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Backward, Moderate Christian Soldiers

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John C. Danforth, an Episcopal minister and former Republican Senator from Missouri, has weighed in on Christian political involvement in social issues. His first broadside came by way of an article he had published in June 2005 with the title “Onward, Moderate Christian Soldiers.”[1] More about this article below. Most recently, after a speech he had given to students at the Bill Clinton School of Public Service in Little Rock, he decried the influence of evangelical Christians in the Republican Party. He said the following: “[T]he Republican Party fairly recently has been taken over by the Christian conservatives, by the Christian right. . . . I don’t think that this is a permanent condition, but I think this has happened, and that it’s divisive for the country.”[2] I wonder how a statement like this would have been received if Mr. Danforth had said that a majority of liberal Jews and more than 90 percent of African Americans had taken over the Democrat party, and that it’s divisive for the country— African Americans and Jews good for politics . . . Christians bad for politics. The audacity! Mr. Danforth should be reminded that it was conservative Christians and their political “agenda” of social values that distinguished the Republican Party from the Democrat Party and put him and other conservatives in office.

He went on to say, "Nothing is more dangerous than religion in politics and government when it becomes divisive. . . . I’ll give you examples: Iraq. Northern Ireland. Palestine.” These conflicts are more about power and politics than religion. Mr. Danforth’s concerns can be turned around to read, “Nothing is more dangerous than no religion in politics and government. I’ll give you examples: The evolutionary philosophy of Nazism that led to the deaths of tens of millions and plunged world into war. Atheistic Communism that resulted in the death of more than 100 million people and kept the world on the edge of nuclear war. Modern-day secularism that has caused the death of tens of millions of pre-born babies through abortion and an equal number of innocents because AIDS was not treated as a moral condition.



By its very nature, politics is divisive. If it weren’t, we wouldn’t have two major political parties taking different sides on issues. If Christian involvement in politics is divisive, what substitute does Mr. Danforth offer? He calls for an ethic of “love.” But who’s to say what constitutes the loving thing to do?

Mr. Danforth argued in his “Onward, Modern Christian Soldiers” article that since not all Christians agree on issues like stem cell research and homosexuality that there can’t be any dogmatism. He writes that “Moderate Christians are less certain about when and how our beliefs can be translated into statutory form, not because of a lack of faith in God but because of a healthy acknowledgment of the limitations of human beings.” No doubt there are some moral issues that are more complex than others. There are only a few issues that Christian activists are truly concerned about because there is certainty. Abortion, for example. I’m not sure where the ambiguity is on this issue. Is the preborn baby a human being or not? To avoid the question, pro-abortionists repeatedly talk about “choice.” Choice to do what? Choice to kill a preborn baby. Does Mr. Danforth believe that a preborn baby is a human being? If not, then let him say so. If a preborn is a baby, then how can he be moderate on the issue?

Then there’s the issue of homosexuality and the redefinition of the family. Mr. Danforth wrote the following about the homosexual issue:

So they [conservative Christians] have developed a political agenda that they believe advances God’s kingdom, one that includes efforts to “put God back” into the public square and to pass a constitutional amendment intended to protect marriage from the perceived threat of homosexuality.

He perceives homosexuality as only a “perceived threat.” Is he saying that homosexuality is normal and natural sexual behavior? Like abortion, I want to know where the ambiguity is on this subject? Mr. Danforth says that moderates like him “attend church, read the Bible and pray.” This must mean that he has some knowledge of the Bible and believes it has something to say on this issue. I would like a lesson from Episcopal minister Danforth on where the moderate position on homosexuality is found in the Bible? Is it in Romans 1 where homosexuality is described as “unnatural” and “indecent” (1:27)? I’m not seeing the ambiguity. Arguments in favor of this type of behavior follow from the fact that “the truth of God” is exchanged “for a lie” (1:25). Where is the moderate position in this verse?

Mr. Danforth believes that the reference point for behavior is love: “But for us [moderates], the only absolute standard of behavior is the commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves.” There are others who claim the love ethic as the standard for behavior:

Homosexuality is simply love between two people. Who are you to decide that love is immoral just because it's not between a man and a woman?  And why is non-traditional love so threatening to you?

This emailer claims that love justifies homosexual relationships. I asked him whether love justifies sex with a daughter or a son. Why didn’t the person who had sexual relations with “his father’s wife” appeal to the love ethic (1 Cor. 5:1; see Lev. 18:8)? Love has to be defined to have any meaning.

In Romans 13:8 Paul writes, “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.” And how does Paul define love? He quotes the law (13:9). Paul writes in 1 Timothy 1:7–11 that “the law is good, if one uses it lawfully.” The law is necessary because there are “lawless and rebellious” people in the world who are described as “ungodly and sinners, “unholy and profane.” He includes in this designation “homosexuals.” In the Bible, love and law are not mutually exclusive. Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15).  John writes, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3). Laws prohibiting homosexuality are commandments. Love does not trump these commandments no matter how well intended by moderates like Mr. Danforth. Earlier in the same epistle, John tells us, “The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:4). There does not seem to be much wiggle room here. If the Bible says something specific about homosexual behavior, and a Christian does not act on what the Bible clearly states, then he is a liar and the truth is not in him. Ouch!

Mr. Danforth wants to reach out in compassion to homosexuals but without the law. He claims that putting laws on the books denying homosexuals the right to engage in unnatural and unlawful behavior “would humiliate homosexuals.” There are laws on the books against prostitution, pedophilia, incest, bigamy, and drunk driving. I’m sure people who get caught in any of these crimes are humiliated.

Is it any wonder that many young Christians become moral relativists when they hear the moral mishmash from a person holding John Danforth’s credentials? Josh McDowell, in an interview in Campus Crusade’s Worldwide Challenge magazine, describes the sorry state of the youth culture, including the Christian youth culture:

This is where you get the popular phrase, “If it’s true for you, wonderful. But it’s not true for me.” Without this external reference point, all values, beliefs, lifestyles and claims to truth are equal. If you say otherwise, you are a bigot—intolerant, anti-multicultural and anti-diversity.[3]

Why do more than 90 percent of Christian teenagers no longer believe in absolute truth? You can blame it on the John Danforths of this world.

What Danforth is promoting isn't anything new. Gary North dealt with the "Danforth Worldview" more than 20 years ago in his book Backward, Christian Soldiers.

Endnotes:

[1] John Danforth, “Onward, moderate Christian soldiers”: www.iht.com/articles/2005/06/21/opinion/eddanforth.php and http://speakingoffaith.publicradio.org/programs/danforth/danforth_oped-onward.shtml
[2] Daniel Connolly, “Danforth criticizes Christian sway in GOP” (October 26, 2005): www.boston.com/news/nation/articles/2005/10/26/danforth_criticizes_christian_sway_in_gop/
[3] “What Lies Beyond Belief?,” Worldwide Challenge (July/August 2005), 33.

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