Public policy debates are important for a healthy democracy. Christians need to engage these debates actively, not sitting out the issues that impact good life in our earthly civil communities. Why? The simple answer is that we must love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
But Christians engaging public policy as purpose, and Christians speaking as partisans who decry the motives and actions of others who "lack faith," are not necessarily the same. This why I spoke against the idea of Justice Sunday in fundamentalist churches around the country a few weeks ago. This issue continues to underscore the distinctions I think we must make when Christians engage the larger public sphere outside the family of the church.
The organizers of Justice Sunday gave the strong impression, by both their words and actions, that those who supported the Senate filibuster over judges were hostile to real Christian faith. This observation about their words and actions is not just my personal impression. The facts bear out this conclusion.
J. Brent Walker, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee, has summarized my own thoughts very well when he notes that the organizers of Justice Sunday had every right to state their views on filibusters openly. The problem is not their purpose, which is to impact public decision regarding the appointment of conservative judges. The problem, in this case, was the premise. The purpose of this public rally was to allow conservative Christians to speak out on an important issue. That was, and still is, an appropriate purpose. But the premise in this case was severely flawed. Writes Walker: "It was a shameful abuse of religion to suggest that God has taken up sides in this debate. Whatever our differences on the filibuster and on judicial nominees, there are people of faith on both sides, and neither has God in their hip pocket."
What then is the answer? We must not sacralize secular public policy issues under the rubric of God and country. At the same time we must not ban religious voices from the public square. Christians ministers, of all people, should model this distinction with clarity. For decades liberal clergymen blurred this distinction by making social policy equal to gospel ministry. Now conservative leaders are doing the same. My response is pretty simple: What is good for the goose is also good for the gander!
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