Friday, November 9, 2012
Was the “Religious Right” a Mistake?
One of the more controversial bloggers at Patheos, Frank Schaeffer ("Why I Still Talk to Jesus – In Spite of Everything" -- http://www.patheos.com/blogs/frankschaeffer/) recently had a blog post entitled "How Evangelicals Doomed the Republican Party, God, and (Maybe) America." He accuses Evangelicals of having a distorted view of reality, and of allowing themselves to be used as the pawns of billionaires and neoconservative warmongers. He cites as examples the denial of global warming and the unqualified support for Israel, which, he says, prevent us from finding sane and sensible solutions to these problems. "Touch it where you may the evangelical / Republican / billionaire alliance is doomed, it's doomed because the non-retributive Jesus is the true Lord, not a hate filled ideology of imperial overreach that is embraced by crazed and militarized right wing neoconservatives."
One might wish that Mr. Schaeffer himself would imbibe a little more of the spirit of the "non-retributive Jesus," but there is an element of truth to what he says. Leaving aside for the moment the question of whether or not Evangelicals are self-deluded, the fact remains that they are in an uneasy alliance with Roman Catholics, Mormons, Libertarians, and establishment big business Republicans. Each faction can blame one of the others for the loss in the recent election. Did the Republicans lose because some of their candidates took "extreme" positions on abortion, thereby alienating women voters? Or was it because Mr. Romney was a multimillionaire who is out of touch with ordinary Americans? Both seem to have been factors.
Looking ahead to the future, what is especially foreboding for social conservatives is that several states legalized same-sex marriage by popular vote, and the Democrats did especially well among women, minorities and the young, suggesting that changing demographics are working in their favor. Other pundits beside Mr. Schaeffer are saying that the Republican Party needs to change. But change into what?
This is, in fact, a genuine dilemma. As Frank Schaeffer's late father, the famous theologian Francis A. Schaeffer, labored to point out, western civilization as a whole has experienced a seismic shift away from its Judeo-Christian moorings toward a more secular and materialistic orientation, and this raises the specter of an increasingly amoral and disordered society. One simply cannot stand idly by while he watches civilization collapse. Yet as the elder Dr. Schaeffer also pointed out, the philosophical underpinnings of orthodox Christianity are radically at variance with the naturalistic assumptions of modern secular thought. The younger Mr. Schaeffer concludes from this that Evangelicals (and presumably his conservative evangelical father) are simply deluded. But should Evangelicals allow the outside world to redefine their faith?
As a Christian believer I would have to say "absolutely not." "We ought to obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). It would be sheer folly to throw one's soul away for the sake of political expediency.
What should we do then? Our first concern should be to remain faithful to Christ and maintain the purity of our testimony. This means that we must be especially wary of engaging in partisan politics. The mudslinging and vilification, the vested interests and power politics hardly adorn the gospel.
Secondly, we must recognize that America is not likely to change for the better unless we change individual hearts and minds, and this can be accomplished best through evangelism. But we must be careful here to preach the whole message. Part of the reason for America's moral decline is that most modern preachers are reluctant to talk about sin. But the gospel is incomprehensible unless we lay out first what God requires from human beings in the way of moral conduct. And the truth be known, the church's own members need to repent and start living the life themselves. Actions, it has often been said, speak louder than words. Let the atheists and agnostics argue and debate all they want; they cannot argue against the example of a virtuous life.
This does not mean, however, that we must remain silent in the face of encroaching evil. We can protest. We can write letters and hold demonstrations. We can demonstrate compassion by extending the helping hand. But let us never sully the name of Christ with partisan bickering. It only confuses the issues and undermines our credibility.
The way to reform society has been laid out for us: it is the power of the Word of God. "And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32).