The Scandal of Moral Clarity

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This is not a political blog, it is one that observes faith where it intersects with culture and today the connection is inescapable.

Gathering like a maze of bees to a fresh nectared flower, reporters are swarming the Republican Convention writing articles about a party “hiding” the real agenda, featuring Log Cabin Republicans outraged at a party platform that defines marriage as between a man and woman, making these comments to journalists warming to their every complaint, as if Martin Luther King himself was eloquently championing the cause.

The same journalists who didn’t understand all the fuss about Bill Clinton’s White House sexual escapades with intern Monica Lewinski are now disassembling President George W. Bush for his failure to understand nuance. The Washington Post asks: is Bush decisive but not curious? Newt Gingrich views this as a Reaganesque quality saying of Bush, “having thought it through, having prayed on it, having thought about what he believes history requires of him, he is ready to take any risk.”

Eager to explain the “nuance” issue, Nicholas Kristoff uses a retro analysis of Shakespeare to solve the mystery. In an editorial titled “Crowning Prince George,” he concludes that President Bush like Henry the V is “too intoxicated with moral clarity.”

That moral clarity would be viewed not as a virtue, but a vice says more, of course, about Kristoff and Republican naysayers than it does about the Bush administration, but is at the heart of the matter as indicated in my opening comments about Clinton’s dalliances.

I do not enjoy the “culture war” language because it has changed the priorities, tone and spirit of evangelicals, but I understand it. When James Davison Hunter introduced the term he was referring to two antithetical worldviews, one humanistic and man centered, the other theistic and God centered. The Christian theist determines what is morally acceptable, and what is right and wrong, based on God’s law as revealed to humans. The humanist generally finds these “revelations” to be human in origin, or at least changeable in differing times based on the best efforts of human reason to discern the times and recast moral applicability. The theist tends to operate with higher levels of certitude (and granted, sometimes misguided) than the humanist. I realize I am oversimplifying, and I myself by nature tend towards curiosity more than decisiveness, but I am a “man under authority,” and in my case that authority derives from the Bible. It affects all my choices.

I understand people who fear Republican calls “to win the culture war,” but I think such a campaign is within the rights accorded citizens under our Constitution. Our democracy relies on an involved citizenry for its health and does it strike anybody else as odd that evangelicals, who vastly outnumber gays, are being criticized for advocating their viewpoint in a society whose Bill of Rights protects freedom of speech, freedom of religion and the rights of association?

I also understand concerns about a lack of nuance, but I was personally scandalized by the Lewinski affair and appreciate that President Bush has, “returned to us an office that was occupied by George Washington, Abe Lincoln, and Ronald Reagan. He has restored the honor and dignity of the highest office in the land.” For those who complain of moral hypocrisy, explain why lap dancers are going home early in NYC because of so few Republican convention customers

In “A Culture of Disbelief” Steven Carter observed that Democrats lost the moral high ground starting with their position on abortion, because prior to that, their positions on social justice could be defended from the Old Testament Prophets. Now, pathetically they flounder with complaints about the lack of nuance, or the problem of moral certitude, or name calling, referring to evangelicals as “extremists.”

They better watch out. Some liberal Democrats like Ron Silver see 9/11 as a defining moment calling for moral certitude and is a Bush supporter for that reason saying, “”I’m a 9/11 Republican,” he said. “If we don’t get this right, all the other things don’t matter worth a hill of beans. I’ll live to fight another day on health care, environmental concerns and sensible gun legislation. But this is such a predominant issue that it towers above all others, and I’m not certain both parties are capable of handling it the right way.”

And for all of us concerned about extremism right or left, hear the words of Martin Luther King Jr, a man of moral certitude, “Was not Jesus an extremist for love — “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice — “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the gospel of Jesus Christ — “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist — “Here I stand; I can do none other so help me God.” Was not John Bunyan an extremist — “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” Was not Abraham Lincoln an extremist — “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” Was not Thomas Jefferson an extremist — “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” So the question is not whether we will be extremist but what kind of extremist will we be. Will we be extremists for hate or will we be extremists for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice–or will we be extremists for the cause of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill, three men were crucified. We must not forget that all three were crucified for the same crime–the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thusly fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment.”

Yours for the pursuit of God in the company of friends, Dick Staub.

PS. And remember, “these are the best of times and the worst of times, but they are the only times we have.” (For Now).

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