Christianity in the Public Square
by Ken Mann
As a Christian apologist I frequently find myself plagued by opposing motives. My highest aspiration is to encourage believers to think. There is a tag line that became a book title: “Challenging believers to think and thinkers to believe.” In this post, I am drawn to a different, more critical, motive that I believe is equally important: paying heed to our changing culture and responsibility the Church bears for those changes.
Two recent pieces published in The Atlantic serve as the inspiration of this post. The first, “The Great Succession,” is a critique of Christian responses to the tsunami of same-sex marriage and birth-control mandates found in the Affordable Care Act. The author, who describes himself as a homosexual atheist, is offering advice to the church that withdrawal from society will only harm the Church and society. In response to many who argue that the Christians want to “opt out” of activities they hold to be morally objectionable, the author offers the following prediction and advice:
I wonder whether religious advocates of these opt-outs have thought through the implications. Associating Christianity with a desire—no, a determination—to discriminate puts the faithful in open conflict with the value that young Americans hold most sacred. They might as well write off the next two or three or 10 generations, among whom nondiscrimination is the 11th commandment.
There is, of course, a very different Christian tradition: a missionary tradition of engagement and education, of resolutely and even cheerfully going out into an often uncomprehending world, rather than staying home with the shutters closed. In this alternative tradition, a Christian photographer might see a same-sex wedding as an opportunity to engage and interact: a chance, perhaps, to explain why the service will be provided, but with a moral caveat or a prayer. Not every gay customer would welcome such a conversation, but it sure beats having the door slammed in your face.
A couple weeks later, another writer for The Atlantic took a slightly different perspective on the changing moral climate in our society today. In “Is Evangelical Morality Still Acceptable in America?,” the author argues that Christian morality is, to some extent, under direct assault by changing public policy on matters such as contraception and same-sex marriage. A legitimate argument can be made that public policy on these topics is in direct conflict with Christian morality. These topics have been transformed in the public square from a questions or morality to those of rights.
To a large extent, this tension has been caused by a shift in what we think of as the domain of morality. The vocabulary we use to describe same-sex marriage and contraceptives has changed from the language of morality to the language of rights. In many spheres, including some parts of the media, people no longer conceive of same-sex marriage or contraceptives as things which can be immoral. They may not be right or good for some people, but they can’t be immoral, let alone sinful. And it’s hard to extend freedom to a morality that is incomprehensible.
The author sums up the fundamental disconnect with secular society as almost rendering religious freedom irrelevant to the discussion…
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