Monday, September 10, 2007

Evangelicals Must Stay The Course

by Ken Connor - September 9th, 2007 - Center for a Just Society

"Values voters", many of whom pinned their hopes for cultural transformation on politics, have suffered a series of bitter disappointments. Some of these disappointments have names, not the least of which include Tom Delay, Jack Abramoff, Mark Foley, and Larry Craig. Additionally, the lack of meaningful progress in eliminating abortion, the collapse of the campaign to pass a Federal Marriage Amendment, the explosion of congressionally approved "earmarks", and wanton spending by the Federal legislature—all of which occurred while Republicans, of all people, controlled the White House and the Congress—have also contributed to the current malaise. There is also the matter of the war in Iraq which many feel is being prosecuted poorly by the President in whom they initially reposed great confidence.

The danger, of course, is that evangelicals, who are known to suffer from what Howard Hendricks described as the "peril of the pendulum", will abandon their engagement in the public square and retreat pietistically to their prayer closets.

My concern is the phrase bitter disappointments in this article. It is well and good to hope for a better society. There is even guidance in the bible to encourage us to get involved with building a better society. I fear our problem stems from an excess of zeal in "MAKING" people stop sinning instead of simply assuring that Christians have some say in keeping sin out of the streets and keeping one person from harming another. Government should not itself glorify the sin or allow one to harm another but short of that it passes from the City of Man to the City of God.

One of the differences in the Judeo-Christian experience is recognition that God granted us free will. Acceptance of free will imposes some limitations in what we can work for government to do on those of us who believe. I think we have failed in this regard. Our efforts in this regard have not been without examples of our own sins of sanctimonious behavior.

It is one thing to work to assure that when someone sins against another that we can use the power of government to punish that person and to protect society. It is quite another thing to punish someone for having sinful thoughts and committing acts that harm no one else. That is free will. That is between God and that individual. Keeping these sins out of the streets and in private is a proper role of government. Punishing these sins is God's job not ours. It is in the bible.

Our intolerance is displayed in our handling of vice and how we criminalize it. We think it is proper to punish people for taking drugs and having sex out of marriage and gambling. In all three cases it harms the person, and indirectly harms others. God views them as sins. The question is simple. At what point does the obligation to stop the indirect harm cross the line and become an act of playing God? At what point is the punishment out of all proportion to the harm to society? Especially at what point do we stop punishing behavior that directly harms another and start to punish behavior that only harms the sinner?

The evil we are committing by our intolerance of drugs is certainly worse than the indirect harm being caused by taking drugs. The war on drugs has never reduced the exposure of our children to the drug culture. It has never reduced the number of drug dealers who prey on our children for new customers.

Want to see intolerance and arrogant sanctimony in action? Suggest to someone who supports the drug war that they are not doing God's work but instead they are playing God. Whew. You will get an ear full.

The article above itself doesn't mean to but actually suggests that the people who think of themselves as "evangelicals" are not in this to improve society but are in it to WIN their own way and punish what they see as sin. If they can't have their way they are perfectly willing to quit and abandon society. I think "evangelicals" would win a lot more battles if they were not seen as so intolerant. Protecting society from direct harm is a great calling. Protecting society from indirect harm becomes vindictive and destroys lives of people who could have been reached by Christian mercy in our churches instead of police state acts by our government.

We need to do a much better job of doing God's work instead of playing God ourselves. That means we need to do a better job of working for laws that stop short of punishing sins that only indirectly harm others. Free will is a part of our beliefs. When we forget that we lose any ability to reach the sinner. We become the worst sort of sinner ourselves.

We never seem to talk about where that line is any more. Do we care where the line is?


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