Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Christian Leaders and Politics

This could broaden the discussion on the intersection of politics and faith. Here is the (start of I hope) a dialogue between Dr. David Gushee and Joe Carter. A little background on the players in the following diary.

Dr. David Gushee is involved with Evangelicals for Human Rights, an organization that has called on President Bush to end practices it believes crosses the line into torture. He is/was involved with the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity (CBHD) where he gave his working definition of the "sanctity of life":

The concept of the sanctity of life is the belief that all human beings, at any and every stage of life, in any and every state of consciousness or self-awareness, of any and every race, color, ethnicity, level of intelligence, religion, language, gender, character, behavior, physical ability/disability, potential, class, social status, etc., of any and every particular quality of relationship to the viewing subject, are to be perceived as persons of equal and immeasurable worth and of inviolable dignity and therefore must be treated in a manner commensurate with this moral status. [I think this is an incredible definition]
Joe Carter has a blog - Evangelical Outpost - which is arguably the biggest of the Evangelical blogs. Joe has said he is a "single issue voter" when it comes to abortion; and worked at the CBHD before he took his present job at Family Research Council. He also came out in opposition to torture.

These guys worked together, and do not disagree on two issues that are touchstones on the left and right: torture and abortion. Both have been politically active on these issues. The main thread is David Gushee's proposed rules of political engagement posted at David's blog Counter Culture. The block quotes are Joe Carter's comments on the points. Italics are me.

  1. Christian leaders must not officially or unofficially endorse political candidates or a political party.
    This legalistic rule could lead to results that are absurd and or un-Christian. For instance, should ministers in 1930s-era Germany have avoided showing approval or support of the republican political parties that were running against the Nazis?
    Someone pointed out in the comments at EO that we are not 1932 Germany, yet some on the left have placed the need to remove the Republicans on this kind of level; as some on the right have implied the same about electing Democrats - folks on both ends seem to think civilization as we know it rests on the next election (in nearly every election)

  2. Christian leaders must not distribute essentially partisan or single-issue voter guides that purport to be apolitical or nonpartisan.
    One of the qualities I admire most about Dr. Gushee is his commitment to the sanctity of life. So it seems odd that he thinks that National Right to Life shouldn’t be able to distribute voter guides on this "single-issue." Shouldn't Christian choose to support candidates who will uphold what Gushee considers to be a "moral conviction?" What would be the reason for such a prohibition?

  3. Christian leaders must not publicly handicap or comment upon the political horse race.
    Conversation between a congregant and her pastor (c. 1932):
    Congregant: "Herr Bonhoffer, what do you think about the Adolph Hitler and the Nazi Party."
    Pastor: "I cannot speak of such matters, for it would be imprudent for a minister of the Gospel to comment on this particular political horse race."

  4. Christian leaders must not provide private or public advice to particular politicians, parties, or campaigns concerning how they can strategize in order to win evangelical or Christian votes.
    If this rule is a prohibition against providing Machiavellian advice, I'm in agreement. But I see nothing out of line with providing prudent counsel on politicians, parties, or campaigns on how best to appeal to a group of their constituents. I see nothing untoward, in saying, "If the GOP is stupid enough to nominate a pro-choice candidate in '08, then they should expect evangelicals to abandon their support for the party."
    Up to now, I think Joe has asked some incisive questions that will spur debate; and here he misses the point. Gushee doesn't think Evangelicals should be "on board" with the Republican Party (or the Democrats) so why would he advise the GOP on keeping us from not supporting the party. How can we abandon that which we are only in tactical, and not strategic, alliance with?

  5. Christian leaders must not calibrate their public teachings or writings in order to affect the outcome of political elections or to gain and hold the support of politicians.
    Again, this rule would be dependent on context. For example, if the Sunday before an election a Catholic priest were to remind his congregation that to vote supporter of abortion would be a sin, he should be commended -- even if it might prevent the pro-abortion candidate from gaining office.

  6. Christian leaders must not attend political rallies or campaign events of one candidate or party unless they are prepared to attend rallies and events of all candidates and parties.
    Should Abraham Kuyper, founder of the Anti-Revolutionary Party in the Netherlands, have attended the rallies of the Socialist parties, groups that he considered a threat to the Christian worldview? Why should Kuyper--or any other Christian--attend a rally for a group whose views are antithetical to their beliefs?
    And how far do we carry this principle? Should Republicans attend Green Party debates? Should Democrats sit in on Communist rallies?
    Again, I think Joe misses the point - Gushee doesn't think Christian leaders should be attending rallies of political parties. Also, this is a two-party country right now - let's leave this to the Democrats and Republicans for now (perhaps the Constitution Party on the right and the Green's on the left if you must broaden

  7. Christian leaders must not invite political candidates to speak in church pulpits or on church grounds unless they are prepared to invite all political candidates of all parties to do so.
    Legally speaking, this is already a requirement. Morally speaking, there is no reason why a church should be required to give "equal time" to political candidates who hold positions that they find repugnant.

  8. Christian leaders must not identify the potential or actual victory of any politician as a victory for God or God’s kingdom.
    Admittedly, it might be presumptuous for a Christian leader to claim to know whether an electoral victory is a victory for God's kingdom. But it is also presumptuous for a Christian leader (in this case, Dr. Gushee) to make a blanket prohibition about what others might know about God or his kingdom.
    Sorry Joe, have to go with Gushee here for sure.

  9. Christian leaders must limit their direct contact with politicians or staff in order to avoid even the appearance of undue loyalty or involvement.
    This presumes that loyalty and involvement are things that must always be avoided. Last year Dr. Gushee wrote:
    President Bush’s veto on Wednesday of any change in his stem cell research policy was derided by many as a sop to his conservative base. But the price that the president and his party are sure to pay for this decision leads me to the conclusion that, whatever the politics of the move, the president actually has been persuaded by the moral argument against embryonic stem cell harvesting
    What if it was a "Christian leader" that had provided the persuasive moral argument that had convinced Bush of this grievous harm? Would they have been acting unethically since that level of familiarity and contact could have been construed as "undue involvement?"
    Certainly, that same argument could be made about a candidate's position on Iraq, feeding the poor, rebuilding New Orleans, or support for gay marriage. Are we really going to cut politicians off from their spiritual advisors if those advisors are also Christian leaders?

  10. Christian leaders must not engage in voter registration campaigns or get out the vote efforts aimed at mobilizing the voters of one political party rather than another.
    Why not? Should abolitionists not have mobilized voters in an effort to end the great sin of slavery? Should '50s-era civil rights leaders not have engaged in voter registration campaigns since it might have led people to vote against pro-segregation candidates?

  11. Christian leaders must not direct the funds of their churches or organizations toward direct or indirect support for a particular political candidate or party.
    In practice, I would tend to agree, though I wouldn't make this a moral absolute. While following this rule would certainly be wise here in America, there might be instances where it would be more prudent to directly fund a candidate who faced a corrupt or evil party organization.
    I would be more morally absolute here. When I give money to my church it is for the church and its ministries. If someone wants me to fund a candidate who faces a corrupt and evil party organization they should approach me for a separate donation

  12. Christian leaders may not sidestep these rules by drawing a distinction between their activities as a “private individual” over against their service in their public role.
    Let's combine #1 and #12:
    1. Christian leaders must not officially or unofficially endorse political candidates or a political party.

    2. Christian leaders may not make a distinction between their activities as a “private individual” and their public role.
    3. Voting in an election is a form of official endorsement of a political candidate.

    4. Voting in an election is a form of official endorsement of a political candidate. [oops] Therefore, Christian leaders must not vote in elections.

    If applied consistently, the logical conclusion would be the Christian leaders should not vote or do anything else that they would be prohibited to do in their "official" capacity.
    The problem with this logic chain is #3: endorsement must imply that someone else know your vote; and really that a lot of people know your vote - and before the polls close. A secret ballot does not constitute endorsement either official or unofficial. Joe has given some good arguments above about why Christian leaders left and right might support issues and candidates - this isn’t one of them.

  13. Christian leaders must offer Christian proclamation related to that large number of public issues that are clearly addressed by biblical principles or direct biblical teaching.
    Here is where Dr. Gushee's reasoning goes completely off the rails. For example, biblical principles would warrant the protection of innocent life, the prohibition of abortion, and the denial of the legitimacy of homosexual behavior, including the manufacturing of "gay rights." To offer Christian proclamations on these issues, however, would directly conflict with the official position of the DNC and/or specific Democratic candidates.
    As the proclamations both Joe and Gushee have made against the use of torture might affect Republican ones. So what? We cannot be silent on issues for Christ's sake (that was serious and not in vain) - and that falls where it falls on parties and candidates. This ability to speak openly and loudly on issues mitigates some of the problems above about opposing evil organizations and candidates

  14. Christian leaders must encourage Christian people toward active citizenship, including studying the issues and the candidates and testing policy stances and candidates according to biblical criteria.
    Again, this rule could directly conflict with many of the others on this list.
    I do not see why.

  15. Christian leaders must model and encourage respectful and civil discourse related to significant public issues as well as political candidates.
    Finally, a point on which we can completely agree.

  16. Christian leaders must model and encourage prayer for God-ordained government, its leaders, and their policies.

  17. Christian leaders must teach and model respect for the constitutional relationship between religion and the state as these are spelled out in the First Amendment.
    Based on whose understanding of the First Amendment? My interpretation differs from Christian leaders of various stripes, including David Barton, founder of WallBuilders, and the Rev. Barry Lynn, president of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. Whose interpretation should we teach and model?
There you have it — seventeen rules for Christians and politics. Who will offer some revisions? Who will come up with the other three to make it an even twenty? Who will join me in committing themselves to these rules for the 2008 election?
While Dr. Gushee's intentions are noble, the last thing we need in the electoral process is legalistic rules that transform conscience-driven politics into political correctness.
[End dialogue]

In discussing this, do not get bogged down in Joe's opposition to abortion as a key to his criticisms - it might just as well have been the war in Iraq, torture, or any number of issues.

What do you think of these rules for - please note - Christian leaders (as opposed to Christians in general). Incidentally, I disagree with Joe - Christian bloggers are not Christian leaders for the sake of my definition.



  1. I'm not sure I agree with his underlying premise that Jesus doesn't want Christian leaders to be politically active.

    I can think of a number of reasons a leader shouldn't be, but they are pragmatic.

    A Christian leader might want to avoid alienating people of another political party so they would still be willing to listen to him on specifically religious matters.

    So they wouldn't split a church because of politics.

    Or they might not understand the issues in the debate.

    Because they have personal reasons unrelated to the issue - such as being friends with a candidate.

    These rules presuppose evangelical leaders shouldn't do anything more than vote and I just don't understand why that is.

  2. I am not sure he, or I, would go as far as Jesus not wanting us too - I would say that the Kingdom of God comes before secular politics.

    Since that is true, all of the things you mention would be reasons for a Christian leader to not be involved in partisan politics: i.e. involved with candidates and parties openly.

    Issues are another issue as Joe points out: I have no problem with folks standing against abortion and those that support it. I have a problem with identifying God with candidates or parties.

    After all, none of them are Good - and we have certainly seen enough folks, even Christians, sell their morality out for political power and influence that careful treading indeed is necessary.

    So, why do it?

  3. I agree the Kingdom of God comes before secular politics.

    Interesting you say "secular" politics. Are there "sacred" politics? If so, can they be involved in those?

    I guess my struggle with the rules is I wonder if we should be more restrictive of Christian leaders than regular Christians. And I wonder, how many of the people who signed the declaration of independence were Christian leaders? (Two are listed as ministers)

    So in answer to "Why do it?" Why should any Christian be involved in politics?

    To be salt and light in that aspect of life.

    Maybe because you have a friend you know to be a person of integrity and they are running.

    A Christian leader might run. We have a citizen led form of government, and ministers could easily be part of that. In Texas, most state legislators are not full time and have other jobs. That other job could be in Christian leadership.

  4. Thanks Ron

    "Secular politics" is a combination of words I will have to remember to never use again :-)

    I agree with your's, and Joe's, thoughts that another set of rules isn't what is necessary really - we just won't follow them anyway probably.

    However, I think the list should be prayed over by anybody in Christian leadership who plans to step outside them. Politics is not a pretty place - nor is life; and while you are correct that Christians should be involved in politics - even in parties and as candidates and serving as elected officials, I think church leaders need to be very careful about it and especially how that spills over into their Christian ministry.


How to debate charitably (rules are links to more description of rule):
1. The Golden Rule
2. You cannot read minds
3. People are not evil
4. Debates are not for winning
5. You make mistakes
6. Not everyone cares as much as you
7. Engaging is hard work
8. Differences can be subtle
9. Give up quietly