I recently had the opportunity to hear a lecture by Dr. Marvin Olasky entitled “Rafting the Political Rapids,” hosted by the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University.
Olasky is editor-in-chief of the World News Group, the Distinguished Chair in Journalism and Public Policy at Patrick Henry College, and Dean of the World Journalism Institute. He has written over 3,000 articles and 18 books and is credited with a substantial influence on the policies of George W. Bush, later known as “compassionate conservatism.”
Olasky argues that we need to fight relativism with countercultural Christianity, while successfully “rafting the political rapids” and avoiding obstacles to ostracize others. According to what he describes as the “high places” of our society, personal autonomy is becoming our new idol.
To reflect the relativistic trend, Olasky quotes Justice Harry Blackmun’s dissenting opinion in Bowers v. Hardwick. Justice Blackmun refers to the ”moral fact that a person belongs to himself and not others nor to society as a whole.” This concept directly contrasts with Christianity’s ethic of service and countercultural model of humility.
Some interpret this need for a Christian counterculture as a mandate for pastors to become involved in the political realm, strongly advocating their positions through their networks and influence. Olasky disagrees, saying,
“Pastors should concentrate on the gospel and should not be politicians-in-chief. … High places are culturally powerful, and pastors have a bigger job to do.”
This is not to argue that politics should be ignored. Political advocacy and decisions are vital components of our society, but they should be decentralized throughout a plurality of organizations. This avoids a concentration of power in the church or the state, preventing a theocratic or totalitarian society.
Journalists and the right to a free press play an important role in this political system of checks and balances, Olasky argues. When these rights are suppressed, we continue trending toward a culture of centralization, which can result in dangerous consequences because of our tendency to corrupt power and make idols of ourselves.
There are “six classes of biblical rapids,” according to Olasky. The first, or easiest, class to navigate is composed of moral questions that are explicitly answered by the Bible. An example of an issue in this class would be faithfulness in marriage. There is a clear, biblical argument against Christians engaging in adultery.
In the middle, the third class of rapids includes more difficult issues such as helping the poor. For example, do we give money to the homeless person on the street? In order to make a decision on this issue, we should attempt to recognize whether the person “wants to get well,” discerning where God leads us in terms of understanding the person’s motivations behind asking for money.
The sixth, or most dangerous, class of rapids concerns issues that have no real biblical command. For example, the Bible does not offer guidance on where toll roads should be built. In these issues, Olasky argues we should refrain from taking hardline positions in the name of Christianity and focus on balance, respect, and understanding.
Olasky especially stressed the importance of respectful associations with those we may disagree with, even while standing firm in our principles. He says,
“What’s not helpful at all is when Christians refuse to have any business dealings with gay people.”
We should embrace the political rapids, not fear them. However, we must also exercise caution in articulating our positions so we do not assert a biblical authority in the “class six” issues. Olasky recognizes that we need to place our trust in a higher power, not relying on politics as our Savior for the future.