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Do Christians have a vocation in American politics? A frequent answer
recently has been that they do not, because politics is not a means to
salvation, and anyway politics and religion are separate in America. Of
course, no true believer in Jesus Christ would believe that
participation in public life is indispensable to salvation. But
Christian entry into politics is in fact necessary, at least for those
in a position to do so, as part of our effort to fulfill a key element
of our Christian vocation, the challenge of loving our neighbor. Nor is
there anything un-American in this; quite the contrary.

Christ’s “Good Samaritan” parable illuminates this point. He told the
story in a world whose central values were glory, power and strength,
and whose political order was accordingly based on these things. The
Roman Empire represented the exaltation of human strength and power to
the throne of all virtue and worthiness. Losers in the struggle for
power could be crushed without twinge of conscience because the strong
had a legitimate right — indeed, almost the virtuous obligation — to
achieve domination over others as an emblem of their glorious
superiority.

Christ’s teaching in the parable revolutionized the standard of moral
action, and has shaped our own sense of justice more than perhaps
anything else that has been said before or since. The American emphasis
on individual rights and dignity must in the end be traced back to an
understanding of human nature determined not by the power relationships
of the world, but by the will and grace of a transcendent power. Only
for this reason do we understand that the weakest, most helpless, and
most unfortunate among us still have a claim to absolute respect for the
kernel of dignity, of God’s own divinity, that is within each human
being.

It was through Christ’s eyes that the world learned to see the truth
of our humanity in those terms. Over the course of the centuries that
followed this truth found expression in various formulations, until
finally it was expressed in our great Declaration of Independence as a
banner of welcome for all human beings, regardless of creed and
background. Our national creed is that the promise of dignity comes from
the hand of God, and that the ultimate worth of human life is not
weighed in scales of human making, but was weighed in the scales of
God’s creation long before we humans got here to make anything.

This is the fundamental insight upon which the American way of life
is based, and our nation has prospered in freedom and justice just in
the measure that we have remembered it. More recently, we have begun to
forget this wellspring of our national happiness, and we have
accordingly begun to sense that our national life has sickened. Many
Americans who do not understand this sickness still feel it, and they
are at this moment seeking more alertly than we might think for the
cure.

The moment places a special calling on those who acknowledge the
authority of God, and who understand the need to look at this world as
Christ looked at it. Because if Christians don’t remind the nation of
the insight into human equality and dignity that Christ represented, who
will? What will happen to justice in a country that forgets the
fundamental principle of justice? And what will happen to a country that
lets slip away so great a blessing as having been founded under the
banner of God’s justice?

For a Christian, the citizen vocation in such a moment is but the
extension of our vocation of love. Just as we are called upon to aid
those we find bleeding in a ditch, we are called upon to understand that
today our nation as a whole corresponds to the bleeding victim in
Christ’s parable. We are called to offer our real treasure to other
human beings, particularly those whose true and better selves are cast
into a dark ditch of lies, licentiousness and the rejection of God’s
will. Many of our fellow citizens, and even our nation, are wounded of
soul waiting for somebody to come along with enough love and compassion
to help them in the right way.

We are instructed to offer such a victim the cloak off our back. We
must give, in fact, all that we have, out of our very substance, to heal
our neighbor. Christians know that the greatest and most healing gift
they can offer is the treasure of God’s truth, and even in the political
order it is this gift alone that can truly heal the soul. In American
politics that means that we are called to remind others of the
liberating insight confirming the common dignity of man under God, which
is the form that Christ’s truth takes in American political life.

But, “We don’t want preachers in politics, do we?” This is a comment
I often hear. And it is true that since Americans come from many
different religious backgrounds, in dealing with even the most important
issues of public policy we must draw on sources that are open to support
from all the people. But this doesn’t mean that we cannot preach. It
means, rather, that the text for our preaching must be the Declaration,
for the formulation of God’s truth contained in that great text is
indeed open to all. The United States of America is unique in the world
in having been founded on the proposition that the first public
principle of justice would be the self-evident truth that human dignity
comes from God, and that all legitimate government must respect this
fact.

Offering this precious truth of Christian faith and American
principle to a country bleeding in a ditch of lies, a country robbed of
a truth providentially bestowed upon it by the grace of God, is not a
matter of our own selfish interest. The Christian attempt to remind
America of its founding truths is not the action of a special interest,
because we offer what is vital to the interest and survival of the
entire nation. We offer it because we are called by our vocations as
Christians to acts of love that are aimed at sharing the truth with
those who have been deprived of it. We offer it as well because we
understand that we are obliged in justice to help heal our fellow
citizens of the damage they have suffered at the hands of the lies,
misrepresentations and sophistry that have for half a century and more
cut this nation off from its vital foundations of faith.

Christians are not serving themselves, but their neighbors, their
country and their Lord, when they enter politics to speak the truth
about the things that are destroying America’s soul — the culture of
abortion and sexual licentiousness, an invasive and abusive government,
and the abandonment of national strength and sovereignty. The Christian
citizen is responding to both his civic and his religious duty when he
seeks to prevent these evils from tearing us away from the sure
foundations of self-government and decent discipline.

Christians in America cannot be content to respond to our national
moral challenge in a supposedly separate and private sphere of
“religion”; in America, more than anywhere else on earth, the ongoing
task of moral renewal is the essential challenge of our common and
political life. It must be presented to our people in those terms — as
common and public — so that they cannot hide behind the false and
deeply un-American notion of separation between their vocation as
citizens and their vocation as children of God.

Christians belong in American politics because there is not and
cannot be a fundamental separation between our moral vocation and our
citizenship. In shunning politics to remain in our churches we multiply
the fault of Jonah, disregarding both our Christian vocation and our
civic duty. The Declaration does not contain the fullness of our creed,
and it is not the only text from which the Christian must preach. But it
would be presumptuous indeed for American believers to ignore the fact
that their beloved nation was founded on an explicit Declaration that it
is God’s truth that makes men free.

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