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How to respond

"How to respond" Continued...

Issue: "Osama bin Ashcroft?," April 27, 2002

6. Conservative Christians are discontent.

Actually, we are less likely than others to complain and demand more, because we believe in the importance of Christian contentment. We believe that to be discontent in the midst of God's mercies, because we don't have even more, is wrong. We remember how often God brings good out of hardship. We don't become discontent if we don't have as many goods as our neighbor, because we know that having more does not satisfy the soul. We don't feel pressed to buy more prestigious cars because we know our prestige doesn't come from cars. We remember that our internal state, not our external environment, is the chief determinant of our contentment or misery.

7. Conservative Christians are opposed to the First Amendment's guarantee of religious freedom.

No, we want the First Amendment to be a protection for the free expression of religious beliefs, as it was intended to be. James Madison, its author, assured members of Congress that its purpose was to keep federal officials from placing on a pedestal one particular sect "to which they would compel others to conform." We believe that Congress should stay out of religious matters. We believe that Christians should not fear competition from other religions; we merely insist on a level playing field. We believe Christian good faith in this matter is shown by the way Christians have treated Muslims and mosques, before and after Sept. 11.

8. Conservative Christians are opposed to diversity.

No, we so truly believe in the importance of diversity that we do not want it to be only skin-deep. God created all kinds of people, all made in His image, so as we learn about and appreciate others we also appreciate God. Churches have often failed in such reaching out, but things are getting better. Because of Christianity's worldwide inclusiveness, many seminaries and Christian colleges are becoming very ethnically and nationally diverse. We would also like things to improve in media, academic, and governmental circles. We would like to see in the press fair treatment of a diversity of views, not just a stultifying extension of politically correct secular liberalism. We would like to reduce discrimination against Christians at colleges and universities. We would like to see welfare programs that honor religious diversity replace governmental one-size-fits-all approaches.

9. Conservative Christians are pessimistic.

Actually, we're long-term optimists, because we know that Christ will return some day, and many of us are short-term optimists as well. We believe in the dreams that our grandparents had. We love being in a country where we can freely worship and work, building families, churches, and businesses. In recent years we have seen the downfall of the Soviet empire, the containment of the welfare empire, and the advent of a faith-based initiative. We believe, with all the disappointments, that the involvement of Christians and conservatives in politics over the past two decades has made a big difference in containing abortion, defending Christian and home schooling, and stiffening our backs in the face of terrorism.

10. Conservative Christians are militants.

Yes, we are (or at least should be) Christian soldiers, but the Bible tells us our war is not against flesh and blood. We believe in trying to walk in Christ's steps, in fighting evil rather than acceding to it, in taking prudent risks rather than clinging to what is current for fear of any change. We want this nation, conceived in liberty with a respect for virtue, to long endure. We know that sin cannot be eradicated in this life, only contained. A religion that says the best people do not sin leads to pride and closed mouths: Christianity's understanding that all of us sin, and that sins can be covered by Christ's sacrifice, leads to self-criticism and openness.

That's the stance I'd propose. Some readers might disagree with some of these points, but here's one thing I hope all of us can agree on: that while we should turn the other cheek to personal attacks, for three reasons we cannot ignore the general and public attacks on fundamentalists and others.

  • The first is self-preservation. Theologically conservative Christians fall into camps with names like evangelical, Reformed, charismatic, fundamentalist, and others. When those in many of these groups hear media attacks on "fundamentalists" and "Christian Taliban," the tendency is to think, "They're not talking about me," so why become involved? But in the eyes of many secular liberals, all Bible-believing Christians are fundamentalists, and we do the cause of Christ no good by saying, "I don't know those people." Pundits who pour boiling tar on fundamentalists today, and get away with it, will assault biblical evangelicals tomorrow. To paraphrase a well-known saying about Nazi tactics: They came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew; they came for the _____ but I was not one of them; finally they came for me, and there was no one left to defend me. We should know that if the enemies of Christianity undermine fundamentalists today, they will move on to other groups soon.
  • The second reason is preservation of the downtrodden. Michael Horowitz, addressing himself to evangelicals in May 2001, wrote that "You have led the way in making international religious liberty a major element of American foreign policy.... You have led the way in taking on the slavery issue of our time-the annual trafficking of millions of women and children into lives of sexual bondage.... You have led the way in organizing a campaign to end a growing epidemic of prison rape.... As you define your human-rights successes as central to who you are and what you've done, it will no longer be possible for those who fear your faith to crudely caricature you or to ignore the virtue that Christian activism brings to American life and the world at large." Spoken too soon, for the caricaturing has intensified, but if Christians face verbal attack here, those in other parts of the world, such as in Indonesia or the southern part of Sudan, can expect sticks, stones, and more broken bones. Scorn of Christianity in the salons also hurts the poor domestically. When wars on poverty redline Christianity, they typically turn left toward soft-hearted automatic handouts or right toward hard-headed harshness. Christianity is a religion that emphasizes grace for those who have repented; those who do not understand living by grace prefer a works-oriented religion where we get out of our practice exactly what we put into it. That commonly leaves most of the poor, who have not put in enough, either in passive receptivity or active frustration.
  • The third reason is national preservation. If it becomes generally accepted that any strong belief is a problem because those who have it are potential bin Ladens, America's spiritual reserves of strength will be depleted. We can live on the fumes of Sept. 11 anger for a while, but America's best defense against terrorism in the long run is a faith strong enough to stand against it. We can't beat something with nothing; in a war that could last for decades, the United States needs strong Bible-based belief.

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