On a recent radio program, I debated a pastor about Christian participation in politics. He is a fine man with a heart for God and people, but is weary of political combat. He just wants to share the Gospel and do good.
Who can blame him? Politics can be exhausting, unpleasant, frustrating beyond words. It is a matter of what Margaret Thatcher called “relentless incrementalism,” achieving impermanent and small victories over an extended time through diligence, fortitude and moral courage. Dramatic, once-a-century transformations (the end of slavery, the advent of Roe v. Wade) are so rare as to be unrepresentative of the usual flow of political history.
It would certainly be more immediately rewarding to jettison politics and choose instead solely to volunteer in the local pregnancy care center, homeless shelter or children’s learning facility. There is so much good that can be accomplished thereby, in individual lives and in society more generally, by participating in what Burke called a “little platoon” of civic good – and doing so in the name of the Lord Jesus, demonstrating His compassion and justice in tangible, personal ways.
Yet this is a false alternative. The relationship between government and good works increasingly is entwined, which is why gracious, wise and persistent Christian action in the political sphere is and will remain imperative.
For example, consider what has happened to Catholic adoption services in recent years: “In 2006, Catholic Charities of Boston, which had been one of the nation’s oldest adoption agencies, faced a very difficult choice: violate its conscience, or close its doors. In order to be licensed by the state, Catholic Charities of Boston would have to obey state laws barring ‘sexual orientation discrimination.’ And because marriage had been redefined in Massachusetts, Catholic Charities could not simply limit its placements to married couples. Catholic leaders asked the state legislature for a religious exemption but were refused. As a result, Catholic Charities of Boston was forced to shut down its adoption services.”
This pattern has been repeated in San Francisco, the state of Massachusetts, and the District of Columbia. It inevitably is coming soon to an Evangelical adoption agency near you.
Do Evangelicals simply withdraw from the adoption movement, closing up shop due to their convictions regarding marriage and human sexuality? Or do they work to protect their constitutional right of religious liberty and thereby safeguard their vital ministries?
What about religious liberty itself? Recently Pastor Louie Giglio was disinvited from giving the invocation at President Obama’s second inauguration because he once preached a grace-filled but biblically honest message about homosexuality. Should Evangelicals slice Romans 1 out of their Bibles in order to placate the advocates of same-sex “marriage?” Should they delete passages on heterosexual fornication and adultery because “times have changed,” “society has move on,” “chastity doesn’t work,” etc.? Do they fall silent when politicians advocate legislation that would prey on the unborn because to speak might give someone a measure of discomfort?
Scripture is clear about the moral duties required by God of man. They have not changed over time, but have remained settled and firm. If that’s true, they are intended for our good. If that proposition is itself true, is it loving for Christians to ignore their diminishment in the public arena and instead try to live in cloistered distance from the tumult of political action?
Such isolation is impossible. If Evangelicals care about the institution of marriage as existing between one man and one woman, for life, and about sustaining the legal right to conduct only such weddings in their churches, then winsomely but firmly opposing efforts to legalize “marriage” between members of the same sex should be part of our portfolio of public witness.
Our goal is not to “Christianize” a fallen world, but to foster a social and political order consistent with the principles of our nation’s founding and the Bible itself, and thereby build a culture in which religious liberty, the sanctity of life from conception until natural death, human dignity and marriage are honored and practiced. It is only this kind of culture that can allow the continued, unhindered advancement of the Gospel, at home or through missionary activity abroad.
Not all Evangelicals need to engage in every social issue all the time. No one proposes that. What we can do is vote, pray, and, as led by the Lord, work in given vineyards of political opportunity to restrain evil and promote good.
Charitable enterprise and politics are more and more synthetic. Those who think they can separate them neatly delude themselves. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, the routines of the quiet past are insufficient for the stormy present. We cannot pretend, with intellectual honesty, that prudent political action is optional in an age of steady moral erosion. The cause of Christ and the needs of people are vastly too important.
Rob Schwarzwalder is senior vice president at the Family Research Council.
Publication date: January 17, 2013