Well, the Wall Street Journal ran an article the other day about Baptist leader Russell Moore’s call for evangelicals to tone down the heated political rhetoric and back away from “the culture war.” Apparently, after the Supreme Court struck down DOMA, he wrote in a flier entitled “How Should Your Church Respond” that believers ought to “love your gay and lesbian neighbors,” noting that homosexuals were not part of an evil conspiracy and that marriage shouldn’t be seen as a “’culture war’ political issue.”
The shift in emphasis will likely surprise some who view the denomination as the leader of the vast right-wing conspiracy, renowned for denouncing the evils of the “radical homosexual agenda.” Doubtless Moore’s comments will be looked on unfavorably by those dedicated to taking back America for Christ and bringing us back to the good ol’ days of the 1790s.
But I, for one, applaud the move. Not, as the Wall Street Journal seems to think, because it calls Christians to retreat from politics, but because it encourages Christians to place politics in its proper place – as a tool by which the Christian may love his neighbor as himself.
Not Wrestling with Flesh and Blood
Church history is full of warfare imagery. It’s all over Scripture, for one, with Christ rising victorious after conquering death and the Apostle Paul admonishing us to put on the armor of God. Desiderius Erasmus wrote The Handbook of a Christian Soldier as a guide for Christian living, George Herbert’s poem “The Church Militant” has become a Christian classic, and we all know the words to thesong “Onward Christian Soldier.”
Make no mistake, we are at war. But Scripture also tells us precisely what that war does and does not entail. We are engaged in a war against principalities, powers, the rulers of the darkness of this world, and spiritual wickedness. We are not in a struggle against flesh and blood.
Unfortunately, self-proclaimed “culture warriors” tend to lose sight of that. Instead, they brand opponents to their policies as enemies, dividing society into the categories of “we” and “they.” Instead of a neighbor to be loved, the dreaded “liberal” simply becomes an enemy to defeat in the battlefield of American politics. Politics gives way to ideology – instead of aiming to serve people with our policies, the culture warrior begins to see the policies as an end in and of themselves.
In short, the culture warrior loses sight of the person in his zeal for the law, which is the exact opposite of the role of the law in Christian theology. He uses the law to restrain and enslave rather than to liberate and bring others to a place of spiritual freedom. He becomes a political legalist.
A true Christian conservative, on the other hand, does not seek to seize the power of the state in order to bring about the kingdom of heaven on earth. Rather, he becomes a political servant, seeking to steward and care for his society. He does not defend marriage out of hatred for homosexuals, or because he believes that he has some divine command to eradicate homosexuality. He defends marriage because he believes that a family based on heterosexual marriage is best for society.
This year’s Election Day is getting close, and I’m expecting a lot of heated rhetoric and hard feelings to come out of it (as is usual in local and state politics). So I’d like to challenge you to take some time to sit down and think through your aims when it comes to engaging in politics. See if you can justify your policies on the principles of “love your neighbor as yourself.” It’s doable, and I’d rather work with a dozen charitable Christian citizens than a horde of passionate “culture warriors.”
Posted by Nick Barden
Image: Russell Moore at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary