Should Christians Partner with Non-Christians on Social Issues?
A question from a podcast listener named Peter: “Pastor John, being created in the image of God, many non-Christians have moral instincts on issues such as homosexuality and gender identity that reflect Christian morals. They can express that homosexuality is wrong, for example, but not that it’s wrong because it contradicts God’s created design. So is it possible to partner with non-Christians in the public fight over moral issues?”
Interesting. I was just asked a question almost like this yesterday when I was over at Bethlehem College and Seminary by a seminary student. So I had just been thinking about it, so my answer is informed by that conversation. And it seems to me that I should summarize it — it is a massive issue. You could write whole books on this issue. So I want to put my answer in two “yes but’s.” So, yes, but; yes, but. Okay? First, yes, but.
So yes, Christians in society should care about the advancement of law and policies and behaviors that do good to people and put restraints on destructive immoral behaviors. And, of course, there are great complex issues as to what morality can be legislated — like, don’t murder. Everybody agrees that moral conviction should be legislated. Well, what about the moral convictions, don’t covet, don’t lust? Well, now, probably not. And a whole array in between. You can’t make a crime out of coveting, but you can out of murder. And who knows what all criteria need to go into thinking through that?
But what I am saying is: Yes, it is right and good to pursue obedience to Galatians 6:10, which says: “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” Well, doing good to everyone would include encouraging lots of people not to kill unborn babies and putting restraints upon people who think they should kill unborn babies — just like we put restraints on people who kill born babies. Caring about doing good for everyone would include not saddling the next generation with unbearable debt by selfish spending in this generation with a “go-to-hell-as-far-as-I-am-concerned attitude 30, 40 years from now, I don’t care. I am getting what I want.” That is sinful. Christians ought to speak against those kinds of attitudes and policies.
Another example of “do good to everybody” would surely be to put restraint on abuses of power and wealth and influence, police issues, and military issues, and white-collar crime issues. Christians ought to care about the oppression and abuses that come from the misuse of power. We should be talking about that. So we should care. Yes, so there is my yes. Yes, we should obey Galatians 6:10 and try to publicly do good for everybody.
But — here is my first but — in your public involvement, don’t conceal the roots of your convictions about what is right and wrong. Don’t try to get a better hearing through downplaying your dependence on Christ and his Word and the gospel. This is where many Christians, it seems to me, lose their saltiness and their light. Advocating for behaviors that are Christian is not the light of the world. Advocating for restraining behaviors is not the light of the world. There is nothing gospel in it. The light of the world is Christ and all that God is for us in him, all his gospel, and all his promises. If Christians become practical atheists in public, but simply advocate for behaviors that correspond to Christian ethics, they may see a little more political acceptance and affirmation in the short run, but they will lose the larger battle for the eternal good.
Do we really want to invest in a society whose outward behaviors are moral while everybody goes to hell? Let’s call that love. Well a lot of people would call it love. It isn’t. So there is my first yes, do good to everybody, but don’t put your light under a bushel to get a hearing.
Second. Yes, we may partner with — in fact, I think inevitably must partner with — unbelievers wherever the external behavior we are advocating or restraining overlaps with their convictions about that external behavior. And the reason I focus on external behavior is because, as a Christian, I will always desire and pray that people do the right thing out of faith in Jesus, not just because it is legal or illegal. Who cares about that in the long run? If they don’t do it because they are a Christian, they go to hell, then I have done a not very good thing for them. So yes, partner with unbelievers in the pursuit of behaviors, policies, laws that you think are good for everybody.
And here is my last but: There are some associations with unbelievers that would be damaging and unadvisable. The principle, I think, of associating with unbelievers in any project would be: We may partner with unbelievers in ways that do not compromise our beliefs or do not send the message to others that our beliefs in Christ are negligible.
So, for example, you might march in a pro-life demonstration alongside a Muslim, because I would, because no one would seriously see that as an undermining of his or your faith and salvation or whatever you believe. Because the conviction that you shouldn’t kill unborn babies doesn’t have a necessary attachment to one or the other so that it looks like somebody is sacrificing his beliefs to march in this demonstration.
However, would you — I wouldn’t — join in a prayer meeting, a public prayer gathering, where everybody is assuming and it has been publicly stated, “We are all praying to the same God: Buddhists and Muslims and Jews and Christians”? “We are all praying to the same God and it doesn’t matter whether you pray in Jesus’s name or not, because he is going to hear — this generic god.” I wouldn’t participate in that, because it is sending the message, It doesn’t matter if you pray in Jesus’s name. It doesn’t matter if you believe that all gods are the true God.
So, summing up —
Yes, publicly seek the good of all the people by advocating laws and policies and behaviors that do good to the most people and lessen harm and destruction, but don’t silence the roots of your convictions and put Christ to naught and become a practical atheist in your public life as a simple public do-gooder rather than a prophetic witness to the King of kings.
Yes, partner with unbelievers in those processes, but not if it compromises your faith or gives the impression that Jesus is negligible.