Dr. Anthony S. Fauci announced yesterday that he will step down in December as Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and Chief Medical Advisor to President Joe Biden.
President Biden praised Dr. Fauci’s “unwavering” commitment to his work as well as his “unparalleled spirit, energy, and scientific integrity.” He added: “Because of Dr. Fauci’s many contributions to public health, lives here in the United States and around the world have been saved.”
Conversely, Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Az., tweeted: “Dr. Fauci is conveniently resigning from his position in December before House Republicans have an opportunity to hold him accountable for destroying our country over these past three years.” Republican Study Committee chairman Jim Banks added, “Republicans must remain committed to holding Fauci accountable even after he steps down to make sure no one in his position ever abuses the public trust again.”
Criticism of America’s political leaders goes back to our first contested election in 1800, but condemning their followers is something different. I don’t live in the same neighborhood as my president or governor, but I do live in the same neighborhood as some of their supporters. When we begin rejecting not just our leaders but each other on political, moral, or ideological grounds, our ability to flourish or even function as the “United” States of America is imperiled.
“Civility and decency are secondary values”
Yesterday I made the claim that civility is vital to a healthy democracy and an attribute that should especially be evident among Christians. I want to expand on that claim today by giving attention to those who disagree.
As I note in my book The Coming Tsunami, a growing tide of secularists consider religion not just outdated and irrelevant but dangerous to society. During hearings on the so-called Equality Act, for example, some senators compared those opposing the Act on religious grounds to the Ku Klux Klan’s burning crosses and the Confederacy’s biblical justifications for slavery.
On the other side, Sohrab Ahmari wrote in First Things: “Progressives understand that culture war means discrediting their opponents and weakening or destroying their institutions. Conservatives should approach the culture war with a similar realism. Civility and decency are secondary values. They regulate compliance with an established order and orthodoxy. We should seek to use these values to enforce our order and our orthodoxy, not pretend that they could ever be neutral.”
This approach to the culture wars is clearly winning hearts and minds: A majority of second-year college students said they would not date someone who supported a different presidential candidate than they did in 2020. Almost half said they would not room with someone who voted differently; nearly two-thirds said they would not marry someone who backed a different political candidate two years ago.
How did we get here?
Cultural issues are more binary and more divisive than ever before in my lifetime. Is abortion the death of a child, or is it the healthcare right of a woman? Is same-sex marriage (and LGBTQ advocacy) an imposition of unbiblical morality on religious freedom, or is it the civil rights cause of our day?
In a democracy, we settle our differences through elections and elected officials. However, abortion and same-sex marriage were settled by unelected Supreme Court justices, then the former was overturned by unelected Supreme Court justices. In addition, many see those on the other side as deeply immoral and thus undeserving of representation by the media and the protection of our governance.
Commercial media amplifies our differences for audience share; social media amplifies them through personal megaphones. We curate our news into echo chambers that reinforce our biases. Our mobile society and workforce allow us to live and work with those who share our opinions while avoiding those who do not.
And the increasing secularism of our culture makes our culture wars especially urgent. George Clooney speaks for many: “I don’t believe in heaven and hell. I don’t know if I believe in God. All I know is that as an individual, I won’t allow this life—the only thing I know to exist—to be wasted.”
What we know that others don’t
What makes Christians different? Or at least, what should make us different?
Here’s what we know that secularists don’t:
- We are each made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26–27), so we should treat every person we encounter with dignity and respect.
- We are all fallen (Romans 3:23), so we should treat each other with humility and grace.
- Jesus loves each of us unconditionally (Romans 5:8) and commands that we do the same (Matthew 22:39). Only by responding to hate with love can we replace the cycle of retribution with the gift of grace.
Each of these principles is vital for empowering a democracy in which those who disagree fervently on major issues can nonetheless live and work together for the common good.
In addition, Christians know the path to moral transformation lies not through politics or human governance but through the work of God’s Spirit:
Each of these principles is vital for empowering Christians to be salt and light in a decaying, ever-darkening culture.
Justin Martyr (AD 100–165) assured the Roman emperor, “We are your helpers and allies in promoting peace.”
Now it’s our turn.