Shots Across the Bow

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Evangelicals, Politics, and You

Last week I wrote a very short post that dared to suggest that the since Rudy Giuliani was polling so well among conservative voters, that perhaps the Christian right was not as dominating a force in conservatism as our friends on the left would have us believe. The post was linked by Instapundit, which resulted in an avalanche of comments, one of which, from a guy names Gary, really struck me.
If you belong to a church who would support a nominee who is: pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, and pro-gun control, then either you, or your fellow church members, do not understand the definition of the evangelical movement.

The "reason of being" for the evangelical movement is to support like minded candidates in the political arena. Not to put aside those values, and to say, "What the heck, he would be a good CINC." If your church would support Giuliani, then whatever it may be, it is not, repeat, not, truly evangelical!


Now, I'm not an expert, but the last time I checked, my Bible didn't say anything about Christians gathering political power in order to enforce God's law on the nation. In fact, I'm pretty certain that God called on his people to live apart from the world; in it, but not of it. But I can understand where Gary gets the wrong impression because there are an awful lot of people who call themselves evangelical who seem to believe that they are called to be the guardians of other people's morality.

They re missing the point.

Before I get too deep into this, a bit about my religious background. I was born and raised a Catholic, but began to fall away from the church when I was young, maybe 13 or 14. It started at one Sunday Mass when the Gospel reading was about Jesus throwing the moneychangers out of the Temple. Unfortunately, the Homily that followed was a 30 minute exhortation to convince all of us that all good Catholics should subscribe to the Liguorian magazine. Following my disillusionment with the Catholic Church, I was still a Christian, but a very noncommittal one. Recently, I've been studying and learning the Bible, and I've moved towards a fundamentalist view. I tend to take the Bible more literally than I was taught as a Catholic. As far as morality goes, this doesn't present much of a switch for me; I've always been fairly conservative in my beliefs and behaviors.

With exceptions of course; I'm no saint, not by a long shot.

But the point here is that politically I'm still very much a libertarian. While I hold myself to certain standards, based on the Bible, I've yet to find anything in there to tell me that I should force other people to hold themselves to the same standards. That's God's job, not mine. My job is to simply let them know that there is a higher standard of behavior, one that supersedes the law of the jungle. Whether they choose to follow that law is up to them, not me.

That being the case, why do we so often see Evangelicals agitating for laws that force others to live according to those standards? The answer is simple; it is the most common of human failings. We all want to be in charge. We want to tel the other guy what to do. Add that failing to a conviction that we know what is right, and you get a nearly irresistible combination leading to the Gary Bauers of the world. They take a step too far, going from evangelists to inquisitors.

Take gay marriage for example. Most conservative Christians are against it, seeing marriage as a sacred union, blessed by God. A decided minority are ok with it, as long as it is not given the name marriage, and is purely a civil matter. So which group, if either, have it right?

I side with the second group*. Marriage as we know it consists of two parts, a religious ceremony and a state sanctioned legal contract. As a libertarian, I don't think the state has a compelling interest in determining who marries whom, as long as provisions are made for any offspring, and for the dissolution of the contract. Children are protected, both by the provisions of the contract, and by the fact that minors cannot enter into a contract, which answers the frequent "child bride" critics. Of course, this approach would allow for many different types of marriages, including polyamory, as well as homosexual marriages. That's a feature, not a bug. The government has no business telling me who I sleep with or have a relationship with as long as all parties consent to the relationship.

This does bring us to a curious place, one that will involve a great deal of thought. Suppose that the federal government moves forward with a plan like I've described. They separate out the religious ceremony of marriage from the civil union of the state. Now traditionally, ministers have been granted the authority by the state to perform functions simultaneously. What happens when a gay couple wishes to be married, but their minister refuses to perform the ceremony on religious grounds? Under the principle of equal treatment under the law, would the state be able to compel the minister to perform the ceremony anyway? Before you answer, consider the case of the cabbies in Minneapolis who want the right to refuse to carry passengers who are carrying alcohol. If a minister has the right to refuse to marry a gay couple, don't the cabbies have the right to refuse to carry the passengers?

Tricky, isn't it? If we allow religious exceptions in one area, aren't we required to honor them in other areas, even if, or especially if they are from a minority religion? The First amendment guarantees that:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;


We bend over backwards to honor the first phrase, but are comparatively lax in enforcing the second, except in prisons, oddly enough. The practical solution is to completely separate religious marriage from civil contracts, and have a different official for each function. This takes the ministers off the hook, but leaves our Muslim cabbies still dangling.

Like I said, it's tricky.

Now what is the job of an evangelist in this situation? Well first of all, we have to remember that God judges us on the content of our hearts as well as our actions. That is a huge double edged sword. On the plus side, if we want to do good, but fail because we are weak, or are compelled or forced to do something wrong, God will see that. On the other hand, if we want to do something wrong, whether we do it or not, God sees that as well. We all remember Jimmy Carter's confession in Playboy of committing adultery in his heart. (Odd place for a Baptist boy to o his confession, but we'll move along). So what should all of this mean to the evangelist?

Simply this, even if you make homosexuality illegal, and prevent all homosexual acts from ever taking place, you haven't saved a single soul. You've spent all your time, all your effort, and all your money fighting the wrong foe. As an evangelist, your single task is to let people know about Jesus Christ, and that only through him can your sins be forgiven.

Period.

That's it.

And you don't need political power to do that.

Again, I'm relatively young as an active evangelical, but I'm pretty sure I've got this part right.

*For my personal views on homosexuality, click for


Posted by Rich
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