Principle and Politicization
Since the early days of the Moral Majority, the conservative right has had its labels very tightly linked. Some of this, I understand, has resulted from faithful Christians applying Biblical principles to their lives and actions. That in and of itself is a good thing. But much of this is the result of efforts to preserve and sustain traditional American values for the sake of keeping America Christian, so much that fiscal, social, and political conservatism culturally bear an almost inseverable link—if not outright synonymy—to Christianity. And that’s dangerous.
The problem is not necessarily the basic link between principle and application, since this connection has often led to positive social change in movements spearheaded by wise and diligent Christians. It instead lies within a subtle post hoc ergo propter hoc assumption—that faith in Christ must naturally be the cause of conservative values according to American religious tradition.
With the rise of independent voters and widespread political disillusionment, much of this assumption has abated over the past decade. There is far less pressure to join political parties than ever before. It would seem then that the post hoc assumption is rapidly becoming an antiquated issue; we do not explicitly tell converts they must also become conservatives. But the assumption still implicitly rears its head when parties clash, particularly when Christians dominate one side of the debate. Some of this, again, is simply the result of Christians putting Biblical principles into action, such as speaking “for those appointed to die” and working for justice. Nevertheless, there is a critical matter that must not be ignored. Christians must learn to stand on Biblical principle without politicizing Christianity.
I have had to write the three previous paragraphs with utmost delicacy as this is a very nuanced subject. I certainly do believe it is crucial for Christians to be staunchly engaged in their society. But the distinction between principle and politicization is still important, and I illustrate with a recent example.
Since June 25, the abortion debate in the Texas Capitol has drawn sprawling crowds of pro-abortionists and pro-lifers alike, swamping the granite hallways with floods of orange and blue. On July 2, I joined a pro-life gathering in the underground rotunda, where we prayed, spoke out, and worshipped—all while orange shirts marched around us chanting and jeering. Over the course of those seven hours, however, I was less concerned with speaking out against abortion than I was with showing and speaking the love of Christ to the lost souls around us. I really wanted to do that. But the circumstances would have erected an enormous barrier in such a conversation. Pro-lifers had in their speeches so tightly connected the pro-life movement with the preservation of Christian heritage that any evangelistic attempts would have appeared underhanded, as if the Gospel was simply a means to a conservative end.
But the Gospel is not a means to a conservative end. One may hold to fiscal conservatism because of Biblical and practical principles (such as good stewardship and proverbial wisdom), but Christianity does not dictate faithful adherence to all tenets and expectations of fiscal conservatives. One may hold to staunchly conservative social beliefs because of Scripture, but a brother rooting his disagreement in libertarian persuasion need not be anathema. One may have passionately strong convictions for constitutional republicanism, but beyond passages that speak of justice, equity, and the purpose of government, Scripture does not directly specify its appropriate limit or form.
Black-and-white principles still exist, of course. Stewardship, compassion, justice, and love for one’s enemies are only a few of such Scriptural commands. When it comes to political persuasion, however, Christians have the liberty to apply these in such a way that they believe is both realistic and glorifying to God. Not all believers will agree. The Bible gives us not Bastiat or Reagan or Keynes, but principles—and it devotes an entire book of proverbs to the judicious application of these truths.
Therefore, when Christians are active in the public sphere, it is vitally important that they act, behave, and speak with integrity and wisdom as commanded by Scripture, not shrinking as though ashamed of their faith. But they also must acknowledge that the Gospel is not a means to a conservative end. Not all issues are exclusive to Christianity or conservatism. Jews, Muslims, Mormons, and even the GLBT crowd may join the pro-life ranks, and we can—without compromising in the truth—welcome them in to unite behind a common cause. This is possible because the pro-life movement does not hinge upon orthodoxy. It is not the Gospel. It is not the Church.
Christians must never proclaim the Gospel simply to get people to stop having premarital sex, to become straight, to ditch Obamacare, to quit drugs, to get off welfare, or to drop any other conservatively-anointed stigmas. Neither can Christians proclaim the Gospel to lead people to good, moral, respectable lives. Christians must proclaim the Gospel so that the world may see the glory of God.
The Gospel is not a means to a conservative end, or to any end envisioned by man, for that matter. Principle must be distinct from politicization. Our political views should not revolve around a romanticized and unrealistic vision of a Christian America. Nor should we ever indicate, explicitly or implicitly, that the Gospel somehow demands our position for salvation. Our perspectives ought to be founded primarily upon Biblical principles, and on these truths we must boldly stand.