DATE: 2/18/2005 01:13:00 PM
Faith and Religion - One of the subjects most often covered on this blog is the interplay between religious faith and political action. For my most current thoughts on the subject, here is a column I wrote for The Republican Journal in Belfast, Maine. For those who have never before visited this blog, I am an evangelical Christian whose religious beliefs are best summed up by my home church's Statement of Faith. When it comes to politics, I believe it is the duty of every Christian to be involved in politics, but to do so wisely and according to giftedness.
One of the most visible Christian political organizations is the Family Research Council, a branch of Focus on the Family. The website is quite good, with a decent list of legislative priorities for the organization. I don't know the exact site statistics, but quite a few Christians visit the site daily. A good way to get an idea of what issues are important to the FRC's constituency - conservative Christians - is to check the list of the most popular articles on the site. If those articles are any indication of what matters most to evangelicals, the results are not encouraging:
Most Popular Items
The Bible, The Church, and Homosexuality
Child Custody Protection Act
Aberrant Judge Rules NY Constitution Allows Same-sex 'Marriage'
Senate Joint Resolution #1
Staying Faithful To MarriageFour of the five most popular articles on the site are about the debate regarding marriage and homosexuality. One of the FRC's legislative priorities is passage of the Federal Marriage Amendment, a piece of legislation with which I do not agree. I was pleased when the president expressed doubt about its passage and decided not to spend political capital on the issue. There are many reasons for my disagreement with the FMA. Most of them are contained within the articles linked.
Over time, I've developed some guidelines for Christian political involvement that I've been working on. Here is a rough draft of my thoughts on how Christians can be most effective in politics. These are in no particular order:
--The only issues that should be treated as life or death are those that actually have to do with life or death. This means no spending vast amounts of time and money on debates having to do with school prayer, the Ten Commandments or gay and lesbian relationships. Our passion should be on issues where there are actually life and death decisions to be made - abortion, stem cell research, euthanasia, the death penalty, AIDS, human rights issues. These are not easy issues to deal with, but they are vital.
--Clean your house, or it'll be cleaned for you. The statistics on the failure rate of evangelical marriages is appalling. Evangelicals are just as likely to divorce as non-evangelicals. We're also just as likely to live together before getting married and just as materialistic. A recent article in Christianity Today points out this problem, and it's one that needs serious attention. If evangelicals are going to try to change society, we have to have a handle on our own problems first. Leaders have tried to frame the debate over the FMA as 'protecting' marriage. Nice try, but if that was the case, then evangelicals would be just as irate over Britney Spears and her actual 50-hour marriage as they are over the idea of gay marriage. How is one worse than the other? Some will likely be offended by my raising these issues. Get used to it - as the debate over marriage goes on, the media and political opponents will do much worse.
--Sometimes, half a loaf is all you're going to get. Eat while you can. As I say in the Republican Journal column, Christians are notorious for demanding we get our way, or threatening to bolt from politics. Instead of being patient with the legislative process, Christians look for grand gestures and sweeping legislation. Well, that isn't the way politics works. Get used to it and work with the system instead of against it. Getting elected isn't a mandate to do whatever you want - it's a gift to use wisely. Even if you don't get your way completely, bide your time and, most importantly, stay involved. Because if Christians get out of politics and don't vote, it pretty much guarantees that we'll end up with people that will do very little we agree with.
--Discard the unelectable or just plain scary, no matter how much you agree with them. Remember Pat Robertson and his run for office? Or Gary Bauer? These guys were ideologically pleasing to Christians, so they got Christian support. Same with Roy Moore, the "Ten Commandments" judge who may run for governor of Alabama. This article, by a conservative Christian, explains well why Moore should not run and why even those who agree with him shouldn't support him. Sometimes, the guy that agrees with you on everything is just not the right guy for the job. You may have to put up with some ideological disagreement and support the electable guy who agrees with you 80 percent instead of throwing away your vote on an also-ran. If you disagree, read the advice about the loaf again.
--Baby steps. Sometimes pragmatism is needed. Don't try to ban all abortions - start with the most unpopular and chip away at it instead of going for the big kahuna and losing. So far, the president seems to be doing this well, and the FRC's legislative priorities show a welcome move toward this process.
--Don't be stupid. Rebuke those who are. Remember when Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell intimated that it was America's sin that caused the terrorist attacks of September 11? That was stupid. When people who agree with you make public gaffes, sometimes it requires public rebukes or corrections. Doing this will help others understand that not all Christians/conservatives/Republicans think the same way and serve as a correction to the record. Sometimes, this may require separating oneself from certain public figures. Better to rid the party of the extremists than allow them to poison the well.
--Remember Who you really serve. Political power is great, but it's not why we're here. This is. Don't let anything you do in politics make it harder to accomplish the mission Christ gave us.
Those are a few of my thoughts on the matter. Overall, I think involvement in the political process is absolutely necessary, but should be done in a way that maximizes the political clout Christians can summon.