What should we be willing to sacrifice for a noble goal?
A few of the debates surrounding November’s election brought exactly that question to mind, but not necessarily in the way you’d think. Of course there is a valid debate possible over an appropriate division of effort and resources between different duties, but that’s not exactly what I have in mind.
Rather, the question here is when a subsidiary cause outgrows its proper importance. Take ending abortion, for example–an admirable goal for any Christian. Is it possible to become too devoted to that cause?
I submit that it is. Christians ought to oppose abortion because abortion, by taking an innocent human life, is an affront to the image of God. We oppose it because it because human beings are created in the image of God, thus every life is worthy of respect, and we know this because God’s word tells as much (although arguably it is also hinted at by natural revelation). It is the natural outworking of a Christian worldview.
What if it ceases to be? What if opposition to abortion outgrows its place as a derivative of Christianity, and instead becomes an end in itself? I think we’d all agree that if that were truly the case it would have become far too important. Is that the case?
Again, I’d answer in the affirmative, at least in a few cases. Take the presidential election: although I may have a major disagreement with those who chose to vote for Trump, I’ll allow that it was a hard choice–but that isn’t where it ended. Many Christians weren’t just willing to vote for him to stop Clinton, but actually tried to defend him. For example, some passed on one of Trump’s several alleged “conversions” during the campaign. First James Dobson reported that Paula White led Trump to the Lord (Paula White contradicted this account), then a few reports suggested that he’d had a conversion experience before the third debate. Trump himself contends that he’s always been a Christian, but also that he’s never asked for forgiveness. His behavior throughout his life and the campaign (during the campaign, rampant dishonesty) has been entirely inconsistent with any profession of faith; however, none of that stopped these people from claiming that Trump was a “baby Christian.” When pressed on the facts, few defended the clearly absurd account, and most instead responded with something along the lines of “we need to stop abortion.” In other words, the account might be indefensible, but it’s worth it to stop abortion. Is it really?
Other issues saw the same approach. For some Christians there was no slander about Clinton too vile (which is odd, considering there’s plenty of perfectly vile things about her, and little need to invent any more) and no whitewashing about Trump too absurd to believe. Trump sent his plane to pick up marine! (He didn’t.) He didn’t really use his position as owner of a pageant to sneak backstage and leer at undressed contestants. (He did.) On and on the list goes–the point is not to rehash each piece of the overwhelming body of evidence that Trump is an immoral man, but to point out the problem: for many of these people, the cause mattered so much that it mattered more than the truth.
That’s the problem. To the extent that Christians have a political agenda, it is a result of the teachings of Christianity. If the pursuit of any part of the political agenda–even ending abortion–becomes so important that it warrants abandoning other elements of Christian teaching, like the command not to bear false witness, it has ceased to be an outworking of a system of morality and come to define morality itself.
It isn’t so much that professing Christians were willing to vote for Trump–again, that was a hard choice–but what they were willing to do to see him elected.
When in the pursuit of a noble goal you sacrifice the reason you set out after the goal in the first place, you’ve sacrificed too much.