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SAVING OURSELVES

The Christian Urge to Flee from Politics

May 24, 1999, Vol. 4, No. 34 • By PETER WEHNER
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And there is nary a word about the collapse of communism -- a monumental moral achievement in human history, for which political leaders deserve much of the credit. Blinded by Might is blinded by its settled disposition against politics.


Not all of our social and cultural problems are better, of course, and some areas remain largely beyond the reach of politics. But politics can do a lot more good than Thomas and Dobson argue. In the early 1980s they placed utopian (and profoundly unconservative) hopes in what politics might achieve; in their own words, "We were on our way to changing America. We had the power to right every wrong and cure every ill and end every frustration that God-fearing people had been forced to submit to." Now, in the late 1990s, they place almost no hope in what politics might achieve. It would have been better to avoid both extremes.


The second and more interesting argument made by Thomas and Dobson is that political involvement by organizations like the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition has hurt Christianity's witness and effectiveness. They believe political involvement is not only ineffective but often pernicious. It politicizes the Gospel, obscures the real message of the Christian faith, and draws energy away from better (non-political) strategies and methods. The authors are at their best when discussing how a full embrace of politics can easily vulgarize religious witness. As Malcolm Muggeridge pointed out, Jesus' entire ministry was directed against the pretensions of earthly power. This deep insight is often lost in our time.


Yet Blinded by Might insists that "believers must be energetically engaged in politics" -- presumably because both Thomas and Dobson do believe political acts can have profound human consequences. Their thesis appears to be that Christians should remain politically active but adopt an approach different from the religious Right's -- and here they may be on to something quite important. Although they should be following the message of Jesus, the authors argue, religious people on the right are mimicking "political parties and interest groups and compete for a share of the power."


But what would it mean, in a practical way, to be politically involved while following the message of Jesus? To be "energetically engaged" in politics while remaining deeply skeptical of worldly power? How is it possible to be meek and merciful, gentle in spirit, pure in heart, imitators of Christ's humility, and still succeed in electoral politics -- where (to put it mildly) no premium is put on these attributes? Thomas and Dobson, both bright and talented writers, might have been able to help us navigate these tricky theological waters. But unfortunately they never really address them.


Blinded by Might has already provoked discussion in Christian circles and beyond, because it raises legitimate grievances. But the argument would have been better, and more persuasive, if it had been written in a more generous tone, in a more even-handed manner, with greater nuance and less rigidity. What's also missing is winsomeness, a light touch, a gracious spirit.


Cal Thomas and Ed Dobson reflect often on Christianity's highest virtue, love. Dobson says that when he decided to devote himself to being a full-time pastor, "I decided that we are to love people unconditionally just as God loved us. I decided that my ministry would not be one of condemnation. . . . I longed to be known as one who preaches a message of love and forgiveness, not a message of hate and condemnation." And Thomas says of television preachers: "How many can you name who are associated with confession and forgiveness? More often their messages are full of condemnation and judgment."


True enough. But it would have been nice if Thomas and Dobson had shown a little more love, and a little less condemnation, to their former friends and colleagues.

 

CAL THOMAS and ED DOBSON

 

Blinded by Might Can the Religious Right Save America?

 

Zondervan, 256 pp., $ 19.99




Peter Wehner is executive director for policy at Empower America.