How far should Christians go in their efforts to establish public morality?

It isn’t often that a political fracas raises keen theological issues. The Senator Claghorns of this world may quote the Bible, but most everyone listens with the attention appropriate to any material their speech writers derive from Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations.

The 1980 presidential campaign was different, for Moral Majority and other evangelical groups consciously endeavored to influence the campaign and to obtain votes for or against issues that allegedly related to biblical teaching. So threatening were these efforts that a great deal of money was expended by at least one anti-Reaganite to produce clever TV spot commercials in which “Bible believers” sincerely declared that “no one was going to tell them whom to vote for.”

Almost universal agreement exists, one would suppose, that Christians have as much a right as non-Christians to speak out and to influence legislation in our democratic society. The fundamental theological question raised by the November election campaign was: How far should believers go in exercising that right?

Two readily identifiable positions surfaced in November in answer to that question. On the one hand, religious liberals and quietists maintained that Christians should limit their influence to the spiritual realm and not meddle in politics. On the other hand, some evangelicals asserted that the time had come to bring the country, through concerted efforts of true believers everywhere, back to its original moral foundations.

Jerry Falwell was quite right in castigating the inconsistency of religious liberals who, back in the sixties, dove headfirst into activistic political waters and now suddenly condemned “religious ...

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