It is clear that Mario Cuomo and I agree on one thing, and that is that most political issues are moral issues. If taxes are a moral issue, then we have a pretty wide berth to include just about any public issue.
We are to many degrees products of our background. I would like to lay out a little bit of the background that might shape a conservative Christian's view on how to approach public life. I begin with a quotation from John Adams: "Our Constitution was made for a moral and religious people; it is wholly inadequate to the government of any other." That was once an uncontroversial statement. It is a little more controversial today.
Faith institutions are the key to developing a personal moral foundation. The government may foster these institutions, encourage them, nurture them; or it may discriminate against them, harass them, undermine them. But it is not the job of government to replace these institutions as the primary moral agents of society. The Founding Fathers clearly wanted no part of an official sectarian religion.
But a moment of silence in the classroom, the posting in the schoolroom of the Ten Commandments (as long as other expressions are also posted), and a Bible on a teacher's desk are not indications of statesponsored religion. Quite frankly, extrapolations from these practices to accusations of a government-sponsored religion are downright ridiculous, particularly when these accusations are anchored in the so-called wallof separation argument. This argument stems from a court opinion about evangelical revivalists who did not want to pay for Virginia's state church.
It is not an argument of the Founding Fathers, nor was the argument about religious views.
Conservative faiths, even sects within these faiths, differ on how involved the City of God should be with the City of Man. But this much is true: Conservative Christians as individuals do not separate their lives into a private sphere and a public sphere. Chuck Colson and Nancy Pearcey, in their important book "How Now Shall We Live," clarify a key basis of the Christian worldview: "Creation, Fall, Redemption. There is no Salvation if there is no Fall. There is no Fall if there is no intelligent design. Those who believe in intelligent design and order, rather than some sort of random chaos and the survival of the fittest, have a fundamentally different view of the world."
Let me give you another quotation: "Things have come to a pretty pass when religion is allowed to invade public life." That is what Lord Melbourne said in response to the efforts of William Wilberforce and others to abolish the slave trade in America. Melbourne was interpreting the efforts of Wilberforce as religious and was arguing that religion should not be part of public discussion. However, devoutly religious individuals like Wilberforce have led almost every major social reform.
Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils. But if God be for you, who can be against you? Are all of them together stronger than God? Oh, be not weary of well doing. Go on in the name of God and in the power of His might, till even American slavery, the vilest that ever saw the sun, shall vanish away before it, that He has created you from your youth that you may continue strengthening in this and all things.
If you believe you are specifically designed-if you believe in fact that you are not part of some random, inevitable progression of life-then you believe not only that you can change things, you believe also that you have an obligation to change things.
When you serve in government, as I do, every day, every hour you make moral decisions like making new laws to restrict cheaters like Enron executives. Why restrict cheating? Because it is a moral premise of society.
When we deal with rape, with child support enforcement, with juveniles it trouble with the law, why do we not let both sides fight it out and let the strongest win? Because of certain moral premises that society shares.
I serve on the National Parks Committee. If I should be asked, Why preserve the national parks? Why do we want to preserve our heritage? I might answer, Because there is a logical order and a moral order to what we are preserving. But I find that I am allowed to use these Christian values it speaking out for national parks and in speaking out against spouse abuse but not when I speak out against homosexual marriage, pornography, abortion, gambling, or evolution across species. Then, it seems, I am supposed to check my religious beliefs at the public door. In other words, some moral views seem to be okay in the public arena but other moral views, no matter how deeply held, are not okay.
To again quote Colson and Pearcey, "Genuine Christianity is more than a relationship with Jesus, as expressed in personal piety, church attendance, Bible study, and works of charity. It is more than discipleship, more than believing in a system of doctrines about God. Genuine Christianity is a way of seeing and comprehending all reality. It is a worldview."
To ask me to check my Christian beliefs at the public door is to ask me to expel the Holy Spirit from my life when I serve as a congressman, and that I will not do. Either I am a Christian or I am not. Either I reflect His glory or I do not.
Some time ago, a trendy Evangelical expression was WWJD?-What would Jesus do? A better question, given that we are not God, would be: To the best of my limited capability to understand, what do I believe Jesus would have me, as a humble sinner, do? That is a legitimate question.
Few decisions were ever as hard for me as voting against three of the counts of impeachment of Bill Clinton. I was the only conservative in Congress to do so. I found Clinton's moral behavior abominable; I cannot tell you how disgusted I was at a personal level. But I also had sworn to uphold the Constitution. Based on how I interpreted the Constitution, having studied all the arguments looking for a way to vote yes, I concluded I could not do that on three of the counts. Chuck Colson did not agree with my position, but the night before I voted he advised me that if I did not vote my conscience, if I caved in to the political pressure from my base in my district, then I would be committing perjury, just like the allegation against Clinton. So I had a choice either to resign or to vote my conscience.
The only more difficult question than a constitutional one is a question about war. I come from an Anabaptist background, which espouses nonresistance. The Book of Romans, however, clearly states that although individual Christians have a responsibility for peace, it is the job of government to punish the evildoers. Opposition to war is the reason that many Anabaptists do not work in government. So, for me, a vote to support even a necessary and just war will never, ever, be easy because of my fundamental beliefs. I believe that such a vote should be exercised with grave caution.
Sometimes we who are members of a minority church behave as though being a minority is terrible, especially for children. The church in which I grew up did not believe in attending movies, for example. When the school I went to decided to take the students to see the movie "The Sound of Music," I spent that time in a classroom all by myself. The ACLU did not come to defend me. On this and other issues the school did not try to accommodate my moral views.
Mind you, I was not persecuted, I was not intimidated. In fact, at the time, it did not even particularly bother me that I alone did not attend the movie. But what bothers me is that, in the public arena today, if I as a Christian am offended, I have to be the one to leave. If a liberal-or anyone of a different view from that of a conservative Christianobjects, then the conservative Christians are supposed to stop their objectionable action. Minority views are not given the same representation as majority views.
For example, a liberal may argue that debates about evolution are about science versus religion. But they are not about religion. They are about differing scientific viewpoints, anchored in differing views of how the world came to be. It is not a science versus religion debate, and it is unfair to describe it that way. It unfair to claim that other people's views are based on religion and therefore do not belong in the arena of public debate.
Thus I believe that society discriminates against the moral views of conservatives. In my case, such discrimination had a side benefit: It without a doubt built the character that enabled me to be able to dissent from the accepted view and to make my views heard. That is one of the benefits of learning to defend your belief.
America is clearly becoming more religiously diverse: More religions are represented and membership in these religions is growing. A significant percentage of this country is Evangelical, charismatic, fundamentalist, or conservative Catholic, or conservative Lutheran, or Orthodox Jewish, or fundamentalist Muslim, and these people hold passionate views, views that are essential to their very being. These believers will not-and it is unfair to ask them to-check those beliefs at the public door. It is not going to happen. The challenge is to find ways to continue to allow personal religious freedom in America, as guaranteed by our Constitution, while working through the differences.
In a republic, disagreements are decided in the public arena. At different times in American history, different moral views may prevail. Abortion may be legal in some periods and illegal in other periods. Will dissenters resort to violence or will they confine their protest to the ballot box? Sex with minors? The use of marijuana? Date rape? The spanking of children? The way we judge these depends on our moral view, on our worldview. The way society judges these depends on the worldview of legislators, of the president, and of the courts.