Jonathan Rauch writes in the Atlantic Monthly:
“On balance it is probably healthier if religious conservatives are inside the political system than if they operate as insurgents and provocateurs on the outside. Better they should write anti-abortion planks into the Republican platform than bomb abortion clinics. The same is true of the left. The clashes over civil rights and Vietnam turned into street warfare partly because activists were locked out of their own party establishments and had to fight, literally, to be heard. When Michael Moore receives a hero’s welcome at the Democratic National Convention, we moderates grumble; but if the parties engage fierce activists while marginalizing tame centrists, that is better for the social peace than the other way around.”
Hugh Hewitt asked for thoughts and comments on Rauch’s ideas, so here are mine. Rauch still seems to think that evangelical Christians are a bunch or radical idiots. We continue to be caricatured as resemblances of Eric Rudolph (the Olympic and abortion bomber) and the “God Hates Fags” morons than by anyone else.
It is easy to write off people whom you don’t agree with as backwoods cavemen, rather than give them an honest hearing and evaluating their arguments. Having associated them with images and ideas related to a radical fringe, you can then dismiss “religious conservatives” by definitional fiat. I suppose it is far easier (and safer) to label than to engage, to caricature than to understand, to scorn than to listen.
In fairness, conservatives often are guilty of the same kinds of arguments.
But I want to probe deeper into the argument set forth and discuss something more troubling.
Are we evangelical Christians known simply for our politics or for the gospel we claim?
Certainly Jesus warned us that we would be misunderstood, mocked, and scorned. Actually he went further and said we would be perseucted for the sake of righteousness – and we are NOT persecuted in this country (should that concern us?). So we shouldn’t be surprised when we are labeled as radical rabble-rousers.
My contention is that we should be concerned if we are characterized primarily by our political goals and associations. Ours is a kingdom that is not of this world – we are aliens and strangers here, our citizenship is in heaven. That does not mean we write off this world and withdraw from engagement – certainly not! But it means that our engagement ought to be with the goal of seeing those who are lost come to faith in Christ first and foremost.
I offer no hard and fast answers to the dilemma of figuring out how to balance the call to be in the world but not of it, to be salt and light in the world and not be polluted by the world. But I fear that too often we look to the political process to establish God’s kingdom on earth, much as the disciples were prone to do when Jesus walked the earth with them.
Ours is a higher calling, Jesus taught. So when I look at Rauch’s thoughts about evangelicals, I don’t expect him to understand us. I just wish he saw something that transcended political objectives. Maybe he does and just can’t articulate it because he cannot think and conceptualize these deeper spiritual issues. But I’m not sure.
Towards that end I point you to minds far more keen than my own. First check the thoughts of Edmund Clowney excerpted two posts down. Then, if you have more time, I commend Dr. Russ Moore, a really good thinker and writer who also happened to be my professor in the systematic theology courses I took at seminary. His new book, The Kingdom of Christ, takes on these very issues.