Under the guise of exploring the current “Crisis in Christianity,” Andrew Sullivan uses a fair portion of his April 2 cover story for Newsweek to denigrate “evangelical Protestants who believe that religion must consume and influence every aspect of public life.” His conclusions, and the arguments that support them, though, do not look anything like orthodox Christianity.
“The issues that Christianity obsesses over today simply do not appear in … the original New Testament,” he writes. “Jesus never spoke of homosexuality or abortion, and his only remarks on marriage were a condemnation of divorce (now commonplace among American Christians) and forgiveness for adultery. The family? He disowned his parents in public as a teen, and told his followers to abandon theirs if they wanted to follow him. Sex? He was a celibate who … anticipated an imminent End of the World where reproduction was completely irrelevant.”
Normally, a man who paints in strokes that broad would be spreading red on a barn somewhere. But as an argument in debate, it’s hard to follow Sullivan’s double-edged logic. Nothing, he seems to suggest, is explicitly, morally wrong unless it’s literally spelled out in the words of Jesus. And if Jesus should spell it out, well, Sullivan’s got that covered, too: “the canonized Gospels,” he says, “were written decades after Jesus’ ministry, and are copies of copies of stories told by those with fallible memory.”
In other words, the Bible must be taken literally – and the Bible cannot be taken literally.
Sullivan’s article is part of a broad-scale assault on Christians, and particularly Christian leaders, who would speak out boldly, respectfully on the most pressing social and political issues of our day. Jesus’ words and example, he points out, were all about serving others with humility. Whereas to flex one’s faith by examining issues in the light of (fallible) biblical truth is to exert power – seek influence – and so fly in the face of everything that Jesus taught.
Christianity, then, by definition, must be apolitical, Sullivan says. There’s no place in the culture for those “who believe that religion must consume and influence every aspect of public life.”
In other words: pastors and other Christian leaders who might see it as their duty to speak out from the pulpit on political issues and candidates should shut up and let non-Christians interpret the government, create the culture, shape our society. When they want our opinion, they’ll give it to us … and as humble, pliant, non-violent servants, we’ll take it.
Sullivan assures us that that doesn’t mean all faith has to be private. “There are times,” he says, “when great injustices – slavery, imperialism, totalitarianism, segregation – require spiritual mobilization and public witness.” (Abortion, apparently, doesn’t qualify as a great injustice. Nor do, say, the increasingly aggressive efforts of activists to compel society not only to acknowledge, but embrace the homosexual agenda.)
“When politics is necessary,” Sullivan writes, “the kind of Christianity I am describing seeks always to translate religious truths into reasoned, secular arguments that can appeal to those of other faiths and none at all.” The reasonableness of an argument for truth, then, is measured by how palatable it is to those who have no taste for it.
Faith, Jesus said, must consume and influence every aspect of one’s private life. And sooner or later, every private life comes into contact – and often conflict – with the political and cultural landscape. At which point one’s private convictions must necessarily “consume and influence” one’s public statements and actions … or perish, ‘mid the ‘whelming flood of social pressures.
Read Part 1 of Sullivan’s Travels on the SpeakUp Church blog