The Sacrificial Witness of the Christian Moral Tradition (and Why Persecution Is Bad)

Last week I blogged that I was traveling to Family Research Council in Washington, DC to give the Family Policy Lecture.  I was indeed able to give the lecture, entitled “The Sacrificial Witness of the Christian Moral Tradition” (you can watch the video through the link).  I’m thankful that, from what I could see, it went over well.

In reality, I don’t think I was offering anything especially new.  I was merely trying to say what Scripture does: that the gospel creates a love for life and human flourishing.  This is, I think, a crucial part of what I called the “new social witness” of young evangelicals.  We are thankful that the Moral Majority stood up for issues of life.  We will not throw them under the bus as some are willing to do.  It does seem to be the case, though, that we are going to make our arguments from the perspective of human flourishing and dignity.  We’re going to try to make the case with a smile, and to view our enemies as principalities and powers, not people bearing God’s image (Genesis 1:26-27).

This does not mean, however, that we will not stand up for Christianity in a bold way in the public square.  It does not mean, furthermore, that we will accept encroachments on the church and on religions more generally.  After I wrote on the unfair actions of the Tufts student government to defund a Christian group, I received a comment that wondered whether I wasn’t freaking out over “soft” persecution.  It was actually suggested that such persecution might be a net positive, as it might toughen the church up.

I want to respond by saying that I  disagree strongly with this idea.  Persecution does afford the chance to suffer with Christ; it may, as well, toughen us up.  But we should never think that it is inherently good.  It is not.  It is inherently evil.  We must fight it.  We fight it when it is soft, in fact, so that it will not become “hard.”  And we will very much fight for the right to organize our own groups according to our convictions–even as we will fight for the right of other groups to do the very same.  So yes, Jeremy from the comments, to your stimulating question, I do want homosexual groups to be able to choose their members.  I want Christian groups to be exclusively Christian if they so desire, and Muslim groups to be exclusively Muslim if they desire, and Poodle Owners Groups to be exclusively populated by, well, poodle owners and those that love them.

This is not some convoluted, super-technical philosophical idea.  It’s humorous to me that we’re defending the rights of groups to practice their own beliefs and police their own membership.  That should be a given.  What Tufts, Bates, and other schools have done to Christian groups is unfair, ungenerous, and directly counter to the spirit that such institutions foster.  It is not bad that campuses would have diverse groups of diverse beliefs; that historically has been understood as a good.  It should be.  It makes for a lively campus filled with meaningful interaction and debate, even on issues that people disagree about strongly.

Someone might say, “Well, yes, but Christians believe that homosexuality is wrong, which wounds gays and lesbians.”  There’s much to say here, but fundamentally, campus groups of all kinds differ sharply from one another.  The Muslim student group and the Christian student group, for example, each believe the other is worshiping God wrongly.  They actually believe the other group is wrong.  But in a free society that prizes the free exercise of religious beliefs, such interaction is understood as a given, as in fact a sign of health.  Diversity is not necessarily a weakness in the public square; I would argue it is a strength of society.

So: we should continue to make this kind of case on campuses and in public.  But: remembering the Christian moral tradition, we will know that ultimately, this world is not our home.  We may in fact be persecuted even as we graciously and courageously contend for our rights and for the cause of the weak and unprotected.  Should that happen, I believe that many young evangelicals will not shrink back.  In the image of Christ, we will instead continue to witness and, it must be said, to sacrifice.

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