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Most of the WORLD columns I've written this year have also been published by my local daily newspaper, the Austin American-Statesman. Since East Coast reporters, when they find out I hail from Austin, almost invariably say, "that's a great town," you might suspect that we live in Texas's one very liberal city.
The Statesman is also very liberal, so my columns create consternation in some Austin households that are not used to seeing any Bible-based writing on their breakfast tables. "Asinine," "extremist," "idiotic," "obtuse," and "unsavory," are five of the words that appear in frequent letter-to-the-editor denunciations, and I've forgotten the ones that begin with consonants.
Interestingly, those same columns printed in WORLD--calm and thoughtful, according to my wife--rarely generate much mail. (The Soul Food columns of Bill Smith and R.C. Sproul Jr. are our big winners in the controversy derby.) Concepts that are common-sensical for biblical Christians are nonsensical for the blind--and apart from God's grace we too would be blind.
Letters to the WORLD Mailbag are generally coherent, and they often raise good questions, such as one two weeks ago about how we can be both pro-life and in favor of putting some convicted criminals to death. That particular one is easy: Primarily, we follow the Bible in seeing this as justice; secondarily, putting to death a murderer can save other lives.
That letter also implied a larger question: Why isn't WORLD a liberal publication? Why do we favor many positions identified with conservatism?
Here's a quick look at our reasoning, which starts with this belief: We are Christian soldiers, but our war is not against flesh and blood.
If it were within our power to create a new Israel in America and gain total victory over evil, a conservative stance would be inadequate: Our duty would be to go for the gusto. That illusion, however, should not dominate us.
We believe that triumph will come only when Christ returns. Our duty until then is faithful perseverance in the containment of sin--and strong societal institutions are crucial to this containment policy.
Good churches, with their emphasis on strong biblical preaching and teaching, and on the worship, sacraments, and service commanded by God, obviously are central. But other institutional gifts of God--marriage, family, and work in particular--also restrain sin, and should not be harassed.
Our beef with liberals is that for a generation they have used government to harass those institutions. Look at welfare's war on family, the Supreme Court's assault on unborn children, the government's interference with parental rights, and the tens of thousands of regulations that hamstring the freedom to work.
Liberals have turned government from a tool of God for the punishment of wrongdoing into a promoter of evil. They have worked to harass "repressive" institutions because by doing so they believe that the natural "goodness" of man will be liberated. They have ignored objective truth and made subjectivity (as in the freedom to choose abortion) the established, idolatrous religion.
We don't see common ground between 1990s liberalism and biblical belief. We do see, though, the opportunity to work with some conservatives in piling up sandbags against the liberal flood, and then retaking lost ground.
We're not blind to heavy burdens that the word "conservative" carries. The Social Darwinist variety of conservatism--humanity evolves economically through survival of the financially fittest and elimination of the poor--turned its back on the needy in the past, and still sups with racism.
And yet, the conservative movement of the past two decades, with its strong Christian saltiness, has relegated Social Darwinism to one small corner. Conservatives now generally emphasize individual character, not group identity; quota-favoring liberals are the ones more prone to fall into racism.
Conservatives generally understand that progress comes one by one from the inside out, as Glenn Loury puts it, not million by million from the top down.
Conservatives, like liberals, like all of us, are sinners, but conservatives who privately defend sin at least do not try to use governmental force to push others to sin; liberals do.
Conservatives who are not Christians do not understand the origins and true nature of sin, but they see some of its consequences and are unlikely to buy government-surplus stain removers that in practice grind the evil deeper into the social fabric.
That's why, to use Francis Schaeffer's term, we can be co-belligerents with conservatives.
Hope this helps. If not, keep the cards and letters coming.