on the Religious Right
the twentieth century, the debate has produced wide swings among
conservative Christians between the extremes of isolationism and
political accommodationism. In the early decades, believers were
buffeted by the winds of theological modernism (with its social
gospel), humiliated by the Scopes trial, and finally retreated into
fundamentalist enclaves to create a parallel culture through their
churches and schools.
Then, in 1947, Carl Henry published The
Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism and led Christians
back into the American mainstream. ...
Were Christians to withdraw, we would
simply ride a pendulum swing back to the isolationism of the
fundamentalist era. Instead we should learn from our mistakes and
develop a biblically grounded political philosophy that gets us off
the pendulum and provides a basis for acting 'Christianly' in
The doctrine of Creation tells us the state
is ordained by God; therefore, participation in political life is a
moral obligation ... because of the Fall we must be realistic about
the limits of political success. This side of heaven, our
accomplishments will always be partial, temporary, and painfully
inadequate. This is no room for triumphalism. Yet, neither is there
room for despair, for the promise of redemption is that even in a
broken world there can be healing and restoration. ... Salvation is
not about personal renewal alone, but also social and political
These principles give a foundation for
responsible political engagement, rather than mere (over)reaction.
They give us a perspective beyond the next election and an
independent stance that prevents us from being tucked into any
political party's hip pocket. We must understand the biblical role
of the state and then hold it accountable for fulfilling that role.
Of course, there are important distinctions
between what is proper for the church as an institution and what is
proper for the individual believer exercising his civic duty. The
church can and should address moral issues, but it should never make
partisan endorsements. It must not allow itself to be seduced by
political power - something I saw all too often when I was in the
White House. The church must guard its prophetic stance, leaving
direct political activism to individual believers.
In addressing moral issues, moreover, we
must not allow ourselves to be stereotyped. ... (We are) to address every
issue from a Christian perspective - not only abortion and
homosexual rights, but also poverty, social justice, and concern for
the disenfranchised. I've spent 25 years working among the most
marginalized people in society through a ministry to prison inmates,
with a lobbying branch (Justice Fellowship) that advocates laws
based on a biblical understanding of justice."
Charles Colson, founder of Prison
Fellowship, was former special counsel to President Richard
Nixon. His article is one in Christianity Today (9/6/99, p. 58-9)
that responded to the book Blinded by Might: Can the Religious
Right Save America? by Cal Thomas and Ed Dobson (no relation).