Christians in the Public Square

Hugh Hewitt recently interviewed J.P Moreland about Christians in the public square in the age of Obama.

Moreland made some very salient points.  Some excerpts:constitution

HH: What kind of concerns (do you have about the Obama presidency)?

JPM: Well, the first, as a Christian, the first thing that I see can be understood by the difference between negative and positive rights. A negative right is a right for me to be protected from harm if I try to get something for myself. A positive right would be my right to have something provided for me. If health care is a negative right, then the state has an obligation to keep people from preventing me from getting health care and discriminating against me. If health care’s a positive right, then the state has an obligation to provide it for me. As I read the New Testament, the government’s responsibility, and by the way, I think the Old Testament prophets say this, too, is I read the prophets in the New Testament, the government’s job is to protect negative rights, not to provide positive rights. So as a Christian, I believe in a minimal government. It’s not the government’s job to be providing the health care benefits for people. So I will be looking to see if Obama does things to minimize the role of government in culture, and to provide for as much human freedom as possible.


HH: what practical steps do you advise?

there should be teaching about four topics – first, the culture of life. It is important to vote for a political party that seeks to promote a culture of life. That’s a Christian value. Second, we ought to be promoting a minimal view of the government that follows from my distinction about negative and positive rights. The government has a very limited role in culture as far as the New Testament is concerned. Third, we ought to promote a government that seeks to maintain control over crime and has a strong anti-crime policy. And then finally, it is primarily the job of charity and the local church to care for the poor, and to be involved in that kind of outreach. It is not primarily the state’s job. And so what a pastor should be doing is teaching and leading by example in his church about reaching out to the poor, providing education, food, clothing and job training, and doing it through charities rather than the coercive machinery of the state.


HH: Do you think pastors will get into trouble…I mean, they’re all going to say to you, that’s very nice, but I’m going to have my Democrats leave, and they’re going to take their contributions with them, and then they’re going to call the IRS and I’m going to get audited. And I just as soon talk about the Beatitudes, and not connect them up to voting.

JPM: Well, if you keep doing that, then what you’re creating is a secular-sacred split in the lives of your parishioners. They can allow Jesus Christ to have something to say about their private spiritual lives, but Jesus Christ is not allowed to say anything when it comes to their public life. I find that kind of discipleship to be completely unacceptable. If as a Christian, and those who are listening aren’t Christians need to understand, that those of us who are Christians want to seek to follow Jesus as best we can with all our flaws and all of our problems, but that’s our goal. It would follow, then, that we should want to follow Jesus throughout all of life including life as citizens of the state if the New Testament and Old Testament teach on that, and it does.

HH: Is it malpractice, J.P. Moreland, for an Evangelical pastor to be silent on such things?

JPM: Well, absolutely. I mean, how could a pastor refrain from teaching what the Bible has to say about the important issues of our day that his or her parishioners have got to face? The Bible is not silent on these matters. I say again, Hugh, Christians believe the Bible has something to say about science and religion. Christians believe the Bible has something to say about abortion and euthanasia, about economics, about money, about marriage. Why all of a sudden do we think the Bible doesn’t have anything at all to say about the state and the political life? Why that just makes no sense whatsoever. The problem is not that the Bible doesn’t teach about these things, the problem is that the Church is illiterate because there’s been a lack of teaching on it.

John Schroeder at Article VI blog has some thoughts on the interview.

I’m not sure I track with John on his concerns.  In particular, he says,

“I have always contended here that politics will corrupt religion far more than religion could possibly corrupt politics, and I think that is the case in this instance.  When religion becomes identified as the political, the religion ceases to be.”

This is vague.  I’d like him to explain what he means more.  Politics has to do with just, peaceful, and prosperous living as a society.  Why think that, when “religion becomes identified” with this, that it corrupts religion?  At any rate, what does he mean for religion to be “identified” with politics?

He goes on to say,

“If we try and press a Biblical, heck for purposes of this blog let’s say ‘scriptural,’ viewpoint on every issue, then we approach that issue in politics as if exercising the authority of the Almighty.”

How so?  And if so, why would that be a bad thing?  I take it that by “authority of the Almighty” that he means “exercising God’s will.”  I have my political views precisely because I believe their instantiation would bring about justice, peace, and order…in short, goodness.  This is just the same as everyone else.

I’d think that God cares about justice, peace, and order and that therefore He has a view on the issues.  If my view really is the good, right view, then yes, that would place me on God’s side.  The opposite is the case if my views are not good and right.  This is hardly controversial in my mind, though some do question that with undefined slogans.

All Moreland is claiming is that our worldview should inform our politics.  Why would anyone have a problem with this?  I don’t see anyone scoffing at atheists, agnostics, and secularists using their worldview to inform their politics.  Also, I don’t see near as much hesitancy when liberals use their liberal theology to inform their politics (Proposition 8, for example.)  Why is it taboo when conservative Christians do it, then?

John ends,

“If, on the other hand, religion exercises its primary purpose – to make better people – and those better people then come to bear by doing politics and being political, then religion and government stay separate, religion is protected, and government functions well in a religiously diverse society. ”

Why does John separate “making better people” with “doing politics”?  If you think of the state as more of a nanny, for instance, or perhaps a gigantic Santa Claus (“Now that  Obama’s elected, I won’t have to pay for my gas.”), that will have a bearing on your character.

Also, think about the time of slavery.  If someone suggested to me that one could be a good person yet be against the abolition of slavery, I’d scoff at that.  If someone suggested that you could be a good person and be a hard-core segregationalist, that would be insane.   MLK Jr. intertwined his religion with his politics (taking what *seems* to be John’s sense of “intertwining,” though I could be missing him…again, would like him to clarify), and the world is a better place as a result.

My point is that one’s political views has a bearing on their character.  Ideas have consequences.  In some ways, they determine the makeup of one’s soul.

Religion and politics don’t overlap 100%, but they overlap more than we think, and this is a good thing.

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One response to “Christians in the Public Square

  1. Pingback: How Then Should we Engage? « The Pugnacious Irishman

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