Compassionate Conservativism Isn”t Either One

Darryl’s next chapter, “The Dilemma of Compassionate Conservatism,” provides a good overview of the recent interactions of the state and evangelicals, and the attempt to have the government provide help to various “faith-based” social agencies. Darryl does good work pointing out the corners that we have painted ourselves into, but his narrow conception of what the Church is called to do means that his critique is not as pointed as it could have been.

“The all-or-nothing logic inherent in appeals to the Lordship of Christ also fails to do justice to the reduced character of Christ’s sovereignty in the Christian era . . . The problem with blurring the claims of the Old and New Testaments is that Christ’s kingdom in the latter was fundamentally different from the kingdom of Israel in the former. The kingdom of Christ was a spiritual entity, not a political one, and it had every appearance during the church’s early history of coexisting with non-Christian empires” (p. 230).

But the Church only coexisted in the early centuries with pagan empires in the same way that the United States coexisted with Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan in 1942.

Darryl confuses the relationship of the Church to mercy ministries generally, and the relationship of the Church to tax-driven “mercy” ministries. The former is of course required of us by James — true religion is to keep our ourselves unstained by the world, and to visit widows and orphans in their affliction. The spirituality of the Church cannot be construed to mean that we are allowed to limit ourselves to visting spiritual widows and ethereal orphans. The latter has a lot in common with the view held by Judas — he was concerned why the money spent by the woman with the ointment hadn’t been given to the poor in the approved way, which is to say, the way in which he could skim a piece of the action.

“In other words, by pitting a religious-friendly state as the opposite of a secular government, the Lordship of Christ outlook fails to do justice to the real genius of the American founding, which was to try to take religion out of the hands of civil authorities and allow believers to practice their faith according to their own consciences” (p. 230).

But here is the difficulty. Of course, the state does not have the right to be secular. The state does not have the right to refuse to acknowledge the claims of Jesus Christ. Of course, the state does not have a special dispensation from God that allows them to be religiously agnostic, any more than God would give them a dispensation to embrace any other form of unbelief.

Precisely because the state does not have the right to be secular, precisely because the state is required to honor the Lordship of Jesus Christ, the state may not barge into people’s homes, rob them of their hard-earned money in the name of redistributing the wealth a bit. To do so is called stealing. Taxing the people in order to perform a function that God did not assign to the state is called theft. The state does not have the right to say, “I am stealing from you . . . because, because, um . . . because of the Lordship of Jesus Christ! That’s the ticket!” If Jezebel had taken Naboth’s vineyard in the name of “justice,” or “land reform,” that would not have changed the prophet’s view of it. Neither would it have helped if Jim Wallis sincerely thought that Naboth was a fat cat plantation owner. Maybe he was. How does that make it somebody else’s plantation now?

The state honors Jesus Christ by doing what Jesus Christ tells the state to do, and not by doing whatever seemed like a great idea to somebody so long as the name of Jesus was invoked. If someone is celebrating a Kuyperian view of the Lordship of Christ over all things, I will rejoice with him. Yay. Go, dog, go. But I also want to reserve judgment just a little bit — because all kinds of cockamamie proposals have been advanced in the name of Jesus. Remember Prohibition. That particular public policy howler was instituted in the name of Jesus, but after that unfortunate Cana incident, it was a law that would have gotten Jesus hauled before the authorities three years earlier than He actually was. Not only did He manufacture about a hundred and sixty gallons of the Stuff, He did so without a licence.

Because statist agenecies or state-controlled agencies are operating outside their assigned jurisdictional area, the necessary result is bungled compassion. At the end of the day, it is incompetent at best, and cruel at worst. Christians should have nothing to do with any of it — because Jesus is Lord, and He told us to remember the poor. Compassionate conservativism is not compassionate because in the long run, it doesn’t give a rip about the poor. The poor are the necessary fodder to make the public/private poverty industry run. Hope they stick around, and if they don’t want to, we can help a little bit. As for conservative, what is it conserving except for the budget appropriations that we managed to jam into the pork barrel last budget cycle?

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