Up From Superficial Christian Compassion - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Up From Superficial Christian Compassion

There’s a refreshing Christianity Today article in which an Evangelical academic who once thought border security “callous” now argues that a “porous border is not compassionate—it is just chaotic…” He urges more funding for securing the border, explaining:

Caring for illegal immigrants is certainly a grace to the individual. But it doesn’t address the underlying problem. Indeed, when replicated on a large scale, it exacerbates the crisis. The more the church is viewed as welcoming any undocumented immigrant with open arms, the more it spurs undocumented immigration: more Central American families are broken apart, immigrants are forced into self-protection in our dangerous inner cities, and ties are strengthened between US gangs and Central American narco-networks. Moreover, Central American countries become increasingly dependent on foreign remittances at the cost of their development.

This thoughtful Evangelical’s analysis does what is increasingly rare in American Christian political witness: actually factoring unintended consequences instead of hyping superficial compassion focused on the moment. Once confined to old Social Gospel utopian liberalism, which imagined building God’s Kingdom through generous government programs, increasingly Catholics and Evangelicals sincerely advocate immediate gratification in public policy as an emblem of God’s mercy.

So Christian hospitality means sweeping amnesty for all illegal immigrants and more open borders. Christian charity means an ever more expansive, expensive social welfare state that guarantees goods and services to all who don’t work. Christian social justice means embracing every claim of racial and ethnic victimhood while offering apologies and reparations. Christian mercy means rejecting the punitive aspects of criminal justice in favor of chronic lenience towards law breaking. Christian peacemaking means protests against war making, intelligence gathering, drones, and aggressive interrogation as violations of God’s shalom. Christian nonjudgmentalism means discarding sexual morality in favor of a new highly intolerant regime of phony tolerance.

These new attitudes of superficial Christian compassion disregard long-term impact in favor of the more immediate satisfaction of applause from the beneficiaries of these ostensibly beneficent policies and, typically, approval from secular cultural elites. These new attitudes also rebut unwanted stereotypes about stern, intolerant, judgmental, and highly punitive religious authoritarians.

Such new attitudes of easy compassion pleadingly declare: Look at us! We’re not like the Christians you feared and despised in the past: Puritans with their scarlet letters. Harsh nuns slapping naughty student wrists with rulers. Fundamentalist preachers who threaten damnation for beer drinking and card playing. No, we are kind, good people, just like you, maybe even better! That these policies of superficial compassion may actually, in the long term, prove quite unintentionally cruel or destructive is not considered.

The new movie Selma has drawn controversy for portraying LBJ as opposing MLK’s aggressive push for voting rights, preferring his other agendas, like the War on Poverty. This portrayal is almost certainly unfair. But virtually ignored is the irony that LBJ in fact sincerely worked for civil rights, while his well-intentioned War on Poverty, the fruit of Social Gospel liberalism, constructed a welfare state that displaced marriage, family, charity, and the church. It unintentionally destroyed much of the black family, creating destructive pathologies that undermined many of the achievements of civil rights legislation, with painful consequences even 50 years later.

Much of superficial Christian political compassion cites the simplicity of Jesus as its justification. In a recent news release affirming the Democratic Senate Intelligence Committee’s “torture” report, the National Association of Evangelicals’ president explained: “We want to uphold the high standard of Jesus who called us to do unto others as we would have them do unto us.”

Does such a standard, interpreted to mean that people can only be treated as they prefer, allow for any form of military warfare or police coercion? Would Jesus ever handcuff anybody? Say hurtful unkindnesses, however truthful, in court? Put the convicted in prison for years? What exactly does “do unto others as we would have them do unto us” truly mean?

None of us wants to be punished for our morally faulty actions or even prevented from taking what we want. Instead, we all prefer endless affirmation and green lights for our desires. But Christian moral teaching understands that all humanity is sinful and by nature resistant to the right and the good. So sometimes prudish Puritans, frowning nuns, and disapproving preachers need to tell us no and risk our dislike.

In statecraft, governments, to perform their divinely appointed duty, can’t behave as permissive grandparents on a weekend, always dispensing candy and ice cream into the late hours. They must at times deter, enforce, punish, and sometimes kill. Jesus’ admonition to “do unto others as we would have them do unto us” is a call for moral correctness and justice, not superficial pleasing and niceness.

If I had been a terrorist ten years ago, reflecting back now with a moral sense, I would have preferred being water boarded than withholding information that left the blood of innocents on my hands. Across my years, the admonishments or punishments of parents, teachers, employers, or police officers were never welcomed or at the time appreciated as just. Only with time and reflection does the discomfort seem not only justified but helpful.

There is in American religion today a dearth of confident authority figures unafraid to speak as adults and risk the unpopular appearance of stern harshness. They emasculate their churches and urge upon the nation policies that espouse kindness but in fact hurt and destroy. If Jesus is their model, they should consider He never won any popularity contests during His brief earthly walk. Instead, He thought of consequences across generations, millennia, and eternity.

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