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Moral seriousness and the post-Christian right

Christians should not let political tribalism obscure what is clear in Scripture


A MAGA hat sits on a Christmas tree at a Trump rally in Waterloo, Iowa, on Dec. 19. Associated Press/Photo by Charlie Neibergall

Moral seriousness and the post-Christian right
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Two sad things happened over the holidays that ought to arrest the attention of Christian conservatives everywhere. The first is the revelation of a calendar featuring scantily clad “conservative” women and being marketed to “conservative” dads. The second is a social media posting from former President Donald Trump calling for his political enemies to “rot in hell.”

I highlight these two items not because I wish to weigh in on the GOP presidential primary. I don’t do public endorsements, and I’m not going to start now. Nor do I wish to stoke cynicism about conservatives or conservatism more generally. On the contrary, I am a conservative myself, and I want conservatism to flourish in our country because I believe it is an approach to politics aimed at preserving the permanent things. I can hardly imagine a better antidote to our cultural malaise than a fresh jolt of the good, the true, and the beautiful. So this is not a complaint about conservatism.

I bring this up because Christians need to discern the times in which they live lest they be carried away by them. The left in general and the Democratic Party in particular have become the preserve of those who would make a sacrament of abortion and of LGBTQ affirmation. They wish to eviscerate the permanent things and substitute them with a political order that would be hostile to Christians.

But it isn’t just the left showing evidence of a godless and debauched vision of the world. Increasingly, the post-Christian right seems to be following close behind. It would be foolish for serious Christians to make the mistake of thinking that errors can only come from one side of the political spectrum when in reality they may come from both. In some cases, “barstool conservatism” is just as unmoored from the permanent things as wokesters on the left.

In saying that, I am not drawing a moral equivalence between conservatism and progressivism. I don’t believe that there is one. And certainly not all conservatives are post-Christian in their outlook. I am saying that sinners sin on both sides. And if we Christians have any integrity at all, we must have clarity about that. If we can only see the errors of the left but not of the right, we aren’t morally serious. We are hypocrites.

For this reason, faithful Christians must recognize that calling for political enemies to “rot in hell” goes directly against what God’s Word calls us to do. We aren’t supposed to pray for them to rot in hell. On the contrary, God’s Word enjoins us to love our enemies and to pray “for kings and all who are in authority” to the end that they might be “saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:1-4). Even if they are pagans and enemies of the cause of Christ, this is to be our prayer for them. Calling for malefactors on the left to rot in hell would be the opposite of that. At the same time, without apology or hesitation we fight the evils they represent.

Likewise, of all people, Christians must recognize that a calendar designed to excite the sinful lusts of fathers is hardly a quest for preserving the “permanent things,” much less a faithful discharge of our duty under Christ. The answer to gender confusion and LGBTQ affirmation on the left is not the endorsement of heterosexual immorality on the right. And make no mistake, trying to lure fathers into leering at barely dressed women is exactly what Jesus has forbidden to His followers:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28).

Jesus pronounces a withering judgment on anyone so indifferent about their fellow image-bearers that they would lead them into temptation and sin.

Likewise, Jesus also has severe warnings for anyone who would place such stumbling blocks before His followers: “Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!” (Matthew 18:7).

Jesus pronounces a withering judgment on anyone so indifferent about their fellow image-bearers that they would lead them into temptation and sin. The ones who fall to such temptation are responsible for their own sin. But those who place stumbling blocks before their brothers are responsible for their own sin as well. Jesus tells us that there will be a reckoning for both.

What I’ve written here should not be controversial to Bible-believing Christians. It really is Christianity 101 and not very complicated. And yet, I am concerned that political tribalism may be obscuring for some Christians what their duties are under Christ and what is otherwise very clear in Scripture. For some, “no enemies to the right” means withering public condemnation of sinners on the left and whataboutism for sinners on the right. This is not morally serious, and everyone can see the blatant hypocrisy.

I am not one who believes that Christians can curry favor with a watching world by virtue-signaling. Christians who fail to affirm LGBTQ identities and abortion rights through all nine months of pregnancy will be despised by the left no matter how many times they publicly condemn the sins of the right.

If we serve Christ, our ultimate goal cannot be to please men (Galatians 1:10). Our ultimate goal is to please Christ and to glorify Him in everything we do and say. The glory of Christ claims our ultimate allegiance and also mandates our moral seriousness about good and evil, light and darkness, truth and error.

The permanent things don’t cease to be true merely because folks in our political tribe flout the commands of Jesus. In this fallen world and in our political order, we will of necessity have some alliances with those who do not share our faith. But those who flout the commands of Jesus—no matter what their political tribe may be—must never become the rule of our own worldview and conduct. Pronouncing curses on our enemies and producing soft core porn may make sense to so-called “barstool conservatives,” but they are not the way of Christ.

If professing Christians can’t make that clear to a watching a world, then who will?


Denny Burk

Denny Burk serves as a professor of Biblical Studies at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and as the president of the Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood. He also serves as one of the teaching pastors at Kenwood Baptist Church. He is the author of numerous books including What Is the Meaning of Sex? (Crossway, 2013), Transforming Homosexuality (P&R, 2015), and a commentary on the pastoral epistles for the ESV Expository Commentary (Crossway, 2017).

@DennyBurk


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