THE NEW CREATURES And THE NEW POLITICS
Dr. William H. Marshner
1500 Wilson Blvd., Suite 502
Arlington, Virginia 22209
If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things have passed away, behold all things have become new.— 2 Corinthians 5:17
Is there not a cause? – I Samuel 17:29
I am convinced that if ministers and other biblically oriented individuals understood “why” they should be involved in politics that they would more easily and effectively learn “how” to be involved.
This booklet “The New Creatures and The New Politics” by Dr. William H. Marshner, a member of the Council of 56 of the Religious Roundtable, is a veritable masterpiece from a scriptural and philosophical standpoint on the very important subject. It is a “must” reading for the person who really wants to have a basic knowledge on this vital matter.
The Roundtable is indebted to Mr. Paul Weyrich and the Committee for the Survival of a Free Congress who first published this booklet and made it possible for The Roundtable to make this reprint.
In The Cause That Counts,
E.E. McAteer, President
“All social organization rests on opinions or beliefs. Our family legislation, which imposes the system of monogamy, the authority of the father and of the husband, our legislation on property, our public law which establishes a certain sort of Constitution and a democratic regime — all these things have been inspired by the opinions of the authors of these laws. Under the influence of new opinions, we have seen emerge new legislation protective of workers; in France we have seen divorce legalized, suppressed, and legalized again; in other countries we have seen divorce enlarged to the point of becoming available upon demand; we have seen universal suffrage substituted for restricted, republics exchanged for monarchies in some countries, authoritarian regimes for liberal ones in others. By change of opinion, laws which once were effective become uninforceable, like the laws against adultery and abortion. So true it is that opinion directs society, that he who has control of opinion has control of the nation.”
— Jaques Leclercq, Leḉons de droit naturel, vol. II, L’Etat ou la politique (Louvain, 1934), 59, slightly adapted.
Today ministers and congregations of Bible-believing denominations and independent churches are joining forces as never before to give practical effect to their moral concerns. The names of the organizations they have created are becoming “household words” to the nation’s editors and reporters — organizations like Moral Majority, Religious Roundtable, National Christian Action Coalition, Eagle Forum, National Pro-Family Coalition, Catholics for Christian Political Action, Christian Voters Victory Fund, American Life Lobby, Christian Family Renewal, Concerned Women for America, and many others. As all new organizations must, they have sought allies who could provide the advice, counsel, know-how, and support of those who have already been in the field and who would make common cause with them. To a remarkable extent, these Christian activists have found skilled allies in one and only one place, among one and only one group of organizations — the group loosely known as the “New Right.”
This is the massive fact, whose pros and cons it is the purpose of the present handbook to sort out. Like any fact — especially any political fact — it has drawn different reactions from different people. From feminists, abortionists, and sex-educators, it has drawn out furious hatred; from spokesmen of modernist and liberal denominations it has drawn down haughty denunciation; from standard-brand politicians it has drawn charges of one-issue fanaticism; from leading evangelists it has drawn warm praise and encouragement; from others, cautious criticism.
This handbook is concerned with only a narrow segment of these reactions, namely, those which might justly be called the worries of friends. I have in mind those who see the moral crisis of America in the light of the Word of God, just as the Christian political activists do, but who feel that political involvement on the part of leading figures of the Christian movement as such is inappropriate, or that alliance with the New Right is inappropriate, etc. I have tried to make a list of commonly heard worries and objections of this kind, and tried to formulate answers to them on the authority of the Bible, with the help of Christian history and common sense.
The objections fall into two not very distinct categories or levels. On the one hand, there are objections on a very general or theoretical level. They raise the question of whether political action can be Christian, whether it has any place in a ministry of saving souls, or whether Christian political action violates traditional principles of church-state separation. On the other hand, there are practical objections. Some fear a right-wing ecumenism, which will be just as dangerous as the “ecumania” of church liberals. Others fear that the Gospel itself, branded with a right-wing label, will be brought into disrepute and impeded in its spread. The two chapters of this handbook are devoted, respectively, to these two levels of objection.
- The most important work in the world is a work not of the world; it is the salvation of souls out of the world. So far as anyone can tell, not a single soul has ever been won to Christ by political activism. Therefore such activism is an inexcusable deviation. Did St. Paul preach politics, or did he preach Christ crucified?
So far as I can tell, not a single soul was ever won to Christ by fooling around with wires, transistors, and electricity either. But if the radio had not been invented, or the printing press, how many souls would have perished in ignorance of the Gospel? No, I don’t believe that politics saves souls any more than the radio does; but politics, like the radio, can be a powerful means to favor and further the work which does save souls. If it is by the radio that we have access to millions, it is by politics that we have access to the radio. Are there any evangelists on Radio Havana? Is the 700 Club seen in Peking? Only a year ago there was a real question whether James Robison would be seen in Dallas. The political muscle of Sodomites was causing to be removed from television a man whose only “crime” had been to preach the Gospel, and it was only the political muscle of Christians, backed up by the power of prayer, that restored him to the air.
You see, the trick of this objection is to assume that politics and soul-saving are rival goals, or that politics and preaching are rival means to the same goal. They are not. There is only one goal, the salvation of souls, and it has no rival. There is only one means, the grace of God received by living faith in the name of Jesus, the Word Incarnate, and it has no rival (Acts 4:12; Ephesians 2:9). But this unique means will not exist in the world, or, if it exists, will not flourish, unless pre-requisite conditions are met, as St. Paul teaches. No grace without faith, no faith without hearing, no hearing without preaching, no preaching without someone’s being sent (Romans 10:14). These are necessary or pre-requisite conditions, without which the winning of souls cannot occur, and they in turn depend upon favorable political conditions. If by politics the seminaries are closed (as they were in France under the anti-clerical ministry of Combes, as they are today in many Third World countries and in the Communist bloc), will any preachers be sent? If by politics the preachers are silenced (as the IRS and the FCC already threaten), will anyone hear the Word of God? And if by politics these evils are done, how but by politics does God expect us to defend His cause? Hear His own Word: “When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice,” says God, “but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn” (Proverbs 29:2). To anyone living in a democracy, that verse is a mandate to put the righteous into office.
Now besides safeguarding the existence of Christian institutions and the outreach of Christian preachers, sound political conditions have another important effect on the saving of souls, an effect often overlooked. Recall the parable of the sower and the seed. Much of the seed fell on ground where rock, or bird, or choking weed deprived it of fruit; only some of it fell on good ground. These conditions are states of the soul, according to the Lord’s interpretation (Matthew 13:18-23). Now what if every soul, what if the whole population, were rocky ground, or ground choked by the thorns of passion? Pursuing the goals of secular humanism, the public school administrators and teachers who are the custodians of America’s youth have introduced throughout the length and breadth of this country a godless sex education, a godless values-clarification, a godless social-studies curriculum, whose predictable effect is to prevent the very formation of an upright conscience, and thereby to root out even the sense of sin. If the current policies of the American public schools are allowed to go unchecked, seconded as they are by the powerful seductions of television, movies, rock musicians, drugs and pornography — unchecked because politically protected by the ACLU, the NEA, the libertine legislators — then, in one more generation, the preachers of our Gospel will face an audience more deadened in conscience, more hardened in sin, more contemptuous of innocence than any Roman pagan confronted by Paul, Silas and Timothy. Don’t say: it is no threat; the Jesus People came out of Haight-Ashbury. They did, but those wayward adolescents of the Sixties had had a conventional childhood in the Fifties. They had once learned a sense of decency, so that, when the Word of God came, they could look upon their deeds with tearfilled eyes and, by the grace of God, repent. Will the children of the Eighties have the same background? The children raised in communes? The children sexually educated in the third grade? Will they have any innocence to remember or lament? Don’t say: never mind, the grace of God will find a way. It might but
God says, in what has always been to me one of the most sobering words of Scripture, “My spirit shall not always strive with man” (Genesis 6:3). The heart can be hardened beyond mending, and the hearts of our children are even now being hardened at the hands of secular humanists whom politics alone can dislodge from power, with the help of God.
Shall we, then, “preach politics”? By no means. We shall preach Christ, but we shall do politics in order to be able to preach Christ and preach Him fruitfully.
One more thing. St. Paul did not make politics the content of his message, but he had a doctrine about politics as part of his Christian ethics — a doctrine which he advanced forcefully against what seems to have been a false idea prevalent in some of his churches. It seems that some people, perhaps because they expected the Lord’s immediate return, or perhaps because they thought their newfound Christianity gave them an unlimited license to despise the authorities of this world, declined to honor their civic obligations or to pay taxes. St. Paul, on the contrary, taught that all authority is from God, that civil magistrates are therefore God’s ministers, and that they must be obeyed not only out of fear of punishment but also for conscience sake (Romans 13:1-7). St. Peter seems to have encountered the same mistaken idea, for he finds it necessary to mention both that submission to government is “honest conversation and the will of God” (1 Peter 2:14) and that contempt for government is a work of the flesh (2 Peter 2:10). Neither Peter nor Paul, then, will have anything to do with that exaggerated supernaturalism which insinuates that civil bonds are dissolved for the saints. Now in the ancient autocracy of the Roman empire, a subject really had no duties but to obey the laws and pay his taxes. Modern democracies impose more duties upon us: to the precise extent that we can choose our rulers, we must act upon our knowledge that “he that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God” (2 Samuel 23:3). To fail to act upon this knowledge would be to fail to meet a civil duty and hence to violate the doctrine of Peter and Paul.
2. Civic duty is one thing and active involvement is another. If Jesus had wanted us to engage in political activism, He would have said so.
There are two ways of replying to this objection, one brusque, the other a little nicer. I shall give the brusque answer first. Page through the four Gospels. Jesus never said we should wash anything except our feet; Jesus never said we should brush our teeth; does that mean he didn’t want us to? Jesus never said that Christians were permitted to be lawyers, doctors, engineers, hairdressers or grave-diggers; are they therefore forbidden professions? Is nothing permitted without the Lord’s positive endorsement? Then, if the one who makes this objection is wearing a business suit, he convicts himself; he ought to be wearing a tunic.
Now the nicer answer. Jesus Christ did not initiate His saving ministry in a cultural vacuum. Behind Him stood the whole history of Israel, with its Law, its prophets and its politics. Jesus was both the fulfillment of prophecy and the Prophet par excellence (Mark 6:4; Luke 13:33; Acts 3:22-23); therefore His disciples were to be like their Master in bearing both the ministry and the sufferings of prophets (Matthew 23:29-37, with Luke 11:47-51). Prophecy is listed along with apostleship and evangelism among the ministries or charisms distributed by the Holy Spirit in the Church (1 Corinthians 12:28-31; Ephesians 4:11), in fulfillment of Joel 2:28 (cf. Acts 2:17). Indeed, “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Revelation 19:10), which is why the great preachers of the Gospel, throughout history, have fulfilled the role of prophets, denouncing public wrongs and resisting princes. As Nathan denounced David, as Elijah “troubled Israel” against Ahab, as Eliezer prophesied against Jehoshaphat, so the messengers of Christ have always had the courage to resist iniquity in high places. It is precisely what Christ expected them to do. For as He had given them the spirit of prophecy, He had intended them to be as a “brasen wall” unto the people (Jeremiah 15:20).
Now, to resist a king, or to stand athwart the policies of an apostate bureaucracy, or to arouse the vigilance of a distracted majority — these are spiritual acts by inspiration and political acts by nature. The work of a prophet is both spiritual and political. The prophet not only points out the personal or private vices of the mighty (a task which is only accidentally “political”) but also decries, if need be, the wrongness of their policies (a task which is essentially political). For it is not only individual lives which can fail to conform to the plan of God but also national enterprises. Jehoshaphat reigned over Judah 25 years, and his personal life was blameless; Scripture says “he walked in the way of Asa his father, and departed not from it, doing that which was right in the sight of the Lord” (2 Chronicles 20:32). But he made a mis-step in foreign policy. He entered into an alliance with Ahaziah, king of Israel, to build ships for the Tarshish trade. This the prophet Eliezer opposed, because Ahaziah was wicked, and the Lord caused the ships to be wrecked (2 Chronicles 20: 35-37). Now Scripture does not say that Eliezer “protested” to Jehoshaphat; it does not say that he “acted as a good citizen” against Jehoshaphat; it says he prophesied against him! Not only was his prophecy a political act, but his political act was an act of prophecy! Could anyone ask for a clearer example?
Make no mistake about it: those preachers who, out of fear or contempt for politics, refuse on principle to take political action, refuse also the spirit and the stance of prophecy. It is not enough to “preach out of season;” it is not enough to be unpopular or controversial; if one would be a preacher and a prophet of Christ, one must also take political stands at the hour of need, when “the prince wanteth understanding” (Proverbs 28:16).
3. Those of us who have accepted the yoke of Christ as personal Savior, and who are seeking earnestly to fulfill His will, are already bearing a special burden in this fallen world. We are not obliged to assume every other burden as well. I agree that certain political battles ought to be fought and that certain political wrongs ought to be righted. But Christians are not obliged to do so, so long as there are others who can shoulder the task.
A person who advances this objection — does he mean that he is too busy to get involved, or does he mean that he has a higher calling from which he cannot stoop to be involved?
If a person says that he or she is too busy to promote the common weal and defend the work of the Gospel in the political arena, it is not my place to contradict. A person has only so much time and energy, and he must allocate them as his needs, his obligations, and his conscience dictate. Nevertheless, I am generally sceptical of such a claim, and I would offer a remark or two to encourage a little soul-searching.
Can a man be too busy to defend his country from Communism? Then he cannot be too busy to resist those ruinous foreign and defense policies which make the victory of Communism more likely.
Can a man be too busy to defend his children’s virtue? Then he cannot be too busy to resist the current policies of the public school establishment.
Can a man be too busy to defend the moral tone of his own neighborhood? Then he cannot be too busy to resist pornography and “gay rights.”
Can a man be too busy to stop the murder of an innocent baby? Then he cannot be too busy to do something against abortion.
We are all busy; yet we all find the time to do what we really think is important. Today the forces of secular humanism, swollen with the pride of money and bureaucratic power, are mounting a sustained assault on the last shreds of Christian truth embodied in our public law. If a Christian, especially a preacher of the Gospel, can see that happening and not think it important enough to justify even a modest commitment of his energy to resist, then I do not understand what kind of a Christian, or what kind of a preacher, he is. Least of all can I understand a man who uses his own alleged business as a reason to object to what other people are doing, who are not too busy.
But maybe a person who advances this objection means to say that, as a Christian, he has a higher calling, and faces higher challenges, from which he cannot stoop to fight the mundane battles of politics. Well, who asked him to? There are innumerable political battles which really are mundane, and nobody is asking the Christian movement as such to join them. I suspect that someone who advances this objection has not understood how the New Politics works. It is not a political party, a platform, or a creed. It is a coalition. It involves many different groups with many different interests. Some are interested in defense; some in the balanced budget; some in tax relief; some in family issues; some in the right to life; some in the right to work; some in the right to bear arms; some are experts in lobbying; others in public relations, others in polling, others in campaign management. Where they agree or find a common interest, they help each other; where they disagree or have no common interest, they go their separate ways in peace. No one is required to work on every project, nor even to agree with every project. For example, there are Right-to-Life groups which work regularly with the “New Right” organizations; nobody has asked them to work on gun-control or to take a stand on some particular theory of how to fight inflation. Those are someone else’s issues. They will share political intelligence and technological tips, but each group will work on its own issues. Such is the structure of a coalition.
Some Christian leaders, perhaps, have failed to understand this point. When they think of working on politics with the New Right, they think of it on the model of a church-union. They think they ought to worry about the tenets of the united body, or the administrative structures they will have to adopt; they fear becoming committed to a smorgasbord of positions they have never thought about and on which they have no clear doctrine. This is like joining a country club and then worrying over when the management will ask you to mow the lawn. It doesn’t work that way. Even to speak of the “structure” of the New Right is a little misleading, because there is hardly any structure to it. The whole movement is just a group of independent organizations, representatives of which meet together to share information on a fairly regular basis. The press has made a watch-word of it, simply because these organizations have a good track-record of getting things done, not because there is some massive super-group behind it all. So, when a group of Bible-believing people decide to become active in order to resist IRS persecution of their Christian school, or in order to fight the ERA and the drafting of women, or in order to lobby for the Family Protection Act or the School Prayer Amendment, they need not fear that they are going to lose their identity, or that some political boss is going to make them spend their time and energy working against SALT II, if they don’t want to, or that they are somehow going to become yoked to the wheels of Ronald Reagan’s chariot.
The point, then, is this: by working with other Christian groups and with the New Right, no one is going to have to do any “stooping” to irrelevant or mundane matters. Those who are wrestling with principalities and powers are not going to be asked to wrestle with flesh and blood instead (Ephesians 6:12). However, the real question is whether the principalities and powers are using politics today as their weapon — using the IRS, the FCC, the NOW, the NEA, to work the will of Hell against the remnant of Christ in this land. I believe that they are. And those who refuse to wrestle with them on that battlefield are not refusing to stoop, in my opinion, but refusing to conquer.
4. If certain government agencies are interfering in the life of the Churches, they are violating the separation of Church and State, and they are wrong, If certain Christian groups are fighting back by using the political process to further their aims, however, they are also violating the separation of Church and State. Two wrongs don’t make a right.
The separation of Church and State is what the Constitution says it is: exactly that and nothing more. It is a check on the government, not on the churches. It says that Congress may not establish a religion as the official, national church of the United States, nor may state governments do so (on account of the 14th Amendment). It does not forbid churches to do anything (except collect tax money). Anybody who says that the separation of Church and State requires more than this, e.g. that it requires churches to be demure and quiet on political issues, or that it requires preachers to be neutral on the candidates, or that it requires Christian organizations to pursue their goals by purely “spiritual” means — any such person is grinding his own axe rather than reading the law. If you doubt this, read the experts. I recommend Chester J. Antieau, Arthur T. Downey, and Edward C. Roberts, Freedom from Federal Establishment, Formation and Early History of the First Amendment Religion Clauses (Milwaukee: Bruce, 1964).
The conclusion of the lawyers is confirmed from another angle. Look at the real history of revival preaching in America. It was not politically neutral. Charles Grandi- son Finney, whom Yale church historian Sydney Ahlstrom calls “the nineteenth century’s greatest evangelical revivalist,” was a tireless crusader against slavery. In fact, long before the rise of the mis-named Social Gospel, a broad range of humanitarian and reform campaigns received such consistent support from revival preachers that people spoke of an “evangelical united front.” To those evangelicals, including pastors, who have forgotten this aspect of their history, I recommend Timothy L. Smith’s book, Revivalism and Social Reform (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1957). This historical evidence is important precisely because these revival preachers of the last century, coming out of the long tradition of Baptists and other English dissenters, belonged to the party which had always insisted on the separation of Church and State. Other Christian traditions, from Roman Catholics and Anglicans to European Lutherans and Massachusetts Puritans, had resisted separation. So if these “cradle separationists,” as we might call them, did not feel that church-state separation was inconsistent with their own political crusading, that fact is crucial evidence of what evangelical Christians have traditionally believed the separation to mean.
Of course, it is hardly surprising that Madalyn Murray O’Hare, the ACLU, SIECUS, the NEA, the ADA, and other secularist groups should take a different view. They fear the power of Christian opposition, once aroused. Right now, American politics is their oyster, and they don’t want the churches to shuck it. Why in the world should we adopt their interpretation, especially when the law and the history of the issue are on our side?
5. It isn’t a question of what’s legal but of what’s appropriate. It is appropriate for churches to enunciate broad moral principles, but the laity should be left to apply them according to their individual inclination in their role as citizens.
This objection is one of my favorites. I am delighted to cite it, because it gives me an opportunity to quote this magnificent answer to it, which is found in Dean M. Kelley’s famous book, Why Conservative Churches are Growing (New York: Harper and Row, 1972). The following is from page 142.
“Shall they say that it is appropriate for churches to enunciate broad moral principles, but the laity should be left to apply them … ? As Dr. Colin Williams once observed, such a policy would leave the churches and their members free to take any moral position they might choose — as long as it was ineffectual. If an action is right, why is it any less right for the church to act corporately in support of it? Why condemn such support to ineffectuality by insisting that it is not to be initiated, organized, coordinated, or focused by the churches? This is to leave all the good tunes to the devil; that is, to relinquish the effective methods of collective, organized social and political action to all groups but the churches. Their members may indeed act individually, but they are more likely to be called into action by their labor union, veterans’ organization, industrial or trade association, or political party, and therefore to act in accordance with the objectives of those organizations rather than those of the churches. While the churches may agree with the aims of one or another of those secular bodies from time to time, and even commend them to the individual support of their members, there is only one group whose purposes — under this rubric — the churches could never commend for consistent, concerted support by their members: their own!
“No organization should be expected to condemn itself to such ineffectuality without good reason.”
Amen to that! Exactly such self-condemnation is what the secular humanists are now asking of us, by trying to fob off on us their own interpretation of the “separation of church and state.” A preacher who buys this line had better look again at whom he is working for!
Now this is not to deny that there are legitimate differences between the role of a clergyman and the role of a layman (especially within those Churches which take a sacramental view of ordination). But the churches “as such” don’t only consist of clergymen! Organized action by the churches doesn’t only mean action by clergymen. Political action by the churches means political action of Christians as Christians. It means clergy and laity acting together, each in a way appropriate to God’s calling, because they are Christians and not just because they are each individually a good citizen, union member, Republican, or whatever. That way we march effectively under the one banner that Hell fears, the only banner by which false humanism can be conquered.
6. But there have to be some limits. Are you calling for a fundamentalist-led Revolution like the one in Iran? Do you want to see preachers calling the shots in America, like so many Ayatollahs?
This objection is fear-mongering and hate-mongering nonsense. But, since it will be used against us inevitably, one may as well have ready a polite answer.
To begin with, the comparison is theologically absurd. Islamic thought does not even admit a distinction between Church and State, much less a separation. Muhammed was both civil commander and spiritual leader, preaching a religion of victorious conquest in this world as well as reward in the next; his immediate successors, the califs, were something like a combination of emperor and pope, taking the title “prince of the faithful.” There is nothing at all like this in the West. Henry VIII declared himself head of the Church in England, but in order to have been like a calif, he would have had to declare himself archbishop of Canterbury as well! To Christians, the identity of church and state which Islam champions is inconceivable. Christians have never called any temporal government, not even the most Christian ones, the Kingdom of God. Christians do not expect much of the state, save attendance to the temporal common good (Romans 13:34), and therefore they have historically made fewer demands on the state. Moreover, this fact is not simply a result of religious restraint, nor is it a result of pessimism about this world. Rather, the Christian attitude toward the state is grounded in the very nature of Christian revelation. Whereas Islamic revelation (or what purports to be such) is primarily a disclosure of the will of God and, as such, requires no response but obedience, Christian revelation is a disclosure of the saving mysteries of God, in which deep distinctions emerge — distinctions between nature and grace, flesh and spirit, world and church, distinctions which make an identity of church and state, civic righteousness and salvation, utterly impossible.
Secondly, the comparison is politically absurd. The Ayatollah Khomeini sought a violent revolution in order to impose upon his country a new and unheard-of “constitution.” Politically active Christians in America seek no revolution and no new constitution. They are seeking the rights and protections guaranteed them under the existing Constitution. They are not seeking the establishment of any sect or denomination but the survival of Christian families and institutions.
Finally, the comparison has already been exploded by history. There was a time when American revival preachers preached revolution. Pulpit support for the American Revolution was so strong that the preachers have been called “the Black Regiment” of the Continental army. Alan Heimert tells the whole story in his book, Religion and the American Mind: From the Great Awakening to the American Revolution (Cambridge: Harvard Press, 1966). So our preachers, too, changed a monarchy into a republic. And what came of it? A clerical tyranny? A crackpot theocracy? Or a new birth of freedom? The whole world knows the answer, and history itself proves that even in the heat of revolution you cannot compare the chivalrous sword of Christ with the death-dealing scimitar of Allah.
7. Nevertheless, these “Christian lobbies” and whatnot are identifying a particular political platform with the will of God. Unlike Christ Himself, who refuses to identify His kingdom with left or right, conservative or liberal, these activists are using Christ’s name as an adjective to describe their own, partisan agenda. In the last analysis, this is blasphemy. You can’t take some partisan form of human justice and declare it to be the righteousness of God.
I am sorry to have to include this item, since I said that this handbook would deal primarily with the worries of friends, that is, with objections made in good faith. This objection is not made in good faith; it is the propaganda line of spokesmen for the National (and World) Council of Churches. However, since this conceptually confused and politically disingenuous “position” has been widely quoted in the press, and since some honest persons may be taken in by it, an answer will be included here.
When Eugene Carson Blake marched in Selma, or when Daniel Berrigan destroyed draft files, or when the WCC funded gun-toting African revolutionaries, the mainline Protestant spokesmen didn’t accuse them of blasphemy. Yet Blake stood on a “particular political platform” in the name of “God’s will”; Berrigan used the name of Christ — did he ever! — to describe his partisan, anti-war agenda; black majority rule is no less a “partisan form of human justice” than white minority rule, yet the WCC identified one with Gospel justice, the other with social sin. But now that the so-called “Protestant Right” is doing things, and milder things, it is discovered that they are compromising the transcendence of God. Why? Why is commitment to the Left’s agenda “Christian witness” and commitment to the Right’s agenda “blasphemy”? Don’t look for a coherent answer. This is political mud-slinging of the plainest, old-fashioned kind.
You might say, “Hold it. Perhaps the NCC is less than sincere, and perhaps those who make this objection have the least right of anyone in the world to make it. But what about those of us who have stayed clear of politics, left or right? We do have a right to make the objection, so why don’t you answer it on its merits?” Fair enough; I will. It is a theological objection, so please forgive an excursion into that discipline.
According to the objection, there are three things we are doing wrong:
- we are identifying a particular political platform with the will of God;
- we are using Christ’s name to describe our own, partisan agenda;
- we are declaring a partisan form of human justice to be the righteousness of God.
Let’s start with number (3). We don’t declare anything to be the “righteousness of God” except the righteousness revealed in Jesus Christ and communicated to sinners by His grace. No form of human, political justice, partisan or otherwise, is the righteousness of God. So much for that piece of confusion.
However, there is a righteousness which God demands of men. It is not their own righteousness; rather, it is the righteousness which consists in having Christ’s righteousness. This God demands of us, and without it we cannot please Him. How does a man manage to have Christ’s righteousness? How does one “put on Christ”? Peter made it clear from the outset: by repentance, faith, and baptism (Acts 2: 36-41). These things are inseparable, especially the first two. Repentance without faith is not genuine; it is a case of bad conscience. Faith without repentance is not saving faith; it is a sham. “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). So a man does not put on Christ unless, repenting of all he has done against God’s will, he is ready to start doing God’s will.
Well, what is that? How does a man know which deeds, pleasing to God, are consistent with having the righteousness of Christ, and which deeds are not? It is no secret. The Jews have known the answer through the written Law of Moses, and the gentiles have known the answer through the witness of conscience (Romans 2: 14-23). And in Christ Jesus God has made a new covenant which provides an even better way of knowing the answer: better than written commandment, better than human conscience, is God’s Spirit, through the gift of which He writes the law on the very hearts of those who have put on Christ (Hebrews 10:16). To follow the heart-inscribed instinct of the Holy Spirit is to find liberty, for “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (II Corinthians 3:17). But this liberty is not lawlessness nor license. Therefore James speaks of the “perfect law of liberty” (James 1:25; 2:8-12), and Paul speaks of the same thing as “the law of the Spirit of life” (Romans 8:2). This is not a dead law, able only to command, but a living law able to bring forth fruits of obedience. This law — it is not just testimony by the Spirit; it is the very lawfulness of the Spirit; it is the Holiness which is the Spirit. And not every kind of life is consistent with the Spirit. Three times St. Paul makes a list of deeds because of which, if anyone does them, he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven, and all three times Paul makes it clear that what is wrong with these deeds is their repugnance to the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 6:9-20; Galatians 5: 16-25; Ephesians 5:2-14; for the same pattern, see also I Thessalonians 4:3-8). Those deeds, in case anyone needs to be reminded, are fornication, idolatry, adultery, homosexual practice, theft, greed, witchcraft, hatred, strife, sedition, factionalism, envy, murder, prostitution, drunkenness, extortion, and the like. These are the practices which are a “reproach” to any people, because they are intrinsically at variance with the “righteousness” which “exalteth a nation” (Proverbs 14:34).
Thus: while there is not an exact identity between the righteousness of God whereby sinners are justified and the righteousness which exalts a nation, there is an inner connection between them. Authentic Christian living, as a living and walking “in” the Spirit (Galatians 5:25), necessarily yields an increase of that righteousness which, because it exalts the nation, is a matter of public interest. And those very things which, as a matter of public policy, debase the nation are intrinsically hostile to authentic Christian living. The purpose of the last few paragraphs has been to show the connection directly from New Testament theology, in a way which involves no philosophical premises and thus steers clear of controversial matters such as natural law and philosophical ethics. Once the connection is understood, it shows why we, precisely as Spirit- filled Christians, cannot cast aside, and cannot tolerate circumvention of, those moral norms which constitute the righteousness of a nation.
Now back to the charges against us. Let us replace the mis-chosen phrase, ‘the righteousness of God,’ with the appropriate phrase, ‘the righteousness which God demands of nations.’ The amended charge number (3) now reads:
(3) we are declaring a partisan form of human justice to be the righteousness which God demands of nations.
It is now apparent that the most offending term is ‘partisan.’
‘Partisan’ is one of two rhetorical trick-words in this objection, the other one being ‘platform.’ Together they are dynamite: no one respects a “partisan platform.” But even singly, each is sufficient to convey the dishonest impression that Christian activists are trying to put the stamp of God on a political party. The political parties are objects of well-deserved contempt. The two major American parties, besides a minority of serious people, contain large doses of buffoonery and sleaziness. The quadrennial rhetoric associated with them is synonymous with cheap digs, self-serving bombast, and lowminded rant. To identify either party, as a political mechanism, with the cause of God is a blasphemy too preposterous, I should think, for anyone to commit.
So let us remove from the bill of charges these trick-words, and see what is left. Cross out ‘partisan’ and replace ‘platform’ with ‘stance.’ The accusation now says:
- we are identifying a particular political stance with the will of God;
- we are using Christ’s name to describe our own agenda;
- we are declaring a form of human justice to be the righteousness which God demands of nations.
Well, every political stance is “particular,” otherwise it isn’t a stance; so it must be possible for some particular stance to be God’s will; otherwise He has none. And since everything we do is “human,” some form of human justice must be the righteousness God demands of nations; otherwise He demands an impossibility. And if our pro-family, pro-life, pro-decency, pro-God “agenda” is fidelity to the righteousness God demands of nations, why is ‘Christian’ an inappropriate adjective for it? To demand a conformity of public policy and public mores to the clearly expressed will of God — what is this but what the people of God have always done, in every nation, in time of crisis? Stripped of confusions and misleading terms, the objection accuses us of acting like Christians!
Which brings me to the deepest cutting-point of this objection. At bottom, what gives offense is the fact that we presume to act in God’s name, even in the public order. It is a shocking thing, I admit, but Christ our God has really chosen the foolish things, namely us; and He has given us His own name to use as our adjective, having committed to our incompetent hands the management of His cause on earth, as He placed on lips of clay the fire and glory of His word. The Church – people adopted by God and empowered to act in His name — is a scandal. I’m sorry if the folly of God annoys the makers of this objection.
- I understand that in the New Politics, Evangelical Christians are supposed to work together with Catholics, Orthodox Jews, Mormons, and Heaven only knows what else. It sounds to me like liberal ecumenism all over again.
One is entitled to speak of ecumenism only where there are representatives of different churches working towards an institutional merger of those churches. I realize that the merger is sometimes sought indirectly, through cooperation on charitable, social or political projects, rather than directly through doctrinal discussions. But in either case the controlling purpose and acknowledged goal is ecclesiastical unification. Where no such purpose exists, talk of ecumenism is absurd. After all, one “works together” with people of different religions (and of no religion) in almost every area of life. Is a factory therefore ecumenical? Is the Little League?
2. Nevertheless, joining forces with nominal Christians who probably aren’t even saved, and with outright unbelievers – well, at very least, it shows that you care less about doctrine than you do about political causes.
It shows no such thing. It simply shows that in today’s climate of secularist aggression, we recognize that political causes are also important.
Perhaps the central misconception which lies behind this objection, the preceding one, and many similar ones, is just the idea that “conservative Christians” are the mirror image of “liberal Christians,” and that nothing separates them but a time lag. The idea seems to be that, if fundamentalists start cooperating in politics, before long there will be a new. right-wing NCC, and soon after that, the real message of these churches will be political conservatism rather than salvation, just as the real message of the present NCC is political leftism. Such predictions are misguided, because as a matter of fact there is vary little similarity between the two groups. The so-called conservative Christians are really Christians, while the so-called liberal ones are not. This may seem a harsh thing to say, but it is the best way to bring out the utter difference of belief between the two. The difference is much more profound than a squabble over the extent of Biblical inspiration, on the one hand, and the proper sort of politics, on the other. Nor is theological modernism, with its symbolical interpretation of doctrinal statements, the heart of the matter either, in my opinion. Modernism is a rationalization and hence a symptom. The real core of “liberal” churchmanship seems to lie rather in an instinctive refusal to take God more seriously than man. This refusal can be summed up in three convictions:
- any God worth worshipping cares more about how we treat our neighbors than about how we treat Him;
- therefore creed, worship, and private morals are of little concern to God;
- and so Christian faith is a real benefit to people just to the extent that it deepens their commitment to justice and human betterment; otherwise it is harmful.
These convictions, deeply but often inarticulately held, are what make liberal ecumenism tick; they create a perspective from which almost any dogmatic difference is a “nicety” which ought not to stand in the way of brotherly unity. Then, when fashionable social causes are allowed to give “justice” and “human betterment” their concrete content, active involvement in those causes becomes the real standard of sanctity. This is why the heart of liberal Christianity, in every denomination, is not its doctrine but its image of what a Christian is like, and why this image in turn is formed on the basis of political sympathy, not theology. Hence the stubborn belief that Martin Luther King, Daniel Berrigan, or Albert Schweitzer are the “authentic contemporary models” of Christian Spirituality.
Now none of these traits is even remotely paralleled among the traditional Christians now becoming active in the New Politics. These are men and women seriously oriented toward the salvation of their souls and seriously convinced that true belief is necessary for salvation. They take God at His word, and they are in politics only because the moral and social principles revealed in God’s Word are under open attack in American public life. They are in no danger of repeating the mistakes of the church liberals because, quite simply, they hold a different religion from those people.
3. Senator Gordon Humphrey said recently that political liberalism is “not Christian. ” I resent that kind of statement – not because I am particularly liberal myself, but because I doubt that political conservatism is any better. A politician has every right to push his own ideology, but I resent it when he uses my religious label to make a grab for my heartstrings — or my pocket book.
If Senator Humphrey had said that American political conservatism was uniquely Christian, or even a necessary deduction from Christianity, I would have agreed with this objection. But he didn’t say that. He said that current liberalism is unchristian, and he is absolutely right. Whereas conservatism as a social instinct, and even as a political ideology, is open to Christianity and consistent with it, current liberalism is distinctively anti-Christian. Mocking salvation as “pie-in-the-sky,” mocking sin as outdated psychology, liberalism has become the ideology of the therapeutic state. The therapeutic state is government by the “helping professions” — educators, doctors, social workers, who use their power to see to it that the real content of legislation is their own “enlightened, scientific” program of human improvement. More traditional liberalism played into the hands of these people by creating endless big-government programs to throw money at the “problems” which the social-service experts had discovered to exist (or, as I prefer to say, defined into existence). Buttressed by the power of the media, whose unquestioning loyality the professionals have always enjoyed, therapeutic liberalism seizes a monopoly on “respectable thinking” and thrusts aside dissenters of every kind (libertarians, Christians, abortion opponents, advocates of traditional education, forced busing opponents, whoever) as kooks. There is no question but that the more the advocates of current liberalism are allowed to succeed politically, the less influence any distinctively Christian view of man is going to have in government policy. Already teen-aged children are being counselled in contraception and abortion by public school nurses, without the knowledge or consent of their Christian parents; already the concepts of valid marriage and legitimacy are disappearing from the legal code; already homosexual unions are being recognized as “families”; already Christian schools are being pushed out of existence by tax policies — all with the applause of “liberal” politicians and media. How much more proof is needed that Senator Humphrey was stating the obvious?
4. Yes, I worry about these developments; in fact I am indignant about the moral breakdown in America. But when politicians talk about morality, it is nothing but hot air, and most people know it. So I don’t like having my moral concerns used and manipulated by partisan politicians for their own ends.
Whatever the average politician talks about, whether it is morality or economics or defense, is nothing but hot air, unless there are effective special interests to keep his feet to the fire. Politicians don’t like that. They don’t like being made to pay a political price for fence-straddling or hypocrisy. Today we are finally getting effective groups which represent the “special interests” of Christians — and that is a good part of what the screaming over “special interest” and “one-issue voters” is about. If we keep the pressure up, friends, we are going to see a lot less hot air, a lot more honest polarization, and a lot more action.
5. But look at the issues Conservatives are primarily identified with today: bigger defense spending, less government regulation of business, less welfare spending. I can’t believe that the Conservative positions on those matters are the one and only view a good Christian can hold.
Well, the case is different with each different issue. Sometimes a deduction from Biblical principles to the conservative position is fairly clear, and sometimes it isn’t; sometimes there is no “the” conservative position. Once again, the objection assumes that the New Politics is something like a party with a platform to which all groups must swear allegiance. As I pointed out in the answer to objection #3 in chapter I, a coalition doesn’t work that way. Our attitude is: if you want to do battle for the family, or for Christian schools, for the right to life, or for school prayer, but you hold in your heart of hearts a “liberal” position here and there, fear not; come aboard.
6. But I’d hate to see all good Christians get marshalled into one brand of politics. I see a lot of disadvantages to that.
For one thing, Christian unanimity on one political course, rather than another, could lead to such a tight connection in our people’s minds between their politics and their faith, that they might get the idea that their politics was part of the Faith. Our people might start denouncing other political views as apostasy!
If you are talking about standard economic and defense issues, there is no serious danger of such confusion. And if you are talking about moral issues, family issues, gay rights, feminism, secularism, and that sort of thing, well, the current liberal stands on these issues are apostasy.
To pretend that righteousness is irrelevant to a nation is to deny that righteousness exalts a nation, and that is apostasy (Proverbs 14:34).
7. Still, when people make their politics part of their faith, they often end up believing more earnestly in the political part than they do in the supernatural part. They make politics a pseudo-religion and human betterment, a pseudo-God. Isn’t this just what happened with the liberal and left-wing churches? Why should we invite the same sort of mischief (which is really idolatry) on the right?
We shouldn’t and we don’t. We don’t make politics part of our faith; we demand that politics conform to God’s Word. Once again, the objection assumes a false parallel between liberal churches and real churches, as I have pointed out in the answer to objection #2 in this chapter.
8. It’s hard enough to win souls already. If Biblical Christianity becomes synonymous in the public mind with conservative politics, the difficulty of our task is doubled.
Stop right there. Don’t ever assume that the saving of souls is a matter of human prudence. Don’t imagine that by making the right political moves and abstentions, you can make the Gospel more saleable. God isn’t sold; He buys with His own blood. It is God who gives the increase, not human management. And as for Christians, they don’t have a choice to “play it cool.” They are prisoners of the Word of God. They must do what is right, whether it makes them popular or not. Christians have always had difficult and unpopular political choices to make; they always will; the prince of this world sees to that.
9. But look: if we do shoulder political tasks, and if we are looking for allies, why not look for powerful ones? The Left is powerful, not the Right. What if we could get the Jane Fonda – Tom Hayden political machine onto our side? From a PR point of view, wouldn’t that be worth more than all the New Right connections put together?
Sure. And if we had the support of the Red Brigades and the Chinese Communist government, we’d be even better off. But these are fantasies that Christians have made the mistake of pursuing before. The Christian democratic parties of Latin America “switched alliances” in the late Fifties from the Right to the Left. After twenty years the record is clear: instead of the Left’s becoming an ally of Christians, Christians became pawns of the revolutionary Left. Under Allende, the “Christians for Socialism” became apologists for national ruin and terrorism. In this country, the Left has spawned radical feminism. Anybody who thinks that these people are open to a coalition with fundamental Christians is out of his mind.
10. But the conservative label is poison. Look at the trouble the Right-to-Life movement is always having. The pro-abortion lobby loves nothing more than to represent Right-to-lifers as conventional conservatives, the better to challenge them like this: ” If you weren’t against the bombing of Hanoi, how can you claim to be pro-life?” I’m not saying this is fair; I’m saying it is a fact about public relations. Now why should we invite this sort of trouble for ourselves by going out of our way to ally with right-wing organizations? Why should we draw down upon ourselves all the bad press and bad reputation of the right wing?
First of all, let’s be clear about the fact that, no matter what Christians do in politics, they are going to have a bad press. So long as we are faithful to Biblical principles, we are denounced. If we abstain from public life altogether, we are accused of irrelevance and chided for disinterest in the public weal. If we mount our own political movement, we are derided as theocrats. If we join an existing political movement, we are accused of mixing the Faith with that movement’s ideology. We can’t win! Really, if the game is to advance Biblical principles in the public order without attracting the venom of unfair accusers, we can’t win. We have Christ’s own word for that: “If the world hate you, ye 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 have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you” (John 15:18-19). So let’s not try to play the game of public relations. Let’s play a game we can win, sometimes at least: political victory.
Which brings me to my second comment. We cannot win the battle against secular humanism in all its anti-God, anti-family, anti-life dimensions, without competent help. Five years ago, there was not an effective political organization in the country devoted to Christian goals. That has changed now, but we are beginners. When our lobbyists started coming to Washington, they couldn’t find the Senate men’s room, much less the cloak room. But experienced people met them, oriented them, helped them. Why? Because they liked what we stood for. And who were they, these allies? Not the Democratic regulars, not the Republican National Committee, not the activists of the Left, not the squabbling lobbies of the old Right, but uniquely our friends and benefactors were the organizations of the New Right — the Committee for the Survival of a Free Congress, the Conservative Caucus, the Heritage Foundation, and others. Why shouldn’t Christian activists take their allies where they have found them? Why shouldn’t we repay their help with cooperation? Is their conservative label poison to anyone to whom our own name is not also poison? Are they earning the world’s applause, do you think, by helping Fundamentalists? Do we stand to get any worse press from them than they get from us? Why don’t we reflect that their “bad press” might be as little earned as ours? Perhaps the conservatives have been smeared historically by the same enemies who have smeared the orthodox.
Thirdly, I suspect that what lies behind this objection is nostalgia. Especially among Roman Catholics, some people have always thought of themselves as traditional Democrats, as New Deal liberals. They remember the days when the Catholic hierarchy was rock-solid on social issues, pro-military on defense issues, and liberal on economic issues. They remember the days when the Democratic Party was much the same. They still think of Republicans as sweat-shop owners, and they marvel at Ronald Reagan’s blue-collar support. (They love the movie Norma Rae, because it takes them back to the verities of yesteryear.) From the ethnic neighborhoods of the Northeast to the Baptist suburbs of Dixie, they don’t see why liberalism should not be now what is was then — popular politics fully consistent with Christianity. Poor dears, their nostalgia is touching. They don’t understand what has happened to their party, to their friends, to their liberalism. They have not yet grasped the implications of the fact which I mentioned above, namely, that liberalism has become the ideology of the therapeutic state, the instrument of an anti-Christian program of social control. When they do wake up to this fact, they will come to the New Politics, where they belong, conservative label or no conservative label. They will have learned to look past the label to the reality.
11. Once we’re embroiled in hot-and-heavy politics, we can kiss goodbye to loving-our-enemies. We’ll become just as spiteful and just as partisan as the children of this world. It’s human nature. So if Christians want to keep Christ’s command, and show the world that they do love their enemies, the best and safest way to go about it is to stay clear of political involvements.
Yes, politics is dangerous to the soul. So is any other important and controversial work. In any line of work, if there is a chance you can do some damage to the Devil’s cause, he will make it dangerous for you to try. So the right way to handle this objection is to say a prayer that it doesn’t come true.
So far so good. But I detect something else here which is not quite so commendable. I detect an apolitical Christian admiring his own image: ‘See how loving I look! I wouldn’t give up this loving pose for anything!” No? Not to save the lives of babies murdered in the womb? Not to save helpless school children from moral seduction? Not to give them back their right to pray? Not to save one’s own church from vicious litigation? Genuine Christian love is not narcissistic and not apolitical; genuine love is as political as it needs to be; it dares all things, dares to be all things to all men, in order to save some (I Corinthians 9:22).
12. But we Christians simply don’t have the same goals as the political activists. Richard Viguerie has said that the one goal of the New Right is “to remove liberals from power in America within the next six years.” Fine, but our basic goal is to convert liberals to Christ.
Sorry, I don’t see the incompatibility. A liberal out of power is more likely to repent at leisure. Besides, these days, getting liberals out of power is a directly Christian goal in its own right; it is the only way to protect their victims from any further doses of the liberal policies. Finally, and speaking directly to the issue of saving the souls of the liberals themselves, I am firmly convinced that removing them from power is the first pre-requisite. Remember that liberalism is religion of politics, of human betterment through social and political reforms. Because of this, a liberal is above all a person who believes in “the times,” in “the latest thinking,” in “being on top of things,” in “marching along” with fashionable and successful causes. What happens to such a person when his own ideology is rejected at the polls? When liberalism itself becomes passe? His convictions are shattered, his tin god is broken; he becomes open to Christian truth for perhaps the first time in his life. So let’s help him out. Let’s love this particular enemy by making him obsolescent.
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