By Robert Schwarzwalder and Julia Kiewit
We recently published an On the Square article faulting some Evangelical Christian organizations for not objecting to the proposed federal “contraceptive mandate” that would force all health insurance plans to include abortifacient drugs.
Our comments were inaccurate: the National Association of Evangelicals and the Council of Evangelical Colleges and Universities have, in fact, sent letters to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) protesting the insufficiency of the conscience protections provided in the new rules. Various Evangelical publications have carried articles about the same. We acknowledge and deeply regret the factual error we made in asserting that these groups have been silent when, in fact, they have addressed this issue thoughtfully.
The NAE has also joined in numerous amici briefs on important religious liberty cases, has joined in several groups working to defend religious liberty overseas, and has discussed other matters of significance to Evangelicals with leading policymakers.
Christians are charged with “preserving the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). In not doing out homework—in not contacting those we complained were silent—we failed to fulfill this charge.
In an article criticizing our piece, Christian Post writer Napp Nazworth observes, “It may be that Schwarzwalder and Kiewit would like to see a more robust and vocal outcry than what they have seen so far, but to say that these organizations have not spoken out is not true”. This sentence captures both the inaccuracy of our criticism and also the subtext of our argument.
In other words, while we applaud the efforts of Evangelical groups to advance their arguments through letters and private meetings with government officials, such efforts will have a limited effect on the way public policy actually is crafted unless they are accompanied by broader and deeper, “more robust and vocal” activities on the part of their advocates.
One of us (Schwarzwalder) worked on Capitol Hill as chief of staff to two Members of Congress and was a presidential appointee in the previous administration at HHS. His experience has been that private meetings and letters from interest groups, not buttressed by strong support from the grass roots, usually are of limited consequence in influencing the public debate or shaping legislation or regulation.
Not every Christian ministry or organization needs to have a grassroots component. Yet those that do not should recognize the consequent limits of their influence: Without political pungency behind it, even the most well crafted statement or the most tasteful dialog will too frequently produce no substantive change.
Politics is inherently contentious. This is no justification for rudeness or factual error (including the errors we committed in our earlier post). However, simply making a reasonable case is not the sole means by which a mind is changed. If it were, the entire world would be devoutly Christian, since the Gospel is the most rational proposition ever offered.
Instead, with grace, firmness, and personal kindness—and, as importantly, formidable political pressure from those mobilized—Evangelicals must make their arguments about the great moral issues of our time persuasively and effectively. If we merely write letters and talk among ourselves, much of our striving will be losing.
Robert Schwarzwalder is senior vice president at the Family Research Council. Julia Kiewit is associate editor at the Marriage And Religion Research Institute.