Schiavo Case Spurs More Christophobia

March 30, 2005

I talked about Christophobia in my book “Persecution,” written almost two years ago, so I hope no one accuses me of stealing the term. But it is rearing its head again in light of the Schiavo case. It makes a lot of people, including some Christians, even Republican Christians, when Christians join together to influence current events or politics. Today, former Missouri Senator and friend of the family, John Danforth, published an op-ed in the New York Times lamenting the increasing Christianization of the Republican Party — my paraphrase.

Danforth’s column begins:

By a series of recent initiatives, Republicans have transformed our party into the political arm of conservative Christians. The elements of this transformation have included advocacy of a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, opposition to stem cell research involving both frozen embryos and human cells in petri dishes, and the extraordinary effort to keep Terri Schiavo hooked up to a feeding tube.

A little later in the piece he writes:

I do not fault religious people for political action. Since Moses confronted the pharaoh, faithful people have heard God’s call to political involvement. Nor has political action been unique to conservative Christians. Religious liberals have been politically active in support of gay rights and against nuclear weapons and the death penalty. In America, everyone has the right to try to influence political issues, regardless of his religious motivations.

The problem is not with people or churches that are politically active. It is with a party that has gone so far in adopting a sectarian agenda that it has become the political extension of a religious movement.

When government becomes the means of carrying out a religious program, it raises obvious questions under the First Amendment. But even in the absence of constitutional issues, a political party should resist identification with a religious movement.

When government becomes the means of carrying out a religious program, it raises obvious questions under the First Amendment. But even in the absence of constitutional issues, a political party should resist identification with a religious movement. While religions are free to advocate for their own sectarian causes, the work of government and those who engage in it is to hold together as one people a very diverse country. At its best, religion can be a uniting influence, but in practice, nothing is more divisive. For politicians to advance the cause of one religious group is often to oppose the cause of another.

I find this very disappointing. Christians lobby politicians, some of whom are Christians or those who otherwise share their values, others aren’t and don’t. In our system of government, any individual or group should feel free to lobby politicians on any basis whatsoever. And the fact that politicians sometimes adopt policies in sync with those values, does not “raise obvious questions under the First Amendment.” If that were true, the entire Constitution would be suspect since it was crafted predominantly by Christians and incorporated Christian principles.

Danforth says the party should avoid identification with a religious movement. Why? Aha. He answers the question: because to do so might not promote unity in “a diverse country.” I find this an incredible capitulation to the so-called multicultural movement, which has been chipping away at the unique American culture, Western civilization, and Judeo-Christian values for years. Mr. Danforth, I suppose, would have us abandon our values for the sake of “getting along.”

With all due respect for a man I genuinely respect, this is nonsense and wrongheaded. It is analogous to the fuzzy thinking that says we can’t legislate morality. We can’t incorporate our values into our laws, either legislatively or judicially. But it is impossible not to pass laws in a values-void. Almost all of our criminal and civil laws are grounded in moral principles and seek to vindicate moral principles.

Mr. Danforth’s real problem with all this is not the intermixture of church and state or religious people influencing government, but the type of values that are being promoted by a strong grassroots Christian movement. He reveals as much with these paragraphs:

During the 18 years I served in the Senate, Republicans often disagreed with each other. But there was much that held us together. We believed in limited government, in keeping light the burden of taxation and regulation. We encouraged the private sector, so that a free economy might thrive. We believed that judges should interpret the law, not legislate. We were internationalists who supported an engaged foreign policy, a strong national defense and free trade. These were principles shared by virtually all Republicans.

But in recent times, we Republicans have allowed this shared agenda to become secondary to the agenda of Christian conservatives. As a senator, I worried every day about the size of the federal deficit. I did not spend a single minute worrying about the effect of gays on the institution of marriage. Today it seems to be the other way around.

You see, what bothers Mr. Danforth, obviously, is that the wrong values are being emphasized. He is basically saying that he’s an economic conservative (I have my doubts about that too, by the way), but not so much a social conservative (though he opposes judicial activism). He doesn’t like it that legislators are worked up about social issues, such as gay marriage or euthanasia.

That’s essentially the difference between Libertarians and conservatives. Libertarians are mostly nauseated by Christian conservatives getting all worked up about social issues. Mr. Danforth, while probably far from a Libertarian, appears to share this revulsion. But it’s unfortunate that Mr. Danforth characterizes this as a systemic problem rather than just a disagreement on policy. People who are not social conservatives often fear the coordination of those who are and therefor seek to characterize it as something threatening to our democratic and republican processes, when it is anything but. There is nothing healthier to representative government than for genuinely motivated groups to attempt, within the law, to influence policy. Nothing could better define the essence of our participatory government.

Mr. Danforth further reveals his true concern with this closing paragraph:

The historic principles of the Republican Party offer America its best hope for a prosperous and secure future. Our current fixation on a religious agenda has turned us in the wrong direction. It is time for Republicans to rediscover our roots.

I beg to disagree — strongly. We Christian conservatives are not focusing on a religious agenda, but on policies that are consistent with our principles — the most important one being “the sanctity of life.” If we don’t recapture our culture from the systematic attacks on it, we can forget about economic issues. Nothing is more foundationally important to our liberties and to the preservation of our republic than our underlying values, which we abandon at our peril.

Mr. Danforth, and others, have it backward. Christians are not trying to take over the system and convert it to some sort of a theocracy. We are not the aggressors. We are merely reacting to the systematic destruction of our culture and the undermining of the Judeo-Christian values that undergird it.

And Mr. Danforth, himself a Christian, is not the only one complaining. Here’s an article in the Omaha World Herald offering advice to Republicans as to how they can prevent the party’s takeover by the religious right — something Mr. Danforth clearly believes has already occurred.