by John Horst
One of the best things about running for office is making a whole raft of new friends… and having those friendships expand your horizons — confirming some things you believe and challenging others. Here are some thoughts about growing up with an Evangelical Christian outlook on politics — and then getting to see politics from a number of other viewpoints. “Our side” has some things to learn, but before I get to that, let me comment for the benefit of my friends who have not grown up from within the Evangelical Christian viewpoint on politics.
I was in a cathedral near London Bridge the other day. (I am writing this from Paris on vacation.) There was a seat where William Wilberforce used to sit. He was the Evanglical Christian leader of the movement to abolish the slave trade in the United Kingdom. John Newton was a repentant slave trader in the same period who, upon being terribly convicted as to the sin of slavery, wrote the words “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me…”
Those who say Christians should leave their faith at home when getting into politics need to go back to this period to understand why Evanglical Christianity has always been political. Before the debate existed in the United States, in the UK it was a debate over whether a black person was just as much a human being as a white person. In our country there was the political veneer of “states’ rights” to this debate. But inside that veneer was the fundamentally moral matter of the humanity of people from other lands.
The politically active Evangelical sees the abortion debate in much the same way. The question of a “woman’s right to choose…” is a political question, and is something of a veneer surrounding the fundamentally moral question: Is the human fetus a human being in every sense those two words mean anything? Much of Evangelical Christian political activism is animated by a one word answer to that single question: YES. Much of Evangelical Christian political activism of a couple hundred years ago here in the UK was animated by the same answer to what is basically the same question — about the people of Africa.
Many would likely be surprised to discover that modern American feminism began as an Evangelical Christian women’s movement dedicated to the abolition of slavery. Having won that battle, they then set their sights on women’s right to vote. In the 1950s the Civil Rights Movement was led by Rev. Martin Luther King and his Baptist faith. That faith — which was the spring from which came the examples of human dignity shown by the black community during that time — was what won the advances of the Civil Rights era. Whatever you do, do not let white Liberals con you into thinking they were why the Civil Rights Act was passed. It was because the television had permeated the American living room, and the unsearchable depths of human dignity among the black population was shown in those living rooms in searing contrast to the evils of racial hatred. The political impetus for Civil Rights owes itself to Dr. King’s Evangelical Christianity and to how the black community in America refused to allow racism to overshadow their human dignity.
And then we come to the 60s and 70s. There was an infatuation with socialism which morphed into what we now call Cultural Marxism. Its basic tenet is the primacy of the State. When the State is the most significant unit of society, the individual exists for the benefit of the State (which is to say to pay taxes) and all competitors to the State must be deligitimized. The history articulated above shows very clearly that the single most potent of all competitors to the State is religion and religious communities. And so in the 60s and 70s the judiciary in the United States was the preferred means by which Cultural Marxism sought to push religion out of the public square entirely.
This, then, gave rise to what the media called the “Religious Right” and the “Moral Majority” of Jerry Fallwell (Sr.). It was a reaction to the efforts of Cultural Marxism to delegitimize people of faith in the political arena. There was also a movement among other politically active Christians at the same time called “Dominion Theology”… but we’ll get to that in a moment.
We are starting to see the beginnings of a willingness on the part of the social and fiscal sides of political conservatives to at least make an effort to understand each other. If we want to win again in California, we need to keep working down this particular road.
And that means we (Evangelical social conservatives) have to start with what I think, quite frankly, is the pernicious scourge of Dominion Theology. This is basically the idea that Christians are supposed to gain political power to advance the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. The eschatology (our fancy seminary word for the study of what the Bible says about the end of time) behind this produced books in the 1970s and 1980s like “88 Reasons Why Jesus Must Return by 1988.” That worked out well, now, didn’t it?
You cannot even get half way through the book of Genesis before encountering Abraham and Sarah basically trying the same thing: They seize the initiative in redemption and try to hurry God along in keeping His promise. Ishmael is born to Sarah’s slave girl Hagar and ends up being the father of what is today the world of political Islam. Hmmm…, that, too, worked out real well, now didn’t it?
There is what can only be called a fundamental arrogance in thinking that God will cede His initiative in redemption to our temporal politics. But the arrogance is, by far, not the worst of it. When that temporal politics then blinds us to the image of God in others, our arrogance has turned into idolatry — and we have become idolaters.
Pretty heavy-duty charge. I’ll back it up by pointing our attention first to the Commandment: Thou shalt not make for yourself any carved image of the LORD your God. And then futher back – all the way to creation – where we learn that we are created in the image of God. That word “image” — it is the same in both places, and means the same thing as well.
There is a powerfully simple reason for the Commandment: We do not make “images” of God because He has already done that for us. That means, for example, my LGBT neighbor and fellow conservative Republican has been created in the image of God — to be the image of God before me. And I have been created in that same image to be that same image before her.
This does not require us to abandon our beliefs. As Christians, our morality does not arise from sayings scribbled on ancient parchment, but is taught to us by nature. The heterosexual complement of nature teaches us what is and is not moral — as it has done for 5,000 years of Judeo-Christian thought. I am becoming convinced, however — because I have insisted on seeing the image of God in my LGBT neighbor — that while genetics shows us clearly that gender is binary, biology shows us that things can go awry. This, in turn, might explain the psychology of gender dysphoria and sexual orientation. I am beginning to wonder if endocrine disrupting chemicals we have allowed only recently in our food supply haven’t set off a hormonal chaos. It is entirely possible the divergence of the biology and psychology of sexuality and gender from the otherwise binary nature of genetics is entirely our own fault.
Whether this is true or not, seeing the image of God in my LGBT neighbor means that I realize where the expert in the law in the Parable of the Good Samaritan went wrong: He was looking for the hope of eternal life in being right. And he did not find it there. He did not find it until being confronted with the compassionate example of the Samaritan and the command to “go and do likewise.” We seem to be given to the spiritual equivalent of political correctness — we would like to identify with the Samaritan in the Parable. But as we step out of our Sunday School class on “Apologetics” ready to prove ourselves right to our gay neighbor — well…?
The intersection of God’s plan of redemption and our plans for politics is a pretty interesting place. It seems we have become confused about whose job redemption is. While history teaches us the intersection of politics and spirituality can be a dangerous place given to political tyrrany and spiritual impotence, it also offers us an important lesson. When we start by seeing the image of God in each other, we quickly realize why it is that the individual — not the State — is and must remain the most significant unit of society. Neither the institutional Church nor the State are the image of God, no matter how badly the clerics or the bureaucrats would like either to be.
And that means liberty demands that the State exists for the benefit of the individual — which is to say to secure those liberties which belong to the individual by nature. And in our unique history as a country, the freedom of religion is the first of those liberties. This is not a freedom from religion. It is the freedom to be devout in public and in private, and to be involved in politics in whatever manner that devotion might lead. It is the antithesis of Cultural Marxism. And it is also the political ideology which affords the greatest freedom to enjoy what I call the Birthright of the Gospel of Jesus Christ: the opportunity to live a redemptive life.
But doing so requires that we recognize that living that life simply means making room for God to redeem — that is His job, not ours. It is ours to be His image; it is His to redeem His creation. Like Abraham and Sarah, it is when we get these two things confused that we end up trying to “help” things along… and become no better, and possibly much worse, than any bureaucrat.
Or perhaps like Jacob and Esau — will we sell the Birthright of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for a mess of political pottage?
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John Horst is a former candidate for California’s 52nd Congressional District, former Chairman of the Mira Mesa Community Planning Group, and Managing Member of Xanetsi Technology Services, LLC which provides cyber security consulting services to government and private sector businesses.