The recent post at Juris Naturalist, is the sort of thing that drives me crazy. Entitled, Evangelicalism == Christian Legislation, it basically, after a lengthy introduction on Wilberforce and slavery, argues that Evangelicals are too tied to the political process and should instead seek more self-sacrifice in their attempts to deal with societal issues, with the main example being, not too surprisingly, abortion.
A key foundational premise for the author seems to be: “I don’t think morality can or should be legislated.” Thus, all the evangelicals marching in the annual Walk for Life in Washington, D.C., an event that seems to have sparked the post, are misguided as this is not what Christian’s are called to do. We are called to sacrifice, not to legislate.
Now there are a number of problems in this argument, one being that this is not an either/or issue. While I don’t think the particular solution of paying women not to have abortions will work, I agree that the spirit of sacrifice is lacking in the modern church. In fact, many have trouble giving of their abundance, much less anything that might actually be called sacrifice. Thus the question “Where is sacrifice?’ is a very good question and one the church would do well to explore it more deeply.
But that immediately raised a problem in that for the author, sacrifice seems to be only monetary. I have no doubt that many at the march in question sacrificed a lot to be there, including the cost to get there, to be counted as supporting innocent life.
As for the other problems, one that stood out for me was the premise that we cannot and should not legislate morality. While a very common view, this does not change the fact that this view is simply silly. It may sound good on a bumper sticker, but it cannot withstand even the mildest critical analysis.
Now if you agree with the belief that morality cannot/should not be legislated, then simply ask yourself this question: Why do we have laws against murder and theft? For that matter why do we have any laws at all? Virtually every law is either a direct legislation of morality, such as the laws against murder, or an indirect expression of moral values, such as our driving laws being grounded in our value for life, and our belief that it should not be needlessly endangered.
Now lest someone conclude from this that I believe all morality should be legislated, I do not. A key question for people in a democratic form of government is what moral values are considered so important that the power of the state must be used to enforce them.
The author sees legislation, Christian or otherwise, to be “merely another tool for force. “ In this he is correct, though his questioning of whether any legislation “do good, or even do well” is more problematic. Like most things in public life, there is no easy one size fits all answer. In our current era marked by very large, and I would say bloated, government, teetering on the verge of collapse, it is easy to build a case against government action. But the evidence of history is also pretty clear that not enough government can likewise be a bad thing. The difficultly is in finding the right balance.
The discussion over what is the right size for government is a never ending debate that must be fought out and answered on a continual basis. When it comes to abortion, given the central issue of innocent life that is involved, this is as much a matter of legitimate state interest as laws on murder.
Christian involvement in politics is also called for by several other factors, which I will only outline here. The first is that we are to be the salt and light to the world. While I do not believe that these verses are in any way primarily political in their nature, I do not believe that they exclude politics, i.e., that we are to be salt and light, except when it comes to politics.
Second, we are to be subject to the rulers and authorities over us. I do not believe that this duty ceases when the government is a democratic form in which we as citizens have input into the process.
Finally, the period from about 1925 until fairly recently was a period where evangelical Christians largely did withdraw from any active role in our government, though since the 1980s there has been some renewed interest. I, for one, do not think the results of that withdrawal are all that encouraging.
Let me conclude by addressing one of the seeming criticisms the author had of Wilberforce’s efforts on slavery, which by implication he applies to modern efforts to ban abortion; that while it was successful, it was not “a clean win.” While this is true, does this really mean that the effort should not have been made? It is very true that God demands perfection, but he also does not expect us to achieve it in this life. Rather, it is something that we must constantly strive for, particularly in the face of a success.