by Rod D. Martin
March 30, 2005
First, I want to reiterate Sherri’s and my affection for you. We believe that one of the most tragic aspects of Reformedville is its incessant habit of demonizing everyone with whom anyone disagrees. God judges us by our obedience, and he judges us by our intent and our heart. Can anyone honestly doubt, having read Jesus’ parables, that God prefers the man trying to do right who makes mistakes to the man who actually does right for the wrong reasons? I think we should follow that example. Reformed folks tend to assume that everyone who disagrees with them is intentionally, willfully in error (concomitant to that, they always assume they themselves are without error, and that any error they might have is minor). Perhaps nowhere has this become more vitriolic than when Reformed people address politics (all the more ironic since so few of the ones talking know anything about it), refusing to extend even the slightest courtesy, and jumping to harshly judge the hearts and motives, of men they do not know. This ought not be, not least because the Presbyterian form of church polity and the republican form of government both afford plenty of opportunity to debate matters and address and change errors (or at least to get our way). We should extend grace to our leaders, grace to those in our service, and grace to our fellowman, not least because Christ has extended infinitely greater grace to us. We can start by being gracious in our debates, and I want to assure you that that is our intent toward you.
Second, I think you do yourself a great disservice by oversimplifying the Terri Schiavo case. End-of-life issues are not so black and white as we might wish, and while the Bible requires of us that we stand against euthanasia, nevertheless from the Pope to Jay Sekulow to Andrew Sandlin to Pat Robertson (I mention these to indicate the breadth of Christian opinion I’m seeking to encompass, not to single these out as authorities), there is phenomenally broad consensus that there are circumstances in which life should not be prolonged. Were we in battle together, and I were shot, sure to die, and suffering horribly, I would likely ask you to shoot me and put me out of my misery; what’s more, I’m quite sure you would do it. The question is not whether this choice is permissible, but rather who has the right to make it (the idea that Michael Schiavo would be granted that right being utterly unconscienable). I suspect you’d be astonished at how very gray this can be, were you to ask your pastor’s wife about the sorts of decisions she’s faced in this regard as a hospice nurse (without, I might add, being excommunicated for her trouble).
And finally, let me say this one more time: unless you have somehow become a majority while I wasn’t looking, you are going to have to work with others to achieve reform. Lots of others. More others, in fact, than the total number of members of both your chosen Constitution Party and every Presbyterian denomination in existence. That means, unless you are advocating violent revolution (and some of your looser statements aside, I’ll assume you aren’t), that you have to build (or join) a coalition. Being part of a coalition doesn’t mean you have to change your principles; it does mean you have a chance to get your way some of the time instead of none. It also means you have a chance, by working with others, paying your dues, and making friends, to persuade them of your opinion, something you’ll never do if you don’t know them or, worse, spend your time demonizing them.
An example: though many Protestants have great antipathy toward Catholics (at least on a doctrinal level), and though many Catholics reciprocate this feeling, I have found that this is not the 16th century. It is frequently true that they are better advocates than we are of issues we hold dear, particularly life issues (you’ll notice there are precious few Presbyterians down there at Terri Schiavo’s hospice, other than my son, not even you two gentlemen; they’re mostly Catholics, along with a good number of Pentecostals). I daresay, had it not been for the Catholics there would be no pro-life movement worthy of the name, and we all owe them a great debt. So they make good coalition partners: we agree to disagree on lots of stuff, but work together where we can, and enjoy wonderful fellowship all the while. They get some of what they want, we get some of what we want, and everyone’s ahead of where they would have been without each other. This is not just good politics: it is an expression of the love we ought to have for one other.
The third party types (and other hard cases) are aghast at this. Which is functionally the same thing as saying they are aghast at the Constitution. This is the system our Founders designed, modeled very much on the Presbyterian form of church polity I might add. And it works, very well, not least in this one crucial respect: it prevents anyone from getting all of what they want (tyranny) unless they can persuade almost everyone they’re right. Without that, liberty is impossible.
In the course of this coalition with Catholics, God has given me the privilege of spending time with some incredibly godly people, and even of leading a number of unsaved Catholics to His Son. What an amazing and wonderful thing! Likewise, the ever-increasing inflow of Evangelical Christians into the Republican Party has given us the opportunity to earn the credibility to speak of our faith to people who didn’t used to think about such things: many have been saved, many others who hate the faith have either toned down their opposition or been swept aside (as bigots always should be). That process continues apace (and I remember well years ago when Howard Phillips was telling us this could never happen, that what we were trying to do was impossible. He was very wrong). The Gospel is stronger than men, the Lord is stronger than men, but the Lord chooses to work through men spreading the Gospel to other men in patience and in love. Sanctification — whether of individuals or institutions — works no other way. And this is why the revolutionary approach (French, not American) can never work, and must always degenerate into tyranny and force of arms.
So long as the world is populated by sinners, tragedies will continue to happen. We must understand this, act in obedience (and yes, Romans 13 remains part of the Bible, subject always to the Lord), and work for better. That is our part in sanctification, after all. And while it is surely true that we will die long before this process is complete (meaning there will still be many errors and many injustices when our lives are done), it is nevertheless also true that we can move the ball down the field by acting wisely and with great discernment, and we can have a vital part in the growth of the Kingdom and betterment of our world in history. That is a great hope, and one for which we should ever be grateful (which includes a spirit of gratitude) to our King.
Sherri suggests we should have you gentlemen over sometime to discuss these and other matters in person, and outside the constraints of email. I wholly agree, although you’ll have to forgive the very constrained nature of our post-Hurricane Ivan living conditions. I think we’d all enjoy that a lot.