A few months ago in a coffee shop in Kalamazoo, my friend Dan said something that stuck with me.
He stated the simple idea that Christians must insist upon truth in our society rather than force it upon our society.
Christians must insist upon truth in our society rather than force it upon our society. Click To Tweet
So of course I asked him what he meant by that, and he said something to the effect that we cannot force the truth of our morals upon people who have no reason to believe in the truth of those morals. But instead, Christians must insist that their morals are true and be ready to defend them.
We Christians operate within a paradigm which, like any other religion or worldview, carries a set of ethical beliefs. We have our ethics because of a specific view of what it means to be human as beings created by and for the glory of God.
Just as we believe in the reality of divine creation; God’s law; and the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we believe in the reality of the ethical beliefs that come as a result of those prior beliefs.
Yet, as we insist upon the truth of our ethics within society, we must not force our ethics upon it. To do so is dangerous as a precedent for tyranny, detrimental to the spreading of the Gospel, and is wrong by the very principle of forcing moral agents to live according to morals with which they do not agree.
What does it mean to insist upon truth?
So what does it mean to insist upon the truth of our worldview? It’s really quite simple. We must be able to clearly state what we believe and why we believe it. We can hardly insist that something is true if we wither the first time somebody offers a counterargument against our assertions of reality. If we are against abortion, we must be able to say why and be able to defend it. If we are against homosexuality, we must be able to state why and be able to defend it.
Not only should we have reasons for our beliefs so that we can be certain of our own views, we must be equipped with arguments that involve common ground shared with most reasonable people. We would never expect a Muslim to convince a Christian that eating bacon is immoral by only using the Qur’an because Christians do not take the Qur’an authoritatively – it is not common ground. In the same way we could not expect a Christian to persuade a pro-choice non-Christian that abortion is wrong by only using the Bible. Sure it would be nice for the non-Christian to come to salvation and view Scripture as authoritative, but until that happens they cannot reasonably be expected to care what Scripture says.
This leaves the Christian with two duties as we insist upon truth in a non-Christian culture. We must develop persuasive arguments for moral truths through common ground if we are to convince non-Believers of Christian moral views which concern society at large. Secondly, we must be able to persuade individuals of the truth of Christianity so that we can then use Scripture as a common ground to contend for truth that is not so easily reached without divine revelation.
What It Means To Force Our Morals Upon Society (and why it is bad)
What Christians must not do is confuse insisting upon the truth of our beliefs with inappropriately forcing our beliefs onto the rest of society by misusing the power of our civil government. A Christian should be able to look any person in the face and say without flinching that abortion, gay marriage, pornography, and the like are all wrong. But that does not mean that each and every one of those things is something with which the civil government should be concerned, and having the civil government outlaw moral evils which do no enter the scope of a civil government’s authority is principally wrong.
The purpose of civil government is protecting (being distinct from “ensuring”) the happiness of the society which it governs from the actions of individuals who would directly harm the flourishing and happiness of another individual. Therefore, a civil government is concerned with things such as murder, theft, rape, dangerously reckless behavior, foreign invasion, etc.
In short, the civil government is concerned with immoral actions which necessitate a victim and affect that victim to the extent that governmental protection against such an evil is evidently prudent. For example, we hardly think of verbal insult as something from which we need governmental protection. But few of us would question the necessity of laws and law enforcement helping to deter theft or murder.
What the government should not protect us from, however, are victimless immoral actions. Civil government protects individuals from each other to ensure that society attains its proper end (tending to the pursuit of happiness of the individuals which compose it). It is the duty of an individual and an individual’s religious authorities to govern over the individual’s actions insofar as that individual does not commit a societal evil affecting other individuals (in which case it would become an issue under the authority of the civil government).
But when one religion or worldview strong-arms the rest of society into moral compliance in regards to victimless evils, we violate the dignity of the individual to exercise that same right granted by God which is to have the freedom to make our own personal decisions (whether we make them right or wrong). Such a practice is fundamentally wrong and should be avoided for that reason alone, but if we fail to do so then there will inevitably be negative consequences.
By forcing moral compliance through the force of government, we foster unnecessary resentment to our own religion and set the precedent that power rather than persuasion will be the only prerequisite for civil law. So when power changes hands, those who are no longer in power will not be handed the dignity to lead their own lives which they robbed from those whom they had previously governed but now govern them.
What Does This Mean For Christians and Public Policy?
What does this mean for Christians as we enter the common square and partake in popular-government? It means we must discern between evils with which a civil government is concerned and those that are not. As an example, we can take the evil of pedophilia which clearly entails a victimized child who cannot be reasonably expected to consent to sexual advances. Therefore, civil law is concerned with such an evil because it involves one individual violating another, and we cannot possibly expect a child to just take care of it themselves.
By way of contrast, we may look to homosexuality which involves consenting adults and does not entail a victim. It is a voluntary, personal sin according to orthodox Christian doctrine. Therefore, it is an issue of personal concern or of concern for that person’s religious authorities if they are not in line with that religion’s tenets.
The principle is that since the end of civil law is the prevention of civil evils (evils performed by some individual violating the rights of another), then any evil that is not civil in nature ought never be outlawed by a civil government since the civil government would be stepping outside the proper scope of its authority.
So How Do We Create True Social Change?
Does this mean surrender for Christians? Hardly! It means we must insist upon Christian truth ourselves rather than making the crown superficially do it for us. We should still insist upon the truth of our morals, and be burdened by the prevalence of evil in our society. But attempting to ban immorality through civil government is simply a slothful attempt to replace the duty of going out and transforming lives through truth with a cheap, addictive anesthesia of governmentally enforced conformity which allows us to deceive ourselves into thinking that we live in a Christian culture when the reality is that there are still souls imperiled by the prospect of Hell.
...we must insist upon Christian truth ourselves rather than making the crown superficially do it for us Click To Tweet
If we observe our society and see a society that perfectly fits our idea of moral truth but only because we have forced them into obedience without causing a transformational heart change through the realization of truth, then we have done nothing but create resentment towards our cheapened religion by stripping them of their basic human dignity. We not only risk them doing the same to us when the popular majority swings in their favor, more importantly we also damn them to Hell in a despicable act of selfishness born from a desire to remove the outward signs that there are souls needing salvation.
Christians are told to preach the Gospel, not to enforce superficial conformity through the abuse of civil power. Click To Tweet
Christians must insist upon the truth of our doctrine and the civil freedom to live in accordance with it. We must persuade individuals of the truth of the Gospel so that they will not only be transformed by the grace of Christ to live according to moral truth, but so that they will ultimately be saved. It is a difficult project – arguably much harder than abusing the power of a popular majority to content ourselves with the appearance of a “Christian” culture. Christians are told to preach the Gospel, not to enforce superficial conformity through the abuse of civil power.
If you agree then please like and share! If not then say why in the comments (or email me on the contact page to inquire about writing a rebuttal post).
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