Robert George serves as the McCormack Professor of Jurisprudence and the founder and director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University. He also serves as chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and drafter of the Manhattan Declaration, along with many other activities.
Recently George was interviewed about “where Christians should be focusing their energies and prayers, why working in the political sphere is important, and whether the culture wars have already been lost.” I include his response to the question, “Where do you believe Christians should be focusing their energies and prayers when it comes to the culture?” George identifies three key areas, and if one is familiar with the Manhattan Declaration it will sound familiar: sanctity of human life, dignity of marriage between a husband and wife, and religious liberty.
I think there are three foundational issues that deserve priority. They’re not the only important issues, nor should they be the exclusive objects of our concern. Yet they deserve priority because they are foundational. They are (1) the sanctity of human life in all stages and conditions, (2) the dignity of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife, and (3) religious liberty and the rights of conscience.
Unless a person is respected in his fundamental right to life, there is no point in worrying about what his environment will be like, whether the air he breathes will be clean or the water he drinks will be pure. Yes, good stewardship of the environment is important. But even more foundational is the sanctity of human life.
Marriage is also foundational. It’s the fundamental unit of society. The institutions of society, whether they’re economic, political, or legal, whether they’re business firms or courthouses or legislative chambers, all depend on the people who operate within those institutions having at least some significant measure of virtue. Yet none of those institutions can simply issue a command to produce virtuous people. Businesses need workers who show up for work on time, who aren’t drunk or on drugs, who don’t embezzle. But businesses don’t produce virtuous people like that. Courtrooms need jurors who will be honest, who won’t be corrupt, who won’t be subject to bribery. But a judge can’t simply snap his fingers and create such people. If such people are to be produced, they will be produced not by the government, not by the legal system, not by business firms. They’ll be produced by the family, the family based on the marital bond of husband and wife. That’s why marriage has a foundational significance up there with the principle of the fundamental dignity of the human person.
And the same is true of religious liberty. We value all of our liberties: our freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, our right to protect ourselves and our families, our right to be free of unwanted governmental intrusions, our right to a trial that’s fair. All those rights are terribly important. But none of them will mean much if the foundational right of freedom of religion and conscience is lost.
Do you agree with George? Where do you agree or disagree? How would you answer this question? If these are the critical issues, how do you go about equipping God’s people to stand for these important matters?