God By Another Name
Before you read, everything below has been inspired by Jonathan Leeman’s incredible book, How The Nations Rage. It has been one of the most influential books in my life as I understand the connection between religion and politics. I owe an immense amount of gratitude for his important book.
This past week, Georgia and Alabama (with Missouri following suit) passed and signed into law the most restrictive abortion laws to date since Roe v. Wade. The hope by many who passed these laws is that it sets up a Supreme Court showdown on the issue of abortion. It’s a bold move by these states to say the least. As expected, tensions mounted across the country. Well, at least they did on social media. A common refrain I saw from many pro-choice advocates was, “you’re pushing your religious values down our throats,” “we can’t force anyone to believe what we believe,” “we need to keep religion and morals separated from politics.”
Is that true? Are pro-life advocates like myself trying to push our religious and moral values down the throats of America? My answer is: yes. Yes, we are.
Before you become shocked and take to Twitter to tell me how wrong I am, I want to show you that pro-choice advocates are doing the exact same thing. In fact, I want to be so bold as to say that every law is a law governed by morality. The only question is, whose morality are we legislating?
God By Another Name
Travel back with me if you will to 1788 and the ratification of the U.S. Constitution. We read in the very first amendment, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof....”
I believe these words have been misrepresented to mean that the state should not make any laws based on religion. That’s not what these words mean. The founders were smart enough to realize they didn’t want an eventual theocracy, so they carefully worded the first amendment to restrict Congres, not from making religious laws, but from making laws saying that this religion or that religion will be respected in this country. They essentially banned state-sponsored religion allowing citizens to freely exercise their religious beliefs without fear of government crackdown. Because of this, I believe that the church and the state are separate institutions that share some overlap. But I do not believe there is a separation between politics and religion.
I want to go back to the part where I said that the first amendment doesn’t restrict Congress from making religious laws. Here’s what I mean: religion is not just limited to the big three monotheistic faiths (Judaism, Islam, and Christianity). Its scope covers “a pursuit or interest to which someone ascribes supreme importance.” You don’t have to worship a big-G God to be a part of a religion. In fact, even if you don’t believe in any higher power, you are probably a very religious person. You have matters of morals, convictions, and conscience that you conform your life to. Your words, thoughts, and deeds are filtered through whatever moral lens you subscribe to.
When we limit “religion” to those people who worship a higher power or a higher state of enlightenment, we provide cover for the little-g gods that we believe in. Jonathan Leeman in his book How The Nations Rage says, “...there’s no such thing as the separation of idolatry and state.” What is your god? What do you conform your life to? What higher values do you live by and desire others to live by as well? Is it freedom? Sex? Liberty? Nation? Your children? What you prioritize in your life says a lot about which god(s) you follow.
The Priorities of a Nation
If everyone is essentially a religious person, what does that have to do with politics? If we understand “politics” to mean things related to the ordering of the “polis” or the state, then everything. If religion is how we order our lives, then politics is how we order our community. Government is a product of politics, not the other way around. What we prioritize in our lives we will want to prioritize in our laws. Every law then is a moral or religious law. Every law passed says, “this is right and this is wrong.” Legislation is an exercise in morality. That’s why the better question is not whether we should legislate morality (we already are), but whose morality are we legislating?
Pro-choice advocates, in many cases, worship the god of autonomy for a specific class of people (born women). They pass laws and draft legislation that conforms to their deeply held religious beliefs that a born woman has a right to decide whether or not an unborn person gets to live or die. They sacrifice the unborn at the altar of their god for a chance at redemption, a second chance at their other god: career, family, or freedom.
Everyone is trying to legislate their religious beliefs. There is no such thing as a separation of religion and politics.
The Christian Mandate
How should Christians respond to the current debate? Fight for life. We believe in a God who made every single life unique and worthy of dignity and honor. “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness,” declared the Lord (Genesis 1:26). Every fertilized egg bears the mark of the Imago Dei, the image of God. A separate person. A separate DNA strand. David praises the Lord in Psalm 139, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.”
If we believe that every life is worthy of dignity and honor, and if we believe (as science continues to prove) that life begins at conception, we cannot be religiously pro-life and politically pro-choice. It is a false dichotomy.
What should we do then? “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8) We shouldn’t stand on the sidelines and pray that God will win (though we should be praying). We should be out there fighting for justice in whatever ways God has called us. Drafting pro-life legislation, volunteering at crisis pregnancy centers, buying groceries for the single mom down the street. These are issues of justice. These are issues of both religion and politics.
Our goal is not to force people to become Christians, our goal is the enforce justice and mercy as God defines it. Of course, the waters get murky when it comes to issues that require more wisdom than others, but the issue of life is not one of those murky issues. We don’t want to create a theocracy, we want to uphold true justice that leads to the greatest amount of human flourishing possible in whatever nation we find ourselves living in.
This post can only cover so much ground. There is much more to say, especially on the question of “rights.” How we define “rights” and where we believe we derive them from tells us which god(s) we follow. But for now, we should dispel the notion that religion and politics can be separated and compartmentalized. Christians believe in a political religion. We have the audacity to declare that our allegiance is to a higher King, and that King has given us a constitution to live under. Leeman again says, “The local church should be a model political community for the world. It’s the most political of assemblies since it represents the One with final judgment over presidents and prime ministers. Together we confront, condemn, and call nations with the light of our King’s words and the saltiness of our lives.”
In the months ahead we must confront, condemn and call our nation to account for the millions of lives lost due to an unjust law. Let’s do it together as the body of Christ for the glory of the King who is coming again to judge the living and the dead, born and unborn.