Constantine married Christianity to Empire. Henry VIII married Christianity to Monarchy.
Evangelicalism, it seems to me, is the attempt to marry Christianity to parliament.
This is the theme of a good deal of my thoughts lately. I began by investigating the abolition of slavery in Great Britain. The story of Wilberforce is powerful and inspiring, if one believes that legislation is a legitimate means to reform. My paper “Abolishing Transitional Gains Traps” attempts to point out that while the abolitionist movement was successful at ending slavery, it was not a clean win. There were innocent losers as a consequence of Wilberforce’s victory. That, and Wilberforce was a winner, as were his colleagues, many of whom enjoyed approbation and power as a consequence of their success. Some of which was no doubt misapplied at times.
I didn’t actually read Metaxas’ biography of Wilberforce. I went in search of something closer to primary sources. Besides, I was writing an economics paper, and so I had to spend some time on J.S. Mill, and Thomas Carlyle, etc. But I am currently reading Metaxas’ take on Bonhoeffer. The biographical content is great. It is working out to be a good introduction to Bonhoeffer’s life for me. I have already read some of the primary sources: Cost of Discipleship, Life Together, Letters and Papers from Prison. I may take a long period to write about the connection between Bonhoeffer and Walter Eucken, an economist in Germany through and after the war, who worked with the same resistance groups Bonhoeffer was a part of. Eucken’s economics are often criticized by Hayekians, and rightly so, I believe, but they are seldom understood. I am hoping that Bonhoeffer may provide a set of lenses to understanding Eucken’s thinking, since he was a religious man.
But I’ve been sidetracked.
I come to Wilberforce, etc. because today was the annual Walk for Life in Washington D.C. I went for a walk at lunchtime through the National Arboretum, next to the Capital, and watched the busloads of evangelicals and Catholics make their way to the hill, and I suppose the Supreme Court building.
Further Twitter has been ablaze with evangelicals talking about abortion.
The most recent bit I read was from John Piper. Now, I agree with Piper about a whole heck of a lot. But there are elements of the Reformed doctrine I have problems with. Primarily, the statist elements.
Today Piper includes among the ways Christians can take action on the abortion issue the passage of legislation, and even encourages some to enter politics. Among the Five Ways to Fight Abortion Piper also lists Supplication, Consideration, Education, and Proclamation.
Where is sacrifice?
I have changed my tune on abortion multiple times before. But here’s where I am now.
I don’t think morality can or should be legislated. I think if Christians want a woman not to have an abortion, then they should offer that woman however much she demands to not have an abortion.
We often talk about the value of human life, but we seldom are actually willing to pay for it. Suppose the mother demands $10,000 for the baby. Many would be willing to pay that price. Suppose she demands $1 million. Well, you tell me, is the child’s life worth that much to you or no? There comes a point at which purchasing that child’s life might threaten your own child’s life. Which is to be preferred? Which is more valuable? What would Solomon do?
There is usually a presumption that the woman should be responsible for keeping the baby and bearing the cost herself. This I suppose comes from a belief in Truth. But I don’t see God imposing Truth on us. Instead I see Him making sacrifice to exemplify truth.
I don’t know why people expect other people to be good. Usually it is a stable equilibrium, and where ostracism is a credible threat tend to see greater solidarity, but I’m amazed at how well people usually get along. There is a tremendous amount of common grace covering us.
But I don’t expect, or require it, of others. I expect people not to harm me or others, given the likelihood of retaliation. But I do not expect them to be altruistic, and certainly not sacrificial.
But I think this is what Christians are called to.
And I think legislation is merely another tool for force. My public choice economics training has made me extremely skeptical of the capacity of legislation to do good, or even to do well. Bryan Caplan’s book, “The Myth of the Rational Voter” explains why politicians might do better than expected, but still, not as well as we might through sacrifice.
And my continued experience in the church, and what I read from recent Christian history, seems to show how statism is the constant corrupter of the church. What evangelicals all across the spectrum from Westboro Baptist Church to Jom Wallis’ Sojourners. From Fancis Schaeffer to Frankie… What they all seem to agree upon is that Christians should be fighting to build stronger coalitions within government.
I wonder what the actual size of the evangelical vote is, and how big of a swinging coalition they comprise. I see Wallis and Metaxas as competitors within the coalition trying to shape its direction. The same was true of evangelicalism during British abolition. This is when Methodism and Baptists and many other groups found their identities. It is when dispensationalism became a powerful force.
With the coalition solidified, fighting within took over.
I guess my main question is, can evangelicalism be rightly understood as that distinct portion of Christianity which sees legislation as a legitimate way for Christians to impact the world. That in contrast to non Christians, to anabaptists, and to Christian monarchists or imperialists.
My guess is that it is more nuanced, but I think there is a story here.