Michael Gerson thinks so:

Bachmann’s candidacy represents a digression in the quality and seriousness of evangelical political engagement. It is difficult to imagine Mike Huckabee boasting of his indifference to the health and welfare of children, whatever their background. Even Pat Robertson, running for president in 1988, would have balked at such callousness. Both men would have been too conscious of the warnings found in Matthew 25, where Christianity’s founder defines the proper Christian attitude toward the hungry, the sick, the prisoner and the stranger. “Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these,” he said, “you did not do for me.”

Bachmann holds her faith deeply and understands its political implications poorly. Her campaign is increasingly discrediting to causes — including the pro-life cause — she seeks to serve.


Gerson’s point of departure is an assertion by Rep. Bachmann that “we” don’t owe the children of illegal immigrants anything.  A lot would seem to depend upon how one parses that pronoun.  Must “I” always make “our” government an instrument to fulfill “my” moral obligations?  Or can I have a moral obligation to assist the needy (here legally or illegally) that is personal but not political, that does not make government the instrument of my moral duty?

These are, as Gerson acknowledges, difficult questions.  But the implication of his position is that personal moral obligations can easily be—and indeed  must   be—translated into governmental responsibilities.  That position has the potential of exploding all possible limits on government and, ultimately, of absolving “me” of any personal responsibility I can foist on “our” government.  If “we’re” collectively responsible, then perhaps “I’m” off the hook.

I recognize also that the city of God is not the city of man, that the church doesn’t acknowledge the borders of a nation or a community constituted by a social contract.  The point of the latter is to distinguish between insiders and outsiders, to affirm that there are “priviliges and immunities” that belong to members of the community and not to non-members.  To be sure, the social contract theorists (like John Locke) also assert that the political community is just as subject to natural law as are its members.  But natural law surely permits a political community to include some and exclude others, else there could be no such thing as a political community and no effective way of protecting the rights of those who constitute it.  And while there may be duties of hospitality, we can reasonably question whether those duties appertain to individuals or to the political community, as well as whether they obliterate the distinction between members and non-members.  For my part, I can’t imagine that a duty whose premise is that there are “strangers” requires that they be assimilated into a community.

I don’t know the answers to all these questions, and I hold no particular brief for Michele Bachmann.  She may not have been particularly careful in her choice of words.  Are we certain that Michael Gerson was more careful?

Articles by Joseph Knippenberg

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