First Things First in Politics

The following article was written by James M. Kushiner, executive editor of Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity.

Several years ago, the National Council of Churches identified “ten non-partisan, biblically based guidelines” for voters: war/conflict, urban decay/poverty, foreign policy, economic justice, racial justice, environmental justice, immigration, health care, and criminal justice. They made no mention of “gay marriage” or sanctity of life issues such as abortion, embryonic stem-cell research, or euthanasia.

A contrasting editorial in a conservative Christian magazine chose six areas of “urgent concern” to voters: religious freedom around the world, Middle East peace, expanding access to health care, fighting AIDS wisely, pro-life Supreme Court appointees, and defending marriage.

So how should one proceed? Since no candidate is better on all the items, some would suggest we are morally free to vote for candidates who are strong on several of them while bad on several others. Which items are which doesn’t matter, since they are all offered, without prioritization, as biblical values. The Christian conscience is free to choose what it likes in this moral and ethical cafeteria.

But the Christian tradition, rooted in Holy Scripture, shows clearly that two of the six are in a class of their own: They are timeless and foundational matters. The others are not. The sanctity of human life and the sanctity of marriage are primary and fundamental biblical “values.” Genesis teaches this and Christ confirms it.

The Sanctity of Human Life

In Genesis, while all other life is “brought forth” by the earth, God forms man directly. His very flesh bears the fingerprints of the Creator, and his soul is given from the breath of God. Man is a special God-made being, in his very flesh.

Can a Christian citizen, then, ignore what the election of any candidate will mean for the trafficking in human flesh: killing embryos for stem cells, cloning human beings for stem-cell research, creating embryos for the purpose of obtaining “donor” organs? Is this issue really on the same level as a candidate’s views of the Middle East?

The Sanctity of Marriage

While all life reproduces “after its kind,” man’s procreative mandate is unique. God creates woman for man and brings the two together under His hand and blesses the union, a one-flesh union that in Christian theology is more than biological; it reflects a deeper mystery of Christ and the Church.

While “traditional marriage”—one man, one woman—is not the consistent Old Testament practice, Christ makes it clear that it was God’s intention “from the beginning.” And all homosexual activity is condemned in both the Old and New Testaments. St. Paul in Romans 1 writes that homosexual practice is a sign of the deepest idolatry. Christian citizens today are being asked to take the extraordinary step of approving something that is strongly and unequivocally condemned in Scripture.

Ends and Means

On the issues of advancing religious freedom across the globe, fostering peace in the Middle East, expanding health-care coverage, and fighting AIDS, politicians differ not about the ends we are seeking, but about the best or most effective means to those ends. There is room for reasonable disagreement here. People (including Christians) of goodwill can come down differently on these issues without compromising any moral principle.

But on the life issues and marriage, the differences are about ends, not merely means. Christians of goodwill cannot reasonably differ about the obligation of law and government to protect innocent human life against abortion and embryo-destructive biomedical research, or the need to protect marriage by opposing its redefinition.

Furthermore, Christians’ freedom to express their views in both the pulpit and the public square about the morality of “gay marriages” and homosexual acts (and to teach their children accordingly) hangs in the balance as sexual innovators and activist judges promote “hate speech” laws that would penalize the expression of Christian opinion.

If we are serious about a just and humane society, we must defend marriage and human life above all, both in public and in private. All other matters are secondary. A society in which vulnerable human life is not protected and in which marriage is made irrelevant will only multiply human miseries and thus become less able to provide for the freedom, peace, and health of others.


1 The piece from which this was drawn appeared originally in James M. Kushiner, “First Things First,” Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity Website (October, 2004),

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