Freedom, Not Force: When It Comes To Evangelism, Cal Thomas Recommends The Power Of Persuasion

Government-enforced theology can’t change what’s in people’s hearts.

Cal Thomas used to be the Rev. Jerry’s Falwell’s PR man at the Moral Majority. He has written a number of books promoting far-right political views. He opposes legal abortion and is anti-gay.

Yet he recently penned a syndicated column that I agree with 100 percent. My head just might explode.

Thomas commented on the flap that erupted during the recent Values Voter Summit when the Rev. Robert Jeffress of the First Baptist Church of Dallas attacked candidate Mitt Romney’s Mormonism and implied that evangelicals should support a “born-again follower of the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Jeffress was referring to Texas Gov. Rick Perry.)

Thomas has a problem with this. Voters, he suggests, would do better to focus less on where a candidate worships and look instead at his or her plans for the nation.

“The 2012 election, in fact every election, ought not to be about if, how, or what a candidate worships, but on his (or her) ability to do the job,” writes Thomas. “If I am in need of surgery, it may be of some interest to me what religion, if any, the surgeon happens to believe in, but I am far more interested in how many of his former patients are still among the living.”

Thomas notes that pastors from the left and the right have long commented on the issues of the day. That’s not a problem, he points out. But wading into electoral politics is. Thomas opposes church politicking because he considers it a threat to the church.

“It is when preachers start endorsing or opposing candidates based on their perception of who is God’s choice that serious problems arise,” Thomas writes. “It suggests, especially to the non-believers in the world, that the Kingdom of God is part of an earthly kingdom. The result is a loss of power for that unseen Kingdom, which is the only one that can transform a life and, thus, a culture.”

To be fair to Thomas, I should point out that about a decade ago, he began reconsidering some of his old positions on the relationship between religion and government. Thomas came to believe that government-enforced theology can’t change what’s in people’s hearts. If you want to change the culture, he began telling his fellow evangelicals, then spread the word about faith and bring it to people through voluntary channels.

Thomas even coauthored a thoughtful book titled Blinded By The Might: Why the Religious Right Can’t Save America.

This didn’t go down too well with some of Thomas’ old Religious Right compatriots, who argued that he was advocating surrender in the “culture wars” or a disengagement from politics. But that wasn’t what Thomas was saying at all. He was merely arguing that the government can’t force people to adopt a certain morality. He challenged evangelicals to live their morality and, through example, persuade others to adopt it. He argued that moral suasion, not force, is the best way to spread a certain theological view.

Thomas is right. When I attend Religious Right meetings (like the Values Voters Summit), I see vivid examples of a moral system based on hate, division and fear. I see a repressive theology that has to demand enforcement by the state because most people don’t want to adopt it voluntarily. Not surprisingly, this doesn’t appeal to me.

Intolerant statements like Jeffress’ and the constant meddling in partisan politics that is popular among some Religious Right pastors does nothing to advance the cause of conservative Christianity. In fact, it retards it. Thomas understands this. I wish more of his conservative evangelical brethren did.