board and fair occurrence. It is supposed to be a fair procedure in which you, like others who are bona fide delegates, will have a chance to prevail. And, of course, that is how the thing is marketed to the public. Insofar as you discover that the public image is a lie, that those presuppositions are falsified, that as a matter of fact the thing is jimmied to prevent certain sides from having their due weight, then to that extent your obligation to participate is dissolved.
Case (2). Suppose that leaking a certain document will trigger a reaction on the other side which, unbeknownst to them, will serve our purposes. The question is, may we leak it? Let me give you a precise example. A letter was written to the Republican leadership, indicating that social-issues amendments were going to be added to the criminal code legislation. This letter was leaked to a major newspaper in order to let the Democrats know that these amendments were going to be attached. Why did we want them to know that? Because we wanted to stimulate them to vote against bringing out the criminal code legislation, which was their own bill. Now why would they do that? In order to avoid having to vote on those social amendments and so having to face all of the political heat which is associated with those issues. Now, the Democrats on that occasion actually took the bait, reacted as it was thought they would react, and turned against bringing out their own bill. This was the outcome desired by the writing and the leaking of the letter. Question: in a case like that, may we leak something? Some say no, and three reasons are advanced by them.
Reason number one says no, because we would be acting with a hidden intent and hence failing in our Christian duty to be straight-forward with all men. What do I say against this objection? Well, I say show me in Scripture where we have any such duty. I challenge the principle which is being alleged here. The true principle is that we are to be as aboveboard, as frank, and as straight-forward with each person as the situation permits and as the other person’s behavior may deserve. Now that is a sensible, practical principle and in keeping with Scriptural examples; but the idea that we must treat all men as though we were on the friendliest interpersonal fling with them, so that we are under some sort of obligation to divulge to them our whole mind, is a principle which is nowhere in Scripture.
In support of my claim that this is not, in fact, a Scriptural principle, I call your attention to certain injunctions that we find in the Book of Proverbs. Turn to Proverbs 13:3. “He that keepeth his mouth keepeth his life; but he that openeth wide his lips shall have destruction.” Now this is clearly an example of a proverb or a bit of wisdom drawn from business or political life. In these walks of life you must learn to keep your counsel.
The higher critics tell us that many of the injunctions of the Book of Proverbs are borrowed from, or have exact parallels in, Mesopotamian and Egyptian wisdom literature. For once, we do not particularly have to quarrel with the higher critics, because their observation is in line with what Scripture itself tells us of how Solomon collected things. He was interested in collecting foreign proverbs. Now what is of interest to us is not the motives of Solomon but the motives of the Holy Spirit. Why is this book in the Canon? Because God thought there was something there to see for our instruction. In that light, and it is a very interesting light, would you look at Proverbs 20:14. “ ‘It is naught, it is naught,’ sayeth the buyer; But when he is gone his way, then he boasteth.” If I may de-Elizabethanize that a little bit, the buyer says, “This is junk, not very good, not very good.” But when the deal is over and the buyer has left, goods in hand, he says, “Terrific stuff; such a deal.”
Now, here is a little slice of ordinary human behavior. We all know that buyers and sellers act that way. We do not have to lie, but we do not divulge our whole interest in the transaction.
Here we have a very particular example of what is really a very general case. Buying and selling is an example of what I call an adversarial relationship, and our social order is full of them. Consider our American system of law. We have a lawyer for the defense and a lawyer for the prosecution or, if it is a civil suit, for the plaintiff. And what are they supposed to do? They are supposed to each represent his client’s interest, and they are certainly not supposed to divulge their whole intent to each other. There are thus relationships in our society in which our obligations conflict with an unrestricted straight-forwardness. Suppose we succeed in bringing to Jesus Christ a quarterback. Is he now under an obligation to play predictably, or to signal his plays to the other team? That is throwing the game. It is not even permitted! There are more extreme cases when we get into the international arena, into situations of warfare and problems of espionage. Each of these things represents an institution in our society, and it is part of the rules and laws of that institution, if you will, that certain otherwise effective moral obligations are called off; and other and competing obligations come into force instead.
Now why do I cite Proverbs 20:14? It is a small verse on a miniscule point. I make much of this and similar verses in the book of Proverbs because they are a very important clue that Biblical principles entitle us to accept these conventional social arrangements, whereby we are not allowed to be totally frank, open, and above board. We may have contrary obligations. It is highly important if Biblical principles allow us to accept these adversarial arrangements.
Why is it important? Well, there is a certain pattern and structure to the social reality into which we are all born. We have a society in which things are bought and sold, nations are organized and go to war, rival teams play, and suits are brought at law. Our evaluation of that society as Christians is very complicated. Our attitude is neither a total and supine acceptance of society as it is (for that would be conformity to this world) nor an unrestricted condemnation of society as we know it (for that would be an atheistical-revolutionary posture). We are to accept certain things as ordained of God; governments we are told in Romans 13 are ordained by God. The powers that be are ordained by God. Scripture takes for granted buying and selling, the ownership of private property, marrying and giving in marriage, and any number of other social arrangements. So we are not to reject everything, not to criticize everything, because much is of God’s design.
But we also know that all of the institutions of this world are disfigured in one way or another by sin. The heart of man, we learn in Jeremiah 17, is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Who can know it? And that wicked heart of man twists and disfigures every social reality we encounter, even those that have been ordained by God. Governments are abused and disfigured into corrupt or totalitarian things. Even family life can be disfigured. Think of the pagan practice of putting the life of the child into the hand of the father to dispose of as he saw fit. There was no law against child abuse in ancient Rome. If a father wanted to slay his child, it was his business, much as abortion is made a mother’s business today. Even the God-given institution of the family can be perverted by the sinful designs of men.
So we have this two-fold task, to see what is to be accepted, and what is to be rejected. That very fact puts us into a quandary. Where does the design of God end, and the disfigurement of sin begin? In the absence of sin, would there still be buying and selling, or just needing and giving? Would there still be rivalry and government, or just peace and freedom? There have been heretical Christian sects who have taken the latter view. They have risen up to say that the civil bonds of a sinful world are dissolved for the saints; we are to create our own bonds, set up the city of the saints. What was to go on in the city of the saints? All of this world’s way of doing things would be cast aside. Nobody would buy and sell, we’d all have possessions in common. (What a nightmare that turned out to be!) None shall marry and give in marriage; we shall all live as angels. (What a nightmare that turned out to be!)
Well, the worst mistake that Christians can make is to overlook the complexity of the society God has given us to accept and understand and even to criticize. Even among the orthodox, the simplest way to mistake the complexity of our society is to imagine that if all men were Christians, and all were born again, then all of these arrangements of contestation and competition and adversarihood would be swept away, and all social relations would become the universal embrace of brotherhood; as though a kind of mutual dissolve into friendly fraternity could suffice as an organization of society.
I bring out these examples in Scripture of passages where postures of reserve, the normal disingenuousness of commercial exchange, are accepted—because they are precious evidence that these adversarial and contestorial aspects of our society are part of God’s design, and are not to be set aside as mere results of sin or criticized in favor of some “Christian vision” of everybody just melting into embrace.
Even from a natural and practical point of view, we know that this attempt to set aside the adversarial aspects of our society is a hallmark of totalitarianism. One of the first things that totalitarians do when they take over a society is dissolve the normal courts of justice. “No more of these lawyers, suits, and contests. We will have a people’s justice.” What happens in a people’s court? Everybody has fraternal solidarity, and nobody has any rights.
Now this is not to say that brotherhood and open-dealing, and the embrace of fellowship, do not remain valid things. They do, but in their place. They are aspects of society, but they cannot be the total fabric of society. We have fellowship one with another in the household of faith, but not insofar as we are in competition with one another in business or in the law. Two lawyers, outside the courtroom, may be the best of friends. They may fellowship in the same church, clasp each other like brothers. Wonderful! More power to them! But if, when they walk into that courtroom, they do not lay that fellowship and friendship aside, and do not do their best in a competitive way, each for his own client, there is something wrong with those lawyers. We must do justice to these adversarial aspects of our society.
So may we act with hidden intent? Of course we may. We do so in all of these aspects of our society. There’s nothing special about politics in this regard. It’s of a piece with many other adversarial relationships; and let us not forget that especially in a democratic society or a republic, it is part of the constitutional design that politics should be an adversarial relation of side against side and party against party.
Let us go on to the second objection against our leaking a letter to the press in a case like this. Some say, “No, you may not leak a document, because leaking is itself immoral.” They say that leaking implies the use of stolen material or the violation of a confidence.
Well, first of all, there is a false premise in this objection. It is simply not true that leaking always involves the use of stolen material. Many times we may want to leak a letter which we ourselves have written (and that was the case in our example). Sometimes too a document comes to us in a perfectly routine way. It was routed to us, not stolen. So, there is not always the implication of using stolen goods.
Secondly, what about violation of a confidence? Is there not some truth to that? Quite commonly, perhaps, material that you want to leak is material which has come to you in confidence, maybe by virtue of friendship, or maybe by virtue of your position in the government. It has come to you in confidence, and if you turn around and give that document to the press, are you not violating the confidence? The answer to that is the same as the answer I gave to the issue of keeping or breaking a contract. In proportion as there is any real confidence here, any real violation of that confidence would, of course, be wrong; but the keeping of a confidence presupposes that there is no wrong-doing that is being covered up when you keep the confidence. Now, there may be very special arrangements which create unique obligations, like the privacy of the confessional or of lawyer and client. But for general purposes, when you find out that something given to you in confidence conceals an injustice or is of a criminal nature, you are no longer under obligation to keep that confidence. Just because somebody confides to you in secret that he has committed a crime, that does not mean that you are forbidden morally to go to the authorities with your knowledge. On the contrary, you may be under an obligation to do so. So the law about when you may keep a confidence is the same, basically, as the rule about when you may keep a contract. Thus, for example, suppose I am working in the government, and by virtue of my position I have access to certain papers that come across my desk. And suppose it is clear from those papers that there is a scandal being covered up. If I now take those papers and leak them to the press, I am not guilty of sin; I am guilty of an act of virtue. I am acting to expose the wicked designs of those who would abuse legitimate government secrecy.
There is a third objection which is sometimes made in the case of leaking, a very curious one. Sometimes people say that even if leaking is not strictly immoral, we still may not leak because, if the reporter found out that Christians leaked the document, he would judge that Christians are just as bad as non-Christians in their political behavior. He would take scandal. The reputation of Christians as being a cut above the run of men would be spoiled. How do we handle this objection?
My answer to this is two-fold. First of all, Christians must avoid a psychological mistake. The mistake is called projection. Projection occurs when we attribute to others our own standards, our own feelings, our own conscience. I ask you why in the world some secular reporter, some denizen of the Washington Post, would take scandal that somebody leaked a document. Only if the reporter had a more delicate conscience that ours would there even be a possibility of scandal taken.
The likelihood is that the reporter has a much more hardened conscience than ours. Perhaps you are the one who has the problem of conscience, not he. So do not try to use his alleged scandal as a justification for your scruples.
The second part of my answer is that there is a distinction between scandal taken and scandal given. Scandal given occurs when you do something that is objectively wrong, something that people should be scandalized at. Scandal given is always wrong. Scandal taken occurs when somebody, because of peculiar notions of his own, takes scandal at what you have done, even though it was not wrong at all. Now, St. Paul says, “I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.” (1 Cor. 9:22). He says that we are to be respectful of the weak conscience (that means the erroneous conscience) of our neighbor (1 Cor. 8:12). If he has scruples, then in proportion as I know his scruples, I will try to respect them, precisely so as to avoid his taking scandal, because I want to be an effective witness for Christ. But I can only apply this rule insofar as I know his conscience, and insofar as I may be dealing directly with that person. If I took somebody out to lunch who had spent too much time reading Leviticus lately and had decided that pork was wicked, I would not order a ham sandwich at that lunch. But I can only act on the rule insofar as I know the problem of erroneous conscience or scruples of that other person. If I do not know, or if I am not dealing directly with him alone, if it is an impersonal situation, I am under no obligation to avoid everything that might offend somebody. This is true of leaking stories, too. If somebody just has a peculiar allergy to the act of leaking, we are under no obligation to respect that, except insofar as we may be on a one-to-one with that person in some way.
Let me also add this point. It is true that Christians are to be different. We ought to be able to tell Christians from non-Christians in politics. But how will we tell the difference between them? There is no reason why the difference should be visible to the naked eye on the following basis: “The unsaved are sharp politicians, and the Christians are not; the unsaved are strategically clever, plenty of tricks up their sleeve, good at what they do; and the Christians are clumsy, easily manipulated, and babes in the woods.” No, that ought not to be the difference. We ought to be just as good politicians as anybody else, strategically, tactically, just as clever, as inventive, as anybody else. How then ought we to be different? Because of the things we stand for—using the political bag of tricks (or, to speak more accurately, the bag of tools) for sound principles that are to the honor of God and to the exaltation of the nation, rather than using our talents for some unsound set of principles which are hostile to the will of God and tend to the destruction of the nation. That ought to be the difference.
Case (3). Suppose we need to defeat something. And suppose our best chance of doing so is to get a legislative leader on the other side to play a double game, in which he continues to support the measure in public while secretly arranging for its defeat. Would it be moral for us to encourage the leader to play such a game? The objection is no, of course, because it would be encouraging him to do something disingenuous.
I concede that there are many walks of life, many aspects of life, many interpersonal relationships, in which it would be wrong and wicked to play a double game. But if we are correct in saying that there is a complexity to social reality, that there are other relationships in which perfect candor is not called for and may indeed be forbidden, then there is no reason why there may not be other relationships in which a double game is morally acceptable.
In principle, this case simply comes down to the following question. In politics, must one’s public professions always match the full compexity of one’s private designs? The situation of the leader is this: He sees that it is in his interest to have a certain bill defeated. Publicly he is committed to the bill; he is going to keep on saying in public “Oh, yes, I am for it.” Meanwhile, in the closet, he is going to go to his friends and say, “Do me a favor; vote that thing down. We cannot say that is what we are going to do, but it is in our interest that it go down.” All he is doing is creating a situation in which his public professions fail to match the full complexity of his private designs. In the case at hand, we are dealing with a piece of legislation that the leader is basically for, in terms of principles. But he has got another reason to be against it for the time being. In the particular example, from which this objection comes, the floor management of a bill had fallen to another Congressman. The older leader was no longer managing the bill; when he had led the floor fight on this bill, it had lost. If it passes under this new man’s management, the new man is going to use his success to challenge the leadership position of the old. So we go to the old leader and say, “Why don’t you see to it that this does not pass, because otherwise that guy is going to challenge you for the leadership.” Now, was this an illicit thing for us to do? I think not.
The moral principle which is involved here is twofold; part of it we have already seen. You need not divulge your whole intent in adversarial relationships, of which politics is one. But now there is another principle here, and that is the issue of mental reservation. When somebody says in public, “I am for this bill,” that normally means “I want it to pass as soon as possible.” But we may have in mind, “I am for this bill, but not yet… next year, when its management is back in my hands”—all of that by way of suppressed premise. That is called mental reservation. Mental reservation occurs when what you say is in some way ambiguous. In the case at hand, what is said seems clear, and people draw a natural inference; but the speaker intends it in another sense; there is a context in which the ambiguity would emerge, but people do not think of that context. And so they are misled. Now what is the morality of mental reservation? To recap a case which we have discussed before (and I do not want to do full justice to it again), the morality of mental reservation is a principle explicit in Scripture, in the conduct of Jesus Christ. I have in mind the seventh chapter of St. John’s Gospel, verses 1-10. Christ’s brethren said, “Go up to the feast.” He said to them, “I go not up yet, My time has not yet come,” meaning “I am not going up openly.” There was an ambiguity hidden in the statement. They did not pick it up. The ambiguity was between going up openly and going up secretly. He relied upon the fact that they would not spot that ambiguity. They would assume he was not going up at all. He was on somewhat adversarial terms with his blood relatives. He would not divulge his whole mind to them. When you are dealing with somebody who cannot be trusted, you cannot divulge your whole mind. That is an important point. If you have some valuable truth to protect, you cannot be candid, in proportion as the other person cannot be trusted. And insofar as you are in adversarial relations with the other person, in principle they cannot be trusted. Here Jesus has this problem with His relatives; they do not believe in Him. Suppose He tells them, “I cannot go up to the feast publicly, but I am going to go up in secret.” His relatives might go down to Jerusalem and spread the word, “Jesus is coming secretly.” To prevent that, he speaks in a way which allows them to be misled into thinking that He is not going up at all. Did He lie? I say no, because if I say He lied, and yet Jesus never committed a sin, then I am going to have to say that lying is sometimes not a sin, and I refuse to say that. Lying is always sinful. I conclude rather that what He did here is not a lie, but something else. What do you call it? Well, people have different names for this; but the term I am familiar with is mental reservation.
So, in politics, must one’s public professions always match the full complexity of one’s private designs? Only if in politics it is never permitted to have a mental reservation. But why should it be? Why should that never be permitted? If it is permitted in a case like we see here in the life of Christ, it may be permitted in other cases.
I think that what makes us hesitant to accept this conclusion is not our view of the tactics which politicians may licitly use against each other but a view we have formed from another angle altogether. We think of politicians in relation to us, their constituents and their electorate. We think of congressmen who are too liberal for their districts, surviving year after election year by disguising their commitments, by “selectively” reporting their voting records, and by interpreting their actions to their people with more than a dash of “mental reservation.” Needless to say, such conduct is morally indefensible, and the strong indignation which we have worked up against it is eminently justified. But, why? Because these politicians are accountable to us. Far from standing in adversarial relation to us, they are supposed to be our agents and servants. For a politician to use mental reservation against his own constituents is a flagrant breach of trust—a breach of the “good faith” which an elected official is specially obligated to have towards those who have elected him. But no such relations of accountability and obligation exist between one politician and another. They not only can be adversaries but may be obligated to resist one another “craftily” in the pursuit of our interests. So there is no parallel.
Case (4). In order to secure the nomination of a moderate person, whom we really supported, we confused the opposition by appearing to support a more conservative nominee. May we use that kind of strategy? The objection again is no, because it is immoral to conceal our true purpose and position. We have already seen the answer to that objection. All it comes down to, again, is this question: Must our public professions always match the full complexity of our private designs? Once the question is put that way I reply with a counter-question. Why should they? Why should we wear our strategy on our sleeve? There is no reason for that. I know of no Biblical principle or injunction which requires that.
Case (5) takes us into the field of lobbying. We are lobbying a legislator who is on the other side. Now let us assume that he is very strongly on the other side: he will switch and vote our way only if we put very tough pressure on him. If he were a typical middle-of-the-road, flip-flop type, light lobbying and light pressure would probably get him our way. But if he is strongly on the other side, it may take some very firm political threats. “We will find somebody to run against you in the primary. We will have an opponent for you in the general. We will see to your political extinction,” etc. Now, I am not talking about using threats of physical violence or threats of blackmail or anything like that. Such tactics are clearly immoral. I am talking about the normal run of political lobbying. How far can we go to put tough pressure on a fellow who is on the other side?
Two objections are brought against our lobbying in a tough way. Objection number one says no, we may not put that kind of pressure on, because we would be forcing him through fear to act against his conscience. In proportion as a liberal is principled in his liberalism (ideological in his liberalism), he would be violating his conscience if he switched and voted our way. Wouldn’t it be immoral to force a man to act against his conscience?
My answer is that getting somebody to “act against his conscience” is ambiguous. One of the most vicious things that any human being can do is to solicit another human being to act in a way that you both believe is wrong. In other words, deliberately getting somebody to sin in what you also think is a sin—that is supremely wicked. Unfortunately it happens all the time, particularly among young people in contexts of seduction or mutual egging-on. “You got the guts to break the rules?”, and so on. So the first sense is that of inciting someone else to act against a norm of conscience you both believe in. But now look at the other sense.
Suppose you do not think that the action is a sin at all, and objectively it is not. Then what is the situation? Is it wicked to induce or threaten or try to force somebody to act against what he only thinks is wrong, when he is wrong? No, not only is it not wicked to force people to act against an erroneous conscience, but it may be obligatory to do so. For example, suppose one of my best friends becomes an apostate. He joins the revived cult of the Aztec gods (live long enough in New York and anything can happen to you). He joins the revived cult of the Aztec gods, and he gets it into his head that his 11 year old daughter must be sacrificed. It’s his religious duty. It has been revealed to him, he believes, by some New-World Moloch, that this girl is to be sacrificed to Him. She is the select virgin pleasing unto the gods. What do you think I ought to do? Do you not think I ought to tell the police? Do you not think that the police ought to go and physically prevent him from acting on his conscience? Do you not think that we ought to aim a gun at his head and say, “If you touch that child you are dead,” and through fear restrain him from acting upon his erroneous conscience? I believe we must. There is nothing more dangerous to society than the conscientious killer. Or what about the conscientious totalitarian? What about the people who believe that it is their moral duty to bring down the bourgeoisie? Shouldn’t we prevent them from acting upon their conscience? Yes indeed!
The other objection is this: Sometimes people say that you should not get tough on a legislator because the example of Jesus requires us to be mild and gentle with all people, never tough or threatening. Well, I do not know what to say except that I and the person who makes this objection do not read the same Gospel. We do not read the same New Testament, we do not encounter therein the same Jesus. Jesus is as mild with men as the situation requires and as their conduct permits Him to be; but when the situation demands it and their conduct deserves it, He is tough (Mt 8: 21-22), threatening (Mt 10:14-15, 33; 11:20-24, 12:38-45), even physically violent (Mt 21:12-13).
Case (6). Now we start getting into the tough territory. So far I have not been having too much trouble resolving these cases, at least to my satisfaction. But now here is a harder one. A big demonstration is coming to town. Let us say the Nuclear Freeze Rally. In order to confuse and disrupt a big rally of the other side, can we resort to tricks and hi-jinx such as the following: can we put up phony no-parking signs where their buses expect to park? Let them drive around D.C. traffic for an hour! Can we use telephone calls to disrupt their communications? Can we just call up, let the phone dangle, and so tie up their switchboard? Tricks and hi-jinx. May we use such tactics?
Now here I am not in a position to be as definite as I should like to be. Some of the objections which are raised against this kind of conduct seem to me very sound, especially the prudential objection. The prudential objection is that you must not do anything like that because it could turn into a mini-Watergate. It could lead to enormous scandal and embarrassment. That is an objection from the consequences. The consequences of an action do not make it moral or immoral, but foreseeable bad consequences may make an otherwise moral action imprudent. When you are judging the prudence of a course of conduct, you must take the foreseeable consequences into account. It may be that tactics of this kind would be extremely imprudent, and, if so, there is no more need to consider the matter as a practical issue. But that does not address the theoretical issue of morality. Prudence is one thing, morality is another. Imprudence is one thing, immorality is another. An action which is immoral may never be done, whereas an action that is imprudent under one set of circumstances may become prudent under another. Prudence changes as circumstances change; morality does not—unless, of course, the circumstances alter the very nature of the act which would be going forward; but then it is no longer the same action. One and the same morally definite action cannot be moral in one set of circumstances, and immoral in another; but it may be prudent in one set of circumstances, and imprudent in another. So these are two different considerations. Now I set aside the issue of prudence and turn to the issue of morality.
Can it be moral to practice these kinds of hi-jinx and tricks on the other side? I cannot answer that yes or no. What I suggest to you is that the answer has to be framed in terms of degree, and in proportion as a certain condition obtains. What condition? You and I know that politics is an adversarial relation. In politics we are pitted against the other side; we are supposed to out-think the other side, out- strategy the other side, sometimes trick the other side—not through dirty tricks but through simple good politics. That is the normal way of carrying out politics. But I point out to you that there is a continuum (and Clausewitz said it before I did) between politics and war. Warfare is politics conducted by other means, says Clausewitz. There is a continuum from politics through dirtier politics, through complete civil discord to civil war. There can be a slippery slope here. In proportion as we are in a condition of warfare, what are here referred to as “dirty tricks” and “hi-jinx” become appropriate. What if you are fighting in the French resistance in World War II? There is a sign on the road that says, Normandy this way. Do you think it would be wicked to switch the sign? Maybe the Germans would follow the switched sign. It would be delightful to divert a division of the Germany army from the front, would it not?
War is an extreme case of adversarial relations. It is the case where nearly all of the normal rules of social interaction are laid aside. In war it is no longer wrong to deceive the opponent. It is even no longer wrong to kill the opponent. War is a special arrangement in society, in some way founded on something which is enormously praise-worthy. It is founded on a tremendous sacrifice that some men make for the defense of the rest of us. They lay down, by entering into this conventional arrangement called the Army, the inviolability of their lives, which they enjoy as innocent human beings. They say, “I give the enemy soldier the right to shoot at me.” In return, the enemy soldier gives the right to shoot at him; and with the barrier of the inviolability of innocent human life laid down by both sides, the Armies will confront each other, and killing will be permitted. The soldier may even intend to kill the enemy soldier. So war is the most remarkable and extreme of all cases in which the conventions of fraternity are laid aside, and the rules of fellowship are abandoned. Of course, they are only abandoned among the combatants; that is the basis for non-combatant immunity. The fact that soldiers have made this tremendous sacrifice of their right to life is no reason to say “In war everything is fair; we can bomb the civilians, too; we can treat prisoners with brutality.” No. There is a justice, there is a measure even in the conduct of war. To say that war is hell is not to say that anything goes; but I am getting off my topic. My point is that war is over here, this extreme case; and short of war we have this whole slippery slope of disruptive social conditions. At the top of the slope is normal political rivalry. What makes the slope start to go down? Mainly this: the commitment of one side or the other to the ruin of our society. This is the tragedy of nation after nation in the world today—that the political opposition in that nation is no longer devoted to a free society. They do not share the same ground rules as we do. The political opposition in that society is a totalitarian Marxist opposition. Their desire is to use the political possibilities of our society as a cloak to destroy it, using liberty as a cloak of malice (1 Peter 2:16). Their aims, if achieved, are the destruction of social order itself, and not just the defeat of a particular political program. I think of the examples of Chile, Nicaragua, Ethiopia, Angola, and now El Salvador. When you are dealing with a totalitarian party, ultimately the resort to civil war rather than ordinary politics will become incumbent upon you, because a totalitarian party destroys the possibility of its being ejected from power in any other way than by the use of armed might.
Now, what is the relevance of all of this to a simple little peacenik demonstration here in town? Well, I am not sure that the relevance is anything but remote. I am not sure we are in that bad a case. So my answer to the question of what we may do has to go like this; in proportion as the other side in politics is pursuing aims which are radically destructive to our free society, tricks and hi-jinx become morally possible against them. In other words, as you are moving down that slope away from politics as usual and toward civil strife and civil war, more extreme tactics become morally possible; but that is a very vague answer. I am not saying where we are on that slope, and I am not saying where we are in the particular case of, let’s say, a rally here in town in support of the nuclear freeze. My inclination is to think that serious dirty tricks would not be permitted under the circumstances; insofar as the so-called trick is really more like hi-jinx, it does not bother me morally; but insofar as it really is a violation of the ordinary civil rights and amenities of others to have a meeting, then I am against it until you can show me that the other side is not acting in good faith according to the norms of our society, that they really are a hidden totalitarian or conspiratorial opposition. In proportion as you make that case I become open to such tactics and no further. That, I realize, is a very unsatisfactory answer, and no doubt you will stick me full of pins when the objections come up.
The last case (7), is the most general one and I do not want to devote very much time to it. People like Jerry Falwell “mix” politics and religion. By defending politicians with whom they agree, like Ronald Reagan, and criticizing politicians with whom they disagree, like Walter Mondale, the people of the Christian Right run into the objection that they are doing wrong and are really secular humanists. Why? Because, it is said, they are pursuing “civil religion” or practicing a “civil religion.” This objection says that civil religion is an extension or ape of secular humanism; to wrap the flag around the cross is wrong. The purpose of the Christian religion is to convert souls, not change laws or political systems. Another form of this objection goes like this: it is better to evangelize and change hearts than it is to change the external circumstances of people. Once you change the hearts there will be no need to change the laws; the laws will change themselves. So we have several different lines of thought wrapped up in this final case. It is the general case of being involved in politics at all. Let us take the civil religion/ secular humanism objection first.
This objection, it seems to me, labors under some serious misunderstandings of secular humanism and, for that matter, some serious misunderstandings of Christianity in its action on politics. Secular humanism, of course, is a distinctive religious creed. It is the creed which says that man is the most valuable thing in the universe. It is always wrong, according to secular humanism, to take God more seriously than man, even if there is a God, which secular humanism usually denies. But secular humanists need not explictly deny that there is a God. What they do need to say is that, whether there is a God or not, it is always wrong to take Him very seriously. In particular, they say, any God worthy of our worship cares more about how we treat each other than He does about how we treat Him. And therefore, creed, worship and private morality are of very little concern to God. If there is a God, all He is really interested in is the kind and quality of our welfare- state; the kind and quality of our public charities. What matters is how we treat each other. Why? Because man is what is really to be taken seriously, and, of course, man’s standards become the ultimate norm of reference. That is secular humanism. Now I fail to see why anyone is “practicing secular humanism” simply because he says that the Gospel must be brought to bear upon public policy. The two positions have nothing to do with one another.
There is a danger, however, whenever we do act on our religious principles in the public order. The danger emerges when we win. Yes, it is the kind of problem I wish we had. Here is the danger: when we have used our political influence to make the public policies of the nation conform to the Gospel of Christ to the extent appropriate and manageable, the government may turn around and use our religion for its own end. It works very simply. If you make yourself a powerful force in politics, you always become potentially exploitable in politics. We are seeking to achieve a good in Christian politics. It is to make Christianity once again the paramount moral influence on the shape of American public policy. That is good. What is wrong is to allow the church to become a tool of the state, because then the church is compromised. And this is not a new danger; it is a danger that emerged already in the history of the Roman Empire, shortly after the conversion of Constantine.
There were Christian apologists who held up Constantine as the new type of a world ruler, the ideal figure, the “New David” he was even called by some. Their idea was that now Christianity would become so identified as the religion of the Roman Empire, that the Empire would become the political expression of Christianity, and there would be a kind of identity between church and state. Thus God’s blessing and favor upon Christianity was expected to be translated into God’s blessing and favor upon the Roman Empire. Since God likes Christianity, He would spread the Empire, secure the peace of the Empire. These expectations were not implausible, but they contained a serious error. Deep down, they were a bid to turn Christianity into a religion of worldly success.
There was a great Christian thinker in the fifth century of our era, who opposed this marriage of Christianity to the fortunes of the Roman Empire, this use of the Church by the state, and that thinker was St. Augustine. He wrote The City of God because barbarians had sacked the city of Rome, and the pagans had risen up and said, “We told you so; if you permit Christians to form the religion of the state, abandoning the old gods that have kept us these thousand years, you will bring down the wrath of the gods on the Empire. The sack of Rome is a vindication of paganism.” St. Augustine took up the pen to refute that charge. The fall of Rome did not prove that paganism was true. It did not prove that Christianity was false. Why not? Because Christianity is not a religion of worldly success. If you want to see the Biblical case for that, all you have to do is read the book of Job. God’s favor cannot be translated automatically into success in this world. Job had the favor of God, and he lost everything in this world. He sits on the dung heap, scraping his sores; his wife says to him, “Curse God and die.” He refuses.
Why won’t Job curse God? Because Job, though he does not understand much, at least understands what none of his friends understand, namely, that the fact he has lost his prosperity does not necessarily mean that he has sinned. He may still be in the favor of God even though he has lost everything—that Job understands. He gets all of these insufferable counselors coming and telling him that he must be wrong about that. They cannot get it through their heads that an innocent man, for that matter an innocent empire, might lose its shirt, might lose everything. So St. Augustine takes up the pen to vindicate the wisdom of the book of Job against those who want to turn Christianity into a religion of worldly success, an ideology of the state. Ah, but it was not only the pagan critics whom Augustine was answering. It was also the Christians who had so adulated Constantine, the original practicers of a civil religion.
So, there is this danger of civil religion. But who says we are practicing this kind of religion? What is the evidence that we are practicing it? I do not see any such evidence. We are not wrapping the flag around the cross. All we are doing is pointing out a coincidence of interests, if you will. The coincidence of interests is this—we, as Christian citizens and parents, have an interest in the moral soundness of our civic environment; and America, as a nation, has an interest in her long term values, in her strength and solidity as a people. Therefore, America has an interest in all of those things which exalt a nation, and God tells us that what does this is righteousness. Righteousness exalts a nation, whereas sin is a disgrace to any people (Prov. 14:34). If America will have her honor long-term—not guaranteeing anything on the ups and downs of ordinary history, but on the long term, if America seeks her interests and her honor, she must seek righteousness, and righteousness is to be found in the principles of the Gospel. A coincidence of interests. If America were devoted to her own destruction, we would have nothing to tell her, no advice to give. If America seeks to undo the creation of God, unmake human nature, we have nothing to tell her. We can only defend ourselves from her. But insofar as America wishes to survive as a good nation in the world, to be exalted among the nations, we have this advice—obey the law of God. This is not civil religion. That is simply the practice of Christian politics.
Lastly now, what about the objection that, if we just changed everybody’s heart, if we just evangelized, everything would change of itself politically. This is the claim that there is no need for any specifically political action. Well, such an objection fails to do justice to the two sides of social reality.
On the one hand, institutions require the support, the leadership of good individuals. Isn’t that true? The best institution in the world is only as good as the men who fill its offices, design its policies, and carry out its mission.
On the other hand, man needs his institutions to support his weakness. Yes, the individual requires the support of sound institutions to compensate for his own weakness. Why do you think God gave us the church? Because we are not good enough to stand on our own, we are not strong enough to make it on our own. We need the fellowship, the help, the support of other Christians. Why does God give us the family? Because we are not strong enough to form ourselves. We are not solitary predators, roaming the world like hunter wasps. We have rational commitments, a social nature, and we need the support of institutions to shore up our own weaknesses. How many men have been held on the path of virtue by the support of a good, strong wife, family ties, and so on?
Well, those are the two sides of social reality. It is a chicken-and-egg situation, if you will. The two sides are inseparable. Institutions need good men, but men need institutions in order to stay good.
Any sensible understanding of Christian politics does justice to both sides of that reality. It is simple-minded nonsense to embrace either side to the exclusion of the other. It is simple nonsense to say, “Ah, we will fix everybody by fixing the institutions.” That is totalitarianism. It is equally simple-minded nonsense to say, “We will fix all of the institutions just by changing individual hearts one by one.” It is the mistake of European liberalism of the nineteenth century.
Let me stop with this. We have run through all seven cases. We have talked about a good many principles, and now it is time for you to make me suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous questioning. Fire away.
Q. “Three tremendous principles, and seven tremendous cases. In two beautiful hours in your learning not once have you used the dirty word pragmatism. Is that because pragmatism is a sin?”
A. “Well, pragmatism is a false ethical system; and acting for purely pragmatic or opportunistic considerations, when there are considerations of principle involved, is certainly a sin.
Your point, however, gives me an opportunity to say something that I have been wanting to say since the very beginning of this series. Leave it to the Free Congress Foundation to put one in an unwelcome position! I am a professor of theology at a college known for its theological conservatism, and insofar as I deal with moral questions, I make my living by telling people the Good News of the hard line: “No, you may not.” Well, I am brought here and asked to justify all of these odd maneuvers which make up the normal pattern of political life; and so I am more or less forced to come across as an apologist for what will certainly seem to all of us to be less-than-ideal activities; especially when we put our theological hats on and think in elevated religious terms of our fellowship with other men, all of these political practices look pretty bad. And here I am to justify them; it is a very uncomfortable position for me to be in. But I have tried to show that there is an objective basis in the Word of God for recognizing the complexities of social reality—complexities which may make these kinds of behavior morally good and appropriate, depending on one’s vocation in life, profession, and so on. These things may have their place.
The last thing anybody should understand is that my case reduces to this: “Everybody does it, therefore, it is O.K.” No, that is not what I am saying. When I say there are these conventional social arrangements which make certain courses of action acceptable, I am not saying you may do it because everybody does it. No, what I am saying is that you may accept these arrangements insofar as they are part of the social reality God has given to us. But you as a Christian, have to walk better in those conventions. What does John the Baptist say to the soldier? That he can’t be a soldier? That he has to hug everybody? No, he does not say that. He says, “Be content with your pay. Do not pillage, do not plunder.” (Luke 3:14). The Christian soldier practices just war; that is how he is accepting the conventions but walking better than others in the conventions. What does Christ say to the businessman? Does He say you must not buy and sell? Commerce is too compromising to be involved in? No, he does not say that; but He does say be honest in your dealings; give the laborer his due and so on. In every walk of life we have conventions to accept, but we are to walk better in them. And what is the Christian politician to be like? Well, one can do an awful lot of typical political business, such as we have been discussing this morning, and still be a whole lot more principled and upright in one’s conduct than the common politician in this town.”
Q. “Maybe I can make you more comfortable by asking you to expound on some things that you cannot do. I assume one of those things you cannot do is break the law. If there is a law against leaking documents, against telephone harassment, or putting up phony street signs, or incitement to riot, I would assume we would obey those laws, at least until we get to the situation that the Chilean army was in, and you get to the point of open revolt. As you say, I do not think we are quite at that point yet.”
A. “That is right. If it is a question of a criminal law, then the presumption is very strong that we cannot do anything that would break that law. Where it is a question of some administrative regulation or something of that kind (as in the Nebraska Seven case) circumstances may be such that the violation of the law is justified; but again, we would have to deal with particular cases.
I cannot give you a recipe for everything that you may and may not do in politics; but I can give you a piece of advice that I inherit from Aristotle (who made plenty of mistakes, but this time I think not). He said, if you want to know what is right in one of these tricky prudential questions, where there is moral ambiguity, ask a good man. Now that is not a complete answer, but it is a wise answer as far as it goes. If you want to know what you may do in politics, in strategizing, in all these sorts of tricks that we have been talking about, ask somebody who is in politics and who is recognized as a man of integrity. Get the judgement of the people who are in the field and who have a reputation for integrity. They can be wrong; if they say something which is clearly against Scripture, they are wrong. Nevertheless their advice is important. Why? Because Christians, let us not forget, are also to have the virtue of humility. It is part of the virtue of humility to recognize that the other guy may know more about the rights and wrongs of this highly complex institution than you do. There is nothing more Pharisaical than the attitude of the Christian who comes charging into Washington politics like a bull into the china shop, reckoning unto himself the monopoly of righteousness, writing off everybody he sees as a sleeze-bag, and demanding that they all get out of the way, as though he alone had brought virtuous principles to this town. I think that there are men here practicing politics who have virtuous principles already. I think we have some of them in this room. I think Jesse Helms is generally recognized in the Senate as a man of principle. Well, Jesse is a very good man with clever tricks and hidden strategies. If there was ever a Senator who avoids revealing his whole intent, it is Jesse Helms. “Ask a good man,” says Aristotle, and that is often very good advice.”
Q. “Okay. Next thing, scandal taken and scandal given. I think when you define the scandal given, you said if the act itself, whatever it is, is not in itself a sin, then it is not scandal given; but there are acts which may be morally fine, but because of the situation it is easy for people to take scandal and misinterpret them. So there is a sin of giving scandal.”
A. “Yes, in this sense: reckless disregard for the predictable misinterpretation and hence scandalization of others turns what would be otherwise a good act into a sin.”
Q. “Okay, and then mental reservation. Before this seminar started and I started hearing about it, I had no problem with this; but now I am very confused. I have no
problem with the doctrine of ambiguity that you described as mental reservation, (though I have never heard it described that way). And I have no problem with the example you read from John’s Gospel, because in effect the question there was, are you going up to this feast to preach or whatever, and the answer is no. I am not going up to preach; but the example you gave before that was an example where “Do you support this bill?” gets the answer “Yes, I support it… ” (in ten years). That, to me, is a lie. I mean when you say, “Yes, I support it—in about ten years’ time,” what you are really saying is “No way.” And to me that is not ambiguity, and I guess one question I have, to try to sort this out, is, would you define a lie? After all, when Aquinas talks about the commandment, “Thou shalt not lie,” he talks about deceit even where it is not technically a lie; so what is the strict definition of a lie? A. The exact way to define a lie is much debated. It is my view (and I could be wrong about this) that lying is saying what you know to be false for the purpose of deliberately misleading someone who has a right not to be misled.
Enemies in war do not have a right not to be misled. In general, criminals do not have a right not to be misled. The right not to be misled is a right which you have by virtue of your participation in the normal functioning of human society, as an innocent citizen whose behavior is consistent with the necessary conditions for the existence of human society. Moreover, you have a right not to be misled, if you are not an adversary in some specific arrangement.”
Q. “The definition of someone’s rights to know the full truth, I have no problem with. And I have no problem with speaking in ambiguous terms—something that is really, strictly speaking, ambiguous, to someone who does not have a right to know. But the problem I have is speaking a falsehood to someone who does not have a right to know. For instance, I’ll use your example, “Do you support this bill?” Answer: “Yes,” (meaning in ten year’s time). That, to me, is a lie; it’s a falsehood. It is directly contrary to how you feel about that bill. That yes answer is, strictly speaking, unambiguous, and to me that’s speaking a falsehood. Now, the answer I would give, using how you define mental reservation, would be “Why would I not support it?” I’d throw out a rhetorical question which is, strictly speaking, not a lie, and is, in fact, ambiguous, and they can interpret it one way. After all, as Aquinas says, words are to convey truth. That is the problem I have, when people say you can speak a falsehood to someone who does not have the right to the knowledge. And take the example of false names on magazine subscriptions, and false names going to a meeting; and from there on one starts telling more and more tales. That’s where I have the problem.”
A. “It’s the same question that I dealt with last week of giving disjointed truthful information, with the foreknowledge that you are creating confusion or allowing a misimpression to arise in the other person’s mind.”
Q. “I’m not talking about disjointed truthful information, we’re talking about false information.”
A. “Well, if you say that you support the bill, and in your mind you mean in ten years, it’s still disjointed truthful information.
But I agree that there are limits to this business of getting on the telephone and making up phony identities and claiming that you are who-knows-what in order to get information out of people. I think that there are limits to how far that can be justified, and I would never justify telling a lie. And if you claim outright that you represent some organization, when there is no such organization, or when you do not represent it, you are lying. And what I would advise you to do in that situation is this; if trickery is the only way to get the information, then for heaven’s sake, have enough brains to come up with some cleverer line than that. You should not have to lie; and if you do, you are doing wrong.
Now, where I part company with you is where you are trying to draw the line between what is falsehood and what is not. Now it seems to me a perfectly straightforward case of ambiguity rather than falsehood, if I am asked, “Do you support this bill?” and I say, “Yes,” meaning, in principle, some year. You say you support a bill; sometimes that means, “Well, I am in favor of the general principles in the bill.” Does it mean I am going to vote for it next week? Maybe. Does it mean I’m going to get everybody else I know to vote for it? Not necessarily.”
Q. “Let me stop you and go back to another example you gave, which is false ID’s. Didn’t N.N. and N.N. go to San Francisco about a year ago and dress up like bums and use false ID’s and register falsely at a conference in order to go into it?”
A. “They did not use false ID’s.”
Q. “Did they give a name other than their own?”
Q. “Did they say they were with an organization?”
Q. “Then they went as private individuals, but they gave names that were not their own names. What do you say about that?”
A. “If you put a name down on a form, like an application or registration, what you are in effect saying is that this is how you propose to be known. Now the other person assumes that that is your given name, but that might not be the case. If I put my name on a form, well, I might simply mean this is how I want to be identified to you.”
A. “Well, as one who has engaged in this practice…, you know, people use different names. I have written under a number of different names, which is a writer’s prerogative. Now I happen to have chosen one of those names that I have written under. So who are you to tell me that I am not who I say I am, when, in fact, in history some of the greatest writers did not write under their own names? I once wrote a political column for a year and a half for a paper under a different name, because I was not in a position to be known by my real name, because I was doing some other work. Now, I happen to choose a name which I am otherwise known as; so do not tell me that that is a case of false identity.
Now, you raised the case of these organizations, for example, who might divulge information to somebody who gave them some story about who they were. You fail to mention what their responsibility is. In other words, simply because I get a phone call here, and somebody says, “Well, I am a friend of Howard Phillips, and I am calling to ask you a bunch of questions,” and I pour my heart out, and I tell him all my intimate financial details, I am stupid, you see. The person who said this may not be a friend of Howard Phillips. So, a person on the other end is under no obligation to give this information. If they are so anxious to give out all this information because I happen to question them in a way that leads them to believe that I am a friend, then that’s their problem, not mine, as far as I am concerned. I went to this conference, I gave them a name, and they never questioned it.”
Q. “Would it be all right for you to produce identification that had your address and everything else, which is factually correct, but had this nom de plume that you are using?”
A. “Yes, if I am legitimately such an individual. There are people who read what I write, who believe that I am such a person, and I am—because in reality the fact that I go under that name makes me that person. I am free to choose whatever identification I wish for whatever purposes I wish, you know. Most of the television commentators do not go by their real name. Most of the famous writers in the country do not go by their real name. Many of the famous authors, including Christian authors, have not written things under their real name, so that is a writer’s prerogative.”
Q. “What about what Peter did?”
A. “Peter committed a sin. He denied the Lord. He lied. I would not defend Peter’s conduct, certainly not. That was wrongdoing.
There is a line between mental reservation and lying, and you will find out where that line is, as the other side begins to press you. You put forward some ambiguous utterance and then they begin to spot the ambiguity. If they press you, you cannot lie.”
Q. “It is never right, therefore, to speak a falsehood to someone who has no right to that information.”
Q. “Several times today and a number of times last week, you have drawn the distinction between what is acceptable in adversarial relations and what is the proper and faithful conduct between those who are of the household of faith, representing inimicable interests of one sort or another. I would like for you to expand a little bit on how we understand who is of the household of faith.”
A. “I do not want to get into the question of how to draw the boundary line between those who are brothers in Christ and those who are not, because theological opinions on that differ from denomination to denomination. Some draw an institutional line of belonging and some refuse to do that; some draw a behaviorial line, or a line that is based on the experience that the person has had. Have you had the experience of conversion? Of being born again? And so on. That is controverted theological territory. And for our purposes it is not so much a question of who is or who is not of the household of faith; rather it is a question of to whom are we obliged in various ways to have this perfect candor, this perfect frankness? And what Christian fellowship does is give us marvelous and remarkable opportunities to have that kind of relationship with other people with whom, I suppose, in the normal course of nature, we would not have such relations. In the course of nature we have our closest friends, our closest relatives and so on, father, mother, children, to whom we can open our heart and discuss all of our plans. Christian fellowship gives us a wider circle in whom we can have those relations of total confidence. But always within the context of Christian fellowship. As I have tried to say before, I may be in the same congregation with the lawyer who is handling the other side of the case. Now just because we happen to show up at the same Sunday evening service does not mean that we are to spill all our strategy to each in the spirit of Koinonia, because our relationship as antagonistic attorneys is another aspect of our social existence. It is not part of our ecclesiastical fellowship. Now, it is a wonderful feeling to be able to open up to another human being, and it is a wonderful blessing that God gives us in the church to be able to do that. So this is the sort of experience that we seek, and it is an experience that we would like to have on appropriate occasions with all men. The distinguishing factor is what is an appropriate occasion, and what is the subject matter that we might be sharing on that occasion? And if I have a contrary obligation not to reveal my intent, because of certain interests I represent, or some social obligations that I have, then, I would be violating a principle of justice to share that even with a fellow Christian in the context of charity. You may not violate the demands of justice in order to fulfill the demands of charity.”
Q. “Somewhat related to that, at one point this afternoon you suggested that it was desirable to be as straight-forward as the other person’s behavior permits. Am I accurately quoting you on this?”
Q. “And that is, at least in part, troublesome to me in that it seems to suggest the forfeiting of setting standards on the basis of one’s own faith rather than giving over to the other person the power to determine what the principles and what the nature of your behavior is going to be. I am having trouble expressing this.”
A. “I think I see where you are going. If we say that we are going to be as candid, as open, as charitable, to the other fellow as his own behavior permits, what we are in effect doing is giving to the other party, let’s say giving to the unsaved party, the initiative in determining how fully we are going to try to live the Christian life.
It seems to me that what is Scriptural is to recognize that we are under an obligation to discern spirits; to size up other men objectively to see how open and candid we can be with them. Of course, I may take risks; but if I begin to see that the other fellow is not trustworthy, I begin to sin if I continue to take those risks.”
Q. “I want to ask about Jesus’ teaching in the beatitudes that “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.” How does that bear on to these subjects that we are discussing here?”
A. “The beatitudes are transvaluations of this world’s values. The beatitudes are heavenly surprises about what God really likes. You would think that the high and mighty inherit the earth. This is street smarts: everybody knows that those who inherit the earth are those who have the scratch, and those who have the power. But God says no. God will bring it about through His judgment that the lowly inherit the earth. He said, “Blessed are the meek.” He says, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” who are usually the most annoying of persons. As far as the world is concerned, we like the guys who pour oil on the flames. They are the people who have the world’s respect. Peacemakers usually get it from both sides. Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” And then He says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” Street-smart sense says, “What kind of a wierdo is that? You ought to hunger and thirst for pleasure.” That is how the world judges. Jesus reverses that judgment. That is the function of the beatitudes. They are shockers to wrench the human mind out of the perspective of street smarts and reveal the perspective of what God values.”
Q. “Then, if I may ask my question again, how would you relate the prescriptive value of the Beatitudes to the subjects that we are addressing here in this seminar?”
A. “By wrenching us away from the world’s values, the Beatitudes instill detachment. Christians are to carry out whatever functions they are called upon to carry out with the spirit of detachment. Suppose it is my lot, or my vocation, that I am called to public office, and suppose I come to high public office. Then, as the world judges, and certainly externally, I am no longer among the lowly, I am no longer among the meek; but I may be so internally. I may handle my office with detachment, not allowing my treasure to be here, where the world’s honors and pomps are. If I am in high office, I am going to be surrounded by honors and pomps, but I do not have to make them my treasure. I can have my treasure in heaven. I can put more value on the things of humility and the things of domesticity, and the things of eternal life. I can use my power as a stewardship, rather than for my own augmentation and glory. That is the decisively Christian way of exercising even high office, and it allows you to continue in spiritual poverty, spiritual humility, even when you are externally in high places and filthy rich. And that is, after all, the aim of Christian spirituality, as it relates to people who have these places to fill in the world; to fulfill them with detachment.
Now, there are safer ways, some say, of facing these problems of detachment from this world’s goods. Wealth is dangerous, everybody knows that. Sex is dangerous; everybody with brains knows that. There is a safe way to handle such things. Total abnegation. Some will make themselves eunuchs for the sake of God’s kingdom (Mt. 19:12). Yes, but not all can receive this commandment (Mt. 19:11). It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter heaven. (Mt. 19:24) A simple solution to that: take a vow of poverty. Do not own anything, and you have got no problems. Well, it is not quite that easy, is it? Even if you accept the idea of poverty or chastity or things like that, the vows are not obligatory. You may be called to it. I suppose individuals can be called to that kind of life. But the true ideal for all persons, whether they renounce the world or not, is detachment. That is the real point. Many are those who say, “I’ve renounced everything.” But are they detached? No. The lack of true detachment is shown by their interior attitude of resentment against the rich or against those who have happy marriages. They are sorry they made the sacrifice. How frequent that sort of mentality is! There are all sorts of spiritual games that we play with ourselves when we do not recognize that the real principle here is interior detachment. And detachment is possible to the person who assumes the life of this world, whether it be marriage, whether it be business, whether it be politics. And that is how the beatitudes can apply to all of us.”
Q. “I think of the account of Jesus healing on the Sabbath, and going to the field and breaking the Law to feed and make provision for the kind of human needs that He encountered—the pharisees being extremely critical of Him for doing that sort of thing. Do you understand this in any way as related to the distinction that you were making in your definition of secular humanism, and how it contrasted with Christian faith?”
A. “Okay, I think I see where your question is going. Obviously, we see in the Gospel a keen interest in our meeting the needs of other persons, including their physical needs. Works of charity, works of mercy, works of feeding the poor, works of caring for the sick, are sharply characteristic of Christians; they distinguish even our nominally Christian civilization from every other civilization in the history of the world, most of which have had very little of this tradition of charity and eleemosynary activity. Well, we are commanded to do these things in the Gospel. Now the question is, how then are we different from secular humanism? If secular humanism says it matters tremendously how you treat your neighbor, feed your neighbor, and so on, how are we different? Well, we are different because we love our neighbor for the sake of God. We have love toward our neighbor out of the love of God and for the love of God, and not out of a merely charitable love of man. For the merely charitable love of man cannot be trusted. The merely charitable love of man will lead you to expend yourself for the sake of the other until there are too many others; and then you decide to solve your problem by limiting the number of charitable cases: by population control, by genocide, by something. But loving a neighbor because we see in the neighbor an opportunity to serve Christ—that can be trusted, because of the norms and protections that are built into the Gospel. I think that’s a tremendous difference.”
Our time is up. Let me thank all who have participated and made these sessions possible, especially One to whom we now pray.
We thank Thee, O Lord, for our opportunity to meet together this afternoon, and we ask that whatsoever things we have heard that are true, we may treasure those things; and whatsoever we have heard that is false we may have the discrimination to set aside those things, as we press forward toward the glorious hope that is held out before us in Jesus Christ, pressing forward in the power of Thy Spirit, with whom Thou livest and reignest, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.