Christianity and the Public SquareNovember 8th, 2016
OK, the election is over. Take a deep breath. The sky has not fallen. God is still on the throne. What should we expect regarding the future of Christianity in North America? Let’s devote this blog article to thinking about this.
I grew up in a society which clearly favored and privileged the Judeo-Christian worldview in the public square. Christian views regarding morality, family, human sexuality and so forth were the default position of the wider society. Today, in a post-Christendom society, we are reminded daily that the Judeo-Christian worldview has been expunged from its long, privileged place in the public square. I, for one, do not grieve that, because Christendom tends to produce vast numbers of nominal Christians and domesticates the faith in terrifying ways. The mainline churches in North America are the best examples of the final fruit of compromised, domesticated faith in the throes of a dying Christendom.
The current climate it actually far better suited to produce vibrant, alive, and articulate Christians. Apparently, Christians allow their faith to get sloppy and weak unless there is a fire under our pants. The national election has proven, among many things, that public discourse which wrestles with facts and principled debate has gone the way of the now extinct Dodo bird.
The question before us is this: What does the future of the USA look like for those of us who are firmly standing within the sacred boundaries of historic Christian faith?
There are two options before us. The first is what is known as the Naked Public Square. This option means that no religious faith is allowed to say a single word in any public discourse. The public square is “naked” in the sense that all religions are run out like a horse running from a burning barn. In this vision, all religions are corrupting influences and should be banished from all public consideration on the grounds of the famous Jeffersonian “Wall” which separates church and state.
There are serious problems with the “naked” public square idea. First, Jefferson’s 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptists in Connecticut where he referred to a “wall” between church and state was actually in the context of protecting the “free exercise of religion” from the overbearing abuse of the state, not the other way around as it is used today. No one who understands the meaning of English words could possible take Jefferson’s letter to mean that the State is now empowered to eliminate all religious considerations or voices from the public square.
Second, the triumph of the “naked” public square is really the triumph of secular, humanistic atheism. But, why would a pluralistic society—yes, even a religiously plural society—deprive Christianity of its solitary position only to give it to the atheistic humanists? In addition to that being a very bad trade, does it make sense to take away one privileged voice only to just give it to another single position? No—it makes no sense.
The second option is the Pluralistic Public Square. This vision of the public square invites any and all religions into spaces of public discourse and allows them room and space to influence or shape public policy. Are Christians prepared to accept this option? Well, this depends on what is meant by the “pluralistic public square” because this option actually comes in two flavors. The first is what I call the “pluralistic mush.” This view is that all religions are allowed into the public square, but once there, they can only say things which resonate with all the other religious voices in the square. There is this head long rush to “find common ground” so we can only say things which are agreeable to all others. The statements which finally get uttered are so weak, so bland, so lifeless, that they end up reflecting the living faith of no one.
It is really, to be blunt, the triumph of Ba’hai. Ba’hair is a global religion with over 5 million adherents. The vision of Ba’hai is to blend all the religions into one harmonious whole. But, once again, why should we remove privileged Christian discourse from the public square, only to replace it with “secular atheism” (Naked Public Square), or with Ba’hai (the pluralistic mush option). I know secular atheists and I even know a few Ba’hai, but why should they get the privileged seat in the public square?
Thankfully, there is a second version of the pluralistic public square which Christians can embrace and, indeed, welcome. It is what is known as the Expressive Liberty option. Expressive Liberty is a version of the pluralistic public square, but it allows each religion (or no religion) to fully advocate their positions in a way which reflects the actual, historic views of that faith. In other words, Muslims have the freedom to express and explain the distinctively Islamic view on whatever issue is being discussed. Likewise, the Christians, or Buddhists or Atheists can make their views known, but in the robust way which honors the integrity of their faith. In such a scenario, Christians will thrive and, indeed, prosper!
We need not fear the honest exchange of ideas. The current climate wants to either remove the Christian witness completely (naked public square), or make us say foolish things which no actual Christian in the history of the church would ever say or think (pluralistic mush square). So, brothers and sisters, let us joyfully move forward with “expressive liberty“ into the public square.
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