Part II – Toward an Evangelical Methodology
Chapter 9 – Citizenship, Civil Society, and the Church.
By Joseph Loconte, William E. Simon in Religion and a Free Society at the Heritage Foundation, commentator for National Public Radio, and author.
I found this essay more polemic than most in the book. It focuses on the importance of religion to maintain a healthy democracy. Loconte believes the most distinctive contribution America has made to democracy is “…freedom of religion as the brick and mortar of civic and political life." (195) He writes that the two sides of Christian activism are “the believer as prophet (challenging social and political evils) and Good Samaritan (caring for those in need).” (195)
Loconte believes that “widespread historical amnesia” has hit Americans and we must recover our roots. He is concerned that ideals of virtue, service, justice and love have been abandoned for one of two responses: "To withdraw into a completely privatized faith” or “to publicly condemn sin without performing acts of mercy.” (196)
Madison’s Religious Revolution
Loconte gives a brief account of James Madison’s role in forming the US Constitution and in shaping early attitudes toward the free exercise of religion. Among other things, Loconte notes that “…Madison saw cultural and economic progress as the fruit of religious liberty.” (197)
A Virtuous Education
Loconte shows that public education began as Sunday schools in churches in the early nineteenth century. They strove to teach basic literacy and give moral instruction. The idea of non-religious education was unimaginable. After the Civil War, the mission of the schools began to erode as “Humanistic” ideas and morality supplanted Christian theology. “Today the idea that democratic education ought to be anchored in religious values is considered subversive.” (199) There is a belief that,
The greater the influence of religion over children and families, the less interested they are in public education or in promoting the public goals of civility and citizenship. (199)
Loconte maintains that all the evidence points to the contrary. He shows that evangelical Christians are disproportionately involved in both public and private education, from PTA to tutoring programs. Private religious institutions turnout graduates with a high measure of civic responsibility and a better understanding of the role of religion in the nation’s history.
The Armies of Compassion
Loconte goes on to give an overview of how evangelical Christians, past and present, have been central to providing the social safety net in America. He recounts a history of movements and accomplishments over the history of the nation. He closes noting that scholars affirm that religious institutions are by far the most effective at transforming people’s lives.
Prophets and Politics
Loconte gives a history of American Christians speaking and acting prophetically against a number of injustices including dispossession of land owned by American Indians, slavery, women denied the right to vote, child exploitation and denial of Civil Rights.
Standing in the Breach
Loconte believes that too much time and energy is wasted by Christians today in pursuit of peripheral issues.
“Why, for example, are some so intent on hanging the Ten Commandments in government buildings, reintroducing formal prayers in public schools, or slipping Nativity scenes onto public property? These are the trappings of faith, not the substance. … Preserving the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance may be worth a fight, but what about reintroducing students to America’s religious history in the public school curriculum?” (208)
Of liberal Christianity he writes,
They confuse the separation of church and state with the separation of faith from life. Liberalism treats traditional religion not as civic virtue, but as a civic virus – a source of oppression and social strife. (208-209)
Loconte closes by reiterating that having Christians involved in the "public square" is necessary for a healthy American democracy.
(This is the end of "Part II – Toward an Evangelical Methodology." Next we turn to "Part III - Central Themes for an Evangelical Framework.")