Friday Five: Andrew Walker

February 22, 2013

fridayfive-smaller

I’m thrilled today to chat with my friend, Andrew Walker. Andrew researches and writes about marriage, family and the moral principles that support civil society. As a policy analyst in The Heritage Foundation’s DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society, he also focuses on how ethics inform public policy decisions and investigates the role that religion plays in American political culture.

Before joining Heritage in November 2012, Walker was a policy analyst and lobbyist with the Family Foundation, a public policy organization in Kentucky. He worked on issues related to education policy, opposition to casino gambling, and the defense of marriage, life and religious liberty.

Walker has been published in outlets such as The Louisville Courier-Journal, The City, The Weekly Standard, Christianity Today, Touchstone, The Gospel Coalition, MereOrthodoxy.com and — as a freelance writer — by the Institute on Religion and Democracy. His broadcast experience includes appearances on Louisville’s Fox and NBC affiliates.

A native of Jacksonville, Ill., Walker graduated summa cum laude from Southwest Baptist University with a bachelor’s degree in religion. He received the highest departmental honors as a theology student. In 2010, he earned a master of divinity degree in theology from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is pursuing a master of theology degree in ethics there, focusing his studies on political ethics and church-state relations under theologian and ethicist Russell Moore. He is active on Twitter at: @Walker_Andrew

I asked Andrew a few questions about his work and the Heritage Foundation:

1) For people who may not be familiar with the Heritage Foundation, explain the mission and purpose: 

The Heritage Foundation began in 1973 under the direction of Dr. Ed Feulner. In many ways, it has become the standard bearer for conservative policy and the conservative movement in America. Heritage came to prominence under Ronald Reagan, whose administration adopted and implemented many of the policies crafted by Heritage scholars. Since then, Heritage has amassed a large grassroots coalition of over 600,000 members who partner with Heritage to see conservative principles advanced across American culture and public policy. Our mission bears repeating, which is to formulate and promote conservative policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense. Heritage’s main audience is Congress, so we’re located right in the heart of Washington D.C. on Capitol Hill.

2) 2012 was not a good year for evangelicals at the voting booth. Are you disheartened about Christianity’s so-called waning influence?

I’m not convinced there’s been a drastic plunge in Christianity’s numbers as much as a precipitous decline in the cultural capital that Christianity once wielded. Christianity is no longer a label of cultural validation that it once was. In some places, the label ‘evangelical’ is a term of derision. While we should regret “Christophobia,” increased hostility towards Christians does provide a new context for faithfulness. We shouldn’t resign ourselves to despair, fatalism, or defeatism. Hope should be our sign because, frankly, we don’t determine outcomes by the present. Moreover, if you’re in Christ, eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we inherit the cosmos.

But let’s tackle the political aspect. The 2012 election showed, again, a hardening of political divides, with the evangelical voting bloc especially. Precise statistics aside, if you self-identify as a white evangelical, you’re overwhelmingly likely (75%-80%) to vote for one party over another. Why is that? Some critics will accuse Christians of voting in ways to recover the loss of Christian America. Some will accuse Christians of cozying too closely with political powers in order to ingratiate themselves with power. For me, the answer is found in the Christian ethical witness. One party in America demonstrates open hostility to core beliefs of Christian doctrine and ethics. You probably wouldn’t expect Christians to be voting in droves for this party. If there comes a time when both parties are hospitable towards a culture of life, then I think you’ll see political divides begin to weaken. I want Christians to debate the merits of minimum wage laws (and they can), not whether we should allow marriage to be redefined. So, depending on how you measure success, Christians might have been on the losing side of the issues, but they were more united on key aspects related to Christian ethics. If our beliefs should form a consensus, 2012 reveals that, like in 2004 and 2008, evangelicals have a strong united vision for certain public issues of our day. I should issue a word of caution, however, and say that Christians ought to be fiercely independent and not beholden to any party. If there comes a day when both parties demonstrate hostility to marriage and life (and that could be on the horizon), I think you’ll see a mass exit of Christians voting for the GOP. I’m with Peter Leithart who recently remarked that “If the Republican party can’t bring itself to endorse a traditional understanding of marriage, let it split. If the Republican party can’t be bothered about the slaughter of the unborn, let it shatter into a million little pieces.” To that I reply with, “Amen and amen.”
3) Evangelicals today seem to be reexamining their engagement in the public square. What are your thoughts on Christian political activism in the 21st century?

What a question! As many have observed, there are growing pains within evangelicalism and its relationship to politics. I think this is overall very healthy. On the face of it though, rethinking how we’ve engaged in politics isn’t a confession that we ought to abandon politics, which some tragically advocate for.

Evangelicalism’s past engagement with politics has gone in cycles. When Carl Henry awakened evangelicals to the necessity of public engagement, he wasn’t focused exclusively on politics. He did, however, help lay the firmament for what has been known as the Religious Right and its direct engagement on the political process. Today’s evangelicalism is moving in a direction (a good one, I think) that sees politics following downstream from culture. Moving forward, I think you’ll see evangelicals marked for concern with the institutions of culture perhaps more so than direct political advocacy. My friend Thomas Kidd at Baylor very recently remarked that he can’t control the voting patterns of Ohio, but that he can control the culture of his dinner table. That seems about right to me. At the same time, we shouldn’t think of everything in black and white categories. I’m in Washington that has Congress as its audience. Dan Darling has his church as his audience. Congress and families are but two components of culture. The message is that Christians should use whatever platform or venue they’ve been placed in to love their neighbor and to seek the welfare of their city.

We’re also seeing evangelicals adopt the “Common Good” into their political lexicon and as a motive of their engagement. Christians shouldn’t be motivated by social prestige or social privilege; we should be motivated by the Common Good, which means loving our neighbor and advocating for the institutions that facilitate access to human flourishing. One example is marriage. Today’s marriage debates assume that Christians advocate for marriage for exclusively theological reasons. That isn’t accurate. While marriage is an ultimate Christian ‘good,’ is isn’t exclusively a Christian ‘good.’ Marriage is a creational ordinance that fosters well being for all—atheist, Muslim, Jew, or Christian. I want a strong marriage culture because I want kids in my neighborhood to experience life at its fullest—and a Mom and a Dad is a feature of that. Lastly, I also see an evangelical openness to Natural Law—a concept that allows for a common ethical and moral grammar with our non-Christian neighbors. For all the talk of evangelicals lacking a coherent political theology, the Common Good and Natural Law approaches are quite promising.

My present concern is that in overreacting against the Religious Right, some evangelicals are advocating for a very hollow program of post-partisanship—this idea that Christians can largely escape political controversy and the so-called “Culture Wars” by resigning themselves to  silence or as above the fray. Any whiff of political talk and certain evangelicals will pounce, decrying the fusion of religion and politics. Frankly, this is profoundly naïve and glosses over the complex layers that motivate Christians to enter the public square. Are Christians motivated by amassing power? I don’t think so. I think it’s more accurate to say that Christians are motivated by ethical witness and forming what Robert George calls humane “moral ecologies.”

When political and cultural forces unite on issues that Christians find disturbing, Christians have the opportunity and I’d argue, obligation, to confront Caesar. Let’s use Hobby Lobby as an example. Are the owners of Hobby Lobby trying to carve out exceptions in the law in order to arbitrarily flout government authorities? By no means. The owners of Hobby Lobby are defying an unjust policy imposed by the federal government because their Christian faith imposes certain ethical (not political!) standards related to human sexuality and human dignity. Moving forward, I’d ask evangelicals and their critics to think about how ethics is the bridge between religion and politics. This changes things, I think.

To me, it seems that some evangelicals are really anxious to be martyrs; that they find sordid delight in Christianity’s lost influence. Fine. Swell. If the time for martyrdom comes, let us be faithful. But remember: Martyrdom comes only when Christianity has been ruled out-of-bounds. I don’t want Christian faith marginalized in America just because we think being on the margins will make us better Christians. Being on the margins or promoting life on the margins doesn’t necessarily make one a more faithful Christian any more so than the profoundly immoral Anabaptist who doesn’t want his or her taxes supporting “empire.” I want a culture responsive to Christian mission, and we don’t have to disentangle ourselves from issues of political importance in order to succeed. The pro-life advocates who counsel a post-abortive woman to Christ are demonstrating both a political and evangelistic witness. That’s not theocracy; that’s evangelism. We just need to be responsible in our politics, which means both boldness and humility, or as someone once said, “Grace” and “Truth.”

4) You studied at Southern Seminary under men like Albert Mohler and Russell Moore. Explain how their scholarship has informed the work you do now.

It was a real blessing to study at a seminary led by two evangelical and intellectual giants. Dr. Mohler’s influence has been instructive for me in seeing how the dynamics of culture work—for good or bad—with the Christian narrative. Dr. Moore combines a perceptiveness about human nature that is uncanny, to be frank. The Christian political task must have an accurate biblical anthropology and both Mohler and Moore understand the nature of man and his proclivities in a way that makes political realities discernible and unsurprising. When you understand the fallenness of man, redemption in Christ, and the unveiling of His Kingdom, you’re rescued from despair but also freed from pursuing some type of Christian utopia. The Christian political program should be one where our view of the Ultimate informs and shapes life in the Penultimate. Both Mohler and Moore are models for that perspective.

5) If you were to recommend a particular book to someone wrestling with the intersection of faith and culture, what would that be?

It’s a little complex and academic, but Robert P. George’s The Clash of Orthodoxies: Law, Religion, and Morality in Crisis is a clear presentation of how divergent understandings of ethics and morality often lead to cultural conflict.
Bonus Question:  I know you’re a huge fan of West Wing. So what’s your favorite character?
The quick response is Ainsley Hayes, because she put the Bartlett administration’s unchecked liberalism on its heels from time to time. As for a main character, Josh Lyman really grew on me as the show progressed. He was tactical, shrewd, unapologetic for his views, and fiercely loyal.