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The Compromise of the Religious Right

Our view of the world will determine how we act. If our understanding of reality is faulty, then our actions will to one degree or another be unrewarding.

  • Larry Pratt,
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Our view of the world will determine how we act. If our understanding of reality is faulty, then our actions will to one degree or another be unrewarding.

The Christian Right tends to think more as conservatives than as Christians. This has impaired its understanding of the true nature of politics and what we should expect from it. As a result, its adherents have been consigned to failure after failure.

Admirable goals have often characterized the agenda of the Christian Right: opposition to such evils as abortion, homosexuality, evolution, and more. Try as it might to equip itself for battle spiritually, the Christian Right has typically entered battle without the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. God's standard for human action has been kept out of the public arena. Thus the Christian Right has lost its bearings, and the world that Christians are to confront has been deprived of a prophetic witness.

Many contemporary Christian soldiers are of a mind that our Orders of the Day are not to be found in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, but in some sort of "what all reasonable men can agree on," or even an explicitly natural law view. Since there are not enough Christians to comprise a governing majority, it is assumed that we must reach out to non-Christians on their terms.

Of course, it is not stated quite that starkly. It is argued, instead, that there is some common ground to which all men can come and agree on for the proper ordering of society. What is often stated, is that explicit civil laws, particularly if found only in the Old Testament, simply will not do.

If Christians are to think Biblically in the political arena, then we cannot reach out to non-Christians by abandoning the Bible as the basis for civil government. Since unbelievers are made in the image of God, they are capable of recognizing the truth of a Biblical argument. They may reject it in their rebelliousness, but that same rebelliousness will not incline them to respond to a natural law argument. Of course, if the natural law argument is not a restatement of Biblical law, we might get unbelievers to agree to some form of natural law. But that puts the Christian in rebellion, not just the unbeliever. So that course of action should not be pursued.

This is not to say that we have to cite chapter and verse, although if we are asked: "How can we say that?" we can hardly avoid citing Scripture. Nevertheless, the Scripture tells us a lot about crime and punishment. Ideas of restitution, rather than incarceration, are both Biblical and appealing to many. Capital punishment enjoys broad popular support — and it is commanded in both the Old and the New Testaments. The use of lethal force in self-defense is taught throughout the Bible, so we are on firm ground when we oppose gun control.

Biblical Positions Should Be Advanced
Clearly, there are positions that are Biblical that also have strong support among some groups, and even majorities, of our population. Why not use them?

Those who want to base public policy on something other than the Bible have not shown that Scripture supports their view. Isaiah insisted that all of Scripture is to be the standard: "To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them" (Is. 8:20).

Christ insisted that we keep the law: "For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled" (Mt. 5:18). Paul made the same point in his letter to Timothy: "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

In the light of this, there is all the more necessity to insist on the centrality of Scripture for the source of our public policy discussion. How else are we possibly to come to agreement about the good in this passage: "For he [the civil magistrate] is a minister to you for good" (Rom. 13:4a)? If we do not insist on Scripture's definition of evildoer, we are defenseless against the claims of a majority or an elite group. Whoever has the most votes or the most guns gets to define what is good.

Christians have erred seriously by conceding some other way of determining the legitimacy of government action than by Scripture alone. If the laws of our country are contrary to the Bible, then to that extent, the government, and perhaps the people as well, are in rebellion against God. Rebellion and legitimacy are hardly matters of indifference, but the Christian Right tends to ignore them. This has resulted all too often in getting off course.

Lack of a clear Biblical basis for its public policy positions — or an unwillingness to state a Biblically based defense — has too often opened the door to a willingness to accept the politicians' definition of how politics works. By leaving the "What" up to politicians and public opinion, the "How" has also been defined by politicians.

The best-known issue associated with the Christian Right is that of the right to life. It labored hard to keep a pro-life plank in the Republican Party in 1996. Delegates who were pledged to vote for retention of the pro-life plank were all the while increasingly falling in behind Sen. Bob Dole, a most infamous compromiser (or better yet, an equal opportunity compromiser who would betray any pledge for short-term political gain).

Once Dole had the nomination secured, he boasted that he had not, and had no intention of, reading the Republican Party Platform. The Christian Right had settled for rhetoric, but the political establishment retained control over policy by selecting the candidate. Ironically, many of the Christian Right justified supporting Dole during the primaries because "he was the one who could win." They would have access and a place at the table once he was President.

Of course, they were wrong on both counts. Not only did Dole lose, but also had he won, access to his office would have entitled conservatives only to access to a front-row seat to see him betray them. "There is a way that seems right to a man, but the end of it is death" (Pr. 14:12). The "end of it" with Bob Dole would have been no stopping of the death of many unborn children.

Delicious Policies
The Christian Right has fallen into the trap warned against in Proverbs 23:1-3: "When you sit down to eat with a ruler, consider carefully what is before you; and put a knife to your throat if you are a man given to appetite. Do not desire his delicacies, for they are deceptive food." More than the ruler who, of course, would like to deceive us, we deceive ourselves when we are snared in this way.

Many a politician and a citizen alike have been seduced by the invitation to be in the presence of influential politicians. This can be a meeting in their office or perhaps a party or banquet. These are the delicacies that tempt many to forget their principles for the sake of being well-behaved. Good behavior keeps one in the presence of "his Excellency."

The model for Christian lobbying, after putting off feasting on the ruler's delicacies, is putting on the tactics of the widow of Luke 18. She sought justice from an unrighteous judge who neither feared God nor man. Because she wearied him, he finally relented and gave in to her repeated requests for justice. The text does not tell us, but I would not be surprised if that judge tried to use the same dodges that politicians use today. "This is not the time to do that." "It is not possible to get the votes for that at this time." "You do not understand how the process works; if you continue to importune, you will endanger the very objective you are pursuing." "Look, if you don't back off, I will vote against you."

All we know is that the widow was rebuffed on more than one occasion, but she persisted. The pattern of the Christian Right is to accept the dodges of today's unrighteous judges, and worse, sit down to dine on his delicacies. In other words, they get co-opted.

How do we know when the Christian Right has been co-opted? When it supports Bob Dole or any other candidate who either has voted for abortion (as had Sen. Dole on occasion), voted for pro-abortion judges (as had Sen. Dole) or has a pattern in public life of having a "yes" that is not their "yes."

Jesus Christ is the King of kings, and that means that He is the head of our nation. When a people and their politicians choose laws that are directly in violation of the Bible, those laws can not have legitimacy. The Christian Right cannot truly speak as Christians if they do not challenge the legitimacy of a law legalizing murder.

In a debate involving differing opinions among men, the Christian Right will continue to lose, and continue to seek a place at the table instead of insisting on justice. They will continue to be part of the problem rather than part of the solution. We should prefer to lose a vote or an election rather than to lose the legitimacy of our position. When we agree to the false legitimacy of illegitimate government actions, we have lost before we start.

If we are after a place at the table, the others engorging themselves on the king's delicacies will not permit us to insist on calling for total victory. Victory and a place at the table are incompatible goals. We cannot serve both the King of kings and the master of the table. The Christian Right must chose this day whom it will serve.

  • Larry Pratt

Larry Pratt, Executive Director, Gun Owners of America (150,000 membership), has held elective office in the state legislature of Virginia and is an elder in the Presbyterian Church in America. Gun Owners of America can be contacted at (800)-417-1486, web site

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