Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Hypocrisy of Political Activism: Disagreeing with Steve Hays

Thursday, November 15, 2012

"Hypocrisy run amok"
My words are in red while Steve's comments are in bolded font.

Ed Dingess 
I find Jason's comments personally offensive…What ever happened to Christian civility and charity in these sorts of discussions? Why do we always have to resort to harsh insults toward another over issues that are not central to the Christian faith?

I’m struck by professing Christians who have such a shallow, amoral conception of civility and charity. They reduce civility and charity to rhetorical etiquette.
I, for one, have a deeper definition of civility and charity. I think aborting babies, or allowing live-birth babies to perish, is pretty uncivil and uncharitable. I think euthanizing the elderly or the disabled is pretty uncivil and uncharitable. I think forcing orphans or foster kids into homosexual “families” is pretty uncivil and uncharitable.

This has essentially nothing to do with the fact that Jason’s speech is offensive. That last time I checked, when you become aware that you have offended your brother, you are supposed to go and be reconciled. I apologized if I said anything that was offensive. It is not my goal to offend my brother. It is my goal to get to the truth of this issue. We do that through healthy loving dialogue.

The Bible is deeply concerned with those who are most vulnerable through no fault of their own. That’s a central aspect of the Christian faith.

We should be deeply concerned with those who are vulnerable. But are we to show that concern through imposing Christian values on a godless culture or by some other means? How did the early church deal with abortion? How did it deal with the fact that they did not have religious liberty? How did it deal with the homosexual issue? Did Paul tell the Roman Christians to lobby Caesar so as to outlaw it? I don’t find Paul even hinting at such actions. He preached repentance. He called it what it was. But he never spent time trying to have it banned.

Hypocrisy run amok. We pound our chest in NC when we say we stopped gay marriage but 90% of evangelical pastors do nothing when members divorce unbiblically. (excuse the typo)

He’s very careless (even slanderous) about how he tosses around the term “hypocrisy.”

i) As a rule, hypocrisy refers to an individual’s personal misconduct. That’s what he has direct control over. If a pastor himself had divorced his wife for illicit reasons, remarried, then lobbied against sodomite marriage, that would be hypocritical.

ii) Many pastors take a pastorate at a preexisting church. The former pastor retires or moves on.

The new pastor isn’t starting from scratch. He is thrust into the status quo of the preexisting congregation.

Let’s pick a figure out of the air. Suppose 40% of the couples in his church divorced and remarried for illicit reasons. That didn’t happen on his watch. What’s he supposed to do after the fact? Excommunicate 40% of the membership?

Pastors have very limited power. The congregation generally pays their salary.

There’s not much a new pastor can to do fix the past. He can preach against unscriptural divorce. If, while he’s the pastor, a member pursues an unscriptural divorce, the pastor can attempt to initiate disciplinary action. Even then, he will need the support of the elders and the congregation. And, of course, a wayward member can simply leave the church. Short of excommunication (which is a unilateral last resort), church discipline requires the errant member to cooperate with the process of counseling and repentance.

You cannot commit slander without having a specific person to slander. Slander seeks to damage the reputation of an individual. For me to say that this behavior is hypocritical is defensible based on the NT use of that term. It is not ipso facto personal misconduct. It also involves a double standard. Jesus tells them that they strain at a gnat and swallow a camel.

Your divorce analogy is not unlike the rape scenario used by abortionists. I am talking about the fact that church discipline is almost non-existent for current abusers of grace who do not take God’s word nor the Christian community seriously. These political pastors refuse to act because of the scandal or because people might leave or whatever. I asked one pastor if he was going to act in one case and he told me he was not their Holy Spirit. Another pastor simply allowed the woman to resign and when that happened, even the presbytery did nothing to address the issue. Both of these men were and are highly vocal in their speech against gay marriage. It is hard for me to take either one of them seriously. If they cared about the truth as much as they say they do and the institution of marriage, they would have acted. Excommunication is given to us by our Lord. If the person does not cooperate, you tell it to the church and read their name publicly. The church sees that leadership takes Christian values seriously and will obey Christ even if the process is unpopular.
Should we not outlaw fornication and lying and stealing, and cheating and whatever else offends God and violates His moral code? Why focus on just abortion? Why not go for the whole ball of wax? Is it not hypocritcal to only fight against gay marriage and not also fight to outlaw unbiblical divorce? Your logical end is a theocracy, is it not? Where do you draw the line and why there? If you are going to push this issue, then push it all the way and at least be consistent. Don't stop with just half the law. Shouldn't you be working to outlaw Sabbath labor?

 Actually I am attempting to apply your method to other issues. Abortion is not a crime but you say it should be because it is murder. Well, civil law does not define it as murder the same as civil law does not criminalize fornication. Yet you desire to outlaw abortion because it violates God's moral code but now you seem to give fornication a nod and a wink. The same method applies to sodomite marriage. How can you say that I am calling a sin a crime when you want to make abortion which is a sin a crime. Why not make fornication, which is a sin, a crime also? You got stoned for murder the same as you did for adultery.

This raises a host of issues:

i) Unless a Christian culture warrior is personally guilty of theft or fornication or unscriptural divorce, accusing them of hypocrisy for someone else’s theft or fornication or unscriptural divorce is quite a stretch.

This is true only if we use your very narrow definition of hypocrisy. I reject your definition and note you did not bother to provide any lexical support.

ii) But suppose, for the sake of argument, that it’s hypocritical for Christian culture warriors to pick-and-choose what to outlaw. So what?

So what? Pragmatism? Hypocrisy is just as offensive or perhaps more so to God as the behavior the culture warrior seeks to eradicate. So what, you eradicated sodomy, you replaced it with rank hypocrisy. Nice job!

Let’s take a comparison. Suppose I’m a doctor who makes his living as a full-time “abortion provider.” Suppose, driving home from the abortion clinic, I see a toddler running out into a busy intersection.

My parental instinct kicks in. I slam on the brakes, get out of the car, rush over to the toddler, and whisk him out of harm’s way.

Now, you could say, “What a hypocrite! You make your living killing babies. So why do you rescue this child?”

And, indeed, his actions were hypocritical in this case. So what? What practical conclusion should we derive from that fact?

Does it follow that because it’s hypocritical for the abortion provider to rescue the toddler, that the he should be consistent and let the toddler get run over?

They would only be hypocritical if the doctor accepted your presuppositions about abortion being murder. He does not! Therefore, as far as the doctor is concerned, he is being quite consistent with his worldview. I am going to try to frame this up more clearly using sodomite marriage and divorce.

Why is sodomite marriage wrong? It violates God’s design and plan for the institution of marriage. Therefore, we must do everything we can to outlaw it! Why is illicit divorce wrong? It violates God’s design and plan for the institution of marriage. Therefore, we will turn a deaf ear when our members divorce because it really isn’t that big a deal after all. The common denominator is the same in terms of gay marriage and divorce. It actually comes down to revealed truth and our claims to desire to uphold truth. When we pick which truth we want to uphold and reject the other, even though the denominator is the same, we play the hypocrite. Truth isn’t really that important to us. Only the truth that we elevate is really that important to us.

Jesus is famous for upbraiding hypocrites in the Gospels, but I can’t think of any instance where he unbraids them for doing the right thing.

Personally, I would rather not be counted in this company.

Selective morality is better than systematic immorality. It’s better to be inconsistently virtuous than to be consistently iniquitous.

Romans 3:10-18 paints quite an ugly picture of the condition of man. Is it really the calling of the church to help the godless culture be selectively moral?

Even if someone is hypocritical in doing right every so often, that’s hardly a reason for him to refrain from doing right on isolated occasions.

Men will do right in terms of natural law because they are created in the image of a holy God. That is not where our disagreement lies and I think you should know this.

iii) Suppose, for the sake of argument, that Christian social conservatives are hypocritical for protecting the lives of babies, the elderly, and the disabled–while they ignore other moral concerns Even so, their “hypocrisy” is still good for the innocent lives they save.

The old “end-justifies-the-means” argument. How many other sins should Christians commit in order to transform the culture? Hypocrisy of any sort is a sin. There are thousands of supposed Christians who can argue against abortion far better than they can argue for Christ or even articulate the gospel. This is the consequence of a Church who has lost her focus. We are so busy fighting abortion and sodomy that we forgot the gospel and certain we have neglected to actually make disciples. That is part of my gripe.

iv) But is it hypocritical? God dictated the Mosaic law to Israel. He didn’t put it up for a vote. Israel never had a choice in the matter. God imposed his law on Israel, and he enforced compliance under pain of severe divine punishment.

As is His right.

That’s completely different from the situation of Christian Americans. We have to work through the democratic process. We can only do what’s politically feasible. Our circumstances automatically select for what we can try to outlaw.

I have no imperatives for or against voting. Scripture has none either. You say we have an imperative to vote, and I say we don’t. You call it a duty to our country. I say that the church’s duty to the country is to give it the gospel, to make disciples, to baptize, and to live by Christian values (be the salt and light), to submit to civil authorities and to pray for them (Roman 13:1-7; I Peter 2:13; I Tim. 2:1-3; Titus 3:1).

Enacting law isn’t a theoretical ideal, but a practical possibility. As Bill Vallicella recently observed:

If politics were merely theoretical, merely an exercise in determining how a well-ordered state should be structured, then implementation would not matter at all. But politics is practical, not theoretical: it aims at action that implements the view deemed best…You are a utopian who fails to understand that politics is about action, not theory, in the world as it is, as opposed to some merely imagined world.


v) On a related note, there’s nothing inherently wrong with picking your battles. We don’t have the resources to fight every battle. We can’t win every battle. So we have to decide on some issues of overriding importance, then throw our limited time and energy behind those issues. If you try to do everything, you won’t succeed at anything.

So what are the guiding principles that help you pick which batter takes the top of the list? And where is the exegetical support for that? Where is the exegetical support for engaging in political battles to begin with? All I have seen is an obscure statement about general principles and logical inferences. From where? General principles from where?

vi) Moreover, some evils are more socially destructive than others.

And there is consensus on this, right? Who gets to say which ones are more destructive? The PCA? This opens the can of worms around who decides which issue to attack. And that will be one long list. By the way, isn’t eradicating evil from the world God’s role? I thought He was going to do that when He returns, you know, like a lion, a fierce judge.

vii) Likewise, there’s a difference between punishing mutually consensual misconduct, where the parties are voluntarily wronging and harming each other, and aggressive, oppressive misconduct where one party is harming innocent, defenseless victims.

There’s a fundamental difference between protecting someone from himself or from mutually consensual harm, and protecting an unwilling victim from an aggressor.

Take the difference between a private fight club and mugging. There’s a principled reason why lawmakers might make a priority of cracking down on muggers while they allow consenting adults to form a fight club.

viii) Not all Biblical obligations are absolute or equally obligatory. For instance, Sabbath-keeping is a means to an end rather than an end in itself. It exists to promote human flourishing. But there are situations in which wooden adherence to Sabbath-keeping would be detrimental to human flourishing. That’s why the Bible itself makes exceptions for works of mercy and necessity.

I wonder how far you push Sabbath-keeping. And surely this has to be on the list, albeit a little lower than say, sodomy.

xi) Biblical laws are not all of a kind. Some laws were contingent on Israel’s unique cultic holiness.

Other laws involve the kinds of laws (e.g. sex crimes, property crimes, bodily injury) which any law code for any nation-state would have to cover. Any nation-state will have a penal code with laws regulating certain kinds of typical human behavior and typical human interactions.

Other laws are adapted to the socioeconomic situation of the ANE. A tribal society. An agrarian economy. That’s not directly applicable to 21C America.

Yet some of those laws may still exemplify basic principles which do carry over into NT ethics.

Some biblical laws are grounded in creational ordinances (e.g. heterosexual marriage).

Some laws are laws of utility rather than morality.

We need to ask the underlying rationale for a given law.

xii) The NT indicates degrees of continuity and discontinuity between OT ethics and NT ethics. It isn’t always easy to draw the line because the NT itself doesn’t explicitly draw the line for us. But the NT doesn’t give us the luxury of an easy all-or-nothing position. No doubt that would simplify things, but that’s not the actual position of the NT. In the NT, there’s some carryover between OT ethics and NT ethics, while other things are rendered obsolete.

Ah yes, the continuity-discontinuity issue.

xiii) As for some of Ed’s specific examples, I don’t have a problem with blue laws. However, there’s an exegetical dispute on whether some Pauline passages nullify the Sabbath ordinance.

Modern Sabbath-keeping in the church is wrought with problems. There is no mandate moving the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday, etc. etc. Not going to chase this rabbit other than to say that I have heard the best arguments and none of them satisfy, or even come close to a satisfactory defense of a Sabbath mandate in the new covenant.

xiv) As for fornication, how does the OT handle that? Well, if a guy impregnates a girl, he has to marry her and support the child. If he fathers a child, he must help with raising the child.

I don’t have a problem with that. The shotgun wedding was a good institution.

Ed’s other examples are odd. “Stealing”? But theft is a crime, both in modern law and OT law.

“Lying”? Lying, per se, wasn’t an OT crime. Only perjury was a crime.

 “Cheating”? Certain types of cheating are illegal.

xiv) What Ed calls “hypocrisy” is a built-in tension in law. Due to sin, sinners need good laws. But due to sin, sinners resist good laws. The very fallenness which renders good laws necessary is the same fallenness which makes it difficult to pass or enforce good laws. The tension is a presupposition of law. Even OT law, which was divinely inspired as well as divinely enforced, sets a moral floor rather than a moral ceiling.

I used the term adultery in place of fornication for that reason. Since adultery is the cause of so many divorces, it can only help the institution of marriage to outlaw it.

In addition, lying was not a violation of the covenant? Leviticus 19:11 clearly commands the Jew not to lie to one another. Hence, lying is a violation of the covenant. In Jer. 9:3-5, lying is characterized as evil.

Romans 2 makes a great case for natural law as the foundation for civil law. “For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them.”

I am going to provide a direct exegesis of passages that actually deal with the question of the relationship between the Christian and civil authorities. The NT does have something to say about it and I think this document has to serve as the final authority that informs us on Christian norms for political activity. To operate on grounds as nebulous as “general principles to logical inferences” is, in my opinion, far to obscure and provides too little by way of guidance, not only for how we should behave but how we should think about the issue.

I have nothing but respect for the Triablogue team and will continue to make this point. People should read their blog often because they have a lot to say and in my view, the are right most of the time. This subject is one that we will have to agree to disagree on.


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