11 May 2006

My Problem with Andrew Sullivan's Problem

This is another passage by passage response to some article somewhere.  This time its  Andrew Sullivan, “My Problem with Christianism: A believer spells out the difference between faith and a political agenda,” Time Magazine, Sunday, 7 May 2006 [cited 10 May 2006].

Are you a Christian who doesn't feel represented by the religious right? I know the feeling. When the discourse about faith is dominated by political fundamentalists and social conservatives, many others begin to feel as if their religion has been taken away from them.

Well, anyone familiar with the writings of the early Church Fathers knows that the relation between Christians and “political fundamentalism” and “social conservativism” has a long tradition.  For example, after the Christians “took over” the Roman Empire, homosexuality, though still widely practiced, was illegal.  Sullivan seems to think that Christians having an interest in the laws they live under and the government that runs their lives is something new and unusual.  It isn’t.  I’m not saying it is inarguably legitimate.  The relation of Christ to culture has been a subject of discussion since the earliest days of the Church; and there are at least five views on the subject:  Christ against culture, Christ of culture, Christ above culture, Christ and culture in paradox, and Christ transforming culture (see, e.g., H. Richard Neibuhr, Christ and Culture).  And  Sullivan’s  is  only one view.

The number of Christians misrepresented by the Christian right is many. There are evangelical Protestants who believe strongly that Christianity should not get too close to the corrupting allure of government power.

So what?  There used to be many Christians who thought that sex was something little more than a necessary evil.  That doesn’t mean they were correct.  And if government power is so corrupting that Christianity should not get too close (a ridiculous way of putting it), then why should anyone get too close?  And what is “too close”?  Probably, just closer than Andrew Sullivan thinks his opponents should be.

There are lay Catholics who, while personally devout, are socially liberal on issues like contraception, gay rights, women's equality and a multi-faith society. There are very orthodox believers who nonetheless respect the freedom and conscience of others as part of their core understanding of what being a Christian is.

Well “socially  liberal” can mean many things.  I am a devout Christian; and I also consider myself socially liberal.  I don’t believe in any contraception except self-control, but I hold that as an article of faith, binding only upon those who hold to the same faith; to me that’s logic.  With respect to gay rights, I agree that gays have rights.  However, because I believe that it is a prerogative of a state to define what marriage is, to decide that homosexual  unions are not heterosexual  unions and therefore that they are not to be called the same thing, I also believe that this position can be given the force of law.  The Christian, as a citizen has input on this matter, just like the non-Christian.  I believe that what women do should be a determination of their faith system, not government; I just am not familiar with a move on the part of any Christian to legislate “a woman’s place.”  (I also do not hold that “equal” means “identical,” which is what the left seem to hold.)  I am also comfortable with a multi-faith society.  I find positively offensive Sullivan’s intimation that we wish by political means to put down all other faiths but our own.  (There are numerous indications in Scripture that when Jesus Christ returns to this good earth there will be—HORRORS!!!—unbelievers.  It stands to reason, then, that Christians will always live in the presence of people of other faiths.  And here’s a little secret, Sullivan: Most, if not all, Christians, even us “right-wingers,” know this.)  One implication of Sullivan’s assertion that, “There are very orthodox believers who nonetheless respect the freedom and conscience of others as part of their core understanding of what being a Christian is” is that everyone, not just Christians, should stay the heck out of politics, or risk being thought of as someone who does not respect the freedom and conscience of others



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James Frank Solís
Former soldier (USA). Graduate-level educated. Married 26 years. Texas ex-patriate. Ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.
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