CAN WE ALL TAKE A DEEP breath? As WORLD reported last week, Justice Roy Moore deserves credit for putting on the front burner-and the flames are hot-many questions concerning the intersection of religion and American society.
Strikingly, the Alabama governor and attorney general, the eight associate justices of the Alabama Supreme Court, and Christian leaders like Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention and Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice, who have advised Justice Moore that he's trying to defend a bridge too far, are all being lambasted by some as traitors to the Alabama or U.S. constitutions, or to the Bible itself.
This is a question on which Christians have disagreed and will continue to do so. All of us in this situation should be charitable and not assume bad motives on the part of those who disagree with us. No one should call Justice Moore a demagogue or mere headline-hunter; he is a man acting on his beliefs. No one should call Christian critics of Justice Moore wimps or immoral compromisers, particularly when those critics have again and again demonstrated a willingness to stand up for biblical principle and take the heat.
We need now a renewed discussion among Christians as to whether we are living in a new Israel or a modern Babylon. That makes a huge difference. Ancient Israel was designed to be a holy land with no witches allowed. Babylon was different, a murderous country where there is no record of the Ten Commandments being exhibited, but one in which Jeremiah told the Israelites to build houses, plant gardens, and "pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare."
We're on thin ice if we say that Esther in Persia was wrong to obey an order to join the king's harem, or that it was wrong for Paul to tell Christians in Rome and Peter to tell exiles in other parts of the Roman Empire that they should obey ungodly rulers-including those who were persecuting believers in Christ. "Fear God. Honor the emperor," Peter wrote bluntly.
We should ask political questions: Do we want a civil war? Are we declaring the federal judiciary's authority to be illegitimate, and how far do we want to take that? Maybe Congress will step in and put limitations on that authority, as it is allowed to do constitutionally, but is it right to act on our own?
We should ask theological questions: Clearly, as the book of Daniel shows us, we should not give in when we're told to pray to an idol or not to pray to God. Is this such a situation? If not, do alliance-building tactics indicate lack of confidence in God?
We should ask evangelical questions: How can we best proclaim the gospel of grace? Words on granite are important. So are the words written on our hearts when God changes them from hearts of stone to hearts of flesh. How do we communicate the life-changing nature of the gospel to a desperately needy world?
We should ask tactical questions: Is it ungodly pragmatism to consider whether The Wall Street Journal is correct in its assessment that Justice Moore is "doing more to raise money for the ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State than advance the cause of religious liberty"?
We should ask historical questions: For example, what have Christians learned about the best way to reduce the number of abortions in this country? It does appear that the provision of compassionate alternatives has worked better than the well-intentioned protest tactics of 15 years ago.
On television talk shows it's hard to offer light rather than heat, but it's not too late for Christians to reason together.