Peter Wehner has another good post this week following up on his comments last week about Jim Dobson, Christ Before the Cause: The New Evangelical Politics, courtesy of Tim Dalrymple.
...One of the things I’ve noticed over the years is that some of the most prominent Christian figures in politics radiate a sense that their work is essential if the Lord is to accomplish His goals on earth. Because they believe so much depends on them, they develop an aggressive, anxious, even desperate spirit. They seem to believe that only they and a few others are strong enough to resist compromising with evil. And over the years they have demonstrated a barely contained disdain toward those who do not share their zeal for their cause. This can create its own set of problems.
I’m reminded here of the cautionary tale of Sheldon Vanauken, who in A Severe Mercy wrote about his days in the anti-Vietnam war movement. “I was one of those caught up in the mood and action oft the 1960s,” Vanauken wrote:
Christ, I thought, would surely have me oppose what appeared an unjust war. But the Movement, whatever its ideals, did a good deal of hating. And Christ, gradually, was pushed to the rear: Movement goals, not God, became first, in fact — not only for me but for other Christians involved, including priests. I now think that making God secondary (which in the end is to make Him nothing) is, quite simply, the mortal danger in social action, especially in view of the marked intimations of virtue — even arrogant virtue — that often perilously accompany it. Some may avoid this danger, perhaps. But I was not obeying the first and greatest commandment — to love God first — nor it is clear that I was obeying the second — to love my neighbour. Hating the oppressors of my neighbor isn’t perhaps quite what Christ had in mind.
Over the years, some politically active Christian leaders seem to believe that at stake in their work is nothing less than the influence of Christianity in America, as if Christ depends on them instead of the other way around. There are multiple effects to such a mindset, including apocalyptic rhetoric and absolutism. At some point, though, characterizing every election and every important piece of social legislation as a moral tipping point for America begins to wear thin.
My own sense of things is that an increasing number of evangelicals, particularly younger evangelicals, want their brand of politics to be less partisan and bitter than in the past, as well as more high-minded and more firmly rooted in principles. They want their leaders to display a lighter touch, a less distraught and angry spirit, a more gracious tone. In short, they seem to be looking for a politics that is both moral and civil. And they are thirsting for more serious Christian reflection on human society and the human person — on first principles. ...