Render Unto Rawls: Law, Gospel, and the Evangelical Fallacy
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There are many voices in American politics claiming that various candidates, laws and policies are necessitated by a “Christian” worldview. Many of these voices use explicit public rhetoric that their position is the one compelled by “Christian” principles. Although religious voices have been present in the United States since its founding, the volume and urgency of the voices seems to have increased dramatically in the last several decades, during the so-called “culture wars.” These voices famously come from the Christian Religious Right, advocating socially conservative laws on issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage. But there are also voices from an increasingly vocal Christian Religious Left, advocating progressive or “liberal” policies on issues such as assistance to the poor and the environment. The Rawlsian conception of political liberalism posits that citizens should not advocate for laws or policies based on comprehensive doctrines which are not shared by all the citizenry, but should instead resort to public reasons in support of such persuasion. Many Christians respond that such a position requires them to impermissibly “bracket” their views and trivializes their religious faith. A significant amount of these Christian voices are Evangelical Christians. Speaking as an Evangelical Christian myself, our shared theology would seem to oppose the overt religious argumentation by both the Right and Left. The simple reason is that Evangelical Christians believe that reconciliation and favor with God can only be obtained by simple belief and faith in the provision of Christ’s sacrifice on man’s behalf. None of our behavior is ultimately sufficient, and therefore compliance with coercively-enforced laws (viz., behavior) as a communicated means to favor with God is not consistent with the historic Evangelical scriptural gospel view of salvation by faith alone. Therefore, such arguments for “Christian” laws and policies are actually antithetical to the historic Christian gospel message, and tend to obscure it, and thus should be avoided by Evangelical Christians in the political sphere.
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