Evangelicals bring conflict to the public square
Martin Luther launched his treatise on civil government by proposing a paradigm with two kingdoms – the kingdom of God (followers of Christ) and the kingdom of the world (the public square).
Historically, as diversity forced an increase in the size of the kingdom of the world, the kingdom of God has had to adjust to the realities of existing in a more secular society. Protestant America has had a difficult time making this adjustment because Christians have insisted that America should be a nation of Christian principles.
Rather than turning the other cheek, Christians, especially evangelicals, carry their fight into the public square, primarily because they didn’t start their faith journey being forewarned by the cross of total sacrifice.
That should be no surprise. America Christianity is built on discipleship without sacrifice. And even though Jesus said “take up your cross and follow me,” the clergy has not told prospective believers that they had to give up everything to be followers.
As a consequence, we have professing believers who left their crosses behind, meaning they feel they are entitled to all of the property, prosperity, rights and privileges enjoyed by everyone else in the public square. So we think we are entitled to bring the contentious issues that belong in churches into the public square
We call it standing up for our rights when we should be graciously yielding our rights whenever their exercise would bring shame to the Gospel. Rather, we should turn the other cheek; we should give up our property; we should swallow our pride; we would give up free speech; we should avoid all conflict.
But evangelicals have chosen the road of contention, so much so that the public square is shocked at the level of hostility we manifest while claiming we are fighting for God.
Even after the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in favor of same-sex marriage, or that the Ten Commandments violates separation of church and state, that prescribed prayer in public schools is unconstitutional, we continue to fight when we should be meek and humble keepers of the peace.
Most evangelicals cheered when the county clerk in Kentucky refused to issue a marriage certificate for a same-sex couple because it was against her religious convictions. The same is happening with the baker in Colorado who won’t make a cake for a same-sex couple.
In both cases, they are wrong for a number of reasons but the most important one is that it brought reproach to Christianity in the public square. We may feel like the public square can go to Hades but the public square is supposed to be the mission field for Christians. However, evangelical behavior just drives those unchurched folks farther away.
Rather than being adversarial in the public square, churches need to take back responsibility for most of the social issues now devouring their core ministries, i.e. spreading the Gospel, caring for “have nots,” and strengthening the church.
The politicization of religion in the 2016 presidential campaign hasn’t improved the image of evangelicals. People in the public square see the election results as a manifestation of true evangelical values.
At the behest of evangelicals, the new tax bill legalizes political activity in churches, meaning that churches can become conduits for partisan committees and interest groups. In some churches, politicization will increase and the Gospel will become secondary.
The behavior of evangelicals over the past couple of decades has brought us the reputation we deserve. Secular society is evaluating our faithfulness to scriptural principles and finding us wanting. All the while the Christian faith is losing ground.
Lloyd Omdahl is a former lieutenant governor of North Dakota and former political science professor at the University of North Dakota, Grand Forks.