Tim Dunkin: Soft Christianity leads to hard lessons for Mike Huckabee

RenewAmerica.com Any presidential aspirations that Mike Huckabee may have been entertaining for 2012 are over. Or at least they should be.

On Sunday, December 29, Maurice Clemmons walked into a coffeeshop in Lakewood, Washington, and gunned down four police officers in cold blood. Clemmons had a long history of violent criminal activity. He had numerous violent felony convictions in his home state of Arkansas. He first went to prison there when he was 17 years old, his crimes being serious enough to earn him a 48-year prison sentence for five of these convictions. He had additional time tacked on for good measure resulting from further charges of robbery, possessing a handgun on school grounds, and theft, bringing his total sentence to 108 years. After migrating to Washington, he accrued to himself eight more convictions. At the time that he murdered these four police officers, the 37-year old Clemmons was out on bail, charged with the second degree rape of a child — she was a mere 12-years old.

Now, you might ask yourself, if Clemmons had been handed sentences totaling 108 years of imprisonment in Arkansas when he was 17, what we he doing in Washington a mere 20 years later, walking around free and adding to his criminal exploits in that state?

That's where Mike Huckabee comes in. After Clemmons had served only eleven years of his century-plus sentence, Huckabee, then the governor of Arkansas, felt sorry for Clemmons. After all, poor Maurice was only 17 when he committed the crimes that landed him in the clink. A mere child, how could he be held accountable for what he did? How terribly draconian of the criminal justice sentence to rob this young man of the life he had ahead of him, just like he had robbed others at gunpoint. Because of the harshness and unforgiving attitude of the state of Arkansas' justice system, Gov. Huckabee decided in 2000 to give this poor young man a break, and commute his sentence to 47 years, making him immediately eligible for parole. Huckabee then pushed for Clemmons' parole, something which the equally soft-headed Arkansas parole board (which had to sign off on the decision) acceded to.

The Clemmons commutation, unfortunately, was right in line with the policy pursued by Mike Huckabee while he was the governor of Arkansas. While Governor, Huckabee commuted the sentences of 1,033 Arkansas criminals, allowing many of them to get parole early. Another high profile case involving Huckabee was the case of Wayne Dumond. Dumond was also a career criminal, with murder, rape, and child molestation to his account. He was serving a life-plus-twenty year sentence for the 1984 rape of a 17-year old cheerleader who also happened to be the distant cousin of Bill Clinton. Clinton, rightly, recused himself from consideration of the case from a parole standpoint, because of the obvious potential for conflict of interest. However, when he left office to run for President, his Lieutenant Governor, Jim Guy Tucker, reviewed Dumond's case, and commuted the sentence to 39 years. When Huckabee later entered office, he actively sought for Dumond's parole, even to the extent of lobbying five of the state parole board members, illegally, in a closed door "executive session" that violated Arkansas' Freedom of Information Act. Huckabee had his way, and Dumond was released in 1999, after which he moved to Missouri and continued his recidivist pattern of sexual assault and murder. Eventually, Dumond died in his prison cell in Cameron, Missouri in 2003, most likely from the esophageal cancer from which he suffered, while awaiting the filing of charges for raping and killing a pregnant woman.

This pattern of executive clemency despite obvious evidence of recidivistic patterns clearly indicates a failure on the part of Mike Huckabee to exercise good judgment. The Dumond case came out during the 2008 primary seasons, and was likely a contributing factor to the failure of Huckabee to win the GOP nomination — the law-and-order Party doesn't like soft-on-crime guys. It was certainly one of the reasons why I didn't support him. Indeed, Huckabee's tendency in this area is part of a larger pattern of poor judgment stemming from a soft heart not tempered by a calculating head. Lest we forget, during his tenure in the Arkansas executive mansion, Huckabee supported a number of government-expanding, wealth-redistributing programs ostensibly designed to "help the poor" — on somebody else's dime, of course. Between 1996 and 2004, Arkansas' state budget increased by 65%. He signed several tax increases on fuel, nursing home care, and other commodities, and worked to remove the lowest income brackets from the tax rolls — demonstrating his support for "progressive" taxation schemes, seemingly at odds with his later vocal support for the FlatTax. Likewise, Huckabee was repeatedly on the record, not only as supporting Bush's immigration amnesty, but for insinuating that those who are opposed to illegal immigration are "racist." Further, Huckabee has stated that "confronting global warming" is a "moral issue." Despite being right on a number of issues, he shows a disconcerting pattern of being wrong in a consistent way in several important areas.

The reason for this, I believe, is that his theology has taken him in the wrong direction. Now don't misunderstand, I am not one of these critics who have been suggesting that Huckabee's problem is that he allows his personal religious and moral beliefs to direct his stances and his thinking on the issues. Indeed, any person who tells you that we should, or that they can, separate opinions about religion and morality from ideas about public policy is either a fool or lying. You simply can't do it. Everybody's political opinions, how they vote, etc. are influenced by their approach to religious beliefs, for or against. Conservative Christians will generally be conservative — because of their underlying moral worldview. Liberal Christians will be leftist for the same reason. Left-leaning atheists, for the same reason. Libertarians will be what they are, for the same reason. And so on. The issue is not that people allow moral and religious stances to influence their approach to politics. The issue, ultimately, is what those stances are, which is why we have the cultural divide across our society to begin with.

I think there is a good case to be made that, when it comes to the interface between the Christian believer and the social system, Mike Huckabee is a firm believer in the Social Gospel. The Social Gospel is a soft, man-centered heresy that essentially says that Christianity has a responsibility to better the world around us — specifically by utilizing the power of government to "level the playing field," caring for those less fortunate, and using government intercession to fix broken lives. This latest, Protestant version of this idea originated during the late Victorian period, when social do-gooders in several of the Christian denominations began to de-emphasize traditional Christian theology that centered on the person and work of Jesus Christ from a rigorously doctrinal standpoint, and to replace it with such notions as "bringing the kingdom of God in" and saving the world system through "doing good unto others." The rise of the Social Gospel was concomitant with the increasingly regulatory role that the government began to take to itself in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and helped prepare the way for the acceptance of Roosevelt's New Deal. In other words, the Social Gospel represents a confusion between the legitimate work of Christian churches, and the illegitimate work of ever-expanding government. It took what should have been the province of local churches and individual Christians — to help our neighbor, to care for those less fortunate, to give altruistically to those in need without expecting anything in return — and made it into the duty of the government, acting as "Christ's agent in the world." In essence, the Social Gospel is basically a Protestant form of papocaesarism.

The problem is that this is not the stated purpose for the churches, as given in the New Testament. The primary responsibility given to Christians is to preach the true Gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ. The responsibilities of the churches are to edify the saints and to evangelize the lost. Nowhere in this is seen the duty to use the police powers of the state to pick one person's pockets to give to another person — no matter how seemingly noble or good the cause. Charity within the Christian context is private or congregational. We are enjoined to "do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith" (Gal. 6:10) and to "ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men" (I Thess. 5:15). The local church is tasked with caring for "widows that are widows indeed" (I Tim. 5:3, 9-10) and individual Christians are to provide for their own, especially of their own households (I Tim. 5:8). Clearly, the model pictured in the New Testament is that of the poor and needy being taken care of by their own families and their own circle of believers within the context of their local congregation, and one cannot deny that if this were dutifully followed, it would eliminate a lot of the purported "need" for massive social spending by our government. Charity should be local and private. And this should extend to outside the churches. If people — believers or unbelievers alike — want to start a charity to provide assistance of one sort or another, using money from voluntary donors, more power to them. But it's definitely not the "Christian thing to do" to use the police powers of the state to hold a gun to somebody's head and force them to provide for others. Charity is not virtuous when it is not voluntary.

This Social Gospel — and the paternalistic attitude that it engenders — are behind Huckabee's moderate-to-liberal record on the issues I detailed above. In the Social Gospel worldview, it is "Christian" to use the government to provide for those less fortunate. In this worldview, it is "Christian" to fall inline with the environmentalist movement's increasingly noxious support for "doing something" about global warming. It is "Christian" to be soft on illegal immigrants who have broken our laws. It is "Christian" to oppose the death penalty, even though the Bible itself established the sword in the hand of the ruler. Conversely, it is "hard-hearted," "unloving," yea, even "un-Christian" to stand for law-and-order, for wise economic principles, to oppose theft-by-government.

And that brings us back to Mike Huckabee and Maurice Clemmons. In line with his other confusions of the role between church and state, one of Huckabee's stated reasons for commuting so many sentences and enabling so many paroles during his tenure as Arkansas' governor was that he believes in "redemption." He believes in giving poor misguided souls "a second chance." Redemption is a theological term. It describes the action of buying back something that has been lost, and in Christian terms, refers to the purchasing back to Himself of the soul and life of the lost sinner by Christ, through faith and trust in the work that Christ did on the cross and the blood that He shed as an atonement for our sins. As such, "redemption" has absolutely nothing to do with releasing recidivist rapists and murdered back onto the streets so they can victimize more innocent people.

Yet, in Mike Huckabee's mind, it apparently does. That's because of the Social Gospel mentality whereby theological terms and concepts are taken out of the spiritual realm, and applied to liberal social policies. Redemption is no longer about the work of Christ on the cross, it is now about giving hardened criminals a second chance, even though there is no evidence whatsoever that they feel any remorse for their actions. Indeed, in the case of Maurice Clemmons, he was obstinate in his rebellion against the law from start to finish. In one of his many court cases, he smuggled a weapon into the courtroom, and he routinely made threatening and disruptive comments throughout his legal proceedings. He was a man who clearly believed that he had the "right" to do whatever he wanted to do to any body he felt like doing it to — and the government was in the wrong for restraining him from it. Yet, Mike Huckabee believed that a man like this needed "forgiveness." Again, that's an unbiblical outflowing of the Social Gospel mentality. In the Scripture, you do not see forgiveness extended, either by God or by man, until it is first asked for. It is a Christian virtue to be ready to forgive, when the offender genuinely repents of what they have done and asks for it, and it is Christian to then give that forgiveness. It is not, however, a Christian virtue to use "forgiveness" not asked for as an excuse to implement unjustified leniency.

Even then, we should also understand that Christian forgiveness between individuals involves the settling of personal disputes, and between God and the individual, it involves the wiping away of that person's sin debt — they are pardoned for eternity from the guilt of their trespasses against God (Romans 8:1). This does not, however, mean that spiritual salvation is a "get out of jail free" card. God instituted civil government all the way back in Genesis 9, and reiterated its authority in Romans 13. For the New Testament believer, the civil authority is a separate sphere from the spiritual. What this means is that while a person who has committed horrible, horrible crimes may indeed come to Christ if they truly repent, and receive everlasting pardon, this does not absolve them of the responsibility for their actions before men. Yet, his confusion on this point played directly into Huckabee's push for the parole of Wayne Dumond — who claimed to have had a "religious conversion" while in prison. Because of this, Huckabee championed him, though Dumond's activities after he got out of prison suggest that his "conversion" was more one of convenience than genuine.

In conclusion, because of the results of his Social Gospel-style beliefs, Mike Huckabee's judgment has been impaired in a number of ways. The problem is certainly not that he is religious, the problem is that he's not applying spiritual principles correctly. He apparently accepts the premises of a heretical approach to Christianity that relies upon the government for its strength, while peddling an unbiblical and dangerous approach to the way the Christian believer interacts with and applies the law. He confuses the biblical with the profane, and as a result, four police officers are dead, among other tragedies. That is not what we need in a potential standard bearer for conservatives and Republicans in 2012.

© Tim Dunkin