Should Christians Force Their Morality on Society?

I’ve been thinking through the title question at length lately. And I don’t think there’s a simple “yes or no” answer to the question.

Let me state openly that I think a Christian morality would be the best one for our society. Or any society.

I think Christian morality is the best for a society because I happen to believe the Bible is true. I believe that its moral standard will be the one that is in keeping with reality. Only what is in accordance with reality will work in the end. And the consequences of reality-denying cannot be avoided.

But on the other hand, I don’t believe a Christian morality should or can be forced (by and large). Particularly on those who don’t believe in the truths of Christianity.

A Christian morality relies on freedom. Freedom is the basis for that morality, I’ve come to see from the Bible. The God of the Bible is the God of freedom. He does not force His morality on us. At least not in the sense that we are stripped of our God-given freedom. He does have His laws. His laws do have consequences. But we are free to break all of His moral laws in a way that we are not free to break His natural laws (like, gravity and cause and effect and so on). And in a way, although we are very capable of breaking them, breaking His moral laws will invoke other natural moral laws that we can’t break. Like cause and effect. We can break the moral laws, but we can’t escape the consequences of breaking them. Breaking the moral laws are like jumping off the cliff. We can choose to jump off the cliff. But then we can’t choose to break the law of gravity that will land us at the bottom of the cliff.

But then, that “yes and no” answer comes into the question. It depends on which parts of a Christian morality we’re speaking, and it depends on what a person means by “forced.” In fact, I do think we should have laws in place that punish murder. There should be some societally-enforced consequences for intentionally taking innocent human life with no good justification. And yes, “Thou shalt not murder,” is part of a Christian (or Judeo-Christian) morality. As is, “Thou shalt not steal, commit perjury, adultery” etc. These are Christian moral standards that society at large still agrees upon (and which other pre-Christian cultures agreed upon, as well. Some things are moral “common sense.” We can usually agree that intentionally hurting others for selfish reasons of our own is wrong.).

A related question with some “yes and no” answers for me is the question of society forcing its morals on Christians.

Particularly through the COVID years and the government reaction (or overreaction) to them, I’ve wrestled with how politically involved it’s good or helpful for Christians to be as we find our freedoms being infringed. Should we be fighting for our freedoms, and if so, in what way?

And I came out at a position of thinking it’s fine for different Christians to come to different conclusions on this question because we’ll all be called to play different roles in the world. If some Christians see God calling them to resistance to try to preserve the God-given freedoms we’ve enjoyed so long in western nations (like the pastors who thought “obeying God rather than man” meant keeping their churches open in defiance of government shutdowns), that’s not for me to say they were wrong. If other Christians think they should comply with all government orders that aren’t asking Christians to disobey God’s orders, and they believed a time of shutting down Sunday services wasn’t outright disobedience to God’s commands, I’m also not going to say they’re in the wrong. If some Christians think they’re being called to stand against unlawful or unjust government orders with all the legal means at their disposal (peaceful protests, etc.), and some others don’t want to get involved, I hope we can all give each other liberty to come to different conclusions for ourselves by acknowledging that we might all be called to different purposes in our lives. Where there’s no clear and obvious Scriptural principle on the specific, we can give each other freedom to know that we both might be doing something different, but we still might both be acting in obedience to God’s calling on our lives.

Some Christians throughout history have even embraced non-peaceful resistance to what they perceived as evil and government tyranny. In light of Romans 13’s teaching that our authorities are appointed by God and Paul’s admonitions to submit to our own governing authorities (the understood caveat being that we will always obey God rather than man where their orders directly conflict), I don’t quite know what to think about Dietrich Bonhoeffer joining an assassination plot against Hitler or the founding fathers of the US going to war against England.

In two different scenarios, on the other hand, I wholeheartedly approve Churchill and England’s decision to engage in World War II and Lincoln and the North’s willingness to fight to free the slaves in the US Civil War. These men were God-appointed authorities as the heads of their states to whom God did not entrust “the sword” in vain. They did use that sword (the power of life and death) to stand against obvious evils as Romans 13 would tell us is a government’s God-given role. And I’m grateful for those who fought and died to stand against blatant evils and buy our present freedoms.

For myself, one of those clear principles I try to act on when it comes to the title question is: “love thy neighbour.” Although I’m not a 100% committed pacifist who believes that use of force is never justified (as I support the use of force in the last two examples of last paragraph), I personally wouldn’t choose to use violence (except, perhaps, defensively if the life of a loved one was under immediate threat), but I am willing to engage politically when it comes to defending those who can’t defend themselves–to work for justice for another over justice for oneself. This is a clear Scriptural principle (Isa. 58:6-7, Prov. 31:8-9, James 1:27). When it comes to “loving our neighbours,” there is a place for a Christians to try to change society’s mind. Is that the same thing as Christians “forcing” their morality on society? I don’t know. But I am grateful for the historical occasions listed above of World War II and the Civil War when Christians did force their morality on society to fight for freedom and justice for those who couldn’t fight for their own.

At present day, the morality our society takes issue with Christians “forcing” on it seems restricted to one aspect of morality: sexual morality. A Christian sexual standard (that sex is only for marriage and marriage is only for one man with one woman for life) used to be somewhat enforced in yesterday’s society in western culture through social pressure, and that society looked much healthier to me than our own present one because of that social pressure. I don’t know that the clock will ever be turned back that far, and because I tend towards libertarianism and the belief that our laws shouldn’t keep people from hurting themselves but only from hurting others, I don’t believe in bringing the government back into the bedroom. The only “forcing” of a Christian sexual morality on our society that I’d like to see is the force of reason. I’d love to see more and more people waking up to be convinced that the sexual revolution of the 60s was a terrible idea and make some efforts to reverse it in their own individual lives if only because they realize that it’s hurt themselves and society as a whole.

But this is a hard sell. Present society has deemed the Christian sexual ethic as undoable or even undesirable. Sexual license is the new orthodoxy, and heretics from it will be branded and banished from polite society. If you don’t applaud every form of sexual expression that’s been deemed acceptable by society and you’re vocal about it, you will become an outcast. You’ll be shamed and called a variety of names. You may lose a social media presence or even a job. Society has very sternly begun to force its morality on Christians. But Christians standing their ground on a Christian sexual morality, resisting society forcing its morality on us, are seen as Christians forcing their morality on society. Regardless, this is one of those areas where “obeying God rather than man” for the Christian will mean clinging tenaciously to some unpopular opinions in spite of social pressure and sometimes (in the case of Bill C-16 in Canada) overt government dictates. As Christians, we are not to say things we believe to be untrue.

The other aspect of a Christian morality that our society accuses Christians of trying to force on it is very related to sexual morality but in the Christian view is just part of the, “Thou shalt not murder,” rule that we’ve all agreed upon already. If a Christian sexual ethic was more the norm in our society it would be much less of an issue, but that issue, of course, is what do we legally allow women to do about their unwanted pregnancies?

I don’t speak for all of us here, but the general Christian position is that it should not be legal to take innocent human life for the sake of convenience. We would see this is as murder in any other context. Abortion is a hotly-contested issue because of the sexual-license-orthodoxy that’s the present religion of the masses. Because abortion and sexual license are obviously related and we are not allowed to question the latter, the former has also become untouchably sacred.

But we’ve agreed as a society to accept the “Thou shalt not murder” dictate of Christian morality in every other context. Christians (and other people who see the logic of the argument) ask only that the dictate be applied equally to all contexts. Those who disagree so vehemently carefully avoid any mention of the person most affected in an abortion. Their speech on the topic is rife with euphemisms that avoid any mention of that person. The focus is entirely on the bodily autonomy of the woman. But all the other laws we have that restrict bodily autonomy for much more minor reasons than the protection of innocent human life are ignored in their arguments. There is a religious flavour to this fervour. I believe it’s because these zealots hold the “right” to abortion as an important secondary doctrine in their religion of their “right” to sexual license. If they could be made to understand that those who oppose abortion really do see an unborn baby as a person—an innocent human life, being taken for the sake of convenience–they might not agree with the conclusion that the law’s first duty is to protect all innocent human life wherever possible, but they might be able to sympathize with rather than demonize the holder of this conclusion.

For me, this is one of those “love thy neighbour” issues that I’m willing to get political on. However difficult and very, very inconvenient an unwanted pregnancy is (and “love thy neighbour” has also led many Christians to reach out to women in this situation and also to women traumatized by having an abortion), I don’t believe Christians can sit by and see innocent human life taken for the sake of convenience without doing something about it.

So should Christians force their morality on society? Well, no. But society itself has already enforced certain Christian morals on itself. I’d just like to see a little more consistency when it comes to this enforcing. I’d like to see the law protect unborn human life as it already protects those of us lucky enough to be born.

And where natural consequences follow the breaking of God’s moral laws, we can’t always (nor should we always try to) do away with natural consequences.

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