James Dobson is president of Focus on the Family.
Many Christians in America are engaged in a great debate today about moral issues and whether they should be working to promote their beliefs in the centers of power. Some have concluded that their countrymen no longer care about right and wrong, and that believers should throw up their hands and declare the culture war lost. We hear this talk everywhere—suggesting that conservatives quit trying to influence local and national governments.
This resurgence of isolationism is not new, but it is articulated again in a recent book entitled Blinded by Might: Can the Religious Right Save America? The authors, Cal Thomas and Pastor Ed Dobson (no relation), criticize those of us who believe it is our duty as Christians to voice our views in the public square. Cal has been my friend for years, and he has appeared on the Focus on the Family broadcast many times. He is a good man whom I respect. I'm not acquainted with Pastor Dobson, but I believe both of these men love the Lord and are sincere in what they write. Unfortunately, at least in my opinion, they are dead wrong in their perspectives about public policy. Furthermore, what they recommend for the Christian community would accelerate the decline of America if the ideas they espouse become widely accepted.
Let me respond to several of the themes articulated in Blinded by Might, the first being a perspective with which I agree. The authors made the case that the church should never be involved in politics. To "marry the pulpit" to a political party or candidate is to risk its widowhood in four years. Who can argue with this point? It is hardly a new concern. Indeed, it is patently illegal for churches and nonprofit organizations to be involved in campaigns and elections, and the IRS will revoke the tax-exempt status of organizations that violate the law. There has been only one church and one organization in recent memory that has suffered this fate, so it is appropriate that we ask: Why were the authors so emphatic about condemning activity that rarely occurs? The reason becomes clear from what they wrote next.
Cal and Ed expanded their definition of what is political to include the great moral issues of the day. Anything being debated in the public arena—even that which reflects clear biblical mandates—was deemed to be a distraction and an impediment to the church. It is an outrageous claim. According to the authors, the clergy and any organized expression of the laity should, by inference, avoid the sanctity of human life, the redefinition of marriage, pornography, gambling, safe-sex ideology, and the assault on religious liberty. As such, they provide convenient "cover" for pastors who don't want to take the heat, and for laymen who don't want to get involved.
The book jacket even tells us that individuals who have worked to defend morality in government have wasted their time. It reads, " … despite nearly twenty years of vigorous and sophisticated activism, [conservative Christians] have failed in [their] mission to end abortion, eliminate pornography, restore the shattered American family, and usher in a better world based on 'traditional values.' "
Admittedly, Christian activists have not won all the battles. Those of us who have fought for what we believe have faced formidable foes. Postmodernists and those who think God is irrelevant to policy still hold sway in the Congress, the judiciary, and executive branch, the professions, the entertainment industry, the news media, the universities, and most other centers of power. Thus, the profamily community has been extremely frustrated by many unsuccessful campaigns, especially by our inability to end the horrible procedure known as partial-birth abortion. But we have given our best to the effort.
Frankly, I believe those who have been silent while tiny brains were being sucked from the heads of viable babies will have to explain someday why they made no protest. For Christians who have criticized our foray into public policy, I have to ask where they were when the issue hung in the balance in the U.S. Senate. Did they write or call Capitol Hill? Did they picket the White House in the rain as did 500 Catholics, including four bishops and cardinals? Were they present in the Senate gallery when the tragic fate of precious babies was being decided by a three-vote margin? I was there on that day, but I didn't see Cal or Ed. And I wonder if Pastor Dobson mourned the tragedy of that vote in his sermon the following Sunday.
While it is true that we have lost some tough battles, the authors failed to acknowledge our remarkable successes. And there have been many of them, thanks to the millions of Americans who have made phone calls and written letters to our legislators. With the help of these citizens, we defeated a measure that would have outlawed or greatly hampered home schools; we helped reverse a preliminary legal decision by Attorney General Janet Reno that would have weakened child pornography laws; we overwhelmed the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission after its bureaucrats attempted to outlaw any expression of religious faith in the workplace; and we kept Bill and Hillary Clinton's endorsement of the dangerous United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child from being ratified by Congress. And make note of this: in the month of May, the Gallup organization released the results of a nationwide poll showing that Americans are moving steadily toward the sanctity of life and away from abortion on demand. Fully 71 percent now favor at least some restrictions on the procedure.
That is very exciting news! But why do you suppose it is happening? The answer is because pro-lifers have refused to give up. They have poured their money, their time, and their very lives into the battle. And I have to tell you that I deeply regret Cal Thomas and Ed Dobson's disparagement of these precious people who are steadily winning the battle for the hearts and minds of their countrymen.
As for the criticism that believers have not achieved everything they set out to accomplish, I wonder what that has to do with Christian duty, anyway. Since when did being outnumbered and under powered justify silence in response to evil? Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor and theologian, stood against the Nazi regime and its oppression of the Jews, for which he paid with his life. Would Cal and Ed have suggested that he accommodate Hitler's henchmen just because he had no chance of winning?
Since when did being
silence in response to evil?
As this example illustrates, the greatest weakness of the authors' thesis is with its departure from the historic posture of the church. Through the ages, godly leaders have confronted wicked regimes and their policies. Since pastors and laymen are now being told to remain in the safety of their churches, I wonder what Cal and Ed would say about the Christian martyrs, from John the Baptist to Sir Thomas More, who opposed those in positions of power. I would like to hear them attempt to make a consistent argument against Martin Luther King and his effort to end racial segregation in the 1960s. Would they consider his a wrong headed attempt to "usher in righteousness on Air Force One" (one of Cal's favorite laugh lines)? King's followers marched directly from the church and into the street, where powerful fire hoses knocked them off their feet.
One of those marches was led by a pastor. In fact, during this time period, King was frequently on the phone with Attorney General Robert Kennedy in the Justice Department, and growing federal pressure helped break the back of the racist resistance to integration. In that sense, righteousness was indeed "ushered in on Air Force One." If it is wrong for today's Christians and their churches to stand against laws that are unjust and evil, then it must have been wrong for the people in Birmingham to oppose an unjust system while singing "We Shall Overcome."
What about the great debate over slavery some 140 years ago? It became a heated political issue that differentiated the two presidential candidates in 1860 and eventually led to our bloodiest war. Some Southern churches used their every resource to end the wretched practice of buying and selling human beings and thereby separating husbands, wives, and children. Who would dare criticize those courageous pastors today, who were undoubtedly maligned at the time, for speaking out against the Confederacy? No one; and yet Cal and Ed now offer this ill-considered advice to today's churches, urging them to ignore the current moral crisis in government and society.
Their argument is porous. When the church reaches the point that it has no stomach for the fight against evil, especially in a day when moral foundations are crumbling, then its powerful voice for righteousness is muted and its influence in the culture is ineffective. As Os Guinness said of many churches, they are "privately engaging but socially irrelevant."
In conclusion, let me refer to the implications of the title, Blinded by Might. That phrase impugns the motives of every Christian who has worked tirelessly and thanklessly to influence our government. It implies that the sacrifices made to defend righteousness in the culture have been products of egotism and naivete. That is a low blow. I also find the subtitle offensive: "Can the Religious Right Save America?" The answer is no! I challenge the authors to find even one credible church leader who thinks otherwise. But conservative Christians can and must let their voices be heard in the public square. The political system does not belong exclusively to those with whom we disagree, and we should not yield them a single victory without defending what we believe. This is the way a democracy works. It is a representative form of government that should involve every citizen. It was designed, as Lincoln said, "of the people, by the people, for the people." That certainly includes people of faith, and it is foolish to assume that once people become believers in Jesus Christ and join forces with concerned friends in the church, that they should be disenfranchised and silenced.
Unfortunately, Blinded by Might has been used powerfully by the secular media and liberal commentators in recent months to discredit Christians who seek to defend their beliefs. I hope the book slides quickly into the night before it can do any more damage to the nation and to the church of Jesus Christ.
What's at stake at this stage in our history is profoundly more significant than the whims of politics. Hanging in the balance is the essence of the Christian faith—purity, reverence for life, family stability, love for God, and receptivity to the gospel itself. We are the custodians—the stewards—of this precious heritage. We can't afford to tremble now!
Other Religious Right articles:
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