So What's This All About?

In case you didn't know, I'm in the multi-year-long process of posting a Christian devotional at the TAWG Blog. The TAWG Blog is, and always will be, mostly apolitical. For the most part, Bible-believing Christians will find little to disagree with there. But I also firmly believe that God's word can--and should--inform everything in life, and this should include politics and popular culture. How should we vote? How should we respond to hot topics such as abortion, capital punishment, taxes, and other issues? Which party, if either, is closer to the Biblical ideal? Tony Campolo and Ron Sider, Evangelicals whose political leanings are on the Left, have made the case in several of their writings that God wants his followers to vote politically on the Left more than on the Right. At times, some of them have gone so far as to equate voting on the Left with obedience to Christ, either subtly or not-so-subtly contending that the converse is true as well: If you vote Republican, you're sinning against the Savior.
I don't agree. I think that to the degree they actually resort to the Bible, they're misinterpreting it. With a whole bunch of caveats, I think politically conservative positions are a lot more compatible with the Scriptures than the Leftist positions.
Just to clarify, I would never accuse people who disagree with me--especially siblings in Christ--of what they accuse me of. I don't judge my own heart, much less anyone else's, and I don't equate political disagreement with theological fidelity to God. I have no reason to doubt their love for the Lord and "for the least of these," but I believe that they're sincerely wrong.
So there are two main purposes for this blog. One is to make a case for my political beliefs based on Scripture. The other is a bit more vague, basically to work out my political beliefs and figure out what's based on Scripture and what's based on my own biases. I certainly don't have all the answers. Some of this stuff I'm still figuring out. And I'm certainly open to correction. As long as you make your case civilly and based on Scripture, feel free to make a comment, and I promise I'll post it and consider your arguments thoughtfully and prayerfully. Who knows? Maybe we'll learn a little something from each other.
May God bless our common striving together towards both the "little t" truth and "Big T" Truth. Our watchword here is a line from C. S. Lewis's The Last Battle: "Further up and further in!"

P.S. -- Below on the left is "Topics I've Covered" which lists everything I've posted topically. It's come to my attention that some people would like to see everything just listed for them. If that's you, you can get it here. Thanks to my friend Stephen Young for the tip!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Fork In The Road, Part Six: Some final thoughts

            So does the Bible have a problem with distinctions, and what does this have to do with whether I’m a political conservative or liberal?          
            I think overall that the Lord through his word is telling us that we need to make proper distinctions. Part of the maturity process for a believer—moving from “milk” to “meat”--is discernment, training yourself to distinguish good from evil. Paul told the believers in Corinth to “stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults.”
            I’ve said it before, but I don’t think I can say it often enough on this blog: The main purpose of the Bible is to restore and maintain our relationship with God and then with each other. Its main purpose is not to endorse a political platform. It’s not there to give us a specific level of taxation that God smiles upon. It’s not there to tell us whether this or that war was justified or not. Even on the issues where it seems pretty clear (like capital punishment), we have to be careful to distinguish between the Bible’s main message and the subsidiary topics which flow out from that.
            Having said all that, I think I can say with pretty good confidence that the Bible is for distinctions, properly defined. As believers we might disagree about each other about minor political issues, but our instinct is not—or shouldn’t be—to tear down a fence before we’ve examined it thoroughly. As Chesterton put it so well:

In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, 'I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.' To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: 'If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.'

            I’m an avid listener of political talk radio, mostly the Dennis Prager and Michael Medved show. Both of them have plenty of disagreeing phone callers and guests on their shows. A reliable pattern that keeps coming up, however, is the fact that people who tend to take the Bible as written tend to be political conservatives, while those who take more of a “pick and choose” attitude towards the Bible tend to be more on the left side of the spectrum. Of course there are exceptions. There’s a whole movement out there of Christians who vote Democrat and who agree with President Obama much more than they agreed with President Bush. But for the most part, Evangelicals vote conservative.
            This principle applies to Catholics and observant Jews as well. Catholics who have a “cafeteria approach” towards the Catholic Church’s pronouncements tend to vote Democrat, while those who faithfully follow its teachings and practices tend to vote Republican. If someone is Jewish, I can reliably predict their voting preferences by asking them if they keep Kosher and the Sabbath. How often are they in the Synagogue? If they’re in once a week, probably Republican. If they can’t remember when they last stepped into one, probably Democrat.
            I’m not here addressing the exclusivity of salvation in Christ, nor am I addressing here the question of the Catholic Church’s deviation from biblical teaching. I think I’ve made my positions clear on that score elsewhere. I’m just observing the fact that if someone takes their faith as authoritative, then they tend to vote more on the conservative side of the spectrum.
            Why is that?   
            Because all of them are at least based on the Bible, and the Bible has plenty of distinctions within it. It calls upon us to be discerning of what’s around us, to be able to distinguish not only the good from the bad, but the good from the best.
            I’ve tried to make the case that one of the major dividing lines between cons (like me) and libs is, well, that we believe in dividing lines in the first place. Liberalism tends to want to blur lines or erase them. Therefore a biblically knowledgeable Christian, or an observant Jew, or a devout Catholic, is going to be naturally suspicious of people who come along and want—going back to Chesterton—to tear a fence down. They can tell the difference between someone who would be helped by a money donation vs. someone who’d be hurt by it. They can tell the difference between executing a murderer and aborting a preborn baby (even if they have some major qualms with the former). They can tell the difference between human sexual expression which is smiled upon by God and that which isn’t.
            So what did I intend to accomplish here, and did I do it? If any readers of this have a deeper understanding of what divides cons and libs, then I’m happy. Yes, I wanted to help us understand each other. But I do confess that I have a persuasive purpose as well. I have a theory, what I call the “Clarity to Conservative” principle. You see, I really believe that clarity (settling on definitions, making clear what we’re trying to accomplish, etc.) tends to lead to conservatism.         
             Let’s imagine a well-meaning Christian. He cares about the homeless. He wants to help them. He has compassion on them. So he votes for the politician who seems to “care” most about them, who wants to spend more money on helping them. Who could be against that? Who doesn’t want to help those in need? Then someone comes along who starts asking questions. “Does handing money to someone who’s dysfunctional really help them?” “Is our goal just to keep someone from starving to death, or is it to restore their dignity?” “Are we enabling self-destructive behavior?” “Is government spending really the only option here, or even the best one?” “Is God concerned with how wasteful we are in spending money on the poor, or not?” And he starts to find the questions troubling. . .
            You see, the moment that we start clarifying issues like this, when we start defining our terms and outlining what we really want to accomplish (as opposed to just “making a difference” or “making a statement”), then we’ve already taken the debate into conservative territory. The moment we get past what “feels” right and what seems right to the casual observer, the moment we move past what Dr. Sowell calls “stage one thinking,” the battle’s about 90% done. The moment we start recognizing that there are no easy solutions, only trade-offs, well, you get the idea.
            And if I’ve started clarifying this stuff for you, then I feel pretty good about that. 

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