Monday, July 11, 2005

Untethered Moderation

As the skirmishing over George W. Bush’s anticipated Supreme Court nomination heats up, the president has asked special interest groups to “tone down the heated rhetoric.” Some religious conservatives, who powered the president’s electoral victory last November, have a sinking feeling their standard-bearer is looking straight at them and not at liberals such as Chuck Schumer, New York’s senior senator, who was overheard saying that “we are going to go to war over this.”

Facing attacks from liberal political opponents is one thing, but friendly fire is another. Last month, in an op-ed for The New York Times, former Missouri Senator John Danforth, an Episcopal priest, took aim. (Ever notice how the mainstream media always seem to find space for Christians who are criticizing other Christians?)

Conservatives generally respect Danforth, a Republican who stood by Clarence Thomas amid the bloody confirmation hearings during Bush I. Danforth has also played a key role in the current administration’s efforts—aided greatly by religious conservatives—to help bring peace in Sudan. But they couldn’t have been pleased with Danforth’s piece, called “Onward, Moderate Christian Soldiers.”

One of the problems with religious conservatives, Danforth said, is that they are too sure they are right: “To assert that I am on God’s side and you are not, that I know God’s will and you do not, and that I will use the power of government to advance my understanding of God’s kingdom is certain to produce hostility.”

Danforth said moderate Christians have the same deep faith, without the hubris. “Moderate Christians are less certain about when and how our beliefs can be translated into statutory form,” he said, “not because of a lack of faith in God but because of a healthy acknowledgement of the limitations of human beings.”

Then Danforth—citing the Love Commandment as his sole justification—blithely goes on to enumerate just what moderate Christians see as appropriate social policy: (1) allowing the Terri Schiavos of the world to die; (2) supporting (embryonic) stem cell research; (3) keeping references to God out of the public square; and (4) (reading between the lines) opposing the Federal Marriage Amendment.

With a “moderate” agenda like that, who needs liberals?

Yes, Danforth is right to be concerned about those who would impose theocracy in our pluralistic society (though, mercifully, their numbers are few), and his call for humility is a welcome reminder of our human fallibility. (I hope he heeds it.) He is also right to remind religious conservatives that appeals to divine writ won’t fly in 2005.

But most Christian conservatives already know this. As Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pennsylvania), a Catholic, told me, “It's important to understand proper civil discourse, where people are invited to bring all their ideas, irrespective of their origin, to the public square to be debated and hashed out and for compromises and agreements to be made and the majority to proceed.”

Someone needs to tell the former senator that most religious conservatives are also motivated by love (although sometimes to our shame we don’t show it very well). Take the four issues he raised: (1) it is loving to protect weak and defenseless people such as Terri Schiavo, who are otherwise inconvenient to the rest of the world; (2) it is loving to defend developing human life made in the image of God; (3) it is loving to remind our fellow citizens that liberty without law is anarchy; and (4) it is loving to tell the truth about homosexuality to people trapped in a sad and harmful lifestyle.

Contra Danforth, the ultimate question is not about love, at least not love alone. It is also about truth, truth working with love to bless society. But untethered to truth, love becomes a mushy sentimentality that allows evil to spread.

So does moderation.


Blogger kaligula said...

The simple fact is that the Gospels rarely addressed the Church State issue, and when it was addressed, it was a clever parable that never violated Roman Law.

The most famous example is when the Pharisees ask Jesus if it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar?

Of course, this was a trick question. A yes or no would have either violated Roman Law or Jewish Law.

Of course, Jesus cleverly responded by asking for a tribute coin and rhetorically asking
"Whose likeness and inscription is this?"


So "give to Caesar what is Caesar's and give to God what is God's."

With all due respect to Sen. Danforth, even though I agree with many of his social views, he flat out misinterprets the Gospels with respect to the 2 Great Commandments.

These were meant to summarize the Law of the Jewish prophets, not to establish a standard with respect to civil government.

"Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

This is the first and great commandment.

And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

The Great Commandments never applied to civil law. Jesus, being blameless, was executed unjustly by the Romans, and therefore never violated Roman Law, which could hardly have legally tolerated such a civil interpretation.

However, the same above lessons also apply to the strains of "Christian Reconstructionism" that infect much of religious right conservatism today. There is no biblical mandate for any political and religious hierarchy to restore essential social policies viewed as being abrogated by the state. Especially, as being in any sense the primary function of a particular political party.

The modern left or the right, who both attempt to justify a civil intepretation of the New Testament to ancient scripture, both run afoul.

7:31 AM  

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