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Squires: Christians should follow Ibram X. Kendi's example of how to fight for your faith in the public square

Op-ed
Jason Mendez / Contributor | Getty Images

One of the most important bipartisan principles in American political life is the separation between church and state. It has been supported by both Democrats and Republicans – often for different reasons – for decades.

One spiritual leader, aided by the earth-shattering death of one man, has emerged in recent years and changed that reality. This man has become the high priest for many of the people who write our nation’s laws and shape our public culture.

That man is Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, and he preaches the “good news” of anti-racism and racial equity. In fact, the core message of Kendi’s gospel and his sacred text "How to Be an Antiracist," is simple: “Racism is death. Anti-racism is life.”

That claim should sound very familiar to Christians who read their Bible and affirm the words of the Apostle Paul: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Most people think of Kendi as a professor, scholar, and author. The truth is much more complex. Ibram Kendi is the most zealous spiritual leader and evangelist in America today. His gospel leaves no room for fence-sitters – a person is either racist or anti-racist. He preaches this message everywhere he goes, and his followers are legion.

School districts across the country have paid Kendi upwards of $30,000 to give short speeches and help them incorporate his teachings in thousands of K-12 classrooms. His ideas about racial equity have also influenced COVID vaccine distribution policies and criminal justice reform efforts. Kendi is a dogged defender of his faith, and he wants to see it incorporated into every aspect of American life.

The irony is that Kendi is a critic of capitalism, struggles to define the word “racism,” and fails to equitably apply his own principles. As is the case with many religious leaders, an abundance of zeal often covers over flaws in doctrine.

Kendi’s imperfections should be even more of an encouragement for Christian conservatives who want their faith reflected in our laws and policies, but fear imposing their views on the broader public.

If we can agree that every law makes a moral stance and lawmakers are already being influenced by spiritual teachers, the question then becomes, “What would a thoroughly Christian agenda that serves the common good look like?”

I believe it would take the form of an “order agenda” that is fundamentally committed to affirming and preserving natural, social, and public order.

The foundations of the order agenda is the acknowledgement of God as the creator of all life, Jesus Christ as man’s only hope for eternal salvation, the Bible as God’s primary means for making himself known to mankind, and a desire to exercise biblical wisdom and ethics in every area of public life. The goal of the order agenda is to create the type of society that allows people of every background and belief system to build a decent, personally fulfilling life – according to how God has designed this world.

Government policy alone will not change a society, especially one that has been in a death spiral for so long. This is why any cultural transformation must incorporate the use of the pen (e.g., laws and books), the purse (e.g., government and free market activity), and the pulpit (e.g., politicians and pastors) in every area of society.

Christian organizations like the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) have been doing this for decades. Others, like the AND Campaign, seek to engage Christians who feel unseen and unserved by both parties. These organizations do valuable work, but they tend to focus on carving out protections for religious people and institutions. Their commitment to winsomeness also limits the forcefulness of their arguments because the left sets the definitions and terms of public debate.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Florida’s decision to invest $70M in fatherhood initiatives, ban abortions after 15 weeks, provide more financial resources to foster parents, and prohibit the social, medicinal, and surgical “transition” of gender-confused children are all examples of good family policy. Conservatives should follow the state’s example, borrow a page from the left, and continue to press forward.

Elected officials who hold to biblical views on sex, sexuality, and marriage should go even farther and reward the things they actually believe would lead to stronger, more resilient families and communities. That could mean providing financial incentives for men and women – the only gender pairing that can produce offspring – to get and stay married. Those incentives could also increase for couples who have children within the bounds of marriage.

The order agenda for education could include more parental control over funding so parents can choose schools that align with their values and academic priorities. Students shouldn’t be forced to endure classrooms that function as therapy sessions or political strategy sessions for narcissistic adults. Such a plan should also include funding for homeschool families who educate their children at a much lower cost than the government.

This is how you change the prevailing policy paradigm from “you get what you pay for” to “pay for what you want.”

Another agenda item at the nexus of family and education is the type of media that is targeted at children. One bold change the order agenda could fight for is the prohibition of all LGBTQIA+ content aimed at children. Americans have become so accustomed to seeing pride parades being marketed to toddlers and drag queens reading stories to children that it seems difficult to imagine a world where this isn't the norm. The explosion of Generation Z Americans who identify as LGBTQIA+, including “non-binary,” is partly a result of intense social programming that starts at increasingly younger ages.

The application of biblical sexual ethics to the public culture would also shun slut walks, teach boys that girls are to be respected and protected, and offer more encouragement to young women who want to marry and have children in their twenties than we do to those who want to be OnlyFans models or sex workers.

The order agenda’s approach to public safety should be clear and concise: Deal with evil quickly to stop it from spreading. Criminals, regardless of skin color, feel emboldened to commit serious crimes when they know they won’t be punished. This is why law-abiding citizens, not lawbreakers, should be at the heart of any public safety reforms. This agenda would include swift accountability for law enforcement personnel who violate the laws they have sworn to uphold because their authority also has limits that need to be observed.

The left has no limiting principle. If marriage is all about consenting adults, why can’t three people get married? If children are old enough to consent to drastically altering their bodies, why can’t they consent to relationships with adults, self-identified “minor-attracted persons,” who want to enjoy those bodies? If every advance in reproductive technology is seen as an advance for society, why should there be restrictions on the creation of artificial sperm, eggs, and wombs?

By contrast, the limiting principle of most conservatives – including Christians in the public square – is the affirmation of ruling-class elites who hate their values. This is the real “respectability politics” that hampers social progress.

It is also why people like David French and Mitt Romney can summon the fury of a thousand suns in the Atlantic or on the Senate floor to berate Republican voters who question the 2020 election but speak with great care and precision when it comes to the big lie of choosing your own gender. While the left advances the cause of defunding local law enforcement, these conservatives are most concerned about strict enforcement by the tone police.

There is a significant difference between “culture war” engagement that quietly seeks shelter against attack and boldly fighting to recapture lost territory. In this regard, the left’s conquests related to sexuality and gender identity demonstrate that you don’t need a majority to take over major institutions and change laws. What the new conservative movement needs to figure out is what it plans to conserve. One answer is a strong, family-focused public culture.

Doing so will require being ready to absorb accusations of homophobia, transphobia, and other types of bigotry. Christians should be confident enough in the source and content of their convictions not to fear moral lectures from people who think abortion up until birth is a human right or giving a 16-year-old a double mastectomy is “gender-affirming care.”

You can treat individuals with respect and dignity while fighting for specific public norms and values that lead to life and order.

Ibram Kendi has demonstrated that the separation of church and state does not mean we should disconnect faith from politics. He has become a celebrity by pushing a false gospel. Christians should be even bolder in advocating for God’s truth.

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