FOCUS – A mild pitch for a secular society
Recently, while channel surfing, a political rally on C-Span caught my eye. A small band of men and women from India gathered around a podium in Washington, D.C. where speakers took turns pleading for a secular Indian government. Ironically, these Indians were all Christians. I say that is ironic because while so many Americans are bent on “re-establishing” a Christian society in America, Indian Christians are merely hoping for secularism.
That is because Indians know the horror of a religiously based state. One speaker at the rally testified to the “humiliation, rape and murder” of Indian Christians which goes unpunished by the Hindu government. The idea of a religious government certainly gives us pause for thought when the dominant religious ideals are not our own. And yet, let us not forget that some governments have even persecuted in the name of Christ.
It would seem that a government has two choices: to adopt one religion (including the religion of atheism), or to free citizens to follow whatever faith they choose. Our nation was established not to coerce men and women to believe in Christianity, but to provide freedom of religion. Though we know that Christianity–the fulfillment of the Jewish faith–is the only truth, coercion is certainly an ineffective means of evangelism.
True Christianity cannot be mandated. Certainly we have seen in our world history that the practice of the faith can be mandated. (Witness Constantine.) But the attitude of the heart, where true faith is found, will not be legislated. Two former key players in the Moral Majority, Ed Dobson and Cal Thomas, seceded from the movement and later wrote Why the Religious Right Can’t Save America. In this daring book, Cal Thomas wrote: “You can’t apply the principles of a kingdom not of this world to a kingdom of this world. The purists want to apply the principles of a kingdom that knows no compromise to a kingdom that is all about compromise.”
Am I suggesting we suppress our Christianity when engaging in political activities and discussion? Not at all. In his book The Culture of Disbelief, Stephen Carter aptly explains how a Christian can never separate her faith from anything she does, and that includes voting and expressing opinions in the “public square” (defined as “the arena in which our public moral and political battles are fought”). To disallow a Christian to draw on her faith in public debate would be “essentially demanding that she split off a part of herself.” We simply must think, act, debate, and vote from a Christian perspective, because this is who we are.
But as Christians, as citizens of a heavenly kingdom as well as an earthly one, shouldn’t we be more concerned about the wide acceptance of the life-transforming gospel than the wide acceptance of our own political agendas? In fact, it is the gospel itself which will change our society. Ed Dobson writes: “The transformation of our culture will come through the power of the gospel–one person at a time. I fear that in the Religious Right we have opted for a shortcut to cultural change namely, legislation. But laws do not change people’s lives. The church possesses the power to transform America and the world, but it is in danger of trading it for Republican or Democratic influence. In the process, we are distracting people from the ultimate solution: Jesus Christ.”(emphasis mine)
Again, we must vote and debate as guided by our Christian conscience. But to insist that men and women must come under the thumb of our morality scheme when they do not have their own moral roots in the gospel is to alienate people and embitter them. How are we to present a gospel of love and peace to the homosexual we have publicly slandered? How can we reflect Christ to the abortion doctor as we screech at him from a picket line? How will prayer at the beginning of a school day guarantee devoted, godly students (and how would we guarantee that those prayers would be to the Judeo-Christian God)?
Whatever government officials God chooses to allow, whatever laws are passed under his divine permission, let us begin a revolution in our land. This revolution must be within the hearts of men and women. Let our weapon be the Sword of the Spirit. Rather than beating others over the head with it, let us brandish our Sword and allow the Holy Spirit to pierce souls with it. Let us endeavor to increase the citizenry of another world, for as Jesus said: “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place” (John 18:36).
And let us pray for a secular society in India.