Listen Up, “Religious Right”

Posted: December 22, 2010 in books, christianity, politics, quotes

In an insightful open letter to the “religious right” published in First Things, Joe Carter lists several key points that those of us who would identify ourselves as conservatives, both politically and theologically, would do well to consider.  I will only quote a few of my favorite sections, but the whole article is a gem and worth reading.

1) As a matter of political liberty I believe there are justifiable reasons to support such issues as prayer in schools and public displays of religious symbols. But I can’t imagine that on the Day of Judgment I’ll hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant—you have faithfully fought to keep the Ten Commandments in the courthouse.” It’s more likely we’ll all be asked why we didn’t spend more time concerned about our neighbors in Darfur or fighting the global AIDS pandemic. Perhaps we should rethink our priorities and put first things first…

4) In a classical statement of ecumenicity, St. Augustine once said, “In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, love.” Those of us on the religious right should adopt a similar principle and clearly define the boundaries between what is essential and what is non-essential in matters of policy and politics…

6) Our allegiance to any political party should be modest, contingent, and made with a full awareness that both the Republican and Democratic parties will attempt to distance themselves from us as soon as elections are over. Both parties have always done so and will likely continue that tradition until the Eschaton. Our goal, then, should merely be to usher in the side that will slow the process of disorder, allowing us the room to maneuver to re-strengthen and fortify society’s other institutions…

8 ) It is not enough for religious conservatives to simply baptize the conservative agenda; our political beliefs must be derived from our religious worldview. Deriving them, however, requires a complementary worldview and knowledge of how to our worldview and principles translate to sound political policy. While the difficulty of the task makes it easier to accept off-the-rack conservatism, we need to be able to tailor our policies using the fabric of our faith as a guide…

And finally, we must recognize that America is not a “Christian nation,” though we should aspire to be a nation whose Christians are admired as good and noble citizens. America is not a “shining city on a hill,” though we should let our light of freedom be a shining example for the entire world. America is not the “greatest blessing God gave mankind,” though it is a great nation worthy of our faithfulness. Patriotism has a role but mustn’t be allowed to expand beyond certain intellectual borders. We are citizens of both the City of God and the City of Man, and must always be sure not to confuse the one for the other.

I think Carter is spot on with all of his observations.  We must be careful not to fall into the trap of thinking that any particular party is “Christian.”  People are Christians, not political groups.  And no political group has ever fully embraced (nor will ever fully embrace) biblical Christianity’s principles, goals, and methods.  Perhaps the religious right needs a second reading of Harry Blamires classic work, The Christian Mind, or Mark Noll, George Marsden, and Nathan Hatch’s The Search for a Christian America, or Stephen Nichols Jesus Made in America, three books directly relevant to this issue.  Or perhaps bigger guns are needed, say, Augustine’s City of God. There’s some good Christmas reading…

But, I think Stephen Nichols summarizes well when he writes,

“The approach to evangelical political engagement, to living with the monster we created, outlined in these few pages dodges the question as to which wing of American politics Jesus belongs.  Such dodging is purposeful.  For in the end, he likely doesn’t belong on either one… No political party platform is nearly large enough to contain Christ and the full complement of his teachings… My kingdom, Christ said, is not of this world.” (Jesus Made in America (Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2008) p. 220)

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  1. […] Read this. The “Religious Right” needs to open its ears. In an insightful open letter to the "religious right" published in First Things, Joe Carter lists several key points that those of us who would identify ourselves as conservatives, both politically and theologically, would do well to consider.  I will only quote a few of my favorite sections, but the whole article is a gem and worth reading. 1) As a matter of political liberty I believe there are justifiable reasons to support such issues as pray … Read More […]

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