Making a Winsome Witness

During last fall's battles over judicial nominations -- about to resume next week -- I was reminded of the old adage that only your best friends tell you when your breath smells. Shortly after Samuel Alito's nomination was announced, a U.S. senator, sympathetic to Christian causes, called me. "I know this will sound strange," he said, "but could you get some of your conservative religious friends to downplay their support for Judge Alito?" Their opposition to Harriet Miers, he explained, had actually helped her politically before she withdrew. But the day Alito was announced, a pro-life leader boasted, "We are on the fast-track to derailing Roe v. Wade." This kind of talk, the senator said, could kill Alito. When it comes to supporting judicial nominees, we are seen as doing more harm than good, which ought to tell us that media-driven stereotypes about the religious right wanting to "impose" its views have stuck. While many of these criticisms are unfair, it's time for us to take some of it to heart. For example, I shudder every time I hear triumphalistic statements by Christian leaders because they only feed these fears. Worse, we're sometimes seen as throwing our weight around. After President Bush was re-elected in 2004, Christian leaders argued that they deserved payback for delivering the votes for his victory. To seek political victories in a heavy-handed way is not only a bad witness; it's unwise. To ultimately achieve our goals we need both political victories and cultural support. For example, even if President Bush's judicial appointees tipped the Court into reversing Roe v. Wade, would there be fewer abortions? Not immediately. The issue would then be back in the hands of fifty states, and we'd have fifty battles instead of one. Of course, the law is a moral teacher, but changing the law is an empty victory unless we also change the moral consensus. To change the culture, therefore, we must learn how to engage the political process more winsomely. It requires a different mindset, a recognition that we're appealing to hearts and minds, not twisting arms. In both fact and appearance we are not seeking to impose but rather to propose. The Christian Church makes a Great Proposal, inviting everyone to the table, regardless of color, ethnic origin, background, or economic status. We're inviting people to consider a worldview that works, that makes sense, and through which people can discover shalom and human flourishing. This means first loving those we contend against in the political process. Martin Luther King, Jr., said, "Whom you would change, you must first love." Second, we offer our strongest witness when we demonstrate our love for others through fighting AIDS in Africa, slavery in Sudan, persecution in North Korea, and when we reform prisons and prisoners. When the world sees us working for human rights, we earn a moral authority that blunts the "imposing your morality" attacks in the public square. The cultural mandate requires that we work for justice and righteousness to reflect God's majesty and goodness. That includes engaging in politics and getting good justices confirmed; but we must remember as we do this that we are not imposing -- we are proposing, in love, a more excellent way to a needy society.


Chuck Colson


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