I recently commented on an article at Christianity Today titled, “The Lost Virtue of Courtesy.” Everybody is for courtesy. Clearly respect and patience are Christian virtues. But I have a suspicion that ever since evangelical progressives like Jim Wallis have gone more evangelical mainstream, the emphasis on civility has become a mantra (that is unless Jim Wallis is talking about Marvin Olansky, at which point he is being merely prophetic, speaking truth to white power). Note the “Covenant for Civility”. The subtitle could be “Jerry Falwell, D Jame Kennedy, Jim Dobson and kind, go to the back of the bus.”
Actually I am finding that evangelicals are too courteous and too willing to give the benefit of the doubt. But even then, we are major stumbling blocks for the progressives. There are too many of us and we are too rooted in the Bible to be pushed off center. So the strategy is to tame us by appealing to the Bible itself. This kind of argument has a power with evangelicals like it has with no other group, tapping into, as it does, the high reverence they have to The Book.
No one is arguing whether or not Christians should demonstrate the fruit of the spirit. The only argument has to do with their place at the table in the political dialogue and whether or not they are allowed to play hardball in the public arena. Those who want to tame conservative orthodoxy are not just the secularists. There are those who are within the camp, too, who are uncomfortable with taking moral positions and who believe that to do so compromises the priority of love.
I am increasingly of the opinion that while some evangelicals are trying to distance themselves from tying Christianity to the political and cultural structures of the West that we, in fact, should not so easily buy into this movement. We are constantly told that we are members of the Kingdom of God and that this is above any national allegiance or cultural commitment. In fact, we are told that the existence of the latter stands in direct contradiction to the former.
To apply this more specifically, we are told that our call to the Muslim world is simply to love them and witness to the Kingdom of God through Jesus. I also think the sensible Christian would also sense another call – to protect Western culture, which has not only nurtured the faith we hold dear but also been transformed by it into a culture that is the envy of the peoples of the world. It is correct to say that our commitment to Christ is not the same thing as national and cultural allegiance. Who doesn’t know that? But that retort doesn’t address the real and continuing issue. What is a Christian to do when barbarians seek to undermine, overthrow and replace the very culture which has been most transformed by the message of the Man of Nazareth and which has given to Christians and to all who live within its reach the greatest numbers of liberty and the greatest opportunity to live in a society that integrates root world views the bless humankind?
In other words, should Christians, out of commitment to Christ, seek the good of the West and sacrifice to ensure that it stands against the forces of totalitarian Islam, repressive Marxism, and any other world view that crushes the human spirit? I say yes. The collision between supremacist Islam and the West is just getting started. There are three levels at which we handle this.
One, all Christians everywhere live a life of holiness and witness and service.
Two, Christians ready themselves to support nation states which form the primary barrier between civilization and barbarism. Can such a stance be perceived as mere politics and unworthy and shortsighted of the Christian? I think not. While it is Christ who is our Savior, and no President or Prime Minister, to yield no allegiance to a state which has most honored the values of the Judeo-Christian tradition seems nonsensical. A commitment to Christ might lead us to make higher commitments to nation states than we normally would when those states evidence openness to and sympathy with those values intrinsic to the kingdom of heaven. We are not such simpletons that we make a one-for-one correspondence. But neither are we such simpletons that we make the nation state irrelevant to the purposes of God.
Three, sometimes this support involves military readiness to stand against regimes which would enslave and strip men and women of their dignity and cultures of their Judeao-Christian values. See Rodney Stark’s, God’s Battalions and the example of such men as Boenhoeffer. Here we meet head on the issue of pacifism. While the Christian Church has honored those who are pacifist for Christ’s sake, it has not historically weakened its belief in just war and that the state is to wield the power of the sword to stop evil. Leave the pacifists alone! Their numbers are small and always will be. The vast majority of people intuitively understand that not to be willing to use force to stop evil is a morally impossible position. The church has historically hardly even engaged in the controversy simply because pacifism dies the death of absurdity.
Four, the church must engage vigorously in political discourse and support the cause of liberty and human dignity. It does so even as it recognizes that politics is not salvation and governments are not saviors. The church understands that its essential contribution to human renewal is to exist in a condition of revival and pure love. Therefore, the church realizes that its own efforts at simply being the church is job #1. But it also sees that it cannot finish there.
I am increasingly of the persuasion that the efforts to tame the church politically are never ending and that to maintain courage and perseverance in good citizenry is a great good. While we learned some hard lessons through over-reliance on political solutions, we ought not to lose our resolve to wield political influence. We can learn too much from a bad experience. As they say, the cat who once sat on a hot stove will not sit on a cold one either.
I look forward to a new emergence of political and cultural engagement, particularly as supremacist Islam surges toward the West.