The Religious Right has long targeted those many Christians have seen as the devil’s political helpers—Bill Clinton, Ted Kennedy, People for the American Way, the American Civil Liberties Union. Of late, David Kuo has joined that list….
Tempting Faith is one of those rare Washington books that is worth reading —clearly written, disarmingly honest, thoughtfully introspective, and unusually substantive. We are enriched as we learn about Kuo the person as well as his involvement in Christian politics.
…Kuo joined the White House faith-based office. The result is a distressing story of religious identification and political opportunism, a sustained effort by the administration to take advantage of values voters.
It is this account that has so angered those with a stake in the GOP-Christian alliance. Yet Kuo’s critics have neither disputed his facts nor rebutted his arguments. His account has a consistently authentic ring.
Tempting Faith is no tell-all effort at payback. There is no anger, only disappointment. There is no name calling, only gentle chiding. Kuo never shrinks from acknowledging his own responsibility; he never fails to acknowledge the kindness of his colleagues (especially after he was struck by a brain tumor). He consistently voices his respect for the president. Kuo appears to be the genuine article: a committed Christian dedicated to doing good who found that politicians around him were determined—surprise, surprise!—to advance their own interests.
…In response, Kuo advocates a temporary fast—just vote, and “take every ounce of energy we currently expend on politics and divert it to other things.”
Such a step would shock both Left and Right, but this argument is perhaps the least persuasive part of Tempting Faith. Alas, a temporary change solves nothing. Instead of absenting themselves from politics for a time, Christians need to rethink what politics is about. Government is not a redemptive institution, and it is not capable of remaking society. Nor is it a proper vehicle for promoting Christian theology. The state has important but limited roles, and there’s no uniquely Christian agenda for what government does.
Thus Christians should remain active in politics, but not “Christian” politics. They should join with their neighbors in an attempt to make a better world but not act as if there is a particular Christian legislative agenda—even Kuo’s preferred program of delivering more federal bucks to religious groups to help meet social needs.
Christians should devote their religious passions to evangelize, aid the poor, support fragile families, discourage abortion, and more. Politics is not unimportant, and some Christians will find themselves called into government. But the Gospel is a message of the individual’s relationship with God and with his neighbors, not of how he should use the state to advance his religious beliefs.
Most books that come out of Washington are dedicated to burnishing the author’s image or smashing the author’s enemies, or both. Tempting Faith is neither. It is a refreshingly honest account of how politics can seduce the best intentioned and the most naïve.
Christian political activists who dismiss Kuo rather than confront his arguments risk following Esau in selling their spiritual birthright for a bowl of porridge.