legislating the gospel: ballot boxes of the absurd


Conservatives have commandeered biblical language to the point that many Christians avoid any reference to central biblical themes, such as sin and redemption, forgiveness and salvation. Embarrassment keeps many from embracing their readings of the Bible as a basis for ethics, and prevents them from being vocal about their beliefs. There are some who perhaps do not want to risk being confused with their political opponents and what

they believe to be “magical thinking” about God and America.11

But consider this: there are very few groups or individuals who concern themselves with the lives of the Amish, the Bruderhof, the Hutterites, or most Pentecostal congregations. It is pertinent to the conversation to note

that these groups do not vote or run for public office. Such Anabaptist or Radical Reformation groups practice an ethic that is closely bound to very conservative interpretations of the biblical text. However, not only do they

not engage the world through ballot boxes, but they are also generally known to be pacifist groups who self-marginalize. Because of their perceived harmless

political status, or their eschewing of the electoral process, these groups are rarely scrutinized for their religious beliefs. However, they are generally considered to be positive, if not somewhat enigmatic, communities.12

Conservative groups who work to elect politicians that will insist on ordering school texts that contain information on biblical “science,” or teach that same-sex intimacy is sinful, or want to make access to abortion illegal come to be viewed as political threats and labeled as cranks. These

groups are often mocked and vilified because they attempt to coerce specific religious beliefs onto others. It is the insistence that morality should be legislated onto the lives of others that is in turn used to indict, with a broad stroke, the whole of Christianity as an aggressive, oppositional, and oppressive constituency.13

I suggest that the failure of Christian ethics is related to Christianity’s continuing quest for power as a political force, because it is perceived to be a coercive force in people’s lives. Yoder wrote that the good news cannot be

good unless it is perceived as such.14 The failure of Christian ethics is in fact the failure of the church to be Christlike. The downfall of Christendom is its insistence upon maintaining political relevance at the expense of embodying ethics in a manner that makes claims about Jesus and the Bible credible to others. Human history shows that political power and the ethics of power

are, if anything, in-credible. Such is the case for the contemporary church and its insistence upon making universal claims of transcendent truth, biblical

inerrancy, and divine right to rule (often, the right to rule and control social and economic expression politics).

11. Mark Sandlin, “I Want My Religion Back,” para. 2.

12. Compare Yoder’s Priestly Kingdom, part 3, “The Public Realm.” Yoder argues

assertively for Christian participation in democracy and the overcoming of “American

civil religion” through the introduction of Christian commitment to reconciling

democratic leadership to the gospel. Contra Ellul, who writes that Christian anarchy

is an “absolute rejection of violence. Should anarchists vote? For my part, like many

anarchists, I think not.” Ellul also states that conscientious objection to militarism is

an important witness, and states that anarchists should “avoid taxes, and compulsory

schooling . . .” Ellul, Anarchy and Christianity, 11. Ellul, in direct contrast to Yoder,

believes that Christianity is the first form of anarchism, and suggests aggressively that

the church should embody anarchy as its witness to the gospel message.

the failure of christian ethics 7

13. F

r an example of one such conservative lobbying entity, please see the website

of Focus on the Family.

14. Yoder, Priestly Kingdom, 55.

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