You never want to waste a good crisis. That is true in politics and religion and any other field that values ideology, that values one thing over another or one thing in place of another. As Christians we know that the Lord often uses times of crisis to call people to himself, that when people are weak, he remains strong and reveals himself as strong. Of course if God uses crisis, so must Satan. In those times of intense difficulty we may be more aware than ever of the cosmic battle that wages around and inside us.
I have been thinking of the value of crisis as I have watched Americans grapple with President Obama’s recent mandate that demands that almost all employers and health insurance companies provide free contraceptives, up to and including contraceptives that cause (or can cause) abortions. The outrage to this mandate is multi-faceted. On the one hand it forces employers and insurance companies to violate conscience in providing contraceptives for those who are opposed to all forms of birth control, or abortifacient birth control for those who have no objection to preventive contraceptives. In either case, it ignores the separation of church and state that is so integral to America; with this mandate government forces violation of religious conscience.
This is a true crisis and I feel great sympathy for Americans as they wrestle with the implications and call for this bill to be abandoned. I would do the same if I lived south of the border.
As my friends to the south deal with this crisis, I want to offer a word of advice or encouragement: Please do not forget that there are many people who will seek to take advantage of this crisis in order to advance their agenda. Please keep fighting against this injustice, but do be careful how you fight and who it is you fight with.
I was not surprised that one of the first and loudest objections came from Charles Colson. He is, after all, a cultural commentator and a leader within evangelicalism. He and Timothy George worked together to pen a piece for Christianity Today they titled First They Came for the Catholics. Acknowledging that this crisis was first advanced against the Roman Catholic Church and their hard [official] stance against contraception, Colson and George said, “We evangelicals must stand unequivocally with our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters. Because when the government violates the religious liberty of one group, it threatens the religious liberty of all.” They are right, of course, that violating the religious liberty of one group violates the religious liberty of all. But note their underlying assumption that Roman Catholics are brothers and sisters. Rick Warren offered a very similar note via Twitter: “I’m not a Catholic but I stand in 100% solidarity with my brothers and sisters to practice their belief against government pressure.”
The solutions Colson and George propose revolves around The Manhattan Declaration, a document that has already been much debated since its 2009 release. This document was framed around three cultural and biblical issues: the sanctity of life, the meaning of marriage, and religious liberty. It has been a while since most of us have thought of the Declaration, but a crisis like this one brings it right back to the forefront. After all, today’s crisis treads upon two of those three issues: the sanctity of life and religious liberty. It is exactly the kind of crisis that make that Declaration appear relevant and necessary.
Yet that Declaration is dangerous, and particularly so in the way it does damage to the gospel. You may want to revisit R.C. Sproul’s article Why Didn’t R.C. Sproul Sign the Manhattan Declaration?. The heart of his objection is this: “The Manhattan Declaration confuses common grace and special grace by combining them. While I would march with the bishop of Rome and an Orthodox prelate to resist the slaughter of innocents in the womb, I could never ground that cobelligerency on the assumption that we share a common faith and a unified understanding of the gospel.” John MacArthur’s reasoning is much the same: “Support for The Manhattan Declaration would not only contradict the stance I have taken since long before the original ‘Evangelicals and Catholics Together’ document was issued; it would also tacitly relegate the very essence of gospel truth to the level of a secondary issue.” Whatever was true of that Declaration in 2009 is true today.
I cannot speak of the motives of Colson and George, not without some speculation, but I do know that we do well to be alert. Their desire to lower the wall between Evangelicals and Roman Catholics–the wall of the gospel of salvation by grace through faith alone–is well-documented. Don’t think that they will allow today’s crisis to go to waste. There may be times for cobelligerency, to fight side-by-side with people who are on the other side of the gospel divide. This may even be such a time. But please remember that these are times to be more careful than ever, to continue to preach those gospel truths to yourself, and to ensure that the gospel is never, ever minimized or compromised. The more we labor with people on the other side of that gospel divide, the more we are prone to allow our similarities on non-gospel issues to blur our differences on the gospel itself.
I know that in times like this many Christians look for leadership, they look for trusted leaders to help them think through the issues so they know what to do. My encouragement is to take your cues from a few trusted individuals, people who have earned the right to be heard. In times like this so many of us turn to men like John MacArthur and R.C. Sproul and ask their help. These are men who have a long history of ensuring that the gospel remains central, men who have always valued truth over popularity, who have been willing to stand firm on truth. If this crisis continues without quick and happy resolution, I hope we will hear from men like MacArthur and Sproul who are specially gifted to help us interpret this time and help us know how to act.
For now, tread carefully, pray earnestly, hold tightly to the gospel, and remind yourself that no one wants to waste a good crisis. Through it all, know that Christ has already conquered and even this is under his complete and total sovereignty. In some way, at some time, he will glorify himself in it and through it.