CHRISTIANS SHOULD REJECT THE PRIVATIZATION OF FAITH

The following is an excerpt from a paper I wrote entitled "The Pastor in the Public Square: Transformed or Conformed"

Secularists demand a privatization of faith when it comes to issues in the public square, unless of course, one’s religious ideology is congruent with the current ethical milieu. If people are willing to get with the times, as the secularists posit, or be conformed to this age (Rom 12:2), as Paul would describe it, then their faith is welcomed by the tolerance brigade with open arms. Not only this, but as Jerry Falwell once commented, “The structure of American society makes political issues out of moral and ethical issues.”[1] Who is allowed to determine what issues belong in the public sphere and when religious convictions are permitted to inform political stances? The answer is whoever argues the loudest, with the most force, reason, and clout. Christians are not commanded to wait for the return of their King in hiding. Instead they are called to shine in the darkness as the light of the world (Mt 5:11).

The President of the United States unashamedly disclosed that it was his faith, more specifically his reflection on the golden rule (Mt 7:12), which led him to affirm same-sex marriage. Here the President, the colloquial leader of the free world, makes clear that it was his religious convictions that single-handedly informed his political position on this issue. Not surprisingly, the secularist does not protest, “Leave your religion at the door!” It appears that, if the conclusion reached is agreeable to the secular agenda, only then is one’s religious rationale permissible. If not, they are urged to restrain their faith convictions exercising them only in private.

Undoubtedly, Christians should do a better job contextualizing their “religiously motivated” beliefs into universal values. On the other hand, they also ought to be subject to the governing authorities (Rom 13:1) by giving heed to President Obama’s prophetic instruction, “If God has spoken, then followers are expected to live up to God's edicts, regardless of the consequences.”[2] Metaxas describes Bonhoeffer’s conscience as experiencing this kind of clarity about joining the conspiracy to murder Adolf Hitler. He wrote, “Bonhoeffer himself knew that in all of it, he was being utterly obedient to God.”[3] Bonhoeffer’s predicament is proof that sometimes the sacred does not, will not, and cannot be ‘translated’ into the secular. Additionally, in those moments, a tolerant secular society must let religion take its place among other opinions and lifestyles and should be given as much credence as the rest.

Separation of church and state simply means that there is no state sanctioned church. But surely the remnants of a civic religion, which are still woven throughout the tapestry of this nation, are still evident (e.g. references to a Creator in the Declaration of Independence, “In God we trust” on money, “one nation under God” in the pledge of allegiance, Scripture readings and prayer at the Presidential inauguration, etc.). As Stephen Carter, an American law professor, rightly commented about the social hegemony of secularization, this modern notion of separation of church and state treats religion as merely a hobby with no social relevance.[4] The blaring reality is that it is impossible to suspend one’s religious (or non-religious) beliefs when entering into discussion that concerns the public square. Convictions of conscience are not a coat that needs to be checked in on the way into a restaurant. Beliefs are ingrained in people, and should not and cannot be separated from the lenses by which they process all reality. While the efficacy of an argument from faith would be bolstered if people were able to translate their beliefs into universal principles, in a democratic republic, they should not have to.

Below are some examples of ways pastors can address social and moral issues with a prophetic voice in a manner that appeals to the reason of secular nations.

Oftentimes, secularists will make a case for same-sex marriage by saying that a child raised by two parents, no matter the gender, is better than a child being raised in a single parent home. What might a translation or contextualization of the pastor’s argument look like in regards to same-sex marriage and, subsequently, parenting? He might first note that the comparison here is not between apples and oranges but apples and car batteries. What’s not being debated is whether it is better to be raised by a single parent or two dads. What is being discussed is the blurring of gender distinctions. It is choosing ignorance for ostensible equality. It is neglecting to recognize the function and beauty of gender in the parental schema, and the different perspectives offered a child by parents of opposite gender. Additionally, it is failing to acknowledge the challenges and disadvantages of being raised by same-sex parents, such as two dads attempting to explain menstruation to their prepubescent daughter, and then instructing her on how to use a tampon. By making an argument in such a way, first the pastor teaches his church the functional lesson that God’s way is best. Second, he shows them how to maintain biblical fidelity while contextualizing their argument in order to make it amenable to reason.

On the issue of same-sex marriage, the aim of the pastor in the public square ought to be showing people that everyone has a line, the difference is that the Christian has the distinct benefit of having their line objectively and infallibly drawn for them by God Himself in His Word. From there, he can probe what determining factors, if any, influenced the drawing of the other party’s line. He ought to be firm in the fact that anyone who labels his line as hateful or bigoted, simply because it does not traverse theirs, is a polemical ad hominem and is by definition intolerant. The question, "what do you care what others do with their bodies?" is short sighted, to say the least. Such an argument suggests that humanity lives in a vacuum, where one's decisions have no adverse societal effects. This is most certainly untrue and can be readily observed in any person who showcases signs of alcoholism, gambling addiction, or pornographic addiction.

By boldly operating in this world with the standard of another, the pastor demonstrates that God’s law and true virtue, something every society realizes they need in order to promote human flourishing, are inseparable. By rejecting the relegation of faith into the private sphere of influence, the pastor can prophetically call all of God’s image bearers to recognize His rule and honor Him as King. In so doing, the pastor’s family, church, and neighbors will see that his public responsibility is inseparable from his gospel responsibilities.[5]

 

[1] Mac Brunson and James W. Bryant, The New Guidebook for Pastors (Nashville, Tenn: B&H Academic, 2007), 188.

[2] Quote from a transcript of President Obama's keynote address at the Sojourners/Call to Renewal "Building a Covenant for a New America" conference in Washington, D.C delivered on June 26, 2006: “Transcript: Obama’s 2006 Sojourners/Call to Renewal Address on Faith and Politics,” accessed May 9, 2014, http://sojo.net/blogs/2012/02/21/transcript-obamas-2006-sojournerscall-renewal-address-faith-and-politics.

[3] Metaxas, Bonhoeffer, 370.

[4] Dennis P. Hollinger, Choosing the Good: Christian Ethics in a Complex World, Kindle Edition (Baker Academic, 2002), 253.

[5] Albert Mohler, “‘A Theology of the Pastor in the Public Square’” (The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, April 7, 2014).