Modest & Bold by Patrick Henry Reardon

Modest & Bold

On the Gospel & Political Upheavals

Our country appears to be, at this moment, on the verge of a very big political upheaval. One has the sense of hearing a distant trumpet. We will know more, surely, after the fall elections.

Even now, nonetheless, one would be deaf not to detect a growing dissatisfaction—louder each day—with the “progressive movement” that controls much of our culture, including education, social services, entertainment, politics, publishing, and religion. Especially controversial is the nation’s recent reorganization of health care, widely regarded as a significant step in the direction of socialism.

To be sure, a favorable disposition toward socialism is hardly new in this country. Even without a clear political expression of it, an underlying sympathy for social equality has always been—as John Stuart Mill remarked in 1869—“a probable result of democratic feeling, combined with the notion that the public has the right to a veto on the manner in which individuals spend their incomes.”

Admitting that reports of this tendency in America were “doubtless much exaggerated,” Mill feared, nonetheless, that a further “diffusion of Socialist opinion” would, in due course, weaken America’s commitment to personal liberty and individual achievement.

Well, maybe, but perhaps not. At the very moment Mill expressed his apprehension on the subject, America’s “democratic feeling” was in the process of ratifying the Constitution’s Fifteenth Amendment, which prohibited the denial or abridgment of suffrage “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

Sympathies & Wisdom

Meanwhile, today, debate continues about America’s social and political future. Even as we hope Christians are active in this discussion—bringing to it the truth and charity of the faith once delivered to the saints—we are not so deluded as to imagine that the light of the gospel will invariably yield clear, immediate, specific, and compelling answers to every social, economic, and political question America currently faces.

For example—and salva reverentia to some of our hierarchical leaders—it is not obvious that the gospel injunction to visit the sick will necessarily compel Christians to feel enthusiasm for the nation’s new health care policies. Economic and political wisdom—and not simply proof texts—are needed to discern how best to care for the sick, to meet the needs of the unemployed, to safeguard the economy, to regulate immigration, to protect and educate children, and so on.

We should not expect all Christians to agree among themselves on the specifics of such matters. For this reason, itemized Christian solutions to complex social problems are preferably advanced with modesty and circumspection.

There are exceptions to this preference, nonetheless: Neither modesty nor circumspection is appropriate when a controversy involves the structure of Creation (such as the definition of marriage) or actions intrinsically sinful (such as the murder of the innocent). Cases like these call for bold address in clear prophetic tones.

Although the gospel does not always yield specific answers to individual social and political questions, we entertain the hope that its influence will widen the sympathies and make wise the souls of those who live by it. This hope, too, is modest. It is not a utopian dream but the reasonable expectation of gaining—by God’s grace—a somewhat better world.

We also believe that enhanced liberty will be the mark of such a world. With Lord Acton we are persuaded “that the action of Christ who is risen on mankind whom he redeemed fails not, but increases, that the wisdom of divine rule appears not in the perfection but the improvement of the world, and that achieved liberty is the one ethical result that rests on the converging and combined conditions of advancing civilization.”

— Patrick Henry Reardon, for the editors

Patrick Henry Reardon is pastor emeritus of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago, Illinois, and the author of numerous books, including, most recently, Out of Step with God: Orthodox Christian Reflections on the Book of Numbers (Ancient Faith Publishing, 2019).

Print &
Online Subscription

Get six issues (one year) of Touchstone PLUS full online access including pdf downloads for only $39.95. That's only $3.34 per month!


Get a one-year full-access subscription to the Touchstone online archives for only $19.95. That's only $1.66 per month!

bulk subscriptions

Order Touchstone subscriptions in bulk and save $10 per sub! Each subscription includes 6 issues of Touchstone plus full online access to—including archives, videos, and pdf downloads of recent issues for only $29.95 each! Great for churches or study groups.

Transactions will be processed on a secure server.

more from the online archives

30.1—Jan/Feb 2017

The Heart of Paradise

The Godly Hierarchies of Love & Marriage by Diane Woerner

30.2—March/April 2017

The Cross of Least Resistance

Our Path to Holiness Runs Straight Through Calvary by Robin Phillips

30.5—Sept/Oct 2017

The Age of Reformations

The Critical History Before, During & After Martin Luther by James Hitchcock

calling all readers

Please Donate

"There are magazines worth reading but few worth saving . . . Touchstone is just such a magazine."
—Alice von Hildebrand

"Here we do not concede one square millimeter of territory to falsehood, folly, contemporary sentimentality, or fashion. We speak the truth, and let God be our judge. . . . Touchstone is the one committedly Christian conservative journal."
—Anthony Esolen, Touchstone senior editor

Support Touchstone