The limits of politics

We live in the United States, not United Christendom

Issue: "School vouchers debate," May 15, 1999

Dr. Seuss had his political idiosyncrasies, but he wrote a great pro-life book, Horton Hatches an Egg. In the book, first published in 1940, Horton takes over egg-sitting from "Mayzie, a lazy bird," who abandons her unborn child. Even when faced with snow, ice, and hunters, Horton perseveres, because "An elephant's faithful." That's how I think of Alan Keyes's supporters. Many Republican elephants, like New York Governor George Pataki most recently, are faithless these days, ready to turn their backs on the smallest of the small, as they focus their eyes on the largest of the large political prizes, the White House. But Mr. Keyes takes no prisoners and neither do his supporters: They are faithful. We received numerous letters from Keyes supporters after our complimentary cover story about him. Most had a common motif: By headlining the question most often asked about him ("But can he win?"), WORLD was joining the camp of the faithless. In other words, if we were as faithful as Horton, if strong Christian pro-lifers all united behind a candidate like Mr. Keyes, he would win. Some writers put it more strongly: If every pro-life Christian fervently prayed to God, claiming all the promises of Scripture, God, so as not to break His promise, would bring about a Keyes victory. Those writers know, and I know, that God promised His people victory in their invasion of Canaan. Only their faithlessness left them wandering in the desert for 40 years. The problem with applying that history to the present is that God spoke about the conquest of Israel, not the conquest of America. God did not tell His people to seek political triumph in the Babylonian, Persian, or Roman empires. Jeremiah said we should build houses and plant gardens in the land of our exile. Two millennia ago, Paul demanded not revolution but his rights as a Roman citizen. Two decades ago, nevertheless, some Christians talked as if God had promised that the United States would be a Christian nation. Groups with names such as the Moral Majority promised that a full-court press would force secularists to turn over the ball. In this issue we have provided room for reaction to Blinded by Might, the new book by two of the men who led the initial charge. The reason Christian political victory should never have been expected, Cal Thomas and Ed Dobson argue, is that "the numbers aren't there to achieve redemption from the top down," even if it could be achieved that way: "At Moral Majority we believed that there was a 'sleeping giant out there' that had to be awakened and, when awake, could reverse the moral and cultural slide. It may be sleeping, but it's not a giant, at least not enough of a giant to be capable of mobilizing enough people to vote for certain candidates to achieve victory." Of course, God can accomplish His purposes regardless of where the votes lie, and that's why we should stop assuming-lest we doubt His power-that one of His purposes is to turn the United States into United Christendom. We are called, through God's grace, to teach and disciple. We are not called primarily to win political battles, although we should take the offensive when we can and build defensive coalitions when we cannot. Because the Bible teaches us that there is only one way to heaven, some Christians who become politically active tend to think of politics (and their particular brand of it) as the one right way to bring about change. But God calls all of us to different tasks, even within politics-some are outsiders sounding the alarm, some are insiders reducing harm-and we need to respect that, rather than saying that others are letting God down if they don't buy our particular strategy. Blinded by Might criticizes some prominent evangelical leaders, much to the joy of The Washington Post, but the essential message is an important one: Be content with the distinctively Christian witness we can make, and have realistic expectations about the small gains that can be registered through politics. In a sense, be glad that Alan Keyes soldiers on, but be sure to emphasize personal evangelism, mercy ministries, and other church activities, and do not attack those who also perform political service by entering into coalitions with non-Christians. As WORLD noted in the conclusion to our "But can he win?" article, Mr. Keyes has won already by bearing witness to God's truth. In our pages generally, we want to honor both the faithful Hortons and those who work more subtly within culture to help the lazy Mayzie bird change her ways. In the long run, politics follows journalism and laws follow culture.

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Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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