Kirsten Gillibrand has been serving in the US Senate since 2009 and announced her candidacy for president in March. Last Thursday, amid the furor over Georgia’s “heartbeat bill,” she booked a trip to the state, where she protested what she called “a war on women.”
According to CBS News, the senator told a press conference that laws banning or restricting abortion are “against Christian faith.” She explained: “If you are a person of the Christian faith, one of the tenants [sic] of our faith is free will. One of the tenants [sic] of our democracy is that we have a separation of church and state, and under no circumstances are we supposed to be imposing our faith on other people. And I think this is an example of that effort.”
In other news, the House of Representatives is no longer including “So help me God” when witnesses swear to tell the truth before Congress. A long essay in the New Yorker is extolling secular atheism. And Jim Carrey drew a cartoon depicting the late-term abortion of Alabama Governor Kay Ivey after she signed her state’s abortion bill and stated that “every life is a sacred gift from God.”
We can respond as Christians to each of these issues. But should we?
Is defending biblical morality in an increasingly antagonistic culture worth our time? Is it a distraction from loving God and loving each other?
Or is it a calling from God?
The case for making a case for Christ
When Peter was called before the Sanhedrin after healing a lame man, the apostle declared his faith in Jesus and refused to cease preaching the gospel (Acts 4:8–20). When Paul was arrested in Philippi, he cited his Roman citizenship in defending himself (Acts 16:35–40). When called before the Sanhedrin, he defended “the hope and the resurrection of the dead” (Acts 23:6).
Jesus warned his followers that the authorities “will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles” (Matthew 10:17–18). When on trial, he assured them, “What you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (vv. 19–20).
When Vice President Mike Pence delivered the commencement address at Liberty University recently, he told the graduates: “Some of the loudest voices for tolerance today have little tolerance for traditional Christian beliefs. Be ready.”
The vice president added: “Throughout most of American history, it’s been pretty easy to call yourself Christian. It didn’t even occur to people that you might be shunned or ridiculed for defending the teachings of the Bible. But things are different now.”
Peter famously instructed us, “In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15a).
Winning debates and winning souls
Clearly, we are to defend biblical truth when such a defense is necessary.
For instance, we could point out to Sen. Gillibrand that the biblical emphasis on “free will” is balanced by the biblical emphasis on moral standards such as the Ten Commandments. To make free will the answer to every moral issue is to bring all laws into question.
We could also note that the separation of church and state is not the separation of faith and state. John Adams spoke for the Founders when he declared that “the general principles on which our fathers achieved independence were the general principles of Christianity.”
But here’s the caveat: we are to defend our faith “with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame” (1 Peter 3:15b–16).
The purpose of our defense is not to prove that we are right and our opponents are wrong—it is to lead them to truth and repentance. It is to show them God’s love and offer them God’s word so they can respond to God’s grace in faith.
Winning debates is less important than winning souls, unless we must win the debate to win the soul.
Being decisive without being divisive
Here’s my point: We should separate challenges to our faith from personal attacks. When we face the latter, we are to go directly to the person (Matthew 18:15–17), seeking reconciliation and restoration. When we face the former, we are to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), seeking to lead the person closer to our Lord.
I would want to respond to Sen. Gillibrand in a way I would be happy for her to read personally. Before she is a senator or a presidential candidate, she is a person—a wife, a mother, and a Roman Catholic Christian. While she and I disagree strongly on abortion, she is an eternal soul Jesus loves just as much as he loves me.
Christians should be decisive without being divisive. Our culture deserves to know what God says about the issues we face, but it also deserves to see his Son in us (Romans 8:29).
Evangelist Charles Finney: “If the presence of God is in the church, the church will draw the world in. If the presence of God is not in the church, the world will draw the church out.”
Which is true for your church?