Evangelicals in Political Society
Four out of five people in the United States identify as Christians, yet Christianity is marginalized in mainstream culture.
Somehow, many Americans have become convinced that their faith is something to hide. The entertainment industry and academia, in particular, have sent a clear message that Christianity is an oppressive superstition that is outdated, uneducated and very uncool. And the loudest of disapproving voices are aimed at anyone caught using a "religious" belief to take a political position.
While it is true that the First Amendment prevents Congress from establishing religious laws or inhibiting religious practice, people of faith have a right and a responsibility to bring their convictions into the political community—just like anyone else. Indeed, society is better for it when this happens, as a Christian worldview brings a particular understanding of the human person that facilitates effective and ethical public policy.
THE RIGHT AND RESPONSIBILITY OF CITIZENSHIP
The politically conscious evangelical should understand first that he is accountable to his own convictions, and should not try to water down or alter his opinion to be more amenable to his peers. Cultural norms carry little moral weight in themselves, as history has shown time and time again. We can easily think of examples such as the slave trade or the holocaust to give evidence to this. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote from a jail cell that "one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws." This was not a call for reckless crime, but an acknowledgement that our true authority is much greater than the laws or opinions of man.
It is not enough, however, to be true to one's convictions; one must also enjoy a fundamental right to a voice in the deliberations of the political community.
A popular argument today is that religious beliefs are private and inappropriate for modern political debate. Those who endorse this view quickly label certain policy positions "religious," and remind simpleminded folk that our founders erected a "wall of separation between church and state." It may help to educate these advocates that no force has caused more death and poverty than secular ideology; that Thomas Jefferson, who penned the "separation" quote, was not at the Constitutional Convention and did not represent the dominant views of our founders; that theological views are philosophically valid; and that democracy is supposed to be about the equal rights of each citizen to dream, work, think and vote.
Our Constitution guarantees a "republican" government, which simply means it operates on the principle of consent and representation. It does not mean representation of only some views, or those that are valid according to some standard or methodology. Thus, no personal opinion ought to be discouraged or excluded from public discourse or the ballot box.
That evangelicals are obliged to heed their convictions and bring them into the public square should not be a threat to the community, as many secularists tend to believe. Christianity offers a legitimate, indeed valuable, perspective on public policy.
A WORLDVIEW WORTH DEFENDING
As Francis Beckwith writes in "Is The Good Book Good Enough: Evangelical Perspectives on Public Policy," the Christian worldview is a set of answers to questions such as "who and what are we, and can we know it?" It puts forth a systematic anthropology for addressing virtually every problem in human society. As such, it depends not only on a biblical account of the universe, but on a standard of reason no less strict than secular philosophy. Thus, Christians are equipped with the intellectual tools necessary for rigorous scholarship and public policy that is both effective and ethically sound.
Beckwith argues that many of our policy debates are metaphysical in nature. Abortion is one example, and a person's position depends on how one defines "life"—a question beyond the bounds of material empiricism. Most social issues run into a similar problem, but even questions of economic behavior cannot be easily answered without some viewpoint about the nature of human interests.
This book makes the case that evangelicals bring legitimate postulates to consider alongside others in policy debates. Reason and science can help us separate valid from invalid, but rather than approach them on their merits, the common practice is to demarcate boundaries of legitimate argument in terms favorable to secularism. Science may demonstrate that the universe began with a "Big Bang" and that there are linkages between species over centuries. Yet, while we can teach in schools that these occurred by chance, we cannot teach that they occurred by design, despite the reality that neither explanation is scientifically confirmed.
Secularists therefore place the burden of proof upon Christianity to justify its claims empirically, even while they rely fail to subject their own claims to the same test. Evangelicals should recognize this line of attack when it surfaces and turn the spotlight back on those making it.
AN EMERGING MOVEMENT
The monopoly on reason is breaking down. The stronghold of secularism among the American intelligentsia is exposing its shallow and cracked foundation.
Christian intellectualism as a movement was new in the 1970s and 80s, having awoken to threats against western culture and Christianity. In time, that nascent movement—as fervent in its cause as it was lacking in its philosophy—has percolated largely beneath the surface. Only recently has it begun to emerge as a cogent and authoritative force in public policy—and this is the reason for asking, "Is the Good Book good enough?"
Seasoned heavyweights are now training a new generation in Christian liberal arts colleges across the country. We so-called Millennials have a daunting task ahead of us, in bringing a Christian worldview back to mainstream culture. But by reading and clear thinking, we may be among the best-prepared generations for engaging these matters that the world has known.
Editor's note: Join us online at 12 pm EST, Wednesday, February 20, 2013, for a discussion on evangelical perspectives on public policy.