The Editors of Christianity Today "Get it Mostly Right"
In this month’s issue of Christianity Today ("God's Will in the Public Square: Democratic Senator Barack Obama gets it mostly right") the editors of CT praised Barack Obama’s recent address about religion and politics (“Obama's humility cuts through the cynicism many Americans feel when politicians begin talking about religion. He speaks about his faith and religious values with earnestness and with ease.”). They loved it when he said, “Secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square.”
They quote Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn when he “balked” at this Obama sound bite: “Speaking as a secularist…what we ask of believers—all we ask—is that they not enter the public square using ‘because God says so’ as a reason to advance or attack any political position.”
The editors of CT seem to believe that Christians should enter into political debate with their faith on their sleeves, as if everyone should believe the same as Christians should. Much in the same way Zorn “balked” at the idea that believers not use the “because God says so” ploy, they “balked” at what Obama later said is the proper way believers should enter into public discourse about political issues.
Obama said, “I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or [invoke] God's will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.”
The CT editors write, “Unfortunately, later in this otherwise exemplary speech, Obama ended up agreeing with Zorn, and this suggests a continuing blind spot for many in their understanding of how religion relates to politics.” Citing Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr., they go on to say that Christians should use Christian rhetoric in their political pleas in the public discourse.
I think that a balance needs to be found here. While Christians should engage with social issues based on their faith and should never be afraid to articulate their faith-based understanding on the issues, they cannot presume that people who do not share their faith will want to hear or will even understand these kinds of arguments. They must be willing to speak to both people of their own faith and people of other faiths and of no faith at all, just as Obama says.
The doctrine of Common Grace tells us that nonbelievers have been given the special grace from God in order to understand that which is needed for the common good. Government officials do not need to be Christian in order to run the government well. (Sorry, Katherine Harris, but you are wrong to say, “If you're not electing Christians, then in essence you are going to legislate sin.” You need a little Christian lesson on the meaning of Common Grace.)
Therefore, if Christians cannot articulate our opinions on today’s issues in more than “because God says so” language, then we have failed to be good Christians in the public square. While politicians should not fear using religious words to describe their views (as has been the case with Democrats), they should not use religious words as a manipulative code-language to garner approval from a certain group of voters (as has been the case with Republicans). Religious words in political discourse is appropriate for one of faith who is seeking public office if it flows out of who that person genuinely is. However, religious arguments can only go so far in public discourse in a pluralistic society.
For a Christian in politics, the Common Good should be explained from a perspective of a Christian Worldview. But political arguments for the Common Good cannot be exclusively debated from a religious perspective. The terms and arguments used must reflect God’s General Revelation, that which all humans can understand.
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