This post was written by Ron Sider and originally published in Christianity Today on August 12, 1996.
Inconsistency marks our major political options. As a consequence, Christians seeking a biblically balanced political agenda find it difficult to find a political home. President Clinton champions the “right” to abortion and then leads the campaign against smoking out of respect for the lives of the 400,000 people who die annually from cigarette-caused cancer. Sen. Jesse Helms leads the pro-life forces against abortion and then lobbies for tobacco subsidies.
Many of the members of Congress who receive a 100 percent score (and thus the Friends of the Family Award) on the Christian Coalition’s Congressional Scorecard also receive large donations from the tobacco and liquor PACs. One also has to wonder why the Christian Coalition’s Congressional Scorecard considers eliminating environmental and safety regulations as “pro-family” votes. Surely God cares about the family and the poor, the unborn and creation.
So often the Christian Right has rightly championed the family and the sanctity of human life but neglected to work for equal opportunities for the poor, uncritically endorsed American nationalism, ignored concern for God’s creation, and neglected the struggle against racism. Equally one-sided has been a Christian Left that rightly promoted justice, peace, and the integrity of creation but largely forgot about the importance of the family and sexual integrity, and failed to defend the most vulnerable of all—the unborn and the very old.
The result is that many evangelical Christians find it increasingly difficult to feel at home within the current political landscape. Evangelicals who seek to be good stewards of the environment find some of their strongest allies to be folks who think mandatory parental notification for teenagers contemplating an abortion is oppressive. Meanwhile, activists who seek the legal protection of the unborn find themselves keeping company with elements on the Right who think the United Nations is part of an international conspiracy designed to usher in a demonic New World Order.
This can all be sloughed off with the rationalization that “politics makes strange bedfellows.” But there is a deeper problem. In this polarized environment, the voices of those are effectively muted whose Christian convictions lead them to support the legal protection of the unborn and who want to protect endangered species, who oppose legalizing homosexual marriages and favor restrictions on the tobacco industry.
This is not to say that the failure to protect endangered species or regulate the tobacco industry is morally equivalent to the current regime of abortion on demand. But it is unbiblical for pro-life Christians to overlook the sanctity of life of those who die unnecessarily because of tobacco, war, pollution, or starvation.
What can be done?
Evangelicals, African American and Hispanic Christians, and Catholics constitute a substantial number of American voters. Is it too much to hope that in the next two decades these groups could discover new ways to work together to shape American culture and public policy in a biblically balanced way?
Together we could hammer out strategies (both cultural and political) that would help us recover sexual integrity and empower the poor, respect the sanctity of human life, support the dignity and equality of women and racial minorities, affirm heterosexual marriage as the societal norm without scapegoating homosexuals for the decline of the family, restrain evil and work for peace, and strengthen the family and renew the creation.
Several caveats are in order: our efforts at political engagement need to be informed by a biblical perspective on God’s mission in the world, not by the platforms of partisan politics. Some of the problems with which we need to struggle do not, ultimately, have political solutions; political means do not resolve what, at heart, are moral and spiritual problems. Further, if judgment begins with the household of God, then renewal must start there also. The church cannot expect of the body politic what it does not demonstrate itself.
Nevertheless, a new coalition of evangelicals, African American and Hispanic Christians, the historic peace churches, mainline Protestants, and Catholics could contribute substantially to the renewal of our society in the next two decades—if we could agree to cooperate and develop a biblically balanced consistent ethic of life. If we do not, we will have ourselves to blame for our persistently frustrating options, and the immoral, inconsistent society they reflect.
This post is adapted from Dual Citizens: Politics and American Evangelicalism (Lexham Press, 2020).