Wednesday, September 06, 2006

COLUMN -- 'Voting your values' isn't a theocratic plot

Posted by Craig Westover | 6:27 AM |  

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

"Vote your values."

Seems a reasonable way to exercise the fundamental right and responsibility of democracy. Step inside the booth, close the curtain, and vote for candidates who best reflect your ultimate concerns. Reasonable — unless your ultimate concern is morality founded in Scripture. Then, sings a hallelujah chorus of critics, you're a co-conspirator in a conservative plot to create an American theocracy.

Tain't necessarily so.

Christian political activism arises from secular threats to traditional values, not the desire to create an American theocracy. That was the message Tom Minnery, vice president of public policy for Focus on the Family delivered to some 200 pastors and their wives at a recent seminar sponsored by the Minnesota Family Institute. Pastors and parishioners need not shun politics.

In a democracy, said Minnery, Christian faith demands a special rendering to "Caesar" — personal involvement. He reminded pastors that, in the Beatitudes, Jesus not only encouraged those who seek salvation in the next life, he blessed those who sought righteousness in this one.

"It is important to have people with true Christian principles involved in politics on the front end of the process so we don't have Bible-thumping protests on the back end," Minnery said.

Church and state or left and right? At the mere suggestion of Christian political action, critics sound the theocracy alarm. They resurrect separation of church and state. They gnash their collective teeth at the Christian right for imposing their values on everybody else. At such criticism, Minnery gets a bit defensive, a bit partisan.

"You don't see them (the left) criticizing the significant involvement of the church in the civil rights movement," he told me. "You don't see an outcry when Hillary Clinton campaigns in five black churches on a single Sunday."

Despite Minnery's swipe at the liberal double standard, his comment provides perspective on criticism of Christian political activism. Is it really concern for the separation of church and state that is behind the criticism? Or is it ideological policy disagreement with the Christian right that engenders the outrage?
That's an important distinction.

Debate policy, not religion. Arguing with public policy positions advanced by the Minnesota Family Institute and Focus on the Family is one thing, but it is another to say that because Minnery's positions are based on tenets of Christianity, they are not worthy for public consideration.

Certainly there is a hierarchy of values from base to noble, and a spectrum of motivations from self-centered to altruistic. Every individual's values and motivations fall on those scales and affect his thinking about the issues of the day. Whether one votes his pocketbook, political ideology or religious convictions, one is "voting his values."

Ultimately, however, a policy must stand or fall on its merits, independent of those supporting it. Dismissing a position because of its Christian origin — not on its public policy merits — detrimentally narrows public discussion.

Anyone might have an opinion on how involved in politics pastors and their congregations should be, but ultimately that is an individual choice for pastors and parishioners. Within the Christian community, there's hardly a theocratic unity. The Rev. Gregory Boyd, pastor of Woodland Hills Church in Maplewood, summed up the feelings of many church members leery of slapping "Christian" on public policy.

"When the church wins the culture wars, it inevitably loses," Boyd preached, as reported in a New York Times story printed in the Pioneer Press. "When it conquers the world, it becomes the world. When you put your trust in the sword, you lose the cross."

Boyd's view gives pause for thought, but it does not invalidate the choice made by politically active pastors to engage in politics and urge their parishioners to support candidates who reflect Christian values. Ultimately it is those entering the booths, pulling the curtains and voting their values, Christian or otherwise, who will validate a candidate's position. That's not theocracy — it's democracy.