Driving home in my car just now I turned my radio on to the local Christian talk station just in time for the Jay Sekulow Live program. The topic of discussion for today was tax reform. Even though it is not the topic I want to write about, nor what I really want to discuss here, I will come out and say it right up front anyway, since I imagine some commenters will want to direct the conversation that way anyway: I am not, in general, a big fan of the Jay Sekulow show. The main reason why I am not has to do primarily with the topic of my article: I do not believe it is generally a good idea for specifically Christian ministries to focus their time and energy on political issues over which biblically orthodox Christians may legitimately differ.
Now that I have gotten that bit of information out in the open, let me back up a little to clarify that: 1) this article is not specifically about Jay Sekulow; 2) it is not specifically about tax reform; and, 3) it is not specifically about Christian radio (though that is getting a little closer, perhaps, to the main point I want to talk about here). The truth of the matter is I don’t personally have an axe to grind one way or another about tax reform. I am not totally sure what I feel about various tax reform options. And if another Christian program were to present the opposite political view to that of Jay Sekulow on tax reform, it would bother me just as much as when Jay Sekulow presents his view.
And it is not that I am totally disinterested in the topic of tax reform. I agree that it is a valid point of discussion on which many different people, Christian and non-Christian alike, have perspectives that are worthy of hearing and taking into account. I agree that it is an important topic that merits serious discussion in general. And while I may not necessarily be a fan of a good amount of secular political talk radio–whether of the right-wing variety or the left-wing variety–I do think it is a good thing that the airwaves are free for various commenters to air their opinions on these matters. But I think there has been an unhealthy tendency in the the past, let’s say, thirty years for Christian ministries to venture out into the realm of offering opinions in the name of Christ, the Church, and Evangelical Christianity that are best offered in different venues and with different implications.
Let me unpack that a bit. I think it is perfectly fine for individual Christians to have opinions on any number of issues that the Bible and our specifically Christian religious beliefs do not directly address. In this respect, Jay Sekulow has just as much of a right, and indeed a prerogative, to defend his personal views on tax reform as any other free American citizen. And the fact that he publicly identifies as a Christian does not in any way disqualify him from doing so. But it seems to me that the fact that he presents his program and ministry as a specifically Christian ministry carries along with it the tacit understanding that the views he propagates on his program are views that can be defended from the Bible and views that he not only considers politically correct but also biblically correct.
Now perhaps Sekulow (along with many other Christian interlocutors who defend a wide array of political positions on a number of different issues) has some sort of convoluted biblical defense of his particular take on tax reform that he can pull out of his coat pocket if asked to do so. But I am not personally convinced there is any clear biblical position one way or the other on the particular issues at stake in the contemporary discussion on American tax reform.
If he wants to talk about abortion, I am right there with him–though there may be several different valid political approaches toward working to limit and eliminate abortion from our midst, and I would be opposed to anathematizing or excoriating fellow believers in Christ who advocate other political approaches. If he wants to talk about a Christian understanding of marriage, or what the Bible teaches about the sin of homosexuality and other sexual sins, I am right there with him as well. As Christian ministers, we need to give the full counsel of God, without holding back, even on issues that may be considered controversial in our society. If he wants to talk about immigration (though, from what I gather, I may likely disagree with some of his views on this topic), I likewise think that is a valid point of discussion for a Christian program or ministry to address. But there are a whole slew of issues that I am convinced are not specifically Christian or biblical issues with regard to which I think it is vitally important to clearly delineate between personal political opinions and purportedly orthodox religious opinions.
I think what I am proposing here is related to Paul’s admonition to the Corinthians to not go “beyond what is written” (1 Corinthians 4:6). Ultimately, arguing in the name of Christ, the Church, or Evangelical Christianity for debatable positions on topics the Bible does not clearly address draws a line in the sand that serves to divide the Body of Christ over matters that ought not to divide us. I also think that a large degree of friction and abrasiveness within the Body of Christ that has also infected our society at large in recent years can be traced to the tendency of many Christian ministries to do just this–to go “beyond what is written.”
On the other hand, it is not hard for me to understand how or why this has happened. We live in a media-soaked society in which controversial political posturing generally raises ratings and sells advertising. In Christian ministry, taking public views on this or that issue may well help to build a donor base, compile a mailing list, and rally the constituents. And in many ways and on many topics vital Christian voices have often been ostracized from the public square. We should indeed be legitimately reluctant to hand over the mike on all public policy issues to everyone but biblical Christians.
But I believe it is important to choose our battles wisely. When we cultivate the habit of pontificating on every issue that crosses the airwaves, we concurrently lose our prophetic edge on those issues that really matter from the perspective of eternity. When I get to heaven and am asked to give an account of how I lived my life on earth, I don’t believe I am going to be asked about how I defended my view on tax reform.
Once again, this is not to say that we as Christians ought to isolate ourselves from society at large and not contribute to discussions on everyday issues on which fellow citizens who are not Christians also participate. There is a time and a place for Christian legislators, attorneys, doctors, business executives, scientists, etc., to express their opinions on current issues debated in their respective fields of inquiry. The rub is when you express your personal view in such a way that it comes across as if you are speaking for the Church at large.