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Not Your Religion in Politics, but Mine

Posted by on in General
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As secularists would have it, religious convictions should play no role in shaping the moral vision of voters and political leaders. Of course, this is itself a religious test. Violating at least implicitly the free exercise of religion, secularists assume that their own practically if not theoretically atheistic worldview should be the established religion. France tried this in the 18th century, symbolized by the unveiling of the goddess of reason in the Cathedral of Notre Dame. However, this has never been the American way. Ironically, in the nation that constitutionally disallows any establishment of a particular religion or denomination, people are free to practice their faith not only privately but in the public square.

At the other extreme, though, is the confusion of Christ's kingdom with the United States—whether in its more liberal incarnation or as envisioned by the GOP. The rhetoric of a reinvigorated Christian right has turned off a lot of Americans who see evangelicalism more as a voting bloc engaged in identity politics than as a witness to the liberating King who has founded his own empire in his own death and resurrection. Former G. W. Bush speechwriter and policy advisor Michael Gerson offers some insightful analysis of this phenomenon on the campaign trail in recent weeks.


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  • Guest - Marc Johnson

    To Michael's point, Jonah Goldberg of National Review has written an excellent article showing how secularism is actually a religion in itself. Secularists attempt to remove religion from the public square. In so doing, they in fact leave only one religion in the public square--Secularism.

    Goldberg link: http://astheworldsleeps.org/node/4742

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  • I don't think that all secularists agree with your first statement. I think that they would agree that the state should not support one religion or religious preference over an other, but I'm not sure they would go so far to say that voters and politicians should disregard religion altogether when it comes to politics. I know many atheists who would disagree with that statement. They would see it as just as much a violation of the Establishment Clause as the state promotion of Christianity.

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  • I forgot to say thanks for linking to Gerson's article. He is a great writer, and very much worth reading on this topic.

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  • Guest - Nathan

    It would seem to me that Muslim countries make us out to be a Christian nation more than evangelicals do. It's quite obvious that we collectively, as a self-governed people, allow the freedom and expression of religion in U.S. law. It would seem that many Christians believe that they have a unique opportunity, in having officially-recognized, Creator-endowed liberties, to be a city on a hill in this county. Political staging and gaffes aside, I am encouraged by those who are lead by Christ to be an influence for truth in the public sphere—in any sphere. Thank you for all you do, Michael Horton.

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  • Guest - Chris

    This was just too tempting not to post in this sphere, and I believe it relates to the overall attitude that some ministers are taking to the culture in their attempts to be relevant. The quote goes as follows:

    "Do you use religion to prove you are right, or to find grace? If the latter, you're a pleasure to be around.”

    Doesn't the quote fail to distinguish the third use of the law? In immitating the moral law, an example or publication of the image and expression of Christ, one does not attempt to justify himself, but merely model himself after the Savior and Lord who called him out of darkness.

    Even with the second use of the law (driving us to Christ), how can one find grace if they have not first heard the unpleasant indictment of their sin, guiding them to the fullness of grace itself, who is Christ? And who will they hear this painful, yet tutorial law from? Someone who makes them comfortable and is such a pleasure to be around that that someone will only speak and appeal to the hearer's narcissism? No, it will take someone (like Paul) who will honor the whole Word of God and preach in season and out of season. Who will be willing to put his "pleasant" reputation on the line in order to serve his Lord in truth; concerned for the listener's eternal outlook.

    Do we seek to be pleasant to everyone all the time, or to be, as a loving father, able to do the hard work of discipline, reproof, and correction? And is the one who disciplines truly concerned for himself, or actually looking to the wellbeing of the one he is attempting to correct?

    I believe the attitude of the quote relates to the current topic, shedding some light on how evangelicals are thinking, and causing us to examine our own approach to the world, both in politics and everything else.

    A gospel centered worldview and approach to the culture does not discount the importance or role of the moral law in the believer's own desire to see goodness genuinely expressed in the society of which he is living. Just because that believer desires to see goodness expressed (based off of the standard of a Holy God) does not make him ungraceful, entirely unpleasant, or self justifying. Rather, it proves his faith, expressed through the ultimate love of society, which plays out in his desires to see that society prosper in goodness and right living, which he believes is spelled out for him in Scripture. To leave that society alone or uncared for (without the goodness of pure law) would be to condone the opposite of what he actually knows to be loving.

    Sorry it took so long to get to the point...

    Chris Jager
    Tillamook, OR

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  • Guest - Michael Horton

    Chris, your point seems right on target. The quote at the beginning sounds a little different, though: the choice is between "using religion to prove you're right" vs "to find grace." Of course, the former is that arrogance and self-righteousness to which we easily (and sadly) gravitate. So the quote itself sounds great. But so does your point! The law-vs-love antithesis, widely assumed in our culture, is unbiblical. The problem is not that God's law is not loving, but that we are not. The law of love commands, but it cannot give what it demands. We need the law and the gospel, with each doing what is proper to its office. God is loving not only to use the law to send us to Christ but also to curb sin and injustice in society and to direct Christian obedience.

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  • Guest - Chris

    Thanks Dr. Horton. I guess by itself, considering the choice it presents, it does sound OK. Maybe I was reading into it a little :). Thanks for the correction.


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  • Guest - Suzanne

    All I know is that I used to vote fairly conservatively, leaning toward the GOP. Now, I've been told, more than once, that voting GOP IS the Christian way to vote. Sorry. Not in my book.
    Evangelicalism has become so intertwined with conservative politics, I no longer want much to do with either. And I can guarantee, I am not alone.

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  • [...] God’s Name Mar.31, 2012 by Michael Horton in General A great question, in response to yesterday’s post recommending Michael Gerson’s [...]

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