The Temptation of Secular Conservatism

At First Things, William Doino Jr. has written the most commendable “the problem with conservatism” article of the year. I agree with every word:

American conservatism, of course, has never been perfectly Christian—and sometimes, far from it—but its imperfect efforts to uphold the country’s moral and religious heritage is still welcome. But now that these attacks are emerging from within, traditional conservatives have to fight on two fronts—against anti-religious liberals, and secular conservatives.

This two-front assault on traditional conservatism has taken a toll. Intimidated by loose (and often ludicrous) charges of “theocracy,” many committed religious believers have hesitated to cite the Bible in support of anything political, even though our Founding Fathers did. A few misleading accusations against the Bible—on slavery or women’s rights, for example—are enough to cause modern conservatives to abandon Biblical arguments altogether. They have adopted a secularist tongue, albeit one that stresses conservative values and the Natural Law (as close to Biblical morality as they are willing to get.)

Read more . . .

  • Craig

    I like this bit:

    But then, something happened along the way, and certain conservatives—not all, but far too many—snapped, and came out in defense of torture as a means of resisting terrorism. To this day, many still defend “enhanced interrogation,” a euphemism if ever there was one, and a direct assault on the dignity of the individual.

  • Craig

    Hows about this characterization of conservatism:

    Conservatives celebrate Christian nationalism, in that they believe that the United States once was, and should once again be, a Christian nation. In this way, they downplay the Enlightenment roots of American democracy.
    Conservatives promote religious supremacy, insofar as they generally do not respect the equality of other religions.
    Conservatives believe that distinctively biblical values should be the foundation of American law, and that the U.S. Constitution should be seen as a vehicle for implementing distinctively biblical principles.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/joecarter Joe Carter

      Hows about this characterization of conservatism

      Whoever wrote that doesn’t know what they are talking about.

      • Craig

        So where do they go wrong, in your opinion?

  • Joe Canner

    Since you “agree with every word”, can you explain the Scriptural rationale for opposing the repeal of DADT?

    • Craig

      Scripture endorses holiness in the Lord’s army. As we battle the heathen nations for eternal truths, maybe Joe feels that we should be sending only Godly men into the fight, following a procession with trumpets and an ark of the covenant. How can you have openly gay guys involved in that?

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/joecarter Joe Carter

        Craig,

        You seem to be positioning yourself as someone who isn’t worth seriously engaging.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/joecarter Joe Carter

      Matthew 22:39: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

      Loving someone means wishing only good (and therefore no evil) for a person. If we wish that they would be allowed to engage in destructive or evil behavior we are not loving them in a Biblical, God-honoring way.

      Consider, for example, people who engage in non-suicidal self-injuries. One of the most common types of self-injury is done by teenage girls who cut themselves in order to experience a release of emotional pain. We can and should be sympathetic to their motivations since their actions are driven by an innate desire for what it basically a good thing (emotional healing). But does that mean we should endorse, approve, or normalize such behavior? Not if we love them.

      Similarly, we can’t love our homosexual neighbor and endorse, approve, or normalize homosexual behavior. The Bible is rather clear that such behavior is sin and that embracing sin is an act of hate, not love. Ironically, those who support gay rights may have honorable motives but their actions are most hateful to homosexuals.

      DADT was a policy that separated the person from the sin. It said that to be an honorable member of the military you could not engage in particular behaviors nor could you openly identify yourself as someone who would, if given the opportunity, engage in such behaviors. It was, I believe, a deeply Christian position. Repealing it, however, was an action that said their was nothing wrong with engaging in such conduct. It was, on other words, a change to a hateful stance to those who struggle with same-sex orientation.

      • Craig

        Matthew 22:39: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

        I suppose this a guiding principle in the Marine Corp, a fundamental tenet drilled into the new recruits at boot camp, and a familiar battle cry.

      • Joe Canner

        So by that logic, all sin should illegal, right? That would be the “loving” thing. Why single out homosexuality?

        Also, you say that DADT “separated the person from the sin”. Should we take this to mean that you think being gay is a sin even if it is not acted upon? Aside from the obvious theological and scientific problems with this idea, it clearly flies in the face of Jesus’ advice about judging others. We are all sinners, at any time capable of sin, so why single out this particular group for special treatment?

        It saddens me greatly that Christians can twist the 2nd great commandment around to such an extent as to discriminate against a particular group of people, just because they *might* commit a particular (so-called) sin. Jesus didn’t say “love your neighbor, as long as he is not (or might in the future be) sinning.” Not only that, but he lived it: socializing with sinners with no strings attached, over the objections of the Pharisees.

        • Joe Carter

          So by that logic, all sin should illegal, right?
          No, that is nto the where the logic of my position leads.

          Why single out homosexuality?

          I don’t single out homosexuality. You asked me to give a Scriptural rationale for opposing the repeal of DADT. I gave you one. It would be the same rationale that I would use if the DoD wanted to repeal the prohibition of other forms of self-harm that have broader ramification and are against “good order and discipline.” The military has a lot of regulations that are not shared by the broader community. For example, adultery is a punishable offense under the UCMJ. I’m all for that policy too.

          Also, you say that DADT “separated the person from the sin”. Should we take this to mean that you think being gay is a sin even if it is not acted upon?

          No, I do not think same-sex orientation is a sin. The sin comes in giving into the temptation, either within one’s heart or with one’s body.

          Aside from the obvious theological and scientific problems with this idea, it clearly flies in the face of Jesus’ advice about judging others.

          No it doesn’t. There is possibly not more misused and misquoted claim than the idea that Jesus prohibited judging others. It’s such an absurd and unbiblical idea that has been corrected and rebutted so often over the past few centuries that it’s surprising that people keep bringing it up.

          If Jesus said not to judge others, then why does he command us to “judge with right judgement?” (John 7:24: “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”)

          We are all sinners, at any time capable of sin, so why single out this particular group for special treatment?

          I have not done so and am not sure why you think I have. Yes, we are all sinners and capable of sin. But we should never, ever endorse sin or turn a blind eye to it. And we certainly should not support calling something good which God has said is evil.

          It saddens me greatly that Christians can twist the 2nd great commandment around to such an extent as to discriminate against a particular group of people, just because they *might* commit a particular (so-called) sin.

          As I said, having a same-sex orientation is not a sin. Neither is having same-sex desires or feelings, as long as they are not turned into lust. But engaging in homosexual acts is both a sin and a form of self-harm. Treating it otherwise is to treat people hatefully.

          Not only that, but he lived it: socializing with sinners with no strings attached, over the objections of the Pharisees.

          Good grief, you really need to read the Bible more closely. Where in the world did you get the idea that Jesus socialized with sinners with “no strings attached?” The Gospels make it clear that Jesus called all sinners—even those he socialized with—to repentance. He didn’t say, “I’m cool with your sinning, let’s have some wine.” No, he called them to repent and then socialized with them as forgiven subjects in his Kingdom.

          • Joe Canner

            You said in your original answer: “If we wish that they would be allowed to engage in destructive or evil behavior we are not loving them in a Biblical, God-honoring way.” This statement goes well beyond the DoD and DADT. The logical conclusion of such a statement is that all sin should be illegal, not just in the military but everywhere (which illustrates why bringing theological arguments into every political discussion–the topic of the First Things post–is so problematic). If you are going to confine yourself to the military and use “good order and discipline” arguments, fine, but these are not theological arguments.

            You said in your original answer: “DADT…said…nor could you openly identify yourself as someone who would, if given the opportunity, engage in such behaviors.” Indeed, DADT prohibited gays from serving (openly) in the military, regardless of their actual sexual behavior. So if you don’t think being gay is a sin, how can you support laws that discriminate against gays?

            You must be missing Matthew 7 from your Bible. We are called to judge the sins our own life before we judge the sins in others. Singling out gays for special treatment and public judgment doesn’t seem to fit with the attitudes Jesus was calling for here. Moreover, judging gays just for being gay (DADT) also seems to be prohibited by John 7:24–”Stop judging by mere appearances”.

            Yes, Jesus called sinners to repentance. But, for the most part, we don’t know how he did that. Significantly, it seems he did it by developing relationships and confronting people in private. He didn’t rant against specific groups of sinners in public (except Pharisees), he didn’t advocate laws that abridged their rights, and he didn’t put conditions on his hospitality.

            • Joe Carter

              This statement goes well beyond the DoD and DADT.

              Let’s keep in mind that my entire response was as a response to your question, “can you explain the Scriptural rationale for opposing the repeal of DADT?” What I gave was a Scriptural rationale, not a template for how every policy issue should be resolved.

              The logical conclusion of such a statement is that all sin should be illegal, not just in the military but everywhere (which illustrates why bringing theological arguments into every political discussion–the topic of the First Things post–is so problematic).

              No, that’s not the logical conclusion. My statement was, “If we wish that they would be allowed to engage in destructive or evil behavior we are not loving them in a Biblical, God-honoring way.” Again, that was in response to your question about the Scriptural rationale. However, the logical conclusion of loving someone and wanting to prevent them from engaging in destructive or evil behavior is not always to make such behavior illegal. For example, it is destructive and evil to worship false gods but I certainly do not think it should be illegal.

              If you are going to confine yourself to the military and use “good order and discipline” arguments, fine, but these are not theological arguments.

              No, they’re not. But they can certainly be motivated by a Scriptural admonition to love our neighbor and act toward them in a way that is in their best interest.

              Indeed, DADT prohibited gays from serving (openly) in the military, regardless of their actual sexual behavior. So if you don’t think being gay is a sin, how can you support laws that discriminate against gays?

              You are not “openly gay” just because you have a same-sex orientation. Indeed, I think it absurd to identify oneself with a behavior in which one does not engage in. I don’t identify myself as a fornicator just because I have a natural sinful orientation to fornification.

              You must be missing Matthew 7 from your Bible.

              Let’s look at the full text that you are referring to:

              “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and twith the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but udo not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

              Jesus makes it very clear that what his is condemning is hypocritical judgment—judging someone else for engaging in the the exact same sin that the person doing the judging is engaged in.

              We are called to judge the sins our own life before we judge the sins in others.

              Agreed. It would be hypocritical of me if I were engaging in self-destructive sinful behavior and condemning others for doing the same.

              Singling out gays for special treatment and public judgment doesn’t seem to fit with the attitudes Jesus was calling for here.

              No one is singling out “gays for special treatment” except for gay rights advocates. What other sin is being so forcefully pushed on us for acceptance and normalization? I can’t think of any. The only reason this is even an issue is because may people—including many Christians—have decided that what God has to say about homosexuality matters. They are going to endorse it because to do otherwise would make them look like “bigots” and they don’t the courage to endure such verbal martyrdom.

              Moreover, judging gays just for being gay (DADT) also seems to be prohibited by John 7:24–”Stop judging by mere appearances”.

              Oh my. Prohibiting judgements based on appearances is exactly what DADT did. The “don’t ask” part was put in place so that those with same-sex orientation who were not engaging in such behavior or associating themselves with homosexual behavior could be protected from harrharassment.

              But, for the most part, we don’t know how he did that.

              Actually, yes we do. It says so quite explicitly in the Gospels that Jesus verbally called people to repentance. Jesus was never coy about calling people to give up their sin. He always told people directly that they should stop sinning.

              Significantly, it seems he did it by developing relationships and confronting people in private.

              Except for his disciples, Jesus almost always called people to repentance in public. Very few did he have a close personal relationship with (at least in the way that we think of the term).

              He didn’t rant against specific groups of sinners in public (except Pharisees), . . .

              Of course he did. For example, was he not calling out adulters in Matthew 5:31-32?

              . . . he didn’t advocate laws that abridged their rights, . . .

              First of all, there is no “right” to engage in homosexual behavior. None. While it might be allowed by American law, there is no common law, much less natural law, “right” to engage in such conduct.

              . . . and he didn’t put conditions on his hospitality.

              Depends on what you mean by hospitality. As Christians we are certain required to treat everyone with hospitality. But hospitality can be withdrawn if it is abused (for instance, if a house guest became drunk and belligerent).

              But one thing that Jesus does not allow us to do is treat evil and sin as if it just a personal choice that we should be fine with.

              • Joe Canner

                This doesn’t seem to be getting us anywhere, so this will probably be my last response. Since it’s your blog, you can have the last word.

                Yes, I asked about DADT, because that is the example the original author used. Your answer, however, was not specific to DADT and I was trying to figure out whether you believed the principle would apply to other issues. You claim it doesn’t, although I don’t see how you can apply “love your neighbor” in that way in one case and not in another. This illustrates my concern generally with people who insist that our laws should be based on the Bible. How do we determine which laws? Which parts of the Bible? These are genuine questions which can generate genuinely interesting discussion and even answers. This cannot, IMO, be reduced to generalized platitudes about how we should invoke Scripture more often in public policy discussions.

                Ironically, I find “love your neighbor” to be very helpful in a quite different way when determining how Scripture informs policy. Simply put, behavior that harms another person should be illegal; otherwise, probably not. Obviously it is more complex than that, but this approach is a good starting point which generally reflects how most people (of all faiths or of no faith) see things.

                Where do you get that Matthew 7 is talking about “the exact same sin”? Why use “log” to represent my sin and “speck” to represent someone else’s if they are the same sin? How convenient that all straight people are automatically entitled to judge gays because we don’t have same-sex attractions. This is the height of hypocritical legalism: to major on the sins that we don’t struggle with, while covering up the ones we do.

                OK, yes, Jesus talked about adultery. Interesting, don’t you think, that he talked about adultery and divorce more than about homosexuality? I won’t go so far as to say that this is evidence that he didn’t consider it sin, but it might at least help keep it in proper perspective. It would be a step in the right direction if the amount of time and space devoted to this issue today were in proportion to the amount of time and space devoted to it in Scripture. That aside, I would still contend that Jesus’ general approach was to deal with sin privately, not to mention his instructions in Matt. 18 regarding confronting sin (reinforced by Paul in Galatians 6), and in Luke 11:24: “…you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.”

                It’s abundantly clear to all concerned how certain Christians feel about homosexual behavior. How about giving it a rest for a while and letting the Holy Spirit operate for a change?

                • Frank

                  How about you give ti a rest and let the Holy Spirit continue to work? After all the HS guided the words in scripture that clearly tell us homosexual behavior is a sin.


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