The stated mission of the political Religious Right is to restore Christian values to the United States. This is reflected in mission statements by such figures as Iowa Christian Alliance President Steve Scheffler, who is dedicated to restoring “traditional” American values in government, and Don Morris, pastor of Point of Grace Ministries, who in the 1980’s spoke of using God to “…bring back to America the Judeo-Christian ethics it was founded on.” (“Sanctifying the Evangelical Vote,” The Village Voice, 18 October 2005, http://www.villagevoice.com/) An extreme example of this can also be found in the writings of Mr. Rousas Rushdoony, the recently deceased leader of the Chalcedon Foundation. The strategy of the Religious Right is to push for passage of Christian laws written by Christian legislators and enforced by Christian executives, in order to make a Christian nation. The two main issues on which the Religious Right focuses its efforts are the battle against homosexuality and the battle against abortion. By the way, before I say anything else, I want to make it clear that the Bible condemns both homosexuality and abortion.
When examining the endeavors of a group of people, it is always helpful to examine their goals to see whether these are feasible, as well as examining the methods used to achieve those goals, in order to determine whether the methods are effective. So we might well ask whether it is reasonable to try to produce a Godly nation by establishing Godly laws enforced by Godly leaders.
History is always helpful, as it contains instances of individuals and nations which in the past tried to achieve the same thing. Hopefully, we can learn from their mistakes and/or successes. The first and earliest historical example we see in history is the history of Israel, thousands of years ago. Israel as a nation began with a leader chosen directly by God. That leader’s name was Moses. And that nation was brought to birth by God, in a series of miracles by which a nation of slaves was rescued from its captors. Israel also had Godly laws. These laws were not merely the product of some constitutional convention; rather, they were given to Moses directly by God. As Romans 7:12 says, those laws were “…holy, and the commandment holy, and righteous, and good.”
But there was a problem with the nation, for it did not keep the law. So poor was their performance, in fact, that most of those who came out of Egypt with Moses died in the wilderness by God’s judgment, and never saw the Promised Land. Certainly the law was good, and its enforcement (by Divine judgment) was excellent, but those who were under that law were miserable failures. Their sons and daughters did somewhat better, and were allowed to enter the Promised Land with Joshua as their leader. This generation fully and enthusiastically committed itself to keeping God’s law. When Joshua issued his challenge, “If it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD,” all the people responded by saying, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD, to serve other gods…Therefore we also will serve the LORD; for he is our God.”
This was a Godly people with a Godly leader, Godly laws and the best of intentions; yet their zeal lasted only one generation. A thorough reading of the Old Testament will show that even though Israel had the law of God, the nation was constantly guilty of breaking that law. They struggled with homosexuality (Judges 19-20; 1 Kings 22:46), infanticide (Jeremiah 32:35) and many other evils. Occasionally, they had Godly leaders who succeeded in turning the nation around; yet their reformations were always short-lived. The reformations became fewer and fewer, and their sins piled higher and higher, until finally, God caused the nation to be destroyed and scattered by the armies of Assyria and Babylon (2 Kings 17, 24).
The history of Israel is meant to serve as an object lesson to us all. Israel had the best “constitution” imaginable; it had the Law of God. But Israel was a nation of sinners who could not keep that law. In seeing their failure we see what original sin is: a pathological failure, a terminal disease with no known humanly achievable cure – and we see that we are all afflicted. As one songwriter put it, “Everyone is crooked deep down.” This is why Christ came into the world. Jesus Christ came into the world as a King, and He spoke of a Kingdom, but that kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36-37). Those who are allowed into that kingdom as immigrants are not allowed on some fleshly basis, but rather on a spiritual basis (John 3:3-8). One must be born into that Kingdom. Sinners are disqualified from entry because of their sin; yet through the mercy of God, they can be born again. Those born into that Kingdom are easily identifiable as time passes, because their customs, culture and behavior become progressively different from what is seen in the world at large.
It is the death of Christ on the Cross and His resurrection which grants us the opportunity for this new birth, and it is our faith in Christ and His sacrifice which makes this new birth actual in our experience. This is why He commands His subjects to be witnesses of that new birth and new life to the world at large. To be sure, we are to witness with our words, but much more importantly, our witness is to be in our actions. “Even so, let your light shine before men; that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16). God’s method of spreading the reach of His Kingdom in this age is thus: by the display of the lives lived by His subjects in this age, lives which are bear testimony to the miraculous work of God in turning “crooked deep down” sinners into saints. Not only did Christ teach thus, but His apostles did also. For instance, read the first epistle of Peter and note how many times Peter talks about the testimony of our actions.
This is why neither Christ nor His apostles ever told His followers to try to make a Christian nation by passing Christian laws. It had already been tried, and had failed miserably. Trying to get the unsaved to live like Christians through legislation is like trying to teach pigs to fly; it wastes your time and annoys the pigs. Rather, we are to speak words of truth and live lives of blessing toward others. Otherwise, why did Paul write in the epistle to the Galatians, “I don’t make void the grace of God. For if righteousness is through the law, then Christ died for nothing!” And, “…if there had been a law given which could make alive, most certainly righteousness would have been of the law. But the Scriptures imprisoned all things under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.”
The Religious Right is guilty of starting a “culture war” for the purpose of trying to achieve something that is unachievable by the methods they are using, if the Scriptures cited above are an accurate guide. In this culture war, which they are fighting with broken weapons, they are actually doing far more harm than good. The Church of the first century was born in the godless, perverted society of the first century Roman Empire, yet it never tried to use political action to accomplish its mission of acting as salt and light in the world. And that church was far more effective as salt and light than American evangelicalism is today. It is impossible to make a nation righteous by imposing righteous laws upon it, for the problem is that the people who make up that nation are incapable of making themselves righteous, since they are sinners. The solution lies not in laws, but in spiritual intervention.
To be sure, an honest examination of the effectiveness of the Religious Right against homosexuality and abortion shows what appear to be some successes. There is the Defense of Marriage Act, signed into law by President Clinton in 1996. There are also 27 states which have amended their state constitutions to prohibit or restrict the recognition of civil unions between persons of the same gender. But the Religious Right has also failed to achieve certain goals. For instance, the proposed national Marriage Amendment to the United States Constitution has been submitted to the Senate three times, and has failed to be ratified all three times. And neither the Federal Government nor any state has outlawed homosexuality. As far as abortion, the Right did win a ban on partial-birth abortions in 2003, with the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act (HR 760, S 3), signed into law by President Bush. Many states have ratified similar bans. Yet abortion, per se, remains legal in the United States. Indeed, agitation by the Religious Right has caused governments in the United States to create enhanced protections for abortion clinics.
And the Religious Right has failed to police itself. There is the case of Ted Haggard, who preached against homosexuality, and whose closet homosexuality was disclosed by a homosexual masseur in 2006. There is former Congressman Mark Foley, who was very active in writing legislation opposing child pornography, yet who was forced to resign from Congress because of inappropriate contacts with male Congressional pages. There is former US Senator Larry Craig, who was given a 96 out of 100 rating by the American Conservative Union, who also voted for the Federal Marriage Amendment, yet who was arrested in an airport bathroom in Minneapolis in 2007 for making a pass at an undercover officer. There is former Representative Robert Bauman, a staunch conservative who, according to Wikipedia, often criticized the morality of the United States and who received a perfect 100 score on the Christian Voice Morality Rating, and who was arrested in 1980 for attempting to solicit sex from a 16 year old male prostitute.
But the failure of the Right goes beyond sexual morality. There are the Republican congressmen, the collection of broken weapons whom the Religious Right urges us to support in elections, some of whom are now enjoying a bit of a vacation in various federal prisons. I think of Randy Duke Cunningham, who in 1996 attacked President Clinton for appointing judges who were soft on crime, yet who had a son who was arrested for transporting 400 pounds of marijuana from Massachusetts to California. And in 2005, Cunningham himself was forced to resign from Congress and sentenced for tax evasion, bribery, and fraud. There is also former congressman Tom DeLay, who was involved in the scandal surrounding lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who was also indicted by a Texas grand jury in 2005 on charges of misconduct in fundraising and violations of Texas election law.
Figures such as James Dobson in the Religious Right uniformly urge conservative Christians to support the Republican Party because of its “pro-family, pro-values” stance, yet these people are shamed into embarrassed silence when their standard-bearers are blown apart by long-hidden scandal. 2006 was a banner year for Republicans (“Republican Scandals Helped Pave the Way for Democratic Gains,” Washington Post, 8 November 2006, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/11/08/AR2006110800623.html). Yet even before that, there were Republican stalwarts who boasted of high moral standards, a high degree of moral outrage over the condition of America, and high marks on “scorecards” issued by religious political organizations, yet who were indicted and convicted of high crimes and misdemeanors. When Religious Right figures continue to pressure Christians to vote Republican, one has to wonder what they really want.
The present rhetoric of the Religious Right seems to imply that all that is necessary to be a good Christian is to oppose homosexuality and abortion, to vote Republican, and to be patriotic. But in defining morality and moral issues as narrowly as they have, they are neglecting a whole host of other issues mentioned in the Bible, issues which are truly life-and-death matters for many in the world, and which will be life-and-death matters in the United States before very long. The Right claims to be greatly concerned about the sanctity of human life, yet they ignore the effects of Republican policies at every level of government which support big business at the expense of the poor, both here and abroad, and at the expense of the environment; policies which give power to a small elite for the purpose of ruining, robbing and enslaving the many. The failure of the Religious Right does not merely consist of fighting an ill-advised war with broken weapons; it consists much more of supporting a political regime which is destroying the earth. I will deal with this subject further in my next post.
Note: All Scripture references are taken from the World English Bible, a public domain translation.