Russ Vought

The Moral Clarity of a Dissident

Life is confounding. Faithfulness requires us to seek truth and to pray constantly for shrewdness in approaching the world around us. To do so, we must gain the moral clarity of a dissident. And when we do, we will be able to reason toward a consensus with our fellow Christians on how we should then live.

Almost two years into a worldwide pandemic, amidst at least a decade of bitter partisanship in society, and increased confrontations over race and what to do about it, the American evangelical church is extremely divided. While Christians work hard to stay unified and respect each others’ consciences throughout the turmoil, the lack of any Christian consensus on how to approach the prevailing issues of the day is stark. What explains it?
One important explanation is that it stems from a lack of Christian shrewdness. Matthew 10:16 says, “Behold, I am sending you as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” Perhaps no verse in the Bible presents so simply the duties for Christians living in the modern age. It recognizes that the world around us is fallen and opposed to God’s truth, and that discernment is therefore paramount if we are to understand and properly respond to events.
Many Christian elites skip this call for shrewdness and suffer from profound naivety. The fall did not just result in a world marked by evil—it created massive confusion and disorder. Humanity is left searching for some foundation beneath its feet. For Christians, that bedrock is the word of God, providing the mind of God to filter all of reality. But this is difficult because we often accept and bring the world’s categories of understanding to the process. Our posture is not appropriately and biblically oppositional, and therefore we lack the moral clarity of, for instance, a dissident. A dissident is one who is opposed to what an evil regime stands for because he understands its true nature. That critical assessment creates clarity that must then be matched with shrewdness.
One of the great challenges to answering our intuitive question—“what is actually going on in our world?”—is that our culture’s categories have become utterly confused . Take the example of a ladder. A ladder’s purpose is to be  a series of connected steps that allow one to climb up or down. But at some point, a ladder may lose all connection to its purpose, and to continue to speak of it as such has no meaning. Of course, one can still climb a ladder if the first rung is broken. But what if all the rungs are broken? It’s now just wood—some hardware may still be on it, but the wood has been robbed of its purpose. We can think of other, more serious examples in this vein as well: marriages, homes, communities.
Now consider some of the categories of our modern policy debates: the role of experts, the media or even the government itself.
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