Monday, December 7, 2009

Christian Political Judgment

A recent commenter named Tim accused Harold and me of offering our personal opinions on politics as the Christian positions on those matters.

We are all free as citizens to think and say whatever we feel. My issue is, and has been, that this site claims to be presenting a "Christian" point of view. There is nothing "Christian" about the comments you are posting. Having a political point of view is fine. The religious right has fooled many people into believing that its views are reflective of Jesus's views. They are not! In fact, they are often in direct opposition to the teachings of Jesus. Please stop soiling the name of Jesus with your politics.

Marvin Olasky addresses this issue, with particular regard to the task of the Christian journalist, in his 1995 book, Telling the Truth.

The opportunity to approach true objectivity also depends on the nature of the issue. White-water rafters speak of six classes of rapids: class-one rapids are easy enough for a novice to navigate, and class-six rapids whisper death. The issues that journalists report are rapids; providentially, the Bible is clear enough so that many of them fall into class one or two. Here are the classes and examples:

Class one: explicit biblical embrace or condemnation. The Bible condemns homosexuality so clearly that only the most shameless of those who twist Scripture can try to assert the practice’s biblical acceptability. Biblical objectivity means showing the evil of homosexuality; balancing such stories by giving equal time to gay activists is ungodly journalism. Similarly, in an article showing the sad consequences of heterosexual adultery there is no need to quote proadultery sources.

Class two: clearly implicit biblical position. Even though there is no explicit biblical injunction to place children in Christian or home schools, the emphasis on providing a godly education under parental supervision is clear. Biblical objectivity means supporting the establishment and improvement of Bible-based education, and criticizing government schools, in the understanding that turning education over to "professionals" who have no regard for God is an abdication of biblical parental responsibility.

Class three: partisans of both sides quote Scripture but careful study allows biblical conclusions. On poverty-fighting issues, partisans from the left talk of God’s "preferential option" for the poor, but the biblical understanding of justice means giving the poor full legal rights and not treating them as more worthy than the rich by virtue of their class position. Since even widows are not automatically entitled to aid, broad entitlement programs are suspect. Biblically, provision of material help should be coupled with the provision of spiritual lessons; the poor should be given the opportunity to glean but challenged to work.

Next, Olasky moves from a dependence primarily on Scripture to a much greater dependence on general revelation or philosophical reflection on nature and history.

Class four: biblical understanding backed by historical experience. Even though there is no indisputable biblical commandment that strictly limits government, chapter 8 of 1 Samuel describes the dangers of human kingship, and it is clearly bad theology to see government as savior in areas such as health care. The historical record over the centuries is clear, and in recent American experience we have particular reason to be suspicious of the person who says, "I’m from the government and I’m here to help you."

Class five: biblical sense of human nature. On class-five issues there is no clear biblical mandate and no clear historical trail, but certain understandings of human nature can be brought to bear. For example, those who believe that peace is natural emphasize negotiations and disarmament. A biblical understanding of sin, however, leads to some tough questions: What if war is the natural habit of sinful, post-Fall man? What if some leaders see war as a useful way to gain more power in the belief that they can achieve victory without overwhelming losses? History is full of mistaken calculations of that sort–dictators have a tendency to overrate their own power–but they may still plunge ahead unless restrained by the obvious power of their adversaries. Objectivity in such a situation emphasizes discernment rather than credulity: If we do not assume a benign human nature concerning warfare, we need to plan for military preparedness and raise the cost of war to potential aggressors.

Class six: Navigable only by experts, who might themselves be overturned. On a class-six issue there is no clear biblical position, no historical trail for the discerning to apply, and not much else to mark our path. On an issue of this kind–NAFTA is a good example–you should balance views and perspectives.

With these distinctions in mind, I would say that our opposition to the policies of the Obama administration falls into various classes of controversy.

Class one includes the broadly Democratic drive to normalize homosexuality.

Class two includes Obama's aggressive advocacy of abortion rights.

Class three includes his plans to overhaul the health care system, but only insofar as it is, arguably from a biblical standpoint, none of the government's business to concern itself with this matter.

Class four includes, again, health care reform, as well as the system of "cap and trade" to control overall carbon emissions. 

Class five includes Obama's naive foreign policy.

Class six includes the question of climate change, which is obviously a very technical question. But what concerns us most on that matter is what this government proposes to do in response to the issue. That falls into class four.

I hope that this helps you, Tim, in understanding how Harold and I, in good conscience, speak specifically as Christians against this government on these various matters of grave concern.


Chris J. said...

"The religious right has fooled many people into believing that its views are reflective of Jesus's views. They are not! In fact, they are often in direct opposition to the teachings of Jesus." This statement from Tim makes me wonder what exactly he is talking about. Which views exactly is he talking about?
Has he just taken a commonly quoted scripture such as "love thy neighbor" and expanded that to include whatever his definition of loving one's neighbor means? There are an awful lot of people out there who seem to think they know the Bible... until someone who has actually read it speaks up (unfortunately there are far too few of those).

David C. Innes said...

Note to readers: much of the discussion on this topic and indeed the friendly conclusion to this disagreement is in the comments to the previous post.