There are plenty of vacuous and blatantly false charges being made by atheists, secular humanists, and even by woefully uninformed Christians. I have to deal with them all the time. One of the more ridiculous ones is the claim that Christians somehow are imposing their morality on the rest of society.
There are different versions of this. Another one is this: ‘Christians are forcing the unsaved to live according to biblical values’ or words to that effect. The idea is, every time a Christian shares in public any concerns he might have, he is coercing others and ramming the Bible down their throats.
As I mentioned, it is not just the usual suspects pushing this baloney (the secular humanists and atheists etc) but a whole lot of clueless Christians as well unfortunately. Their thinking here is so muddled that they end up simply parroting the worldly wisdom of the God-haters.
Of course the misotheists gotta love it when undiscerning believers actually make their case for them. They sit back and laugh, while believers do all the damaging work for them. Examples of this seem to be endless. Let me just refer to one recent example of this,
Consider this article title: “Christians Shouldn’t Be Culture’s Morality Police”. Worse yet, it appeared in a magazine called “Relevant”! Oh puh-leeese. These sorts of unhelpful articles are a dime a dozen, so instead of wasting time dealing with the specifics of this piece, let me offer a much more generic reply.
-Basically every law on the books is based on morality. If you look back far enough you will find some moral principle being appealed to in any bit of legislation or law. Morality-free law is very hard to come by.
-Every law has an element of enforcement, otherwise it is not law but mere advice. While you may not like wearing seat belts, paying taxes, or going only 60kph in a 60 speed zone, you are still forced to do these things, by penalty of law. That is how the law works. There is always an element of coercion in law, with consequences for law-breaking.
-Law is law, and it makes no difference if you are a believer or a non-believer. We have laws against murder for example. Where do these laws come from? How about the Sixth Commandment, “Thou shalt not murder”? The simple truth is, most of our laws have a moral basis, and most of this morality comes straight out of the Judeo-Christian worldview.
-We rightly expect non-Christians to obey such laws. We expect non-religious people to fully comply with laws. No judge in a court of law would ever say to an offender, “Well, you are a non-Christian so you cannot be expected to obey laws against theft or murder or rape, so go right ahead and keep breaking the law.”
-The simple truth is, a person does not have to first become a Christian before he can obey the law. While a law against theft or lying may well have a religious basis, we rightly expect everyone to obey such laws – whether they are religious or not.
Christians in the public square
-Christians have every right to share their concerns in public just like anyone else, and can make their point of view known as they see fit. They can also vote for laws, candidates, parties, and so on. None of this has anything to do with Christians forcing people to do anything.
-The simple reality is this: everyone is pushing their morality in the public arena all the time, whether secularists, atheists or whoever. The idea that only Christians are doing this is simply ludicrous and blatantly false. Even religious lefties are pushing their values in the public arena when they complain about capitalism or militarism or whatever.
-Christians cannot force anyone to do anything. We must not confuse two ordained institutions of God. The state was created by God to restrain and punish evil, establish order, and use force to do so. The church is not in the law business, but the sin business.
-The church deals in sin, forgiveness and mercy, while the state deals in crime, law and punishment. Of course there can be and often is some overlap here. While we have two different institutions created by God doing different tasks, they both serve the one overall purpose of God.
-The church is of course to be involved in politics and the public arena. The church can and should have influence on what takes place in our society, our laws, and our culture. We are called to have this godly influence. We are called to be salt and light. Again, this has nothing to do with forcing our morality on others.
Unbelievers and biblical law
-The Bible is full of words of judgment, not just to God’s people, but to unbelievers as well. For example, there are numerous chapters from the prophets devoted to pagan nations. Yahweh judges them for the same sins as Israel, he uses the same language, and he offers the same penalties.
-It never occurred to Yahweh, like it does to these trendy lefty Christians, that his eternal moral standards are somehow not applicable to all people. He always held everyone – whether part of his covenant community or not – up to his unchanging moral standards.
-Not all sins of course are turned into crimes. Envy and greed and lust are all sins, but we generally do not have laws against such matters. But we do have laws on how those inner attitudes play out in external circumstances. We have laws against theft for example.
-The idea that if a person is not a Christian he can live like the devil is unbiblical. It is wrong for everyone, not just Christians, to cheat on their taxes. You do not need the Holy Spirit residing within you to know that tax avoidance is wrong, and to do the right thing.
Law and the human heart
-It goes without saying that only God can change a human heart. The law cannot do that, and is not meant to do that. The law deals with outward observance while God deals with the heart. But both go together and both are important. State laws use the threat of punishment to deter murder. Christianity uses both the state and a changed heart to not only deal with murder, but with hatred as well.
-The law cannot make a bad man good – only the gospel can do that. But the law can deter evil and protect the innocent. That is a great good. The biblical Christian must affirm both: the need for civil government and law in a fallen world, and the need for the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of sinful men.
Let me close with a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. on this. In a speech delivered in 1963 he dealt with some of this fuzzy thinking with these helpful words:
Now the other myth that gets around is the idea that legislation cannot really solve the problem and that it has no great role to play in this period of social change because you’ve got to change the heart and you can’t change the heart through legislation. You can’t legislate morals. The job must be done through education and religion.
Well, there’s half-truth involved here.
Certainly, if the problem is to be solved then in the final sense, hearts must be changed. Religion and education must play a great role in changing the heart.
But we must go on to say that while it may be true that morality cannot be legislated, behaviour can be regulated.
It may be true that the law cannot change the heart but it can restrain the heartless.
It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me but it can keep him from lynching me and I think that is pretty important, also.
So there is a need for executive orders. There is a need for judicial decrees. There is a need for civil rights legislation on the local scale within states and on the national scale from the federal government.
Quite right. So when a believer today makes the case in public for protecting the unborn, or standing up for heterosexual marriage, he is not coercing anyone. He is not forcing his morality on others. He is simply sharing his concerns as all people can and should in a democracy. And law has a place here as well.
Indeed, if the religious lefties have no problem with pushing their particular moral agendas in the public arena all the time, and working for legislative and political change, then why can’t we?