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Moral values 101

Evangelicals need not apologize for focusing on single issues

Issue: "Iraq: Fallujah's fallen," Nov. 27, 2004

Please read this as an unambiguous call for evangelical Christians to set aside all embarrassment over putting such an emphasis on issues like abortion, homosexuality, and traditional marriage.

"Life is more complicated than that," say our liberal critics. "Reality is more nuanced. There are too many shades of gray to allow folks to reduce the public debate to those few issues."

"Evangelical Christians run the risk," I heard one evangelical leader say last week right after the election, "of allowing themselves to look simple-minded." Christianity Today devoted its main editorial during the recent electoral frenzy to a warning against "single-issue politics."

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The condescending arrogance of such a caution is rooted in two giant falsehoods:

Falsehood No. 1 is the assertion that abortion, homosexuality, and marriage are just not the black-and-white issues some of us would like to suggest they are. They all probably need-ahem-a good bit more discussion.

Falsehood No. 2 is the assumption that those of us who harp on abortion, homosexuality, and marriage have never given thought to issues like poverty and economic justice, to racism and minority rights, to war and international fairness, to healthcare and environmental concerns.

Both those falsehoods have gotten lots of ink and airtime since the discovery by the media, right after the Nov. 2 election, that "moral values" had played a big part in motivating those who voted for President Bush. Neither comprehending what this was all about, on the one hand, nor being willing, on the other hand, to concede such moral high ground to Mr. Bush's backers, many in the media and on the Democratic left have repeatedly stressed these two points. But like so many falsehoods, they sound much more plausible than they really are.

So what makes the debate about abortion, homosexuality, and traditional marriage quite different from the debate about the other issues? The answer is amazingly simple-and don't let anyone talk you out of that fact! The answer is that on the issues of abortion, homosexuality, and marriage, one side is claiming that certain behavior is just plain wrong, while the other claims it is not only right, but to be defended. On the other issues, the debate is not about right and wrong, but about extent and about appropriate methodology.

Where, for example, among mainstream conservatives or evangelical Christians do you find those who are affirming the moral rightness of racism? Where do you find those who say we should expand oppression of the poor, or withhold justice from them? Most of us, to be sure, might be rightly charged with having insufficient concern for the ravages of racism or for walking by on the other side of the road when we see our brothers and sisters in need. But that is quite different from proclaiming that disinterest as a virtue.

Yet that is precisely what defenders of abortion, homosexual rights, and new forms of marriage are doing. They are saying that the act of killing human babies is behavior that should be defended. They are saying that those committed to homosexual behavior should be encouraged to take pride in that choice. And they are saying that same-sex marriages might well be models of commitment from which heterosexuals might properly learn.

Let's quit pussyfooting. Besides claiming that all the wisdom of human history concerning such matters has been wrong, these assertions are outrages against our basic humanity. What is there to discuss about killing a baby? Or, as a friend of mine noted several years ago, anybody who's ever played with Tinkertoys knows that homosexual behavior just doesn't work. And the claim that Heather Has Two Mommies is preposterously false on the face of it; nobody in biological history ever had two moms or two dads.

So here's a word to our liberal critics:

Nail us to the wall for having overly hard hearts. Hang us out to dry for sometimes seared consciences. Demonstrate for all to see that we are inconsistent when we may have used the government to feather our own nests while opposing programs that would have improved the lots of others. We confess our hypocrisy-sometimes inadvertent, sometimes too calculating.

But don't ask us to pretend that wobbling carelessly around the road, or even crossing the middle line sometimes, is the same as deliberately driving at 80 miles an hour the wrong way on a one-way street. Some "moral values" deserve a good bit of discussion. Some need none at all.

Joel Belz
Joel Belz

Joel, WORLD's founder, writes a regular column for the magazine and contributes commentaries for The World and Everything in It. He is also the author of Consider These Things.


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