The following is an excerpt from my book, “Rescuing Religion from Republican Reason,” (pictured at right)
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As I shared in a blog post several weeks ago, the Republicans use family values rhetoric as their primary tool in securing Christian loyalty. Once they do that, they then bombard Christians with greed rhetoric that replaces the Bible’s teachings as the basis for their understanding of right and wrong. Many of these Christians believe it’s their calling to speak out against the sexual sins of non-Christians and to vote in favor of mandating morality by legislative means. But I believe the Bible demonstrates otherwise. Here is an excerpt from my book in which I make the case for how conservative Christians are mistaken.
“Christians have pointed to one isolated quote as the call to force Christian behavior upon non-Christians. It’s known as the Great Commission. Here it is:
Matthew 28:19-20, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
If the command to “make disciples of all nations” means that we must force entire nations to live as Christians, then we must force baptism upon every member of those nations as well, since Jesus follows this command with the words, “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Yet we learn from the Bible that baptism is an individual or family decision, not a national one, so Jesus can only be speaking of individual disciples, not entire nations of them, in the Great Commission.
Jesus uses the words, “all nations” to emphasize the need for His disciples to spread the Gospel beyond Judea and Galilee, something they were reluctant to do. Jesus wants disciples from all nations. He does not require that we force all members of all nations to be disciples.
Beyond this verse, I’ve found no other commands that impose Christian morality on all people. Neither have I been able to find examples of Jesus and His disciples attempting to persuade non-Christian and non-Jewish individuals to obey biblical moral and religious laws without first becoming Christians. I did, however, find a verse indicating that even the Apostle Paul lacked authority to impose Christian rules upon others:
1 Corinthians 5:12, “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges.”
Here, the word “judging” does not imply sinful judgmentalism of a person, but rather discipline or punishment for wrongdoing. Paul’s statement demonstrates that he has no command from God to enforce Christian righteousness upon non-Christians. He only has that power within the church.
But what about on a political basis?
Many of us assume that early Christians lacked the opportunity to change laws, because they were ruled by dictators rather than by democracies, so they had no choice but to abstain from political involvement. This assumption proves true for all but two early Christians: the Apostle Paul and Jesus. Both of them spoke to government officials appointed by the emperor of Rome and, therefore, had the opportunity to influence men in power.
Jesus spoke to Herod the Tetrarch (also known as Herod Antipas, a son of Herod the Great who had reigned at the time of Jesus’ birth) and to Pilate, both of whom had been appointed by the emperor of Rome. He spoke to them as He was in the process of being tried and crucified—an inconvenient time to discuss politics.
This was not Jesus’ only opportunity to speak to Herod Antipas, however. In Luke 23:8, the Bible says, “Now Herod was very glad when he saw Jesus, for he had wanted to see Him for a long time, because he had been hearing about Him and was hoping to see some signed performed by Him.” This means that Jesus could have met with him sooner but chose not to. If politics had been important to Jesus, He would have met with Herod, performed signs to convince him of His authority, and asked him to change laws to align with the Scriptures.
The Apostle Paul had an even greater opportunity to influence politics. Acts 24-26 details encounters between Paul, who had been arrested despite having committed no crime, and three officials appointed by the emperor of Rome: Felix, Festus, and Herod Agrippa II. The Bible quotes Paul sharing the Gospel with all three of them, but it never quotes him requesting that laws be changed. Festus then sent Paul to the emperor in Rome (Acts 25:12), because Paul had asked to be sent there for trial. Whether Paul ever met the emperor is unknown, but he certainly could have with God’s help. If God’s priority had been changing laws so that Romans would have been forced to turn away from having sex with temple prostitutes, He could have done so by changing the emperor’s heart through the pleadings of the Apostle Paul.
Why didn’t God seek to simultaneously spread Christianity and eliminate evil acts by means of changed laws?
First, maybe it’s because legislating morality doesn’t work. We’ve seen proof of this in modern America. Over the last few centuries, Christians have voted against immoralities and made them illegal. Alcohol was once illegal, various drugs, including marijuana, have been illegal, and homosexual behavior has been illegal at various times and in various places throughout American history. Yet, these immoralities have not only survived, but thrived, despite being illegal.
Why is this?
It’s because these sins are, for all practical purposes, victimless crimes. In other words, at the time of the violation, no disapproving person is present. If two consenting gay people do their gay thing together at home, no one will call the police the way a victim would when having their property stolen or their body injured. Thanks to this reality, most victimless immoral behavior goes unpunished. If enough people engage in such behavior, the behavior becomes a topic of conversation, and it turns out that conversation, not legislation, dictates the direction in which morality will go. Cigarette smoking has decreased in America, not because it’s been banned, but because conversations have turned people against it. On the flip side of that, marijuana was illegal in all 50 states for decades, yet support for its legalization grew through conversation to the point where the people of Colorado and Washington legalized it. Yes, we can legislate morality. But the reality is that doing so doesn’t work. Our only hope is to get more people to fall in love with God and His will. Only when hearts are transformed will morality improve.
The second possible reason that God didn’t seek to eliminate evil acts by means of changed laws might have been that doing so would have inhibited the spread of Christianity. Had Romans learned that Christians, who represented less than 1% of the population, were responsible for prohibiting the sins they enjoyed, they likely would have hated Christianity and never given it a chance. The growth of this young religion relied on its voluntary nature. Had its moral laws been forced upon the Romans, the faith might have died in its infancy. How would we feel today if we were forced to obey rules of another religion?
Imagine if America were to come under fundamentalist Muslim control, so that we would all be forced to obey fundamentalist Muslim laws: women could show nothing more than their eyeballs in public and would be denied education, while men would have to grow beards and forsake the luxuries they sometimes enjoy. How would we respond in our hearts? Would we admit that the Muslims taught us a lesson and fall in love with their faith? Or would we despise their faith out of resentment over being forced to obey their laws despite our lack of belief in their religion? Certainly, we would do the latter and cling even more tightly to our longstanding beliefs.
That’s exactly how non-Christians respond to Christian political power today. They hate Christians for imposing biblical rules upon them and cling more tightly to their lifestyles as a result. Meanwhile, the public increases its compassion for those whom Christians persecute, because the public sees them as martyrs. In the past, the public held a positive view of Christianity, because Christians were known for reaching out to the needy with the love of Christ. Today, thanks to Christian political movements that seek to morally restrict non-Christians and to support the interests of the wealthy over the needy, society sees Christians as oppressors.
Does this mean that it’s a sin for a Christian to vote, run for office, or discuss politics?
Of course, it doesn’t. It means that our calling to lead others to choose Christ is far more important than the man-made calling to force non-Christians to obey biblical rules. If our political involvement drives more people away from Christianity than it attracts to it, we defy God’s will. God’s will is that people choose Christianity and, only after doing so, obey biblical rules out of their love for God and others.
When we vote, run for office, and persuade others to support our political causes, we must take care how we do it. Christians should never use the “because God says so” argument to persuade non-Christians politically, because God never instructed Christians to force biblical practices upon non-Christians. He only “says so” for Christians, not for non-Christians. Also, by arguing, “because God says so,” we alienate non-Christians by trying to force the laws of our God upon them.
But if we make logical, non-religious arguments in support of our causes, our political opponents will have no reason to resent our faith. For example, we may oppose abortion by making the non-religious argument that a person’s right to live is a greater right than a person’s right to do whatever she wants with her body, because a person must be alive in order to enjoy all other rights. But if we turn abortion into a religious issue by saying, “because God says so” (even though the Bible never specifically prohibits abortion), legalized abortion advocates will have reason to resent Christianity, since its rules are being forced upon them despite their lack of belief in it.
While God has never called us to stop the moral sins of non-Christians, He has called us to avoid sin. So we should never vote for politicians who we know will seek to oppress the poor, the working class, the elderly, children, foreigners, etc. If we do, we share responsibility for the suffering they inflict. Yet many of us ignore these issues of oppression and focus upon issues that have little effect on the well-being of the others.
Since God intended for the Law to protect us from the suffering caused by each other’s sins, we should approach politics with the same intent. When Christians seek to rescue sin’s victims, the victims view Christians as liberators rather than as persecutors. These victims are then likely to become Christians, while the oppressors will likely resent us. The good news is that the oppressed always outnumber the oppressors, especially in a corporate system where the wealth belongs to such a small percentage of the population, so we lead more people to Christ than away from Him by aiding the oppressed. Unfortunately, the American decline of Christianity in recent decades is due, in part, to Christians siding with the oppressors.”