catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 1, Num 5 :: 2002.11.08 — 2002.11.21


The politics of truth and love

What would happen if a public official left politics-as-usual at the door and instead made political decisions based on the ultimate principles of truth and love? Christians have read Christ's words about loving our neighbors hundreds, if not thousands, of times, but rarely do we consider what it would mean to bring this idea into the political sphere. We believe that the truth will set us free, but we're not willing to let it set our political views free. We think it's unrealistic and idealistic to think that we can shape our political views around ideas so intensely radical.

But most of the time, the ideals have just been left untried. I was pleasantly surprised when I found a story about a man who not only lived these ideals, but was eventually highly respected and admired for his integrity by people on both sides of the political spectrum.

In 1980, Ronald Reagan nominated Dr. C. Everett Koop, a pioneer in the Pro-life movement who was adamantly opposed to any form of abortion, to the position of Surgeon General. Reagan thought it might bolster his support in right-wing camps. Conservative political groups cheered the nomination, thinking they finally had someone who could help outlaw abortion. Pro-choice groups such as Planned Parenthood, NOW and other liberal activists vigorously rallied against the nomination and made every attempt possible to block its approval. Much to their dismay, Koop's nomination was approved.

During his term as Surgeon General, Koop's moral mettle was tested again and again.

The Reagan Administration got wind of a new disease called AIDS as early as 1981. But Dr. Koop, the top medical official in the nation, was kept from seeing information or speaking publicly about AIDS until 1986. Only after the number of reported cases reached 10,000 was Koop asked to do a report on the topic. Evangelicals expected the Surgeon General to prepare a report declaring AIDS as God's judgement for sinful behavior. Instead, Koop delivered a document that denounced rumors that AIDS could be spread through mosquitoes, promoted education about the disease "at the lowest grade possible" and strongly suggested condom use for people in same-sex or multiple partner relationships (although abstinence was cited as the best preventative action).

Both ends of the political spectrum were stunned by the report. Liberals applauded Koop for his honesty and gay rights groups called him an AIDS hero. Conservatives went on the offensive against Koop, calling him a shill for homosexuals and saying he no longer represented the pro-family movement. Koop defended his analysis, explaining simply, "Total abstinence for everyone is not realistic, and I'm not ready to give up on the human race quite yet . . . I am the Surgeon General of the heterosexuals and the homosexuals, of the young and the old, of the moral and the immoral. You may hate the sin, but you are to love the sinner." He chose to show love and compassion to sick and dying people, instead of relying on simple black and white morality to judge their sin.

Another test came in 1989 when Reagan asked Koop to prepare another report, this time on the health effects of abortion on women. One of Reagan's pro-life advisors predicted that, "The findings would be so devastating that they could reverse Roe v. Wade." Once again, the results of Dr. Koop's findings were unexpected. He concluded that "in spite of a diligent review on the part of many in the [Public Health Service] and in the private sector, the scientific studies do not provide conclusive data about the health effects of abortion on women." Pro-choice groups took this to mean that abortion was harmless to women, while pro-life groups felt as though Koop had betrayed them. In actuality, he had simply found that the scientific data was methodologically flawed and therefore provided no conclusive evidence either way. Despite tremendous pressure to produce pro-life results, Dr. Koop presented the truth. He did not allow political pressure to affect his public position.

While these examples are certainly not perfect, especially considering the fact that the Surgeon General position is not an elected post, they do illustrate my point. It is possible to allow truth and love to be the guiding principles for Christians involved in politics. Would it be possible for someone running for an elected office to use these ideals? I don't know yet, but I do know it would be incredibly refreshing to see a candidate speak truthfully about the issues, instead of playing the strategic game of numbers politics has become. Can you imagine a politician going before a crowd of people and saying, "We really don't want to raise taxes, but it's going to be necessary if we'd like to ensure that our children are educated, our roads are maintained and our mail gets delivered" or "I'm not going to take money from interest groups because it will probably affect my objective judgement"?

If anyone should be leading the charge for the change from political status quo to political integrity, it should be Christians. After all, we know the source of truth and love.


The information about Dr. Koop was gleaned from Philip Yancey's Soul Survivor: How My Faith Survived the Church. The book contains 12 other essays about extraordinary people including Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., G.K. Chesterton and Dr. Paul Brand.

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