The Tucker Carlson Episode & the Teaching of Jesus
by S. M. Hutchens
In late April 2023, Tucker Carlson, the popular conservative news commentator on the Fox Network, was suddenly fired and his program cancelled. Thereupon followed a great deal of soul-searching—mostly of other people’s souls, as such things usually are—by commentators who stressed Mr. Carlson’s remarks on the general corruption of public discourse and policy at the hands not only of liberals, but also of conservatives who cannot bring themselves to respond appropriately to what could only be described by reasonable people as evil, and who are perfectly willing to “bend their conscience to their dealing” (J. R. Lowell) when it suits their purposes in the pursuit of money, power, and influence.
The general tenor of the commentary among conservatives, at least as I perceived it, was in favor of an “all power corrupts and a pox on all your houses” attitude with regard to political authority that bears a superficial resemblance to the essentially critical attitude that our Lord called for, but bears with it a kind of anarchic (and hopeless) skepticism which he did not allow.
When the enemies of Jesus approached him with a denarius and asked whether Jews should submit to the Roman government and pay its taxes, they were trying to discredit or perhaps even destroy him by drawing from him a simple yes or no. For if he denied the responsibility, he could be apprehended by Rome for sedition, and if he affirmed the legitimacy of Roman taxes, it would be easy for him to be officially discredited by Jewish authorities.
The Lord’s interlocutors purported to be seeking from him a rabbinical interpretation of the Law of God which stood above and in judgment upon all religious argument and political opinion and put each in its place. His answer was that Caesar’s sphere was legitimate under God, so his laws were to be obeyed, and that God’s was another, obviously superior—thus forever suspending his followers in an essentially critical position from which they were obliged to identify and make judgments between superior and inferior legitimacies, one lying within and not apart from the other.
His answer disallows wholesale rejection of the essentially political. He did not give us a maxim whereby we could responsibly escape this involvement, or regard it with an anarchic or skeptical attitude, as though all politics carried the germ of “the prurient ape’s defiling touch” (Aldous Huxley), but one requiring that we take it seriously and always exercise our fund of holy knowledge and critical judgment to decide where one sphere ends and the other begins. Even when the believer is forced to withdraw from the political sphere, he does it as a person still engaged, who must decide from day to day how it stands according to the Word of God and act accordingly (this is what I understand Rod Dreher to mean in The Benedict Option). Saints Peter and Paul demonstrated how this works in extremis by following their Lord into unjust Roman hands, and thereby shedding in their own blood the seed of the Church.
No Christian Exemption
The Tucker Carlson affair contains a temptation for the believer to disengage politically that must be resisted in obedience to the Lord’s teaching. Carlson’s own judgment that the evils in which the United States is involved require prayer appears in this light as requests to God for wisdom in an engagement he does not (by his own example) give us permission to avoid, but must engage even to death, rather than for advice on what one does at the end of a road upon which all other escapes are closed. There is no Christian exemption from any natural sphere of existence, including the political.
Thus, the editorial attitude of Touchstone cannot be merely apolitical, but critical, always thoughtfully separating good from evil and wheat from chaff according to what Christianity as we understand it together demands. The Lord would have been accused by some as having taken a secularist and pro-Roman political position when he gave his fundamental teaching about the two spheres of authority, but we take it upon ourselves also to dare the equivalent when the situation calls for it, advancing what stands for the law of God and rejecting political authority or opinion that opposes it, in whatever medium it is delivered, whether by person, philosophy, party, or government, and for this we will gladly join Tucker Carlson in prayer for clear thought and right action, for we cannot merely stand above it all.
S. M. Hutchens is a Touchstone senior editor.
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