Charles Colson is founder of Prison Fellowship and was special counsel to President Richard Nixon.
The debate on the relationship of Christians to the state is nothing new and must be seen in historical perspective. The early church wrestled with the question as it faced the pagan Roman Empire; the tension continued in the medieval struggles between pope and emperor, and on into the era of nationalism and the "divine right" of kings.
In the twentieth century, the debate has produced wide swings among conservative Christians between the extremes of isolationism and political accommodationism. In the early decades, believers were buffeted by the winds of theological modernism (with its social gospel), humiliated by the Scopes trial, and finally retreated into fundamentalist enclaves to create a parallel culture through their churches and schools. (The words we hear today from Paul Weyrich are hauntingly reminiscent of that time.)
Then, in 1947, Carl Henry published The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism and led Christians back into the American mainstream. What really galvanized them, however, was the liberal victory in Roe v. Wade. In one swoop, the Court struck down abortion laws in all 50 states, turning around an entire culture on the most crucial moral issue of the day.
The lesson was not lost on moral conservatives: they concluded that top-down political action was the most effective means of cultural transformation. If liberals could do it, so could they.
Thus was born the so-called Religious Right, which did fall prey to some of the excesses Cal Thomas and Ed Dobson diagnose in Blinded by Might. Enormous effort went into raising funds and garnering votes—often with extravagant promises to "save America" if ...1
Already a CT subscriber? Log in for full digital access.
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 60+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more