The Optimistic Christian
Social Conservatism and the Quality of Mercy
Human law and government cannot lead us to a proper appreciation of mercy. This doesn't mean there should be no social conservative movement in politics, but it does mean that getting our laws changed will not turn our hearts back to our unborn children. Timothy Dalrymple hoped, with his article, to get a conversation started on what our next steps might be in fostering this project, and I am coming to believe that our highest-payoff approach will be what the military calls an "asymmetric" one.
We should, of course, oppose uses of government that encourage the rise of abortion mills like Kermit Gosnell's. Those uses encompass more than government funding of Planned Parenthood; they extend to education programs that insist to children that sex is always morally neutral, and to welfare programs that subsidize destructive lifestyles.
But opposition is not enough, and merely trying to match social liberals law for law or program for program is not the most profitable approach. Focusing our main effort on law and regulation cedes to human government a centrality in our common moral life that it does not truly have.
Nor can we prevail by focusing narrowly on "abortion" or any other single problem, as if it occurs in isolation from everything else we do. Viewed through one prism, abortion can be seen on a continuum with other elements of a throw-away lifestyle, from the trash we make of material goods to no-fault divorce, easy bankruptcy, and newfangled refinements like "strategic foreclosure" on our mortgaged properties.
But there is another, more important prism to view it through, and that is our preference for man's justice over God's mercy. Abortion is a great problem for us precisely because human justice has nothing morally compelling to say about it. We can only settle it to the satisfaction of our consciences through reference to God's mercy. Mercy cannot be written into law; it has to come from a store of it laid up in the individual heart. If we would see the hearts of men and women turned to the helpless, we will have to learn to prefer God's mercy over man's justice.
This means knowing God and knowing that the first relationship of each one of us is with Him. It means truly understanding the mercy He has shown us—and recognizing the superiority of its power over that of justice. Many things, including justice, can deal death; nothing but mercy has the power of life.
The moral horizon of our society has been narrowing for some time to a closed equation featuring selfish vindication and death, and it is this process that only God and His concept of mercy can reverse. If Christians are "salt and light" in the earth, as Jesus said we would be, then we cannot do better, in the project of propagating God's mercy, than to start by absorbing its meaning ourselves.
J.E. Dyer is a retired Naval intelligence officer and evangelical Christian. She retired in 2004 and blogs from the Inland Empire of southern California. She writes for Commentary's CONTENTIONS blog, Hot Air's Green Room, and her own blog, The Optimistic Conservative. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.