Bryan Fischer
Response to Cal Thomas and his abject flag of surrender
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By Bryan Fischer
November 13, 2008

In the wake of conservative losses at the polls last week, veteran columnist Cal Thomas wrote a column (Religious Right R.I.P.) in which he urges evangelicals to unconditionally surrender in the battle for the political soul of our culture.

Any attempts by evangelicals to change public policy, he says, will only "lead ... to more futility and ineffective attempts to reform culture."

This column is bizarrely self-contradictory. After all, Thomas is an evangelical who writes several times a week with each column designed to influence some aspect of public policy.

Just today, for instance, he urges President-elect Obama to pursue policies which will increase parental choice in education so that more parents will have the same options that Obama and his wife do, of escaping a dismal public education system and placing their children in an environment where they can thrive intellectually.

But if Thomas believes evangelicals should wave the white flag and retreat to their rabbit warrens, what is he doing writing columns at all?

The fact that he himself continues to engage in the battle for our culture three times a week shows he either doesn't mean what he is saying to the rest of us, or is blindly unaware of his own inconsistency.

Thomas says the "model" for change is found "in the life and commands" of Jesus of Nazareth. But he apparently wants Christians to follow just one slice of Christ's admonitions to his followers, to "love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit those in prison and care for widows and orphans."

Fine. Then what in the world is Cal Thomas doing writing columns on public policy when he should be ladling soup in a homeless shelter?

Thomas also seems inexplicably blind to the plain fact that Christians and in many cases, only Christians have been doing all these things since the founding of the republic. Who does he think staff the Rescue Missions, and the Salvation Armies, and the crisis pregnancy centers, and the prison ministries, and the homeless shelters and the food banks?

Virtually all of these efforts have been started by or grew out of churches and are operated by people of faith.

If simply doing these things was enough to transform culture, as Thomas naively believes, we'd be living in nirvana now instead of fretting about the moral abyss into which our nation is falling.

All political authority delegated by God

Further, Thomas seems unaccountably obtuse to the truth that all political power, according to Scripture, has been delegated to men by God, the same God who offers us eternal life through Jesus Christ and prompts us to clothe the naked and feed the hungry.

"There is no authority except from God," says the Scripture in Romans 13:1, "and those that exist have been instituted by God." Is this verse missing from Thomas' version?

Since the only power and authority politicians have comes from the same God Christians worship, they have more reason than anyone else to see to it that that power is used in a way that is consistent with the "Laws of Nature and Nature's God."

When Thomas advises Christians to abandon the world of politics altogether, he in effect is saying that all of us should meekly turn over the governing of our entire culture to atheists, pagans and secular fundamentalists.

But it is this abdication of public policy to forces that are hostile to the standards of God that has created the crisis of culture we now have.

When Christians disengage, then the "salt of the earth" is pulled out of society, and the "light of the world" is placed under a bushel. It should come as no surprise, then, that the earth decays and the world grows dark.

Public service a sacred calling

Thomas further seems to have forgotten that the Scriptures teach us that every public official is a "minister of God," a phrase repeated no less than three times in Romans 13:1-7.

Public service, then, is as sacred a calling and occupation as pastoral ministry. We have the Bible's word for it.

This means that when we go to the polls, we are choosing the "ministers of God" who will oversee our common public life. Who should have a greater interest in that than Christians?

Christians should take the same care and concern in electing public officials they take when they select ministers for their own congregation. To do less is scripturally and spiritually irresponsible.

If Cal Thomas truly believes that Christians should just stay out of politics, then we will expect him to set an example for us all and stop commenting on public policy matters forthwith.

If, on the other hand, he continues to stay engaged in the debate over public policy, as he most certainly will, then he is hardly in a position to deny other Christians the same privilege. To do so would be rank hypocrisy.

On the bank, on the bridge

The story is told of an emergency response team at the river's edge rescuing drowning people from its raging waters. Several left the rescue team and headed upriver, for which they were roundly criticized.

But it turns out they wanted to find out how those people wound up in the rapids, and they discovered that people were being thrown willy-nilly off an upstream bridge. They set about doing their best to keep people from being tossed into the river in the first place.

Christians manning our homeless shelters are the team on the bank, and there the Spirit of Christ compels the church to be. But Christians involved in public policy are the team on the bridge, and there also the Spirit of Christ compels the church to be.

The church does not need to choose between works of private ministry and works of public service, between social relief and social policy. It's not "either-or" but "both-and."

Examples from Scripture

This is patently obvious from just a cursory review of the Scripture. Many, if not most, of the prominent figures in biblical history were directly involved in shaping public policy. Joseph saved the nation of Egypt through his political acumen. Moses was the greatest lawgiver in human history and publicly confronted the corrupt political powers of his day.

King David and King Solomon were as engaged in public policy as it is possible to be, as their very titles suggest. Daniel served as a trusted adviser to the kings of two world empires.

Most of the Old Testament prophets were tasked with direct engagement in public policy matters: speaking truth to the political powers of their day who had forgotten justice and morality. Ask Elijah how much fun that was.

John the Baptist publicly rebuked a political official for his scandalous sex life, and lost his head for it.

And Jesus so irritated the authorities of his day that he wound up hanging on a cross. Christ confronted with force and righteous indignation those who were engaged in financial corruption, fraud and extortion.

Thomas appears to be quite selective in terms of which part of the "model" of Christ he wants us to imitate, and which parts he hopes we will conveniently forget. He overlooks the demonstrations of his masculine strength, and seems to want us to get back to being neutered or feminized Christians who represent no threat to those who misuse God's authority in public life.

It's almost as if Thomas would have cautioned Jesus before he walked into the Temple on that fateful day. "Look, it's just going to get messy if you start challenging people who have political power. That's just not the way to go. I'd counsel you to stick to feeding the hungry and healing the sick. If you want to save the world, that's the ticket!"

In truth, if Christians are concerned about what we are leaving behind for our children and our grandchildren, we will have no choice but to stay engaged in the battle over which values will come to dominate our culture. We simply will find it impossible not to.

"When principles that run against your deepest convictions begin to win the day, then battle is your calling, and peace has become sin; you must, at the price of dearest peace, lay your convictions bare before friend and enemy, with all the fire of your faith." ~ Dutch Christian statesman Abraham Kuyper

© Bryan Fischer

 

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