Of course having a schizophrenic conscience is not restricted to Senator Kennedy. The church sometimes seems to have such. William Willimon has written:
- We show a curious split between private and public morality. Stanley Hauerwas has criticized the liberal church for being "public legalists and private antinomians." We couple a laissez-faire attitude toward personal morality with a legalistic, coercive stance on public policy, confidently asserting what ought to be done on all sorts of complex global problems but utterly confused about what to say to two people in a bedroom.
Of course, the religious right often makes the same mistake in the opposite direction. They stress the importance of personal morality and responsibility while talking little about structural evil in society (what the Bible calls "principalities and powers").
Tony Campolo has pointed to the same phenomenon:
- Sometimes, when I am talking to Christians who are Republicans, I get the sense that they believe that all we need to create a good society is to get individuals ‘saved.’ They seem to simplistically believe that society is nothing more than the sum total of the individuals who make it up...On the other hand, when I talk to Democrats who are Christians, I sometimes get the idea that all we have to do to make things good in America is to create a more just social order. Too often, Democrats convey the simplistic notion that the only reason people do evil is because society sets them up for it. To listen to some Democrats I know is to get the idea that if the government just ensured everyone of adequate housing, decent-paying jobs, and good educational opportunities, all would be well.
Of course, the truth is we need both a personal conscience and a social conscience and the gospel addresses both.
©1996 C. David Hess