Some Thoughts On Social Conservatism And The Religious Right

I have begun posting episodes from Francis Schaeffer‘s series, How Should We Then Live? The first episode can be found here. After re-watching the videos for the first time in many years, I am struck by how relevant his message still is, and how much ground has been lost by social conservatism and the religious right because of selfish ambition and pharisaism.

In many ways, Schaeffer was the philosophical founder of the religious right in the US. However, by all accounts, he was very uncomfortable with the motivations, rhetoric, and actions of the people who most became associated with the religious right when he was alive, and by extension with their modern counterparts today.

Schaeffer became interested in American politics and culture primarily because of his alarm over Roe vs. Wade. The lawlessness of nine unelected men deciding for a nation that abortion–and thus murder–was now legal appalled him. He saw this act as the beginning of a slippery slope that could only end in tyranny. Further, the acceptance of abortion by Americans signaled a decline in American society–it was strong evidence that the culture had lost its footing and no longer had a strong enough ethos to tell right from wrong, or to survive.

People say that law cannot legislate morality. However, if law does not legislate morality, pray tell, what does it legislate? We have laws against murder, not because murder is inconvenient to society, but because murder is morally wrong. Most laws are inherently moral in nature. Even the law, created by the Supreme Court, decriminalizing abortion in the US, had a moral rationale. The rationale happened to be wrong, but it represented a kind of morality. Many of the people most inclined to say that laws should not be used to legislate morality are quite content to support Barack Obama’s policies and decrees, which he justifies on the basis of what he construes to be Christian morality, misquoting Scriptures to back them up. How then can these same people say that you cannot legislate morality? That is exactly what Obama is attempting to do with his big government agenda.

The question then is not whether laws should be used to legislate morality, as it is nearly impossible to have a law without a moral element, but on what moral basis should we legislate? This was the question Schaeffer was posing.

This is not the same as saying that, through law, we can make a person believe a religious idea, or that we should even try. Rather, the pose that Schaeffer took was more of a man who looked, and was surprised to see that his nation had fallen down a well. He was merely trying to arrange a rescue. The rope he was throwing was not pharisaic law, but sound Bible teaching and reason.

Sadly, many–if not most–of the people we associate with the religious right have used it as a platform to aggrandize themselves and their own agendas. Looking at their country at the bottom of the well, they only want to scold or throw rocks upon its head. This was not at all what Schaeffer was about, nor is it what we should be about.

Our faith should never dictate our laws or our politics. Rather, our faith should inform our laws and politics.

For example, the Bible gives us a religious law that we should honor the Sabbath. We know that this is a religious law and not a moral precept, because the Bible never condemns people living apart from Israel for not keeping the Sabbath (it condemned them for a lot of other things, including infanticide, but not this). Further, we know that it is a religious law because Christians have already altered it. The Sabbath is defined as from sundown on Friday night to sundown on Saturday, whereas Christians arbitrarily changed the Sabbath to Sunday.

To make a law, as some people would want to do, that it is a crime to work on Sunday or not go to church Sunday would be wrong. America is a pluralistic society where even Christians have different opinions on such things. To make such a law would be to dictate according to one’s personal beliefs.

However, if our faith informs our laws and politics, then it would be good to advocate for a law saying that, since people need rest, there should be a five or six-day work week, and people should only have to work forty hours a week. Indeed, this is exactly why such labor laws were made. They were made because the Bible said people needed rest.

Evangelical Christians rightly view homosexuality as immoral. However, here we have a tension between society and faith, as most people in the US do not agree with this view. Fortunately, we have a guide in the New Testament. The letters of Paul were written to people who lived under Roman law and in the Roman culture. In Roman law, homosexuality was legal, and in the Roman culture it was accepted. Not once do we hear Paul trying to get laws passed banning homosexuality. Nor did he tell Christians not to work with or associate with non-Christians who were homosexuals. Rather, he strongly condemned those in the church who led a homosexual lifestyle, and told us not to associate with them. Finally, he did not cry out in the streets about the evil of homosexuality–to non-believers he always presented a positive message of Christ instead.

While granted that homosexuality is a sin, by our attitudes towards homosexuals, are we not barring the doors of heaven to them? If Christianity informs our laws and politics, while it would be right–in my opinion–to defend marriage as something instituted between a man and a woman, would it not also be right to defend laws which forbid discrimination of homosexuals in the secular workplace, so long as those laws do not give them a special privilege, and so long as those laws are not used against people of faith?

Traditionally, in both Christianity and Judaism, abortion was viewed as murder, and abortionists were viewed as akin to witches. While there has been a cottage industry of people trying to warp and twist the facts and history to say that abortion was accepted by law and Christians from early times, this simply is not true and cannot bear even the smallest degree of scrutiny. If abortion is murder–and most people indeed believe it to be so–then should it not be our duty to outlaw it, or at least return the matter to elected representatives so that they can deal with as their constituents wish? Outlawing abortion need not entail hauling women off to prison or giving abortion doctors the death penalty–when abortion was illegal, this never happened. Rather, it is a social stand against something we know is wrong, and which can only lead to death for both the unborn child, and of society itself.

In short, there is a role for Christian values in the legal and political world of the US, and we desperately need it. However, our involvement should be because we care for others, and not because we want power for ourselves or to make a point. For this reason, we need to work with others of different beliefs, and use persuasion and reason–not demagoguery and pharisaic pronouncements–to move the heart of society so that moral laws can be instituted, and this period of lawlessness can be ended.

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11 Responses to Some Thoughts On Social Conservatism And The Religious Right

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