A Way Forward for Social and Fiscal Conservatives

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Guest Commentary
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.

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Comments 4

  1. Good review of Evangelical Christians’ relation to politics and how we should see lgbt people as image bearers of God like everyone else (not in the homosexual relationship but as individuals) . You make clear there can be a relationship with politics that is good and one that is bad. You give plenty of examples of the good, protecting the dignity and rights of all individuals whether they be of different races or whether they be unborn. but seem to hint at what the bad might be. I am guessing you are contrasting the political liberty one finds in a Christian worldview that allows people the freedom to receive or.reject God’s salvation without any pressure from.the state with a theocratic view that seeks to force people.to.convert to religion under threat?

  2. Whether or not I agree depends on exactly what he means. I am not sure what implications he is trying to draw from saying LGBT are made in the image of God…If he means that all human beings are made in the image of God, despite any moral or biological flaws that also enter a life, well then, most obviously, anyone who accepts the God of the Bible would obviously agree. If, on the other hand, he is suggesting (as many do) that God somehow “made them with a same-sex preference, etc.,” then this is entirely unbiblical.

    If his point is that we treat everyone with love despite our disagreements, I am on the same page. We can speak against a practice and show love at the same time. My wife does this with abortion. While condemning the practice, her ministry is one of forgiveness and emotional healing for women who have experienced abortions. She does not, however, tell herself that in order to be compassionate, she must agree with the decisions of people she is reaching out to. Her compassion, without compromise, speaks for itself.

    BTW I too reject Dominion Theology

  3. There is a lot said by John that Evangelicals need to hear.

    In my opinion, Evangelicals in politics become disconnected from Christianity in two ways. One, by failing to understand the just (righteous) role, the jurisdiction of the State and two, a willingness to use violence/force (positive law) to change their neighbor. Neither is Christian.

    Case in point- immigration. Our problem isn’t immigration. It’s only the fruit of a bigger issue. It’s a departure from our great ideas that has metastasized into immigration issues amongst others. A broken economy that has made jobs scarce due to our departure from our ideals. It’s racism. Departures not compatible with Christian ethics yet supported by Christian voters. A faith in pragmatism over principle.

    The Christian Right adores Duncan Hunter but he’s never seen a country he wouldn’t bomb (pro-life?) and just voted for the Farm Bill.

    We Christians often get it wrong. The folks that should have recognized Christ first, crucified him.

    Our Framer’s practiced slavery.

    Eight white pastors publicly criticized Martin Luther in Birmingham. See his Letter From a Birmingham Jail.

    It wasn’t King’s faith that impressed me but his faith informing his understanding of rule of law, a topic lost on most of my brothers and sisters.

  4. For Bob…

    “If, on the other hand, he is suggesting (as many do) that God somehow “made them with a same-sex preference, etc.,” then this is entirely unbiblical.”

    No, I am not suggesting that at all… Let’s look at an analogy: My youngest son was born with what is called “bronchopulmonary sequestration.” As the fetus developed, the foregut – which is supposed to differentiate between the bronchial tree and esophagus, ended up getting cross-wired. He had an ‘extra’ lobe of lung which was hooked up to the esophagus instead of the bronchial tree. Left unaddressed, food particles would have migrated into the lung and causes multiple bouts of pneumonia. At three months, he had surgery to correct the problem.

    It might seem an odd analogy, but let me apply it to what I hear from Evangelicals on gender: “But God does not make mistakes…” OK, so how did my son’s foregut get switched during fetal development?

    Having had the opportunity to make friends in the LGBT community, and to simply listen to their stories, has exposed me to a great deal of indisputable facts. Children are sometimes born with what medicine calls “genital ambiguity.” By today’s definitions, it amounts to roughly 10%. But for the vast majority of this 10%, the ambiguity is relatively minor. But there are some for whom it is quite major. Genetically male babies have been born, for example, with the urethra exiting the body above the penis rather than through it. That is a feature of female genitalia appearing in a genetically male baby. There are examples of genetically male adults, after having died, the autopsy showed vestigial ovaries. Forgive me as I do not necessarily mean to be sarcastic, but I can’t help but ask: “But I thoughy God does not make mistakes?”

    There are numerous studies that suggest endocrine disrupting chemicals in the food supply may be a cause. These studies do not prove that cause and effect, but they do suggest we ask: “What if?” Ask yourself that from a theological perspective for a moment: What if the experience of gender dysphoria is an honest experience resulting from a hormonal chaos unleashed on the human person by our own allowance of certain kinds of chemicals in our food supply? What affect would this have on our pastoral/practical theology in terms of how we view and treat transgender persons?

    Personally I am becoming convinced this is not much different than any other possible birth defect. The thing is, there is no religious/cultural baggage associated with having a heart/lung birth defect. There is, though, with having a birth defect associated with genitalia, sexuality, and gender identity.

    In my article I raised the Parable of the Good Samaritan, and the manner in which the “expert in the law” sought the hope of eternal life in being right – and did not find it there. If I am going to look for it, and respond in faith to the Parable, then maybe I ought to offer to my LGBT neighbor to take that cultural baggage from their shoulders and carry it myself for a bit. Maybe working with them in our Republican Party on things we agree on is how I can do that…

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