Conscience, Calling, and the Christian Conservative Agenda

Posted: Mar 25, 2007 12:00 AM
Conscience, Calling, and the Christian Conservative Agenda

That squabbling you hear is the sound of a movement that is trying to determine what it is and where it is going. On the one side there is Richard Cizik, Vice President of Governmental Affairs at the National Evangelical Association. Cizik has energetically argued that Christians should broaden their issue set to include what is sometimes called "creation care." Confronted with global warming, Cizik believes that evangelicals should help lead the movement to encourage Americans to be good stewards of God's creation.

On the other side, there is James Dobson, Tony Perkins, Gary Bauer, and other evangelicals who are concerned that Christians are becoming distracted by a medley of issues, including environmentalism. According to these leaders, our focus should be the "great moral issues of our time"--abortion, gay marriage, and abstinence education.

I certainly have sympathy for the arguments of Dobson, et al. There is no doubt about it: abortion is the greatest moral issue of our generation, and Christians should ceaselessly work to restore a culture of life. Additionally, if we fail in our efforts to preserve marriage, society will unravel. Certainly teaching sexual abstinence is an effective way of preventing abortion and the breakdown of marriage. All of these goals are worthy of the dedicated efforts of Dobson, Perkins, Bauer, and others.

Unfortunately, these leaders are inadvertently suggesting that the scope of Christ's concern is fairly narrow. Without denying for a moment the central importance of some issues, can't we admit that Christ came to redeem all things? Shouldn't we be clear that Christians have an obligation to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned, house the homeless--and that sometimes the laws we make impact our effectiveness in these areas? Isn't it appropriate for Christians to stand against all injustice, whether it is abortion, or elder abuse, or political corruption?

At the Center for a Just Society, our view is that the Scriptures speak to the whole of life. A comprehensive Christian worldview should cause us to be concerned about suffering and injustice in all areas. Thankfully, the Lord has raised up men and women in the Church who have different passions, allowing for the one church to address many issues. The church, after all, is a body with many members. As Paul tells us, "Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us..." (Romans 12:4-6)

It is clear that the Lord has raised up leaders to focus on certain injustices, like abortion. However, those who have one calling should not try to cut off the voices of others who may have different callings. Chuck Colson has a calling to be a leader in prison reform. Rick Warren has a calling to draw attention to the African AIDS crisis. Mother Theresa had a calling to serve the "poorest of the poor." Perhaps Richard Cizik has a calling to help Christians think in a principled way about how we ought to treat the environment. Whether or not Global Warming is a fact, and whether or not it is a man-made phenomenon, the theological arguments in favor of "creation care" are strong, and they are very much a part of the tradition of evangelical thought (see the works of Francis Schaeffer, for example).

Of course, there is nothing to prevent evangelicals from criticizing the arguments of those who advocate controversial solutions to problems like global warming or poverty. We can all agree on the morality of protecting the environment and aiding the poor while disagreeing on specific policy solutions. A vigorous exchange of ideas is healthy for the church, so long as it is done charitably. What is less healthy is for some leaders to limit conversation on topics that are clearly appropriate for Christians to discuss.

Some evangelical leaders are concerned that to expand the "issue set" beyond abortion and gay marriage will harm the pro-life, pro-family cause. This is not necessarily true. In fact, the pro-life witness of the Christian Church may be strengthened when men and women are free to pursue their calling. For example, Mother Teresa was respected around the world for her heroic care for the world's poorest citizens. Therefore, is there any doubt that she had a profound effect when, in her 1979 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, she said, "I feel the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a direct war, a direct killing — direct murder by the mother herself." Is there any doubt that Chuck Colson's pro-life and pro-marriage witness is strengthened, rather than weakened, by his compassionate work on behalf of prisoners? Similarly, is it not possible that Richard Cizik's concern for those who are hurt by environmental destruction might only draw more Americans into the pro-life movement?

Christians, therefore, should work to encourage a healthy pluralism of concerns within the body of Christ. When each individual is obedient to God's calling, the body as a whole is strengthened. Because abortion is a true crisis, it is no surprise that the Lord has raised up thousands of men and women to direct their full attention to this one issue. Some of these men and women address the issue from a political perspective; others start crisis pregnancy centers to limit abortion in their own community. At the very same time, the Lord has called thousands of other faithful Christians to combat other, sometimes related, issues. Some work to reduce the divorce rate, others promote laws that protect marriage. Some put their efforts into ending modern-day slavery, or bringing corporate wrongdoers to justice, or reforming the local school system's curriculum. Some fight nursing home abuse, or immorality in the popular culture, or diseases in the third world. When each Christian is doing what he or she is called to do, the entire body is healthier, and everyone has a better chance at being effective. It is foolish to amputate healthy limbs and remove working organs. Therefore, all evangelical leaders, regardless of their personal callings, should embrace the fact that there are many callings within the church, and that these diverse callings will often inspire political action. In the final analysis, this is a sign of vitality, and it should be encouraged.