Political Exegesis: on Mulligans and Turning Cheeks by Mark Galli

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We at CT are reluctant to enter the political fray on most issues because they rarely touch on core causes or issues for us. But when fellow evangelicals start exegeting and applying Scripture in the public square, we think we have something to add to the conversation. Two recent comments by evangelical leaders deserve comment.

The first comes from the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins in an interview with Politico reporter Edward-Isaac Dovere:

Evangelical Christians, says Perkins, “were tired of being kicked around by Barack Obama and his leftists. And I think they are finally glad that there’s somebody on the playground that is willing to punch the bully.”

What happened to turning the other cheek? I ask.

“You know, you only have two cheeks,” Perkins says. “Look, Christianity is not all about being a welcome mat which people can just stomp their feet on.”

This has received a fair amount of criticism, including from Christians like this:

As I understand Perkins here, there is a limit to Christianity. You can follow it so far, but when it doesn’t work to get power in the situation, you resort to whatever tactics might be necessary.

To be fair to Perkins, however, the call to turn the other cheek is not a universal guideline for Christian behavior. It is a very good guideline in many, many situations, and one Christians should instinctively start with. But it doesn’t take deep imagination to recognize that Jesus does not call us to simply absorb evil in every instance. He certainly didn’t. He called out the Pharisees in the strongest language—“hypocrites,” “blind fools,” “sons of vipers” (Matt. 23)—and he turned over the tables in the Temple and drove out the money changers with a whip (John 2:15).

In the same vein, we rightly tell women they should not simply turn the other cheek when a man sexually assaults them. Similarly, African Americans who are abused by the system should fight for justice. And so on and so forth. Christianity is not a passive faith in the face of evil, but one that encourages and models courage and standing up to evil, along with the virtues of patience and forbearance.

This is one reason being a Christian is so hard at times. It takes a fair amount of wisdom to discern when and how these various virtues come into play in any given situation. I’m making a larger exegetical point here: We Christians should not reflexively default to one set of virtues when we’re trying to craft or critique public policy. So formally Perkins is right to suggest that.

That being said, I don’t happen to agree with Perkins that in this instance the best way to respond to “Obama and his leftists” is to “punch the bully,” which he thinks Trump is doing on behalf of Christians in many instances. I think we usually lose credibility with any ideological “enemy” when we, or another on our behalf, respond like that. We often do better to “kiss the bully,” so to speak, that is, disarm our opponents with unexpected kindness. But as noted, I can think of other situations where punching the bully is actually the best response.

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Source: Christianity Today