ABCs of political action

Posted: Jun 17, 2004 12:00 AM

Over the past decade, World writers have regularly praised Francis Schaeffer, who during the second half of the 20th century wonderfully promoted Christian worldview thinking. Schaeffer was particularly powerful in pointing out the hopelessness of non-Christian thinking, and showing logically why men and women should turn to Christ. What happens, though, when many people don't, yet in a democratic society we need to work alongside them to counteract the aggressiveness of secular liberal absolutism?

 Schaeffer noted the importance of developing "co-belligerency" contacts in those situations but didn't spell out how far to go. My University of Texas colleague (and World contributor) Jay Bud has written a respectful critique of Schaeffer that states: "Suppose public officials tried to regulate whom the church may ordain or what the church may teach. Of course Christians should try to convert them, but the immediate need is to persuade them to act less like Pharoah and more like Cyrus. For this, one needs arguments that make sense to the unconverted -- even to those who stop listening at the mention of Scripture."

 Daniel in the Bible, of course, spoke in a way that sometimes made sense to the unconverted, and sometimes did not: Belshazzar in chapter five of Daniel's book decides to eat, drink and be merry, probably thinking that "tomorrow we die" -- and Belshazzar died that very night. We're told in the next chapter that "Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian." But we're also told at the beginning of chapter 10 that in the third year of Cyrus' reign Daniel was mourning for three weeks, apparently in connection with a political development, until he had "a great vision" of war in the heavens.

 That's how we should emerge as well: communicating with Cyrus while keeping in mind that we are only small hobbits in a great big universal war. Keeping that in mind, here's my proposed ABC of how to act:

 A: Assess accurately both past and present. Western civilization is founded on both Jerusalem and Athens, biblical and classical knowledge, and just as it's not accurate for liberal professors to ignore the Bible, so it's not accurate for conservative Christians to say that non-biblical strains were unimportant in the formation of Western civilization or America itself. Christianity was crucial in the founding of the United States, but some deists and skeptics also were part of the revolutionary coalition.

 B: Build consensus in our own ranks. The Calvinist concept of "lesser magistrates" -- in the American context, local and state officials standing up against federal over-reaching -- is a mighty one, but "magistrates" is plural, not singular. Individual rebellion can be quirky, so the requirement that many magistrates hang together makes sure that the grievances are great. Our opponents are secular liberals, not other Christian conservatives, and rhetoric that divides us helps our adversaries to conquer. One question to ask before mounting any offensive: Is it likely to drive back the left or merely purge our own ranks?

 C: Choose battles and tactics carefully. Sometimes we have no choice of battleground; if we are ordered to stop praying to God or to bow to idols, we must stand firm wherever we are, as did Daniel and his friends in ancient Babylon. But when we do have a choice, we need to emphasize life-changing questions such as abortion and marriage. If we lose we lose, but we should try to win, not rush toward martyrdom when other God-honoring options exist -- otherewise, it's not martyrdom, it's suicide.

 If we follow those ABCs, we won't adopt the terrible tactic of spam recruitment: making statements that might excite one view but turn off a thousand. Those who with a defeatist mentality assume that minds cannot change, so the only goal is to propel into action those already in your camp (and to the devil with others) are like spam e-mailers: They don't matter how many get irritated as long as a sale is made. That hurts not Christian social and political activity but evangelism, as well.

  If we understand the need to assess, build and choose, we also won't send eviction notitces to those who do not agree with our particular set of tactics. God wanted Gideon's army to be small, but that was based on special revelation. Today, efforts designed to create a tiny, hard core by attacking other Christian conservatives who disagree tactically owe more to Lenin than to the Bible. We mustn't forget that the difference between left and right is far greater than differences among Christian conservatives.

 Remembering the ABCs gives us our best opportunity, within God's providence, of avoiding the big red F of failure.