Should Christians Move Beyond Politics?

James Davison Hunter has a new book out called To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World, and by all accounts, it’s pretty good. (For example, here’s Andy Crouch’s review of it.)

I’ve just read an interview with Hunter in the new Christianity Today (it’s not online yet). In it, he says something that really ticks me off whenever I hear it. He suggests that Christians need to move beyond politics, and he singles out the pro-life movement as an example:

What would a post-political gesture look like in the pro-life movement? Borrowing an example from a friend, imagine ten thousand families signing a petition in Illinois that declares they will adopt a child of any ethnic background and physical capability. If they wanted to do something spectacular, they could go to city hall for a press conference, announcing that in the state of Illinois there are no unwanted children. That would be a public — but not political — act. Such an act leads with compassion rather than coercion.

Cool idea — so why does it tick me off?

What does he think Christians are already doing?

Christians are already adopting children. My own employer (a Christian nonprofit) offers significant benefits to encourage adoption, and I suspect that many other Christian employers provide similar benefits. I would now describe some of my friends and colleagues who have adopted children (from both the US and overseas), but I wouldn’t know where to start, because there are so many of them.

As far as compassion goes, does Hunter know about the work of crisis pregnancy centers, like those affiliated with Care Net? I’ve worked for one, and I have many friends and family who have worked or volunteered for them. I don’t know many people who show more compassion on a daily basis to women and children who need help. These are Christians on the front lines of the pro-life movement.

Hunter’s idea is hardly original. A well-known Christian has already offered to adopt any “unwanted” child in America:

I want the child. Please give me the child. I am willing to accept any child who would be aborted and to give that child to a married couple who will love the child and be loved by the child. From our children’s home in Calcutta alone, we have saved over 3000 children from abortion. These children have brought such love and joy to their adopting parents and have grown up so full of love and joy.

Mother Teresa said this at the National Prayer Breakfastin 1994.

When I read or hear someone suggesting that the pro-life movement needs to “show compassion” or “move beyond politics,” it suggests to me that person doesn’t actually know much about the pro-life movement. Hunter’s idea is a fine one, though I’m not really sure how a petition drive and a press conference on the city hall steps are supposed to be “post-political.” Considering the low media coverage of the enormous annual March for Life, I’m not even sure how “public” Hunter’s proposed gesture would be.

Instead of describing a hypothetical idea, however, why doesn’t he describe one of the many real Christians and Christian organizations who are already living out their compassion?

Hunter’s critique is rooted in concern over the use of power:

When Christians turn to law, public policy, and politics as the last resort, they have essentially given up on a desire to persuade their opponents. They want the patronage of the state and its coercive power to rule the day.

Yes – that’s absolutely right: pro-life Christians want the government to prevent fetuses from being aborted. If you believe that abortion ends a human life, how could you ask the government to do anything other than protect those lives?

Elsewhere in this same issue, Christianity Today describes Christians urging law enforcement and legislators to take stronger action against child prostitution and human trafficking (i.e. slavery). I’ve also mentioned Ohio State’s Price of Life event that addressed these same issues. Yes, it would be better if pimps and sex traffickers would give their lives to Jesus and voluntarily stop enslaving and raping children. Until then, what’s wrong with using the “coercive power” of the state to stop them?

James Davison Hunter is a very intelligent person, and I expect that I will read his book, sooner rather than later. This interview, though, makes me wonder whether he is really in touch with Christians who are working “to change the world.”

1 thought on “Should Christians Move Beyond Politics?

  1. Bravo; I really like this post. We can liken this to gay rights campaigns. True, gay and lesbian people who want to be married can continue to go outside the law to demand and display their rights, but ultimately their problem is the law’s limitedness and that’s where their activism has to lie at some point.

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