Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

The Most Important Political Choice Christians Will Make

Michael J. Gerson


?November 12, 2010
by Michael  J. Gerson

This is a transcript of a radio address broadcast on KDCR radio in Sioux Center, Iowa.

Across the country this month, Americans made political choices of far reaching consequence—choices about the balance of power in Washington and in state capitols.  I’ll be analyzing those choices in the weeks to come.   

But with the election over, it is also a good time to step back and consider some deeper issues.  Over the last several years, the image and reputation of Christians in politics have often been determined by their reaction to human suffering.  And that reaction has varied greatly.  

The first reaction is judgment.  I served in the White House during the attacks of September 11, 2001. I helped to write words of comfort for a shocked and grieving nation.  The immediate response of some Christian pastors was extraordinary. Two prominent leaders blamed abortionists, feminists, gays and lesbians, and the ACLU for America’s deserved punishment on 9/11. Following the recent, devastating Haitian earthquake, one leader blamed some historical Haitian pact with the devil for the deaths of 200,000 men, women and children.

Without denying that God is ultimately in charge of history, it is necessary to assert that such interpretations of tragic events are offensive and theologically unsound.  It is not immediately evident why religious leaders should have special prophetic insight into God’s purposes in history.  Or why the failures that especially offend them should count more than other sins such as pride, social injustice and indifference to the poor.    
Every nation, like every life, is a mixture of ruin and nobility.  The theologian Richard Mouw puts it this way: “The antithesis between godliness and ungodliness is very real, but is discernable not only in the larger patterns of culture, but also in the inner battlegrounds of our own souls.”  In Christian belief, God’s ultimate goal is to bring men and women into communion with himself.  His dealings with the world serve that purpose.  And God’s purpose is often advanced through redemptive suffering, which is not a punishment, but a mystery and a method of grace.  Believers share the blessings and tragedies and diseases of their neighbors and should work and pray for the good of others—not declare the suffering of their neighbors to be something deserved.

A second, more hopeful response to suffering is compassion.  While a few Christians blamed Haiti for its own earthquake, many more rushed to help the victims.  This represents, not only a different view of those who suffer, but a different view of God—the image that we see in Jesus.  The relief of suffering was essentially related to the announcement of his kingdom.  And the healing of disease played a particularly important symbolic role.  It previewed the greater healing of all creation—the end of blindness, the end of mental anguish, the end of afflictions such as leprosy that marked men and women as outcasts.  Some historians credit, in part, the rapid expansion of Christianity in the Roman Empire to the willingness of Christians to serve their neighbors in times of plague—to enter the houses of the sick when no one else would.  It is the proper way to serve a God of mercy—and to make him known to others.  And I have seen this kind of witness in many places, particularly in the developing world, particularly in the response to HIV/AIDS.  

This remains the most important political choice that Christians will make—the choice of judgment or compassion.  Nothing more vividly and directly reveals our conception of God than our response to suffering.

—Michael J. Gerson is a nationally syndicated columnist who appears twice weekly in the Washington Post and is the author of Heroic Conservatism (2007) and the co-author of City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era (2010).  

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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”