Nov. 19, 2012
My friend Peter Wehner is one of the most compelling voices in the public square today, not only among Evangelicals but the entire commentariat. His philosophical sophistication and street-level political smarts in addition to the fact he is a masterful writer make him one of a relative handful of pundits worth reading.
Today, though, in a rare spasm of disagreement, I take issue with Peters column. He argues that when some Christians (he cites former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, specifically) claim some issues matter more than others, they are overstepping the bounds of theological propriety. As he puts it, with characteristic elegance, Its not at all clear to me, for example, that a vote against the same-sex marriage initiative in Maryland has more eternal significance that our policies on genocide, world hunger, sexual trafficking, slavery, religious persecution in Islamic and Communist nations, and malaria and global AIDS.
I agree, with one major qualification: It is difficult to argue that the most profound domestic issues we are facing do not have to do with the deterioration of individual dignity (abortion, embryonic stem cell research, euthanasia, etc.), family stability (same-sex marriage, the effects of widespread divorce and cohabitation, especially in some communities, and so forth), and religious liberty (e.g., the Obama health care mandate requiring religious employers to provide insurance plans that include abortion, abortion drugs, and sterilization coverage).
At a conference we attended last year, my friend Ryan Bomberger posed this question to the audience: Does anyone in this room believe that inAmericain the 1860s, there was any more pressing moral issue than slavery? And, asked Ryan, should any Christian in our time argue that there is any more critical moral issue than the destruction of unborn life?
Nothing is more final than death, to which the deaths of 53 million unborn children since 1973s Roe decision mutely, and gruesomely, testify. And if the unborn child has been created in Gods image and likeness, ending the legal means by which her destruction within the womb is accomplished should be an immutable priority.
To add to Ryans query: Should any serious American Evangelical believer deny that the gravest threat to the institution of the family is homosexual marriage? If consent and affection are all that constitute the basis of a marital bond, then no types of relational marriages are off limits. If we want to help our children and safeguard the society in which they are raised, we need to strengthen marriage between one man and one woman, period.
And one more: Should any serious American Evangelical doubt that the threat to our religious liberty imposed by a federal mandate to violate the convictions of ones deeply-held faith is pronounced, and pronouncedly dangerous?
Again, I am speaking of domestic issues. The list of issues Peter offers is similar to one I have articulated elsewhere; the evils of which he writes should shape the balloting decision of every thinking Christian.
However, within certain parameters, these issues are as morally non-controversial as they are biblically imperative. Even people of the Left give at least lip service to fighting these things, even if the means by which they seek to do so are inadequate, poorly-grounded, or half-hearted.
Yet the profundity of an issues moral import can be determined by its immediacy, cruelty and/or danger, and extent. Within that context, I will argue that in our country, the fate of 3,000 unborn children who are aborted every day, and the lives of the mothers permanently scarred by this procedure, are of greater import than saving an obscure species of rodent or endingWest Virginiacoal mining.
Consider the words of Jesus:
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! (Matthew 23:23-25)
Jesus answered (Pilate), You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin (John19:11).
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. (Mathew 10:29-31).
Weightier provisions. Greater sin. You are more valuable. Not everything is equally important to God. Some things matter more and here at home, those things are captured well in the words of The Manhattan Declaration:
While the whole scope of Christian moral concern, including a special concern for the poor and vulnerable, claims our attention, we are especially troubled that in our nation today the lives of the unborn, the disabled, and the elderly are severely threatened; that the institution of marriage, already buffeted by promiscuity, infidelity and divorce, is in jeopardy of being redefined to accommodate fashionable ideologies; that freedom of religion and the rights of conscience are gravely jeopardized by those who would use the instruments of coercion to compel persons of faith to compromise their deepest convictions.
I share Peters concern that when Christians profess to know Gods will about such matters of prudential judgment as strategic missile defense, federal education programs, and entitlement reform, they are overstepping their prophetic authority and reducing the Word of God to their own intellectual putty.
Yet when speaking of the needs of our fallen and failing country, life, marriage, and religious liberty surmount other, competing moral issues because of their magnitude in scope and definitude in impact.
Who agrees? Who disagrees? I welcome comment.