What Is Essential?
Do these issues require us to take political action? Some may. America remains one of the few nations in which criminals are still legally executed (a distinction we share with Iran, China, North Korea, and a few other close friends). If my faith tells me that all life is sacred and only God may give or take it, I may choose to rally against capital punishment at the state capitol, or lobby my state and federal lawmakers. Since my home state, Texas, prides itself on how often we execute criminals, the ballot box will not avail me; my fellow citizens have reached other conclusions. I will have to go to court, file challenges, and seek legal help. All of these will be very political approaches to a moral problem.
Other issues may not require this sort of political action. If we profess that absolute ethic of life we just spoke of (an ethic that we would also, incidentally, have to apply to war and poverty, among other issues) we could explore political avenues to change the laws in America so that abortion is no longer legally available. But as ethicist Richard Hays notes, although Christians may respectfully disagree about an absolute ban on abortions, we can all agree that it would be ideal if the Church (local and universal) acted in such a way that fewer abortions were needed, all children were welcomed and provided for, and fathers were called to be responsible for their children. "A church that seriously attempted to live out such a commitment," says Professor Hays, "would quickly find itself extended to the limits of its resources, and its members would be called upon to make serious personal sacrifices. In other words, it would find itself living as the Church envisioned by the New Testament." . . .
Ultimately the Kingdom way—the Way of the Cross—Jesus' Way—is about transformation through love. It doesn't mean avoiding the issues or telling anything less than the truth—think of all those times that Jesus took the religious leaders of his people to task for their attention to unessential details when love, justice, and mercy were being trampled, or Jesus accusing Peter of doing the work of Satan for tempting him with inessentials when he knew his way forward. But it does mean that instead of seeking to dominate, the Christian way seeks personal transformation. A changed heart will lead us in the direction of what is right.
Greg Garrett is (according to BBC Radio) one of America's leading voices on religion and culture. He is the author or co-author of over twenty books of fiction, theology, cultural criticism, and spiritual autobiography. His most recent books are The Prodigal, written with the legendary Brennan Manning, Entertaining Judgment: The Afterlife in Popular Imagination, and My Church Is Not Dying: Episcopalians in the 21st Century. A contributor to Patheos since 2010, Greg also writes for the Huffington Post, Salon.com, OnFaith, The Tablet, Reform, and other web and print publications in the US and UK.