Former Senator and U.N. Ambassador John Danforth has performed a valuable service between elections by writing about a Christian's role in contemporary American society. In an op-ed for The New York Times last Friday, Danforth, an ordained minister, observed: "Many conservative Christians approach politics with a certainty that they know God's truth, and that they can advance the kingdom of God through governmental action."
He writes that the "only absolute standard of behavior is the commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves." One can quibble over where Danforth's "absolutist" position may lead politically (and I do, given the position of religious moderates and liberals when it comes to a host of other issues in which they are engaged - from anti-war activism and the environment, to civil rights and same-sex "marriage"), but his central thesis is correct: Christians are limited in what government can do for them and for an earthly agenda.
That does not mean government can't do some things. It simply means it cannot advance a moral and spiritual agenda, because it is the church, not the state, that is commissioned to preach and observe God's message.
That much of the country is preoccupied with materialism and pleasure further limits the state's capabilities in this area. Conservative Christians, while seeking to enact legislation that reflects their moral views, increasingly have found it difficult to impose their morality on themselves.
The pollster George Barna, who regularly checks the spiritual temperature of the Christian church, has chronicled important facts conservative Christians should consider before demanding government act to repair the "moral slide."
Barna has noted that as many conservative Christians are divorcing as those who are of different religious persuasions, or of no religion, and as many of the children of conservative Christians are having sex as non-Christian children.
But the ordained and self-appointed conservative Christian leaders do not seem to preach as much to their own about these shortcomings (or, if they do, they are not heeded) as they do to the rest of the country about theirs.
Wouldn't these conservative Christians have greater moral power if they put their own houses in order before trying to cure the disorder in other houses? Isn't that the principle behind Jesus' story about noticing a speck in the other fellow's eye, while ignoring the beam in one's own eye?