Serving the Claims of Justice

Serving the Claims of Justice

Basic information

  • Author(s):
    • Paul B. Henry
  • Editors:
  • Published: April 21, 2001
  • Publisher: Calvin College Alumni Association
  • Page count: 287
  • ISBN: 978-0970369345

Serving the Claims of Justice

This book is an edited volume of the writings and speeches of the late Paul B. Henry, a former Member of the U.S. House of Representatives and professor of political science at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The writings by Paul Henry are supplemented by ten essays written by prominent friends and colleagues of Mr. Henry, including Speaker of the U.S. House Dennis Hastert, former Oregon Senator Mark O. Hatfield, nationally syndicated columnist David S. Broder, and Fuller Theological Seminary President Richard J. Mouw. In addition, there are introductory and interpretive comments by Professor Douglas Koopman, who serves as the Program Director of the Paul B. Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity and Politics at Calvin College. The book is a timeless, and thus timely, contribution to the renewed debate about appropriately mixing religious faith and public life.

Foreword by David Broder




Section I: The Challenge of Ambiguity


Christians Must Face the Social Crisis Today (1970)

Excerpts from Three Young Laymen: A Symposium (1970)

Evangelical Christianity and the Radical Left (1972)

Evangelical Social Ethics: A Study in Moral Paralysis (1974)

Coming out of the Wilderness (1974)

Love, Power and Justice (1977)

Christian Perspectives on Power Politics (1979)

Essays: "Tremendously Impressed" by Stephen V. Monsma

"A Bit of a Gadfly" by Richard J. Mouw

"Warmth, Wit, and Wisdom" by James M. Penning

Section II: The Real Work of Politics


Strategies for Political Action (1974)

Christian Political Action: NACPA Reconsidered (1972)

The New Christian Right: A Practicing Politician's Perspective (1979)

Issues: General Approach, Prison Reform, Contra Aid, Persian Gulf War, Environmental Issues, Religious and Moral Issues, Partisanship

Essays "Hands and Feet to Faith" by Mark O. Hatfield

"Servant Leader in a Political World" by Paul C. Hillegonds

"Daring to be a Daniel" by Gary L. Visscher

Section III: No Easy Answers


Reflections on Evangelical Christianity and Political Action (1989)

Morality vs. Moralism: In Defense of Politics (1989)

Essays "A Stickler" by J. Dennis Hastert

"The Very Best of Friends" by Fred S. Upton

"Giving Politics Its Due" by David E. Price


Every time I walk from the Capitol South Metro station to the Capitol, I look for a moment at the memorial tree placed alongside the façade of the Cannon House Office Building as a tribute to Paul Henry. I remember the morning it was planted by members of the Michigan delegation, led by the dean of the House, John Dingell, with many others of Paul's admirers-members, staff and reporters-in attendance.

What was it that made this relatively junior member of what was then the minority party in the House so important to so many people? The one-word answer is character. The real explanation is a little more nuanced and complicated, but it does not take you far from the simplest explanation.

The first nuance is the historical context in which Paul Henry served. When he was elected to the House in 1984, Republicans had controlled the White House for twelve of the previous sixteen years. But Democrats had held the House majority for thirty years. Partisan tensions were high, both between the branches and within the House itself. After being intimidated for a time by the popularity of President Reagan, Democrats had found their voice-and their backbone-and were using their muscle in Congress to challenge the man who was now a lame-duck president. House Republicans complained, not without justification, that the rules and procedures were rigged against them, and they adopted guerilla tactics designed to make life as difficult as possible for the domineering Democrats.

The second nuance was institutional. Paul Henry's background as a college professor and scholar made it natural for him to seek a place on the Education and Labor Committee. But, as it happened, that committee was one of the most partisan cockpits in a partisan Congress. The AFL-CIO had stacked the Democratic side of the committee with reliable friends and the teachers' unions had been particularly assiduous in seeing that allies filled the Democratic chairs. Almost reflexively, some of the most conservative Republicans in the House went onto the committee, in hopes of slowing or tempering its liberal impulses.

It was in this setting that Paul Henry chose to play the political role to which his principles and his personality impelled him-the reasonable man, searching for areas of agreement, rather than trying to score rhetorical or political points.

He was not naïve. He had cut his teeth in Michigan politics, leading the Republican Party in Kent County, a sophisticated constituency which set high standards for its elected officials. He had served in the Michigan house and the Michigan senate and had learned the arts of legislative compromise and craftsmanship.

But none of that fully prepared him for the animosities he found in his committee and on the floor of the House. His refusal to be intimidated by them was what first attracted me to him. Politicians are expected to be upbeat, but many of the Republicans who were Paul Henry's colleagues had had their hopes frustrated and their ideas rejected so many times that they had become embittered or, what was almost worse, indifferent to their legislative duties. Their unspoken attitude was: I'm going to worry about getting reelected, because these blankety-blank Democrats won't let me do anything else up here.

That was never Paul Henry's attitude. He came to Congress to accomplish things, for the people of his district and for the country. And even in that atmosphere of rancid partisanship, he communicated that intention so clearly that colleagues in both parties found themselves responding. He was so straightforward in his motivations and his purposes that others found it embarrassing to be cynical.

The authors in this volume-most of whom knew Paul Henry far longer and more intimately than I did-can explain the sources of his strength of character, and they can recount the many accomplishments of his too-brief career.

Let me offer just one thought. As a political reporter, nothing pains me more than hearing voters say, as many do, "Those politicians-they're all the same." It is not meant as a compliment, because the following sentences make clear that their concept of a politician is somebody who is in it for power, for money, for ego, for partisan advantage, or all of the above. I know that is a caricature, not a portrait, of what some journalists refer to demeaningly as "the political class." But that caricature cannot be effectively rebutted by any reporter's counterclaim. Disabusing that notion will require much greater public familiarity with men and women in public life whose actions and principles give a lie to the cynicism.

Paul Henry was such a man, and this book, I hope, will tell more Americans how fully one politician lived up to the highest standards of public service.

By Doug Koopman

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. Isaiah 55:8

Only the good die young. Billy Joel

These were two of the lines that played and replayed in my mind on August 3, 1993 as I flew to Grand Rapids, Michigan with dozens of other congressional staff members and over one hundred members of Congress. We were flying to Michigan to pay our last respects to Representative Paul B. Henry who had died four days earlier, after losing a nine-month battle with brain cancer. Congressional delegations to the funerals of other members of Congress are typical, but this one was unusual in two respects. First, the sheer number of politicians of both parties flying to Grand Rapids that day was notable and surprising given the acrimonious congressional atmosphere at the time and Paul's minority party status. Second, this group's affection and respect for Paul, already profound, deepened after participating in a funeral service characterized by obvious and widespread public admiration for Paul. We found ourselves in the midst of a community that not only voted for, but obviously deeply loved, respected, and admired its representative in Congress. What was his special gift, the source of this remarkable display of affection?

This book approaches these questions, but does not attempt to definitively answer them. Rather, it presents evidence about Paul Henry's personal character and political views that provide some insight into the man and some guidelines for future scholars and practitioners interested in politics, especially its moral and religious dimensions. Presented here are three types of documents: a selection of Paul's writings and speeches about Christianity and politics, some of his work on policy questions, and reflective essays by a few of his friends and colleagues in academia and politics.

The broad sketch of Paul Henry's life suggests great promise only partly fulfilled. Paul was born in 1942 to noted theologian Carl F.H. Henry and his wife Helga. He attended evangelical Wheaton College, spent two years in the Peace Corps, and then completed a doctorate in political science at Duke University. After an eight-year professorial career at Calvin College from 1970 to 1978, Paul Henry served six years in the Michigan legislature and nearly nine years in the U.S. House of Representatives until his untimely death.

Paul Henry began his political career shortly after graduating in 1963 from Wheaton and serving the next two years in the Peace Corps in Liberia and Ethiopia. During graduate school in political science at Duke University from 1965 until 1970, Paul spent two periods of time as a congressional staff person working for Republican representative John Anderson of Illinois. Paul's first congressional job was an entry-level position tasked with the most rudimentary jobs in a congressional office, like answering the telephone and running an oily mimeograph machine to put out weekly newsletters.

But his second stint with Anderson was more challenging. By 1968 Anderson had become chair of the House Republican Conference, the party's third-ranking leadership position. Paul served as acting staff director for the Conference in 1968 and 1969. In this position, Paul oversaw all the details necessary to promote a united, collegial, and well-informed Republican congressional caucus.

In 1970, just after earning his Ph.D., Paul and his family moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan to teach at Calvin. His introduction to Calvin, and its introduction to him, is chronicled in the essays by Richard Mouw and Steve Monsma. Paul soon became involved in practical politics, particularly the Kent County Republican Party and the campaigns of various individuals for office. In 1974 local Republicans were shocked when, in the midst of Watergate, a Democrat was elected to the local congressional seat long held by Gerald Ford, who had resigned to become Richard Nixon's Vice President. In the aftermath of that shock local party leaders recognized the need to project an image of the party as more youthful, energetic, inclusive, and intellectually respectable. Paul was asked, and agreed, to become chair of the Kent County Republican Party.

By then Paul's political skills and ambitions were widely known. In 1975 Michigan's Republican governor, William Milliken, appointed Paul to a seat on the Michigan State Board of Education. In 1978 Paul entered politics full time when he ran for and won an open seat in the Michigan State House of Representatives. In 1982 Paul successfully sought to move up to a seat in the Michigan State Senate.

In the spring of 1984 the incumbent Republican congressman from the Grand Rapids area announced he would not seek re-election. Paul entered and won the race to replace him, obtaining a majority in a multi-candidate Republican primary and receiving sixty-two percent of the vote in the fall general election. He won reelection in 1986, 1988, and 1990, each time receiving more than seventy percent of the vote, usually a higher percentage than any other area candidate did. He was also easily reelected in 1992, two weeks after he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. It was hoped that the surgery that took place only days before the election would lead to recovery. Indeed, for a while Paul did regain his strength, enough so that he was able to attend his swearing-in at the beginning of the 103rd Congress in January, 1993. Gradually, however, he became weaker and died while still holding office on July 31, 1993.

One wonders what political heights Paul Henry might have reached. In Michigan the door was wide open for Paul to attempt a U.S. Senate run in 1994, which would prove to be a banner year for Republicans. And exposure on the national political stage of the mid- and late- 1990s could only have made more attractive Paul Henry's unique integration of character and intelligence.

But such what-ifs are misleading. Despite its early end, Paul's life had a profound effect on many people-students, academic colleagues, fellow public officials, his constituents, and others-through his writing, speaking, and actions in public life. I am one of those persons. I remember the first and last times I talked with Paul Henry. The first was as a young congressional staff member looking for work in early 1984; my boss at that time had announced he was retiring at the end of the year and I needed a new one. I wrote Paul in early May, offering to help in his first campaign for Congress, pointing out my western Michigan roots and Washington, D.C. experience. To my surprise Paul called me back a few days later and hired me to work in that campaign and, later, on his first congressional staff. The last time I talked to Paul was late September of 1992, when I was in the position to hire staff for another new member of Congress. Paul called, promoting one of his own staff as an ideal person around whom to build that new staff. Both these times, and doubtlessly many times between and before, Paul was as intent on helping others as he was in advancing his own goals. Some of the essays included here, especially that by Steve Monsma, Paul's colleague at Calvin in the 1970s and fellow officeholder in the state legislature, note that same characteristic in Paul, unusual in the political arena.

The primary materials in the book are selected articles Paul wrote and speeches he gave that discuss the interplay between Christianity and politics. These fourteen items, arranged in three sections, cover a variety of themes. In section one is Paul's earliest writing on Christianity and politics. It contains two items dated before his arrival at Calvin College in 1972, but mostly consists of materials from his Calvin years. A common theme in this section is criticism of evangelicals for a deadened social conscience. Sometimes gently, sometimes pointedly, Paul calls evangelicals to expand their concern beyond individual salvation to wider social problems, particularly racial injustice and poverty.

Section two is knit together by a more practical thread. Most, but not all, of these items were written during Paul's time in public service, first in the state legislature and then in Congress, and focus on practical politics. In some Paul chides politically conservative Christians about their style of activism, their view on the legitimacy of politics, and the issues on which they focus. Other articles strongly defend America's governmental and political party systems and individuals' involvement in them. Finally, the section includes a wide variety of documents that reveal how Paul thought about and acted on the issues he faced in elected office. These items detail how Paul applied his understanding to daily controversies. There are constituent letters, House floor speeches, short articles or speeches intended for secular audiences, and other texts that show how Paul thought through policy questions. The issues run from the obscure, such as detailed requirements for federal arts funding, to the momentous, such as starting a war in the Persian Gulf. They also run from the intriguing, such as military aid to the Nicaraguan "contras" to the embarrassing, such as Paul's entanglement in the House bank scandal of the early 1990s.

Four articles present broader and more positive contributions to the integration of Christian faith and politics. "Love, Power, and Justice" and "Christian Perspectives on Power Politics," in the first section of the book, were written in the late 1970s when Paul was changing careers from academician to politician. The other two, "Reflections on Evangelical Christianity and Political Action," and "Morality vs. Moralism," were talks given in 1989. These two articles compose section three and represent Paul's most developed thinking on morality and Christian action in politics.

At the end of each of the three major sections are personal essays by Paul's academic and political colleagues. The essays round out and fill in the picture of the remarkable person and engaging personality that was Paul Henry. Academic colleagues such as Richard Mouw and Jim Penning contribute memories from Paul's days at Calvin. Political contemporaries such as Mark Hatfield, Paul Hillegonds, Dennis Hastert, Fred Upton, and David Price relate their impressions of Paul during his time in public service.

Published by the Paul B. Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity and Politics at Calvin College, this book is intended to be both a commemoration and a challenge. It honors a dear friend to many, an unforgettable man who, as a Christian, was a gifted political scientist and politician, successful at both endeavors. As such, it is intended to faithfully illustrate to others how Paul Henry integrated his own vibrant Christian faith with high level public service.

The book is also intended to challenge Christians who are political scholars and practitioners. Paul's views about how faith and public life should interact are certainly within the broad Reformed Christian tradition, but they differ in important ways from other prominent voices in that tradition and, of course, from other Christian views. This book does not intend to settle these disputes, but, following the example Paul gave in his academic and political lives, bring them into the open and address them with thoughtfulness and civility.

By Doug Koopman

Paul Henry spent his adult life integrating Christianity and politics, a complex, demanding task. He often shared his thoughts with others, a happy fact that makes this volume possible. Paul repeatedly made two fundamental points: One, political action will never lead to a perfect society even if led by intelligent and well-meaning Christians; two, active involvement in American politics is a fully legitimate Christian activity. Weaving these two themes together in most of his writings, he developed and applied them in response to a variety of political and social events. Perhaps, with more time in life, he might have written a grand summa to guide those interested in the integration he came to.

Many of the personal essays included in this book give brief evaluations of Paul's thought and action. But analysis is not their major purpose, nor is it the goal of this conclusion. Rather, this concluding essay is intended as a beginning: to initiate a more informed conversation about Paul Henry's contribution to Christian political thought by highlighting five points of his thinking that put it in a larger context.

Intellectual Antecedents

The first important point to make about Paul's thought is its intellectual backdrop. Of course, merely living in the Carl F.H. Henry household steeped Paul in the knowledge and application of the Bible and evangelical theology. But Paul's writings on Christianity and politics rely on sources beyond those usually tapped by orthodox evangelicals. Many of these additional influences can be traced to his graduate years at Duke University, especially when Paul discusses the limits of Christian activity in politics.

Paul's masters thesis at Duke was "Eric Voegelin's Concept of the Gnosis," a sympathetic treatment of the thinker and his views. Voegelin was a political philosopher known most widely in America for The New Science of Politics, his 1952 University of Chicago Walgreen lectures. In them Voegelin argued that modern ideological movements such as communism and fascism repeated the gnostic heresy of early Christianity. Early Christian gnosticism separated a person's "spiritual" elements-claimed to be real-from his or her "material" parts-claimed to be unreal. Jesus was perfect because his spirit-his reason and motivation-was perfect. Gnostics believed humans who grasped this true could also achieve perfection on earth and not have to wait for the eschaton.

Voegelin argued that in modern times gnosticism has become politicized. Politicized gnosticism asserts that personal and social perfection is possible. Such perfection, however, usually requires a few sages who understand the truths and who must sometimes rather ruthlessly and violently impose "perfection" on others. Both fascism and communism, according to Voegelin, are gnostic-like attempts to "immanentize the eschaton;" that is, to overcome the limitations, anxieties, and uncertainties of human experience for an enlightened vanguard to build a "heaven on earth." (A wonderful theory, its implementation always goes astray.) One destroys real democracy and politics in the process of imposing a "perfect" social vision.

Without mentioning Voegelin, Paul Henry applied that philosopher's critique to at least some politically conservative Christian political actions and actors. In Morality vs. Moralism, one of his latest writings, Paul asserted that "(t)oo often, religious groups enter the political arena with inherent disdain not only for the political process, but in opposition to the concept of politics, in itself. And once again, it reflects a yielding to the temptation to secularize the eschaton in the name of the Kingdom of God."

Paul's other major thrust, his defense of the political sphere as worthy of Christian action, also relied upon thinkers whom he studied during his years at Duke. Paul's doctoral dissertation reviewed the various attitudes toward natural law held by Protestant theologians from Calvin and Luther at the Reformation through the likes of Paul Tillich and Rudolf Bultmann in mid-twentieth century. Paul grappled with questions such as the extent to which natural law conforms to God's divine law, the distinctions between natural law and "laws of nature," and how much weight to give general and special revelation. Paul favorably comments on theologians who assert that general revelation is quite expansive and accessible to secular thinkers.

His generous reading of general revelation led Paul to several important conclusions about politics. For example, it allowed him to argue for the American political system's compatibility with Christian principles without requiring America's founders to have a firm or self-consciously Christian worldview. Paul could see God's providential hand in the American founding, yet avoid claims that America is God's chosen nation, or other elements of American civil religion. And to Christian critics of the American system Paul could respond that, through the working of general revelation at the founding, the system is at least "good enough" for Christian political involvement. Thus Paul urged Christians to get involved in American politics because the system is already suitable, not because Christians bring special insight to public policy or political action.

Paul's position on general revelation is directly related to his view that humans are made in God's image. Unlike many other Christian intellectuals, Paul believed that one does not reflect God's image better merely if one is a believer in Christ; one's reasoning ability, especially, is not necessarily improved. In fact, he argued, applying Christian thought to the political sphere might do more harm than good, because deep Christian faith often is used to excuse poor political thinking.

Relationship to Reformed Christianity

The second important consideration for anyone examining Paul's political thought is to compare his views to characteristic Reformed Christian views about religion and politics. Paul rightly claimed that his views were in that tradition, and he openly claimed allegiance to it, distinguishing his views from Anabaptist and Fundamentalist traditions in "Reflections on Evangelical Christianity and Political Action."

Paul agreed with the Reformed tradition's expansive view of creation. In this view, creation extends beyond the material world to "orders of life," which include political and social systems. This expansive view is critical to Paul's defense of politics, because politics then becomes one of many spheres that God in God's providence uses. And the use is not merely negative-to restrain evil by instituting order-but positive-to advance good by promoting justice. To those Reformed Christian critics who don't like the compromise that politics demands, Paul stayed truer than his critics did to Reformed doctrine. He admitted that compromise is part of politics. But, he quickly added, in a fallen world compromise is part of every social interaction. Why should politics be held to a higher standard?

Paul's wide berth to general revelation put his views outside the mainstream of Reformed thinking, but not entirely outside the tradition. Here his writing is at odds with some Reformed Christian thinkers who criticize America's complicated system of separated powers, federalism, and unprincipled political parties. Mixed with his skepticism about the unique power of Christian reason, Paul's appreciation for general revelation allowed him to reject as unnecessary and unrealistic some of the strict Calvinist notions for political reform, such as proportional representation or Christian political parties.

There are other aspects of Paul's thought that, though they are not shared by most Reformed Christian writers, do not disqualify him from being considered Reformed. First, Paul was skeptical of the "transformational" language common in some Reformed discussions. While he embraced the point that Christians have a special calling to be involved in political institutions and processes, he did not see much need for their transformation and often regarded such language as arrogant and reckless.

Finally, Paul's political agenda was a bit different from that of many Christians. He thought organized Christian political action too often rested at one political extreme or the other. Theologically orthodox and evangelical, and so in that way conservative, Paul argued that conservative theology should not immediately translate into conservative politics. Faithful scriptural interpretation would highlight issues such as racial reconciliation and poverty, not common on the conservative agenda. On the other hand, for Paul these "issues of the left" would not necessarily lend themselves to solutions proposed by a left that is too optimistic about changing human nature through politics.

The Nature of Politics

A third important consideration for understanding Paul's thought is his view of the essential nature of politics and government. Paul appeared to accept the pluralistic definition of politics common in traditional political science. His politics is procedural and allocative, not quite value-neutral but certainly not value-centered. Paul's favorite definition of politics was Harold Lasswell's, who described politics as the process of deciding "who gets what, how, when, and where." In a few places Paul expressed a more value-oriented view of politics, defining it as "the authoritative allocation of values and resources for all society." But Paul used the term "values" differently from those who want to use politics to reinforce particular social values. For him, "values" referred back to resource allocation. By mentioning it, Paul was merely noting that all decision-makers bring their own personal (including religious) values to bear on decisions about allocating resources. While these values would clash in some allocation decisions, such as government funding of abortion, it was not right to immediately assume Christian values should control such decisions. Rather, Christian values help improve the allocation process, but do not change the fact that resources must somehow be allocated to all claimants.

At times Paul even seemed to exclude moral questions from political discussion. In Moralism vs. Morality, for example, Paul implied that a necessary requirement for a question to be deemed political is that it is "amenable to resolution through governmental policy," hardly a description of many issues advanced by the extremes of right and left.

Paul was no supply-sider on economics nor movement conservative on social issues, even as these two trends came to dominate his Republican Party. On economic and fiscal policy Paul was very much a "balanced budget" Republican, willing to cut spending on defense and social programs and perhaps even raise taxes to balance the government's budget. And while Paul shared social policy views of many movement conservatives, he spent the bulk of his time tending to the material concerns of his congressional district rather than the moral agenda of conservative religious leaders.

Paul applied his pluralistic definition of politics to the work of Christian elected officials. Such officials, he argued, have an obligation to represent the views of all their constituents-Christian and non-Christian, supporters and opponents. In "Love, Power, and Justice" he stated, "Christianity does not condemn the advocacy of interest per se. Rather, it tells us to take up our neighbor's interest with the same intensity that we defend our own. Disdain for 'interest-group politics' or 'special interests' reflects a lack of understanding of the inherent nature of the political process."

For Paul Henry the political task for the Christian elected official is to "perfect pluralism," to ensure one faithfully represents the needs and concerns of one's neighbors. This will sometimes mean sacrificing one's own sense of what is appropriate to advance different views strongly held by one's constituents. The closing lines of "Strategies for Political Action" should be understood in that context: "The Christian who enters politics learns to make the needs of his neighbor his own. In doing so, his search for justice becomes an act of sacrificial love."

Paul's support for the American political system, his discomfort with moral issues, and his pluralistic view of politics are logically connected. Paul trusted that the broad outlines of history followed God's providential intent, and that these outlines included the American system of government and style of politics. Christians and non-Christians alike should promote their own ideas of justice within our pluralistic system, which is adequately structured to reconcile these competing claims. If Christians faithfully carried out their political roles and obligations, their faithfulness would be honored with a public order that provided imperfect but sufficient justice for individuals, groups, and society as a whole.


A fourth point important for understanding Paul Henry's thought it to see it as a whole. On first impression one might easily conclude that Paul became more conservative over time. His earliest writings urge evangelicals to pursue a fairly specific Christian agenda, similar to that proposed at the time by the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. His latest writings, on the other hand, seem to argue that it is impossible to know the Christian position on any particular issue, or even to know what issues should compose a Christian agenda.

A closer examination, however, finds that Paul was quite consistent in his basic objectives. First, the context of Paul's writings changed far more than his basic premises. The earlier writings lay out a positive agenda for politically reluctant evangelicals, urging them to combat poverty, racism, and the causes of war. These issues demanded concern about social morality, not just individual morality, and required long-term dedication to solving complex and difficult social evils. Paul's call to engagement in these early writings is mixed with criticism of evangelical individualism which allowed it to ignore and misdiagnose these social ills that Paul believed were critical to the evangelical political task.

Paul's later writings came after the explosion of evangelical political engagement that focused on abortion, an issue that reinforced the very individualistic worldview Paul had criticized so strongly. While Paul agreed with the newly active evangelicals on abortion, he was dismayed that their focus on the issue (and similar issues such as homosexuality and school prayer) reinforced an individualism that inhibited effective political engagement on important structural issues. Simultaneously, Paul was frustrated with politically moderate and progressive evangelicals, mostly in the Anabaptist tradition, who held policy positions close to Paul's own but whose theological views blocked direct political engagement. Caught in these twin frustrations, Paul emphasized that mixing Christianity and politics did not necessarily lead to the kind of Christian political engagement that was everywhere around; rather, faithful Christian politics would manifest itself in a variety of ways.

Also one must note the change in Paul's personal situation. At Calvin College Paul could exercise a great deal of academic freedom. Rooted in a deep and intellectually developed faith, he could range widely and freely in his early discussions of the interplay between Christianity and politics.

In his later writings, however, Paul seems ever mindful of his public position. He knew his once-uttered thoughts would never be "off the record" nor immune from distortion. In these later writings Paul never completely leaves his job as a Representative; indeed, his position becomes engrained in his thinking. In these writings politics becomes even more pluralistic, almost completely defined by the clanging competition one finds in campaigning and lawmaking. So Paul did not fill in the details of the broad outline of Christian politics he developed earlier at Calvin, frustrating both his friends and opponents. Rather, he presents a more narrowly focused commentary on the proper role of a Christian elected representative.

Too Much Humility?

It is unfortunate that Paul's original works only sometimes reveal his personality. Paul Henry was an extremely enjoyable person to be around. He had a sharp and self-deprecating wit, a warm and charismatic personality, and a humility that is rare among politicians. Fortunately the essays by Paul's friends relate many instances where these characteristics shone through.

Paul's personality, especially his humility, directly affected his political thought. One looks in vain for bold assertions about the "true end" of politics, expositions on the ideal political system, sweeping solutions to chronic problems, or overly confident assessments of politics and policy. In the place of such self-assured pronouncements are calls for humility about the ends and means of the political process. As he states in "Getting Involved in Politics":

We cannot simply reduce the Christian message to some sort of religious party platform from which incontrovertible political specifics can be drawn. The Bible and the teachings of the Christian community point to broad principles which we dare not neglect in our Christian witness to society. But we must guard against the temptation to exploit those principles on behalf of particular applications when other equally plausible affirmations of Christian conscience can be drawn from them. We must avoid the temptation to manipulate or exploit Christian conscience on behalf of hidden agendas, thereby using God rather than being used by God. One cannot simply deduce political particulars from the transcendent truths of God's revelation in Jesus Christ and the Scriptures.

Paul Henry's politics is a struggle open to all persons of good will. Respect for the pluralism of religious belief and unbelief is at its core. Respect for others forces Christians to reflect appropriate humility about their own knowledge and reason, a humility that should (but often does not) follow from their understandings of sin and salvation. To counter the natural tendencies of superiority to which they are not immune, Christians in public office must constantly acknowledge and critically engage their motivations and their arguments to ensure that their views are not overly elevated and the views of opponents not overly discounted. As Paul wrote:

We must be mindful of the principles of civility, tolerance, and civil rights, which God ordains to be enjoyed by all. We dare not abuse the norms of justice in the pursuit of justice, lest the means employed undermine the ends pursued. Above all, Christian conduct in the public order ought to be marked by sensitivity toward those outside the Christian community who may disagree with us at the most fundamental level, as well as sensitivity to those within the Christian community who may disagree with us at the practical level.

Paul Henry possessed a real, and perhaps too great, humility about his ability to clearly see and communicate a comprehensive Christian vision for politics. No crusader, he was, instead, a servant of the real but ambiguous claims of justice. May all Christians seeking political justice find instruction in his life.


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