For previous posts in this series, see here, here and here.
Having noted the folly of Huck’s appeal to religious authority to accomplish political ends, Anderson now turns to his positive case for “the political road not taken.” It is essentially an appeal to the “natural law” tradition in theology and ethics, a tradition that has a long and storied history, particularly in Roman Catholic teaching, but also in some branches of Protestantism. I have no objection to the use of natural law per se, but my own opinion is that natural law should only be used in its proper place, namely subordinated to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Natural Law implies a Law-giver, and his name is Jesus.
Before proceeding to the heart of the engagement, I need to make one key point. I recognize that some of what I wrote in the last post (and which I will continue to expound here) can be taken as a form of Christian triumphalism. And while I do want to make clear that Christ is objectively triumphant (Matthew 28:18-20; Philippians 2:9-11), I want to avoid all premature chest-bumping, back-slapping, and end-zone dancing. There will come a time for celebration, and if the book of Revelation is to be believed, it will be glorious.
In the meantime, we are stuck on our own 25-yard line, having just been sacked for a 15-yard loss by the big nose tackle from Multi-Culti U. The road to the end zone is narrow and hard, and few make it all the way. And many that do make it suffer all kinds of perplexities, persecutions, and striking downs along the way (2 Corinthians 4:7-11), so much so that some get pulled from the game early and have to ice their busted knee in the locker room. Which is to say, that the triumph of Christ will look radically different than what we might expect. We are called to live crucified lives in this world, filled with suffering and brokenhearted affections, by the power of the risen Christ. We celebrate the present reign and rule of the Son of God, and sometimes get our head chopped off for it.
Now back to your regularly scheduled programming.
Anderson notes that “social conservatism has resources for public argument besides the Bible” and that “our obligations to treat fellow citizens as equals–as well as the practical requirements for broad political consensus–demand that we rise above sectarian appeals to religious authority.” This one’s thick and will take some detangling.
First, we do have resources besides the Bible. The heavens declare the glory of God (Psalm 19:1), his invisible attributes are perceived (clearly, even) in what has been made (Romans 1:20), and rebellious human beings know good and well that their current wickedness is deserving of death (Romans 1:32). In a sense, all of created reality, because it is belongs to Christ, can be marshaled against human sin and folly. “All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future–all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s” (1 Corinthians 3:21-23).
But the fact that we have a plethora of resources available doesn’t mean that we should abandon the one offensive weapon in the holy arsenal, the sword of the Spirit. Yes, if need be, Christians can head-butt people with their helmet, but God has given us a perfectly effective weapon to use as we fight this fight. The word of God is, after all, living and active. So rather than choosing between the Bible and natural law, I say, let’s use them both. Generously. Sword thrusts and head butts it is. Hopefully, Mr. Anderson agrees.
The second part of my engagement with the above section has to do with these so-called “practical requirements for broad political consensus.” I think I know what Anderson has in mind, namely, the electoral realities that Christ-confessing Christians are not a sufficient governing coalition in this country. As such, it is necessary to build consensus with non-Christian groups.
In principle, I have no problem with such endeavors. Daniel was able to get things done just fine in Babylon, working with the Zoroastrian magi of the day. But if our efforts to forge political coalitions require us to eat any defiled food from the king’s table by muting our testimony to the gospel, then I think we should put down our cards and walk away. A political coalition made up of Christ-haunted secularists and neutered Christians is not a recipe for long-term success by anybody’s measure.
Finally, we have this bit about “rising above sectarian appeals to religious authority.” This kind of language raises a host of questions in my mind:
What constitutes a “religious authority?” Do religious authorities have to have a holy book? a god? Is Al Gore a religious authority? What about Reason with a capital “R”? If one religious authority created the other “non-religious” authorities ex nihilo, does his religiosity contaminate the alleged “non-religious” authority?
What is a “sectarian appeal”? An appeal to the Bible? What about the Constitution? The Declaration of Independence, with that “endowed by their Creator” bit? Who decides which appeals are sectarian and which aren’t? Who elected that person and why didn’t I get to vote?
Is saying “We shouldn’t murder innocent human beings because Jesus said so” a sectarian appeal? Does the truth of the sectarian appeal matter?
What about sectarian appeals to irreligious authorities? And if these authorities aren’t religious, then why in the world are they binding on me?
Okay, enough smart-alecky questions. My point, and I do have one, is simply that all appeals to authority are, at root, religious. They are rooted in our ultimate commitments and assumptions. And because we live on this side of the 2nd Coming, we are a sectarian bunch through and through, the whole lot of us. Such a claim is significant, and will require some proof, and by the end of this series I hope to have at least made a valiant attempt. So let me close by beginning that attempt. Anderson finishes that paragraph with the following:
If social conservatism is to win the day, social conservatives–especially those seeking and holding public office–must make public arguments using public reasons to defend human life and marriage.
This gets right down to the crux of the issue I have with Anderson’s approach, as much as I respect it and him (and I really do). The operative word in this sentence is “public.” So here is my simple argument: Jesus Christ was publicly crucified on a hill outside of Jerusalem, was publicly raised from the dead three days later, appeared publicly to his disciples for the next forty days, and publicly ascended to heaven where he now reigns over the entire cosmos. Therefore, all men are obligated to obey him publicly (and privately too for that matter). Reasons can’t get more “public” than that.
Francis Schaeffer was fond of reminding us that the gospel is “public truth.” It can never be reduced simply to me and Jesus in the prayer closet (as crucial as that is to maintaining any kind of public witness to Christ’s kingdom). Which means that for Christians there is no rising above sectarian appeals to religious authority. If we do attempt this sort of “rising above,” we will discover very quickly that we can’t help but bump our heads on the footstool of King Jesus.