The Real Demand of Being Salt and Light: A Response to Larry Taunton

            In a world of polarizing rhetoric and deepening political divides, the path for Christian political involvement has become ever murkier.  One way out of the fog is to label one side as the bastion of evil and the other the guardian of righteousness.  This approach was taken by Larry Taunton in a recent article, “The Salt has Lost its Savor:  the Woke Church and the Undoing of America” where he questions the positions of Tim Keller and John Piper.[1]  Keller told his audience that one could not mandate another Christian must vote Republican or Democrat without a biblical command to that effect.[2]  While Taunton thought that was a reasonable approach in bygone eras, he was incredulous about its application in the most recent election and asked:  “But in 2020, a year when Democrats represent all that is unholy?”[3]

            Why might the Democrats “represent all that is unholy”?  He explains that he “…can think of several biblical commands that made the choice for any Bible-believing Christian absolutely clear in this election.  I mean, would Jesus endorse a radical pro-abortion and pro-infanticide policy; every sordid sexual agenda, even the sexualization of small children; a complete disregard for the rule of law; and open hostility toward His followers?  I don’t think so.”[4] 

            The allure of Taunton’s rhetoric is palpable.  Who wants to be on the side of unequivocal evil?  Who wants to fail in being salt and light?  No serious Christian I know would answer yes. 

            But is the current political landscape carved up so neatly between good and evil?  I only wish it were.  As a Reformed Christian, a camp within which Taunton also identifies, I affirm the often unpopular doctrine of total depravity which says that all human capacities have been corrupted by sin and that all humans are touched by it in some way (Rom. 3:9-20).  This does not mean all are equally evil or act on it to the same extent, but it does mean that none of us (except for Jesus) can claim to be a representation of pure goodness.  If none of us can claim to be purely good individually then it would seem nigh impossible for our political associations, which are collections of vast amounts of individuals, to be any different.  The line between good and evil cannot be so easily drawn between Democrats and Republicans.

            Solzhenitsyn once put it this way:  “Gradually, it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either–but right through every human heart–and through all human hearts” (Gulag Archipelago).  Solzhenitsyn summarizes my point well, but I think he touches on why we might find Taunton’s option an attractive one.  If we can think ourselves on the side of righteousness simply by voting a particular way, then I don’t have to face the evil within.  Indeed, part of what concerns me in Taunton’s article is that it leaves us with a false sense of goodness and does not build Spirit-led discernment about the truth in our hearts, a truth that Scripture affirms.

            What is more, Taunton’s article sabotages the very thing he wants to inculcate.  He wants Christians to be “salt and light.”  He wants us to “push back at a culture that, in the words of Isaiah 5:20, ‘call[s] evil good and good evil….’”  Yes, that is precisely what we should be doing!  The things he lists as problematic in the Democratic platform are things we should speak against.  However, being salt and light is not just about delivering a prophetic word to Democrats; it is also making sure the Republicans do not get a pass and that God’s Word sifts them just as fully.

            The problem with Taunton’s totalizing approach to the issue is not that he is too hard but rather too soft and therefore not enough “salt and light.”  If he is worried about the “election-rigging” of the Democrats what about the former president’s repeated, court unsubstantiated claims about voter fraud?  While we have the fortune of reflecting on these things in light of January 6th, which Taunton did not have when he wrote the article, such repeated claims and their widespread acceptance within the Christian community before the publication of the article led to “Jesus Saves” flags waving as the Capitol was being breached.  Is that effective salt and light?  Would Jesus be breaking into the Capitol when his preferred candidate didn’t win (John 18:36)?[5]  What about separating families at the border?  This is not to legitimate their illegal entry and thereby support open borders, but to ask how we go about dealing with illegal entries by families.  Would the God who created family applaud?  What about the former administration’s restrictions of refugees and asylees under the guise of national safety that leaves then languishing in refugee camps?  How does this square with the biblical commands to care for the foreigner (Exod. 22:21) and when will we admit that the rhetoric from the conservative side of the aisle seems to be influencing the attitudes of Christians negatively toward those to whom they are called to be salt and light, especially Muslims?[6]  The former administration has done a fine job of bringing the vaccines into production at a record pace through Operation Warp Speed.  However, instead of unifying the country around conquering the virus, it proceeded to politicize mitigation efforts like masks, social distancing, and lockdowns.  If we are concerned about the deaths due to the intentional taking of unborn life, should we not also be concerned about the preventable virus deaths that have occurred through negligence and the preference of personal freedom over love of neighbor?  I could go on.

            The point is this, living in a world where evil runs through every heart and every party is a much more complicated and time-consuming way to live.  I see why people would want to seize on Taunton’s rhetoric as a way forward.  You can.  It’s easy, but you will just lose some of your savor.  Then the evils and moral ills of the party and platform you lionize uncritically will be the millstone around which you’ll drown any hope of fully being salt and light.  This is not to say that one party will not represent the kingdom more than another on particular issues, nor is it to retreat into moral relativism as if all views are morally equal.  It is to say that truth and goodness require a prophetic voice that speaks to all and doesn’t turn a blind eye on any, especially to those most ideologically similar to you.  The sooner we learn that the more we’ll actually be salt and light. 


[1] I concentrate here on the short form of the article because this is how it has been passed around in my circles (https://spectator.org/woke-church-american-spectator-print-magazine/).  The longer form is more robust, but it is this short form that has influenced people close to me and to which I now respond. In addition, this short form was also one he consented to publish as it is.

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/29/opinion/sunday/christians-politics-belief.html

[3] https://spectator.org/woke-church-american-spectator-print-magazine/

[4] https://spectator.org/woke-church-american-spectator-print-magazine/

[5] I understand that some will object to this point.  One side has obviously succeeded in a great deception about the election; that much is for sure.  From where I sit, only one candidate warned about fraud before the election ever began.  It is this same candidate who then claimed fraud after the election loss and initiated dozens of court cases that never went beyond the judges, even those who had been appointed by him.  Many of those cases were not even really about fraud.  Trump also proved unable to overturn Georgia’s electoral votes, even after multiple recounts, a signature audit, and pressuring attempts to overturn it.  Then, we have the fact that people like Barr and others defected from Trump as he continued to press the fraud issue.  For the sake of intellectual humility, I admit I could be wrong and that there are credible facts I don’t yet have before me to influence a different decision, but these are the factors that lead me to my current conclusion. 

[6] https://www.pewforum.org/2014/07/16/how-americans-feel-about-religious-groups/

Author: Ben Burkholder

It is my privilege to serve the kingdom of God as a pastor in the North Hills of Pittsburgh at North Park Church. I love to learn, and God granted me the opportunity of pursuing master's degrees at Talbot School of Theology and Ph.D. at Duquesne University. I am indebted to all my teachers and professors over the years and am grateful for what they have instilled in me. In addition, my wife has been my teammate along the way to make these dreams realized.