A friend and his wife were in the final stages of adopting a child they had fostered since birth when a state caseworker asked if they supported same-sex marriage. My friends were caught off guard. They were rightly concerned their response would determine whether the child they loved would be removed and given to someone else. It sounds akin to a growing list of court cases requiring that we silence our faith in public spaces like businesses or schools. For all people of faith—not just Christians—this is impossible.
Our beliefs are at the center of who we are, what we value, and how we live. Telling us to keep our faith to ourselves is an intolerant way of telling Christians to stay in the closet.
But the question remains: how are Christians to live in this post-Christendom and pre-Kingdom world? It’s an uncomfortable situation that you might find yourself in today. Part of the error of the religious Right was thinking everything is political. We don’t want to make the opposite mistake of pretending nothing is political. The most competent government will not bring the Kingdom to earth. It will not change hearts. It will not save souls. But it can hold back the worst of evil, shelter the helpless, and ensure its citizens’ freedom to live out their faith—and go about the Kingdom’s work.
As much as we might want to simply live and let live, we can’t agree with everyone and everything. We want to influence our neighbors to consider biblical principles—not because we’re intolerant but because we love them. And because those principles do in fact lead to fuller and happier lives. We have strong beliefs on issues that impact human welfare and cannot advocate things that clearly violate biblical teaching—untethered sexuality that causes great pains and problems, the taking of innocent unborn life, and more. While we cannot and should not go back to the era of Christendom or expect non-Christians to live like followers of Jesus, we also cannot let issues of justice and mercy slide. In fact, such issues may be the very places that you and I can best display the Gospel and demonstrate the heart of God. Additionally, we cannot be silent as others write laws that hinder religious freedom. Non-Christians worry that our views are being forced on them. We are right to be just as concerned when their views are forced on us.
An unmarried friend of mine thought it would be a good idea to rent the basement apartment in the home of a married couple. He assumed it was clear they would stay upstairs and he would stay downstairs. The only problem was that the couple often came downstairs without invitation or announcement to intrude on his life and space. Sometimes they came down to visit, other times to snoop around, and still other times to “borrow” something that was his without asking. He felt seriously offended by the invasion of his personal space.
When it comes to Christianity and politics, many outside the church feel like Christianity should live upstairs in the realm of faith, while politics lives downstairs in the realm of fact. Whenever religious people show up uninvited downstairs, the people who live there feel violated.
Underlying this belief is a massive assumption that biblical Christianity does not share. Building on the work of Francis Schaeffer, scholar Nancy Pearcey explains how the prevailing cultural worldview draws a thick line between values and facts. This “two-story truth” keeps “rational, verifiable” facts on the ground floor, while anything deemed “nonrational, noncognitive” has to stay upstairs.1
Everything in the first story applies to everyone. Everything on the second story is up to you, take it or leave it.
“The reason it’s so important for us to learn how to recognize this division is that it is the single most potent weapon for delegitimizing the biblical perspective in the public square today,” Pearcey writes.2
“The two-story grid functions as a gate-keeper that defines what is to be taken seriously as genuine knowledge, and what can be dismissed as mere wish-fulfillment.” 3
Religion can play in the house so long as it stays in the upstairs closet along with all of the other fairy tales, fiction, and fables.
Keeping faith and politics separate might seem like a good way to avoid conflict and keep everyone happy, like splitting up two squabbling kids. But as Christians, we cannot agree to that. If Jesus is Lord there is no such thing as separating faith and facts, private and public. You can’t say, “Well, when I go to church or read my Bible, those are just for me, and when I go into the voting booth or someone asks my opinion, I chuck my beliefs so I can be objective and neutral.” All is under Jesus’ sovereign authority.
Nancy Pearcey. Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008). Kindle Edition.