How the Clintons Test Patrick Henry Students

Dear Hanna,

I suppose the test of a good debate is that it leaves you wanting more. That will likely be the case here because there is so much left to say. But we will save that for another time.

Your radio experience sounds interesting—congratulations on your new ministry. Seriously, though, I know what it is like when people don’t read your book. People are still stunned when they read Tempting Faith and discover it was a very personal spiritual memoir, with only four or five chapters devoted to the White House stuff.

Let me start by quoting something I wrote in my last note:

I am not saying that Christians shouldn’t have a political voice. They should. But they should do it as citizens with opinions in public policy and not as “Christians” presuming they have Jesus’ answer to problems—because on virtually every position, they do not. It is perfectly possible to be a Bible-believing, Jesus-loving, born-again Christian and have different perspectives on everything from abortion to Iraq. And that perspective is what is missing from Patrick Henry.

I am not advocating—and haven’t ever advocated—any kind of permanent evangelical withdrawal from politics. What I am saying, however, is that evangelicals need to change the nature of their involvement and the language of their involvement for spiritual and intellectual reasons.

Patrick Henry seems particularly intent on teaching that Jesus dictates social policy and therefore whom, and what party, to vote for. This kind of thinking isn’t just spiritually sloppy—it’s intellectually sloppy. It allows its students to get by without having to learn the ins and outs of public policy. “Jesus said it, that’s good enough for me,” isn’t the way to engage in politics. Evangelicals should be the first to recognize this, because the greatest successes Christians have had in politics have been because their faith has been matched by their knowledge—think William Wilberforce and the abolition of slavery in Britain, think the civil rights movement, think Vietnam. Schools like Patrick Henry need to fight against rather than encourage this approach. That made it all the more disturbing to read of professors who felt that way being shown the door.

Spiritually, evangelicals need to make it clear (and understand, in some cases) that they can have passionate public-policy opinions without presenting them as holy writ. Why? Because in doing so, they give to the world a Jesus known not by his love and sacrifice but by his political stridency. Believe it or not, Jesus never said, “Blessed are the tax cutters for they shall keep more of their money.”

We who call ourselves Jesus’ followers need to remember once more that our hope isn’t set in creating the best social policy or saving America through politics. Our hope and our job, as my friend Greg Boyd says, is “to individually and corporately imitate Jesus in sacrificially serving the world—including our enemies. This is where our time and energy should be spent. And this is where all of our hope for the world should be placed.” This is the message that Patrick Henry desperately needs to teach. It is a hard and costly message and not a very popular one. I chafe at it daily … hourly … all the time. It got Jesus killed.

You ended your note challenging me to show you that these kids can change. OK.

I’ve seen it among some men and women I know in their 20s who went to a very conservative Christian college and who came to D.C. to work in politics. Over the past several years, I’ve seen them grow in a church where the pastor says he knows they would welcome and love Hillary Clinton, were she to come to a service, as much as they would George W. Bush. I’ve actually seen them up on the altar surrounding, in loving prayer, a Democratic senator who also attends the church. And one of these guys e-mailed me the other day to say he had read Bill Clinton’s new book and loved it—no matter how much he was appalled by that thought.

Will there always be a certain number of political warriors for Christ? Sure. But there is another story—perhaps you can make it your next book—developing out there in evangelical circles about kids more concerned about serving others in Africa than engaging in political wars. This isn’t a “run behind the gates” detachment. These kids are just acutely aware of the limits of politics. And when “your” kids at Patrick Henry start crossing paths with these older, wiser guys, a lot of the youngsters will change. They won’t be a “delta force” for conservative politics much longer.