Evangelical Problems: “Progressivism”

“Socialism, like the ancient ideas from which it springs, confuses the distinction between government and society. As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all. We disapprove of state education. Then the socialists say that we are opposed to any education. We object to a state religion. Then the socialists say that we want no religion at all. We object to a state-enforced equality. Then they say that we are against equality. And so on, and so on. It is as if the socialists were to accuse us of not wanting persons to eat because we do not want the state to raise grain.”

— Frédéric Bastiat

The worst legacy of the “progressive” movement, in my opinion, is the socialist confusion of terms Bastiat observed as far back as the 1840s. Although America is not openly socialist, the multitude of socialist victories in the last century have so thoroughly changed the political dialogue in this country that it is impossible to discuss the ills of society without immediately jumping to conclusions about what the government must do to fix it. People are poor — we need the government to redistribute the wealth; people are on drugs — we need the government to imprison all drug users; children have been shot in schools — we need the government to ban guns near schools, if not confiscate them altogether; prostitution is unsavory — we need the government to ban it; and so on.

This affects all of us down to even the tiniest level — how many of us have encountered a pet peeve, like a loud muffler or children running around the apartment upstairs, and grumbled “that should be illegal”? The real problem is selfishness — both on our part for insisting to never be annoyed by anything and on the annoyers’ part for having it never even occur to them to consider others — but we are so accustomed to the socialist mindset of “a law for every problem” that even those of us who aren’t socialists can conceive of no other solution than to clamor to our government for stricter noise ordinances or a ban on children living above the first floor.

The group whose entanglement in this mindset disappoints me the most are evangelical Christians, of whom I am one. One of the reasons the tax collectors of Jesus’ day were so reviled was that they regularly collected much more tax than was required and pocketed the leftovers, but there was never one time when Jesus approached one of the Roman centurions and said, “You know, these tax collectors are seriously defrauding the people — you really need to start auditing their books.” No, instead Jesus treated them lovingly, befriending them, eating with them in their own homes, and being an example of non-judgmental righteousness to them. This method was far more effective — Matthew left tax collecting immediately upon Jesus’ request to follow Him, and Zacchaeus, tax collector of tax collectors, was so transformed by Jesus’ love and grace that he gave half of everything he had to the poor and repaid everyone he defrauded four times over! The best the righteous leaders of the day (the Pharisees) were ever able to accomplish was to alienate these men from their own people to the point that collecting taxes was all they had, but Jesus radically transformed the culture around him without passing a single government law.

Unfortunately, evangelical Christians today are much more like these Pharisees than like Jesus. When we see a problem in the culture, we can conceive no solution other than government mandates. Same-sex marriage is a great example of this. Homosexual relations are almost certainly sinful (the Bible seems to be fairly straightforward on that one), but pouring all our energies into same-sex marriage bans is hardly a productive or Christlike solution to this social problem. Such a ban will not prevent homosexual relations, nor will it encourage any homosexuals to be transformed by the love of Christ. All it will really accomplish is to further alienate them from Christ, increasing the likelihood of their souls being lost forever, and by forcing our religious mores upon them (a violation of their religious liberty), we invite them to seize control of the government and violate our religious liberty — a problem we are beginning to see in some areas where ministers are being threatened with fines and imprisonment if they refuse to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies.

No doubt our socialist programming will encourage many to now say that I condone and support homosexuality because I object to government enforcement against it, but that is not at all the case — remember our quote from Bastiat: Just because I object to state-enforced sexual morality does not mean I am opposed to sexual morality altogether. It just means I would like to see it upheld by engaging with the culture directly, as Christ did, causing actual transformation in the hearts of the people, rather than by simple government force, which will not change anyone’s heart or lead to salvation at all. As ambassadors for Christ, we should bypass the government — let same-sex marriage be legalized if that’s what they want — and instead meet the lost where they are, loving them and befriending them one-on-one, being an example of the righteousness which redemption in Christ can bring. If we use all our energy to do that, we will win far, far more souls than with the force of legislation, and if God wants to call people out of the homosexual lifestyle, in the end it won’t matter that same-sex marriage is legal — there won’t be any unredeemed same-sex couples left to get married.

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