Cal Thomas, before he was a regular commentator for FOX News Watch and a syndicated print columnist, was the vice president of the Moral Majority from 1980 to 1985.1 While Thomas is still a conservative Christian, he has for some time called on Christians to modify their interest in politics. His first contribution to evangelical disengagement from politics was a book he co-authored with Ed Dobson, also employed by the Moral Majority in the early 1980s, titled Blinded by Might: Can the Religious Right Change America? The one thing I remember from BBM was the statement that after ten years of political activism by the Moral Majority, what does the church have to show for it? Thomas is asking the same question today: “Nearly 30 years after religious conservatives decided to re-enter the political arena—after abandoning it as ‘dirty’ and leading to compromise, what do they have to show for it?”2
I wonder if Cal has thought about how long it took to get the United States into its moral and political mess. I bet it took more than 30 years. Has he thought what America would be like today if Christians hadn’t done battle with the forces of secularism? He writes that “the country remains sharply divided.” This is a good thing. It means we are holding off the forces of evil. With little or no Christian witness in the political realm, there is no telling what the world would look like today. This is not to say that evangelicals have always done the right thing politically. They haven’t. But at least they’ve done something. Much of the lack of sustained success is because Christians give up after a few victories or a few losses. Too many Christians think the war is over when a single battle is won. When hit with a loss, they throw in the towel because “Jesus is coming soon.” Secularists never quit.
One of the criticisms of Cal’s is that evangelicals equated Christianity with the Republican Party. A majority of Christians voted for Jimmy Carter in 1976. In case Cal has forgotten, Carter was a Democrat. A majority of Christians abandoned the Democrat Party because it adopted a specific set of issues that were repugnant: abortion, homosexuality, and the control of private education. At the time, the Republican Party had adopted a platform that reflected the values of these politically active Christians. Moreover, neophyte Christian activists learned how the system worked. Splitting the evangelical vote between the two parties was political suicide even if there were some good guys in the other party. Party majorities in the House and Senate meant control of committees. The control of committees meant control of legislation. There was also the all-important Supreme Court nomination process. In Congress, majorities rule; it’s the nature of our system. This meant that party affiliation and support were important even if there was not total agreement on all those in the party.
With the meandering social philosophy of today’s Republican Party beginning to erode the issues that built the party, evangelicals are beginning to question whether they can continue to support it in 2008. Party loyalty only goes so far for most Christians.
Cal argues that “Christians must first understand that the issues that they most care about . . . are not caused by bad politics, but are matters of the heart and soul.” Let’s assume that 60 percent of the American population opposes abortion and homosexuality but disengages politically. We could still have abortion on demand and homosexual marriage. Contrary to Cal’s assertions, Christians I know never saw politics as a way to “save America” or convert non-believers. The goal was to help civil government define its proper limited ministerial role.