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Public Theology: Face-Off on Moral Values
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Face-Off on Moral Values
Articles written for the Spring Hill Review, a journal of culture in the Pacific Northwest.

Lucy S. R. Austen is the editor of the Spring Hill Review, a small journal of Pacific Northwest culutre, circulation 6,100. She wrote to me asking that I write articles for their "Face-Off" feature on the role of moral values in the 2004 election. Initial articles were to be written by myself and Joe Fuiten, senior pastor of Cedar Park Church in Bothell, Washington, and then follow-up articles in response. Pastor Fuiten actively worked for the re-election of George Bush as indicated in this article in the Seattle Times.


Initial article by Ed Knudson:

Why the Religious Right is Wrong

The religious right elected George W. Bush on November 2, 2004. At least, leaders of that political movement want to so believe. They can then pressure him to act on their two favorite issues, opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage. Exit polls indicate that twenty-two percent of those interviewed said their vote was based on “moral values”. Let’s take a quick look at where the religious right comes from, what they believe, what they want, and why they are ultimately wrong.

The United States has seen several religious revivalist movements in its past. The current religious right has its origins among white Southern Protestants who organized private schools as a reaction to the Supreme Court decision to integrate public schools. These folks were brought together by their common fights with the IRS over funding of their schools. Television evangelists emerged in the 1970s and 1980s and were able to develop a national audience, including Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, both also located in the South. With passage of Civil Rights acts in the 1960s the South switched parties, from Democrat to Republican; the most important Republican leaders come from the South. So the religious right is the way the moral values of the South, including its rejection of racial equality, have become influential in public life today. Though explicit racism is rejected in public rhetoric, it continues to be a key factor in political campaigns.

The religious right can best be understood historically as a great backlash to the 1960s. Not only did black people receive civil rights but young people revolted against traditional authorities to protest war and explore alternative life styles. Then the environmental and women’s equality movements began. Conservative columnist George Will has said he is very happy for the decade of the 60s because Republicans have been able to successfully ride the backlash ever since.

The changing role of women is perhaps the deepest or most radical change opposed by the religious right. Because women are beneath men in the right’s understanding of moral order they should not be allowed to choose an abortion, should generally remain at home, should not enjoy access to government-sponsored child care and social services, should especially not be allowed to engage in legally-approved lesbian relationships. Those who have abortions, promiscuous teen-age girls or career-oriented women, are the special targets of religious right rage.

The religious right is led by authoritarian pastors who claim to know God’s will through biblical laws (fundamentalists such as Southern Baptists) or through direct revelation (Pentecostals such as the Assemblies of God). But they selectively read the bible to find passages supporting their particular conservative interpretations. It is my own view that the religious right is led by political opportunists who have found they can successfully build large churches and raise lots of money by agitating against abortion, homosexuals, so-called secular humanists, and open urban life styles.

The fact that a particular political party has sought the votes of the religious right has given it legitimacy far beyond what it could otherwise have gained on its own. The religious right has made it possible for that party to move even further to the radical right to oppose nearly all progressive legislation since the New Deal of Franklin Roosevelt, to oppose social welfare spending and environmental protections, to support privatization and deregulation allowing private companies more and more power over people without protection from government, to oppose the United Nations. Republicans today oppose workplace safety, worker organizing, social, medical, educational services, and promote tax policies which are dramatically shifting the tax burden from the wealthy and corporations to wage earners. Since the constituencies of the religious right are lower and middle income wage earners, the very people who benefit from progressive policies and programs, the pastors of the religious right are betraying the interests of their own people by encouraging them to vote based on narrow conservative “values” issues.

For anyone who affirms historic liberal values such as “liberty and justice for all” as we say in the pledge of allegiance, the religious right is wrong.


Initial article from Joe Fuiten:

In America today, if you ask the average political science major, what Conservatism means, they would likely rattle off a number of positions associated with Conservative political candidates or perhaps the Republican party; positions like: lower taxes, lower social spending, a strong national defense, and traditional values like protecting marriage as between one man and one woman and pro-Life legislation. And they wouldn’t be far off the mark. Conservatism does indeed support all those ideals. But Conservatism is much more than a litany of policy positions.

Conservatism is a system of thought regarding many aspects of life, particularly societal relations and civic government which flows directly from the Judeo-Christian world view that shaped Western Civilization. Key aspects of the Judeo-Christian world view Conservatism draws on and addresses are 1) the inherent sinful nature of man 2)the existence of real good and evil and an objective moral law 3) man derives his value from God, not himself. For over a millennium, Conservatism was forged in parallel with Western civilization, was incubated in Europe, and eventually gave rise to the United States with two of the most important Conservative documents: the Declaration of Independence, and Constitution of the United States where the three principles listed above are clearly evident. In the belief that our founding documents will never become cliché, we include a section from the Declaration of Independence, ”We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” (emphasis added). Here we see the founders relied on their belief in a Christian God who bestows value and rights to humanity. Here is a passage from the Constitution, “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” Here we see the concept of an objective moral law and the sinful nature of man – which requires police and a military to subdue. We also see perhaps the two most abused words in the Constitution, “General Welfare” – which merely means that laws should be applied equally to all citizens of the United States.

It is the same set of principles we see throughout the founding documents of the United States that Conservatives appeal to today in their arguments defending the policy positions which open the article against Liberalism – which flows from the ideas of men like Marx, Freud, and Darwin. Conservatives want lower taxes because the objective moral law we believe in says it is wrong to routinely take from those who earn wealth to give it to those who don’t; a strong defense because when sin rises to the level of ‘the evil empire’ it must be opposed with force; real marriage because it is part of the moral law, a cornerstone of society upon which the civil government relies, and essential for children; reversing Roe vs. Wade because the rights established by the moral law are hierarchical. Liberalism in its essence is a rejection of not just conservative policies, but the principles they derive from – primarily the existence of an objective moral law.


Response from Ed Knudson:

I’m sure Pastor Fuiten is a good person doing good work in his local congregation. But I must respond to this one article, and his writing exhibits serious misunderstandings of moral and political philosophy along with dangerous disregard for a proper separation of church and state.

Fuiten claims the Declaration of Independence and Constitution are “conservative documents” based on the Judeo-Christian world view. He ignores the period in philosophy known as the Enlightenment during which the ideas underlying these documents were formulated providing the basis for the American and French revolutions. Thomas Jefferson and other founders were much influenced by these liberal ideas, centering on individual liberty over-against structural authority of priests and kings. In the period before the Revolutionary War to be conservative was to be in favor of obedience to the English king and opposed to independence for the colonies.

When Thomas Jefferson refers to God in the Declaration he was not referring to God the Trinity but the God of deism, a false God for Christians. As a Christian pastor Fuiten should be much more careful about what God he encourages people to worship. When Jefferson ran for president in 1800 the Christian churches fiercely opposed him for just that reason. Sloppy thinking about this matter is one of the reasons religious conservatism is questioned by those holding to historic and orthodox Christian faith.

The word God was intentionally omitted from the Constitution. This issue was strongly debated at the time, Christians lost. This country was founded as a pluralistic, secular society. It was precisely to avoid the religious wars following the Reformation that the founders wanted no religious test for holders of public office.

The Constitution begins “We the people…” reflecting liberal belief that human beings can come together to form a government for themselves without reference to God, a positive view of human capability, not that “man is inherently sinful.” Pastor Fuiten and I may agree with the doctrine of original sin, but that notion is not in the constitution. There was a wide variety of beliefs among the founders; for just that reason they did not want to enshrine any particular religious belief. Pastor Fuiten would do well to read the book “Political Liberalism” by John Rawls which demonstrates how American political institutions are not designed to be able to mediate among competing religious views each claiming to be universal.

This does not mean that Christians should not be involved in politics. I believe they should be critically engaged in public life. But they must be faithful to a full vision of what God wants for all people, justice and peace and mercy for all the world’s people whom God loves. Pastor Fuiten uses the phrase “objective moral law” but then refers to marriage and abortion as examples and says taxing the wealthy is a form of stealing. This reflects a very limited view of morality and an extremely naïve view of how economics and politics actually function. The Jesus Christ I know had real compassion for people, especially the lowly, the poor, the powerless. Now that this country has become the sole superpower in a world of massive inequality it seems to me that those who believe in Jesus should be ready to question how this country uses its military, economic, and political power. It is particularly dangerous to claim that this superpower is a Christian nation and that God is always on our side. To do so, indeed, verges on blasphemy. The Christian God is a God of all nations and it is to that God that Christian churches should witness. It is not a question of conservative or liberal, it is a matter of faithfulness.


Response from Joe Fuiten:


Here is the original request for an article:

Name: Lucy S. R. Austen
Subject: Article Request

I edit Spring Hill Review, a small (circulation approximately 6,100) journal of Pacific Northwest culture, published and distributed in Southwest Washington State. SHR is an eclectic mixture of non-fiction, fiction, poetry, and artwork. Each month, we run a popular feature called "Face-Off," in which two writers with different perspectives on a subject of regional interest each write two articles—the first article (700 words or less) stating their position, the second (600 words or less) responding to the other writer’s initial arguments.

Since the presidential election in November, there’s been a hue and cry over the idea of moral values—who has them, who doesn’t, and what they are. We’re currently pursuing a Face-Off on a question that seems to be at the heart of the debate: When you boil the conservative and liberal ideologies down to their essences—when you go beyond the issues to the philosophical core of their worldview—what is the crucial difference between conservatives and liberals? Would Pastor Knudson, or someone else associated with Public Theology, be interested in writing for us in an upcoming Face-Off, addressing that question, and explaining why he or she comes down on the side that they do?

Let me know if you have any questions. Thank you for your time--I look forward to your response.

Sincerely, Lucy S. R. Austen Editor Spring Hill Review

Please Comment - See More Articles in this Section - Submitted By: 5520

Date Added: 12/20/2004 Date Revised: 12/20/2004 4:19:02 PM

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