I recently saw a quote from Tim Keller that was making the rounds, and I wanted to interact with it for just a skoshy bit. I will let you judge the quote for yourself in just a hot minute — so cool your baby jets — but it appears to me that Tim Keller was looking to create some sort of intellectual space in which an average moderate evangellycal could see his way to a vote for Joe Biden.
It seems to me that the basic structure of this statement is to provide those of the leftward drift with some sort of cover.
Anyway, you may judge the matter for yourself. Here is the quote:
The Bible binds my conscience to care for the poor, but it does not tell me the best practical way to do it. Any particular strategy (high taxes and government services vs low taxes and private charity) may be good and wise—and may even be somewhat inferred from other things the Bible teaches– but they are not directly commanded and therefore we cannot insist that all Christians, as a matter of conscience, follow one or the other. The Bible binds my conscience to love the immigrant, but it doesn’t tell me how many legal immigrants to admit to the U.S. every year. It does not exactly prescribe immigration policy. The Bible tells me that abortion is a sin and great evil, but it doesn’t tell me the best way to decrease or end abortion in this country, nor which policies are most effective. The current political parties offer a potpourri of different positions on these and many, many other topics, most of which, as just noted, the Bible does not speak to directly. This means when it comes to taking political positions, voting, determining alliances and political involvement, the Christian has liberty of conscience. Christians cannot say to other Christians “no Christian can vote for . . .” or “every Christian must vote for . . .” unless you can find a Biblical command to that effect.Tim Keller
Now take this sentiment just expressed, and try to hold it up next to this one:
“If you have white skin, it’s worth $1m over a lifetime,” [Keller says], “you have to say, I don’t deserve this . . . I am the product of and standing on the shoulders of other people who got that through injustice . . . the Bible says you are involved in injustice, and even if you didn’t actually do it.”Also Tim Keller
Stretchy to the Left
Allow me to remind you of what you read just a few moments ago:
“The Bible binds my conscience to care for the poor, but it does not tell me the best practical way to do it.”
Now this is the voice of sweet reason, and one can almost smell the magnolia blossoms at midnight. As stated in just this one sentence, I agree with it. As C.S. Lewis once famously noted, when Jesus tells us to feed the poor, He did not give us lessons in cookery. Loving Jesus does not bestow any automatic expertise on how to boil an egg. This is quite true — principles and methods are not the same thing.
At the same time, some methods are out. Poisoning the eggs would be out. Or so it would seem to me.
But that is not my main concern here. The main concern is that apparently reasonable statement of judicious concern for liberty of conscience is not going to be consistently applied.
So we have to watch very closely when it comes time to apply this truth. What Keller is anticipating and heading off is any conservative argument that voting for Joe Biden is outside the pale. And by outside the pale I mean something like this. Say that a church officer revealed causally at a session meeting in late November that he and his wife had voted for Biden. “Outside the pale” means that the other elders would begin immediately discussion on how to remove this gentleman from the session. It is not morally okay to vote for Biden. I think that Keller would appeal to his statement above and say that such a reaction would not be legit.
What Keller appears to be saying here is that a vote for Biden is not necessarily a vote for unrestricted abortion, but rather it couild be a vote for attacking some of the “root causes” of poverty, which in turn drive “desperate women” to seek the”tragic remedy of abortion,” a remedy which Keller in the meantime denounces as a sin and great evil. Got that?
I will explain to you what is going on here, and I will use a dark parable. If guilt were electricity, your politics are a conductor. Conservative politics are copper wire, and leftist politics are a bunch of dried rope sections laid end to end. If you want to get zapped by the woke jolt, all you have to do is lick your fingers and pick up the copper wire.
Notice how that electric guilt cannot be conducted via the dried rope. If you wrestle with the issues, signal your virtue, telegraph your pure manhattanish thoughts, you can then see your way clear to vote for Biden, just so long as you continue to hold the bottom line affirmation that abortion is a “sin and a great evil.” In short, you can vote for a man who would pack the Supreme Court with solid pro-abortion votes, and it would all be okay because you have a complicated argument in your head about root causes and systemic problems.
But! if you are a conservative white male, all the nuance disappears. You are complicit, my friend, sitting there all white like you are. Copper wire conducts guilt like crazy.
Notice what is happening here. If you are moving left, there are always extenuating circumstances. If you are on the right, there is no such thing as an extenuating circumstance. All you have to do to figure out that you are involved in injustice is to go look in a mirror. You cracker. I bet some of your kids are even blonde.
Take two sinful categories, and hold one in each hand. The first is called “voting for Biden” and the second is called “participating in white supremacy.” The current evangelical elite is trying to tell us that the guilt of the second is massive and all-pervasive, and the evidence is no farther away than your bathroom mirror, while there is no necessary guilt that arises with the first at all.
Equal Weights and Measures
Even though Keller does use quite a few of the categories of critical theory, does that make him a “cultural Marxist”? I saw one exchange online which basically said, “of course he is not. He denies it. He has written against critical theory.”
Okay, and this is how we know that these scales are busted. Can I be exonerated the same way? Can I simply deny that I am an advocate of white supremacy, and show you the places where I have written against the kinists? Why no, that doesn’t work at all. This is because of microaggressions n’ stuff. This is because there is no room for liberty of conscience when it comes to the patriarchy and white supremacy. No room.
In short, if you take Keller’s initial quote above, and try to use the principles stated within it to show that your hard right politics are “a matter of liberty of conscience,” you will find that nobody among the anointed is even close buying it. Keller says that “low taxes and private charity . . . may be good and wise,” and so to advocate for them should be a matter of liberty of conscience. So why am I promptly accused of racism and white supremacy whenever I do?
O Ye Who Love Nuance!
This is not to say that our electoral decision-making is straightforward and simple. No, we do have to make room for liberty of conscience. We do have to make room for every evangelical cook who isn’t poisoning the eggs. Life comes at you fast, but I think we can draw the line at poisoning the eggs.
But I would like to conclude with an appeal to Keller’s statement above — the first one, not the second one. I do this in order to say that there are many conservative evangelical Christians who knew and understood how crass Donald Trump was and who did not vote for him in 2016 because of it. I was among them. I really do believe that character matters, and I flat did not believe him when he said that he would appoint conservative judges. But then he went and kept his word, appointing over 300 of them. And now we are on the threshold of a third SCOTUS appointment. In another four years, there could be one or two more.
A number of these Christians have decided to vote for Trump this time around, but I also know that quite a few are still wavering. A bunch of Trump’s tweets really are obnoxious and/or ill-advised. But I bring you good tidings. Tim Keller has shown you the way. If you limit yourself to just the first quote above, and if you squint, there is a clear path laid out for you. Liberty of conscience, baby! It turns out that liberty of conscience and nuance and subtlety of heart can be made to stretch to the right. Just pull a little harder.
“Unless you can find a Biblical command” that expressly prohibits your MAGA hat, you’re good to go. The downside is that all the Kellerites will think you are a racist, but that is only because they were distracted by the redness of your hat, and did not notice that Tim’s thumb was on the scales.