Focus on the wrong families?

Posted: Nov 10, 2004 12:00 AM

The "values voters" supposedly made the difference in the re-election of George W. Bush and now want to see the administration deliver on their agenda. These same voters, known by different names when they contributed to Ronald Reagan's victory in 1980, also expected their political patron saint to deliver for them. On their premier issue - abortion - Reagan failed, handing the country Sandra Day O'Connor and Anthony Kennedy, who have voted with their liberal colleagues to uphold Roe v. Wade.

Back then, conservatives were told they had to wait on their issues while the economy was repaired and Soviet Communism defeated. Prospects that President Bush will fulfill his promises to the values voters are better now, though economic and geopolitical issues compete for his attention.

While I hope that the president does nominate judges who respect the Constitution, instead of remaking it in their image - and that the Senate confirms them - I worry about the priorities of those values voters who regard themselves as Christian conservatives. Throughout history, the church has demonstrated the least power when it aligns itself with temporal government. It has exercised the most power (that is the power to change lives) when it aligns itself with its Leader and a kingdom "not of this world."

How morally compelling is an institution collectively known as the church when it preaches "traditional" marriage but practices something else in too many cases?

The pollster George Barna has surveyed the behavior and beliefs of Christians for many years and found them often inconsistent with the very Bible they claim to believe is infallible.

In a survey published Sept. 8, 2004, Barna discovered that born-again Christians are divorcing at the same rate as those who are not born again. Among married born-again Christians, writes Barna, 35 percent have experienced a divorce, the identical percentage for those who are not born again.

Worse, though Jesus regarded divorce as a sin (unless adultery was involved), a majority of the born-again group (52 percent) disagree that divorce without adultery is a sin. Among Catholic respondents, 69 percent disagree that divorce without adultery is a sin.

It becomes more difficult to expect secular government to impose a marital standard on culture when those who preach that standard too often do not practice it themselves. Furthermore, why is the church spending so much time and money trying to prop up culture when it has done a poor job of propping up its own families? Shouldn't repairs be made first in God's "house" before attention is paid to other people's houses? More people might listen.

While the conservative church may seem for the moment to be winning the political battle, it may be doing so at a terrible cost. According to Barna, a lot of people in the general population regard certain behaviors as "morally acceptable." These include gambling (61 percent), co-habitation (60 percent), sexual fantasies (59 percent), having an abortion (45 percent), adultery (42 percent), pornography (38 percent), profanity (36 percent), drunkenness (35 percent) and homosexual sex (30 percent).

While these behaviors were least acceptable among evangelical Christians, more than one of out 10 people in other faith groups, including non-evangelical Christians, found these behaviors to be morally acceptable.

How can government join together what too many in the church are putting asunder?

In the Book of Revelation, there is more than apocalyptic prophecy concerning the end of the age. There is also a critique by Jesus of the churches. Of one he charges, "You have left your first love," meaning Himself.

That is an indictment that can be handed down to many in the contemporary evangelical church. Focusing too much on politics, they are neglecting their "first love." Or as a writer once put it about the early church fathers: "Aiming for Heaven, they got earth 'thrown in.' Aiming for earth, they got neither."

It isn't that the born again should absent themselves from politics and government. It is that these temporal institutions cannot solve the nation's problems or the problems in too many of their own homes. As the president's mother has said, "Your success as a family, our success as a society, depends not on what happens in the White House, but on what happens inside your house."

In the ranking of government and family, where do evangelicals think God would place His priority?