The Real Battle

The revelation about Donald Trump’s vulgar and pretty ugly statements about women has certainly generated heated discussion.  I am not here to either defend his statements or to persuade anyone to vote for him.  I will merely state the obvious:  Christian voters find themselves in quite a quandary.  On the one hand, I am convinced we have a duty to participate in our government as God has sovereignly allowed us, including voting.  It is a part of our vocation as citizens in the United States.  On the other hand we find that we have two major candidates who are in their own way, immoral and/or unethical, personally or privately.  Virtue is at a minimum for both.  

To be honest I am at a loss as to how to proceed going forward. There is an interesting article today in the National Review Online, by Avi Woolf, in which he addressed the perceived decline in social conservatism, that is, social conservative values, largely held by Christian evangelicals.  His article does not deal much with the Trump issue, though it does devote a couple of paragraphs to the social conservative “sell-out” for the Donald, but it mainly has some important bigger ideas to consider as we think about voting in November.  Woolf first addresses the current lament on Christian conservatives that they are losing the culture wars.  He also gives the reader a concise overview of the historical rise of “fusionism,” the merger of cultural right social values and free market ideas into a political coalition that looked for a time as if it would be a crushing movement to the basic Left aversion to religious values and free markets.

Woolf argues “these are dark times for the Right.  Not materially, or even politically, but intellectually.”  He goes on to make his case that in reality the socially conservative Right has won some victories and has solidified some gains–in other words, things are not as bad as the Right believes.  To be sure, he captures the social conservative lament well:  The Left won the culture wars and the Right won the economic/free market war, leaving the social conservatives “high and dry.”  He says however that the social conservatives are not completely correct in their pessimistic assessment.  I agree with his analysis to an extent.  Christian values have, it appears, made headway in the political/legal realm, though in the last two years, there have been setbacks.  I think also that Woolf has his finger on a major problem for social conservatives:  They put too much faith in the political and legal systems to give them what they need.  I certainly observed this in my years on the faculty at Liberty University, with the presence of the Moral Majority’s aggressive political advocacy, but without a very deep theological/philosophical foundation.  Moreover, I tend to agree with Woolf that culture is the main battleground.  Cultural change in some sense precedes political and legal change (not always but most of the time).  And it works both ways.  Cultural decline leads to political and legal issues, while cultural advance–in the highest sense of that term–can produce advance in the public sphere.

One of Woolf’s best lines is this:

“There we get to a key sticking point: Cultural wars do not begin in Congress, and they rarely end there. Government has limited power to force morality on an unwilling culture.”

In the long run, Wolf is right.  For Christians the long run is tied inseparably to evangelism followed by discipleship, real discipleship that is more than fluff, but gets to every aspect of a Christian’s life and thought.  Moreover, as Woolf correctly points out, this means of winning the cultural war–and in the process, the more important spiritual war–is a long run tough slog, like running an ultra-distance run.  Some years ago, I raced distances from 50 to 100 miles.  I know from experience that the the problem a race poses is not mainly physical, but mental.  I was physically prepared and the first 30 miles or so were nearly effortless, but after that, when the body begins to run out of fuel, you have to draw on mental resources.  This is exactly analogous to the Christian engagement in the public sphere.  It begins in the culture and then works out to the political, economic and legal realms.

This once again points up the need for engagement in culture, and the institutions of culture (for example, journalism, education, etc.) wherever God calls one, and engagement that is intelligent, reasonable, well-grounded in Scripture, and gracious.  If God wills, “we win.”  But more important, God wins and real people are blessed. Our war is not ultimately not against “flesh and blood” but against “principalities and powers.”  (the latter being spiritual powers that dominate even culture).  By the way, I am not saying that political, law and economics cannot be engaged in directly.  They can be, but anyone who aspires to enter this arena must be sure of his/her calling and be well-educated in the ground of Scripture.

5 thoughts on “The Real Battle”

  1. I see little evidence that evangelicals indeed hold AND PRACTICE “social conservatism.”

    Divorce rates in the evangelical community are about the same as the rates among non-evangelical groups.

    Teen pregnancy, the same.

    Premarital sexual intercourse may actually be higher among evangelical teens than between teenagers who do not identify as evangelical.

    Spousal abuse tends to be higher in states with significant evangelical populations. Poverty levels, the same.

    The idea that evangelicals are indeed social conservatives seems to be based more on wishful thinking than careful analysis.

    1. You may be right on points #1 and #2, not sure on point #3, correlation problem with first part of point #4 (the fact that states with more evangelicals have more spousal abuse is by itself a non sequitur–who is doing the spousal abuse, more evangelicals than non-evangelicals?) and on second part, poverty does not make one good or bad, Christian of non-Christian, practicing evangelical or non-practicing. Evangelicals who have trusted Christ in reality as savior/Lord, do not make pretense of being better than non-Christians (or they shouldn’t), though they ought to strive by the grace of God to be true followers and to seek holiness. Unfortunately, the sin nature gets in the way, requiring confession and repentance. As it stands, the culture does not help the situation either. Your term “wishful thinking” would only be applicable to some sub-set of evangelical social conservatives. In the end, I am disappointed that even a few true Christians sin (including myself), but that does not negate their wish for a culture that is truly good in the highest sense of that word).

      1. I would agree, Marc, that Christians who are devoted to drawing closer to Christ will develop a sense of morality that mirrors that of God. I would like to hope that the closer one’s morality mirrors God’s, the more Christians would fight to change the world around them, manifesting itself in increased social conservatism. But as we all know, love for Christ does not eliminate sin in our lives. I would encourage Jeff to have hope in his brothers and sisters.

  2. So do you think the best way to deal with these problems in politics would be to address the problem mentioned or try to address the spiritual soul (needing salvation) of the person first?

  3. I like your comment on the two ways to be involved with the political world. As a christian you can either put your faith in God to command the system as he sees fit. On the other hand any person can advocate for certain policies and become involved in the process. However I don’t think it’s just a matter of being passive or active. There are ways to impact to political process as a Christian without being on opposite ends of the spectrum.

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