Mixing religion and politics wasn't unconstitutional; it was the basis of American civilization. The Declaration of Independence, the Ten Commandments on the wall of the Supreme Court, the prayers that open and close House and Senate sessions, the Constitution itself -- these are all religion and they are all politics and they are all fundamentally American.
It wasn't easy, he said, and it wasn't going to get any easier. "I don't know of any presidential candidate who has taken what I believe to be a correct position on the role of religion and politics."
My head was spinning faster than my scribbling pen. I was inspired. I was dazzled. I could help solve the greatest problems in America just by being a Christian -- a real Christian. If I followed Jesus, helped others follow Jesus, and did it all publicly, I would be fighting back against the secularizing forces that were sweeping God into the corner. This wasn't just a personal fight, it was a patriotic one as well. America was at stake. America's religious liberty was America's first liberty. If that is lost, we are lost. I left Brown University that night inspired that I could save America religiously and politically. God now infused my politics even if politics didn't yet infuse my God. I went back to Tufts and in the following weeks found every Colson book I could. Our library didn't own any copies of anything he had written, despite the fact that he had sold millions of books. So I ordered and devoured them: Born Again, Loving God, and Against the Night. They were stories about God, about faith, and about how Christian values have been lost. The more I read, the more inspired I became. Then I read his account of William Wilberforce in Kingdoms in Conflict.
Wilberforce, a wealthy member of Parliament in the late 1700s in Great Britain, had had a dramatic conversion to Christ. After almost perishing when his carriage nearly slid off the side of a mountain, he turned to God. Ready to renounce politics to pursue God, he was instead convinced by John Newton, a former brutal slave trader turned Christian, to use politics for God. Wilberforce worked for popular education, religious liberty, and parliamentary reform. He devoted his life to abolishing slavery. In 1788 Wilberforce introduced his first antislavery bill with a three-and-a-half-hour speech. He concluded, "Sir, when we think of eternity and the future consequence of all human conduct, what is there in this life that shall make any man contradict the dictates of his conscience, the principles of justice and the law of God?" For the next thirty years he fought against slavery. He finally saw the slave trade abolished, on the very night that he died.
Wilberforce was a model for how religion could influence government for moral reform. I seized upon that model. International human rights, the abolition of the death penalty, relief for the poor, aid for Africa, an end to apartheid -- these all struck me as the great and purposeful moral issues of the day. These, I knew, were the sorts of moral issues that Wilberforce would have championed. That's what drove me deeper into Democratic politics.