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The Trap of Neutrality

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"ArtIm:

According to a radio editorial some years ago, “a man’s religion and the strength of his conviction are his own personal matter” and therefore “religion should not interfere with politics.”[1] Of course, this too is an expression of humanist neutrality designed to silence Christians but allow for every other conceivable worldview to find expression in the public and political arena.

Let’s apply the neutrality logic to Germany in the 1930s and 1940s. Should the churches have remained neutral because they were churches and their denouncement of Hitler and policies would have been fundamentally religious? In fact, this is exactly what many churches did do and for what they believed were sound theological reasons. “Religion was a private matter that concerned itself with the personal and moral development of the individual. The external order—nature, scientific knowledge, statecraft—operated on the basis of its own internal logic and discernable laws.”[2]

Christians had to submit to this external order since the State was seen as the autonomous authority of the public order. The church’s sole concern was man’s spiritual life. The church followed one set of rules which were religious, while the State took a religious “netural” position. “The Erlangen church historian Hermann Jorda declared in 1917 that the state, the natural order of God, followed its own autonomous laws while the kingdom of God was concerned with the soul and operated separately on the basis of the morality of the gospel.”[3] It was because of this disjunction—built on the myth of neutrality—that Hitler could carry out his devilish schemes unhindered by most religious people. The “Confessional Church,” however, took a different, non-neutral, position:

[It] opposed the Nazification of the Protestant churches, rejected the Nazi racial theories and denounced the anti-Christian doctrines of Rosenberg and other Nazi leaders. In between lay the majority of Protestants, who seemed too timid to join either of the two warring groups, who sat on the fence and eventually, for the most part, landed in the arms of Hitler, accepting his authority to intervene in church affairs and obeying his commands without open protest.[4]

Those “who sat on the fence,” having fallen for the neutrality myth, supported Hitler by default. While they did not openly join with the “German Christians,” a pro-Hitler alliance of ministers and churches, their inaction “landed them in the arms of Hitler” any way. So much for neutrality.

Would the above radio commentator have uttered that “a man’s religion and the strength of his conviction are his own personal matter,” and “religion should not interfere with politics” if these convictions were used to oppose Hitler and his evil plots against the Jews? Would he have said the same thing to William Wilberforce who, as a member of the British Parliament, worked and succeeded in abolishing the slave trade in England?

Our humanist friends are selective in their assessment of the application of religion to contemporary life, including politics. Our own nation faced a crisis over slavery. Would the humanist guardians of neutrality want to propose that religious leaders should have remained neutral on the slavery issue? You know the answer. Religious views are not neutral when they support a liberal social agenda as they did in the civil rights movement led by the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

So then, for a Christian to adopt the neutrality myth is to fall into the humanist trap, to believe that religious convictions are reserved for the heart, home, and place of worship, while the affairs of this world are best handled by using reason, experience, and technical expertise devoid of religious assumptions and convictions.

Secular humanists have no objection to our Christian faith at all, provided we reserve it strictly for ourselves in the privacy of our homes and church buildings, and just as long as we do not try to live up to our Christ principles in our business and public life. On no account must the Spirit and Word of the Lord Jesus Christ be allowed to enter the ballot booth or the market place where the real decisions of modern life are made, nor must religion interfere with such vital matters as education, politics, labor relations and profits and wages. These activities are all supposed to be “neutral” and they can therefore be withdrawn from sectarian influences so that the secular spirit of the community may prevail.[5]

Humanists and, unfortunately, too many Christians believe the world’s problems can be solved through technical know-how without any regard for divine revelation. This view teaches that special revelation has little or nothing to say about “secular” things like education, politics, and law except as they apply to the individual, family, and church. The unbeliever, without Scripture, it is maintained, is capable of developing equitable laws, a sound educational philosophy, and a just political system. This is the myth of neutrality, and it’s promoted by Christians.

Since experience (not to mention the Bible) tells us that there is no neutrality, we must assume that some philosophy will dominate the public policy playing field. For Christians to claim “neutrality” is to give all opposing ideologies a free ride in the development of public policy decision making. “If religious-based values are not dominant, some other beliefs will be.”[6] Jesus requires Christians to be “the salt of the earth” and the “light of the world,” which means “we must interact with—and influence—public institutions.” The Christian’s responsibilities in the political order are prayer, obedience, and using “Scriptural principles to shape public policy.”[7] Neutrality is not an option or even a possibility.

Endnotes
[1]
Heard on WGST, Atlanta, Georgia (September 12, 1986). 
[2]
Richard V. Pierard, “Why Did Protestants Welcome Hitler?,” Fides et Historia (North Newton, KS: The Conference on Faith and History), X:2 (Spring 1978), 13
[3] Pierard, “Why Did Protestants Welcome Hitler?,” 14. 
[4]
William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1960), 236. Emphasis added.
[5] E. L. Hebden Taylor, “Religious Neutrality in Politics,” Applied ChristianityBeyond Good Intentions: A Biblical View of Politics (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1988), 16.
[6] Doug Bandow, Beyond Good Intentions: A Biblical View of Politics (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1988), 16.
[7]
Bandow, Beyond Good Intentions, 76.

 
Article posted July 14, 2009

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