An argument I often hear is that Christians shouldn't work to change laws. We should instead work to change minds. The saying goes that if we change enough minds, we won't need the laws. But I think this is a false choice. Christians should work to change both.
On the one hand, it is the primary job of the church to share the good news of the gospel and persuade unbelievers of both their sin and need for a Savior. We trust the Holy Spirit to do the work of convicting hearts, but God uses the faithful and intentional witness of his people to communicate the message. How will they hear, Romans 10:14 says, without a preacher. We are the preachers God has sent into the world to share the news that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has taken on the sins of the world, has risen again on the third day, and offers salvation to those who believe. Ultimately, the most powerful thing Christians can do to change the culture is to preach the gospel, which changes hearts.
And yet, this is not the only job of a follower of Christ. We should also make arguments against destructive cultural ideas. We should vocally oppose "everything that sets itself up against the knowledge of God" (2 Corinthians 10:5). We should "have an answer for every person," 1 Peter 3:15 reminds us.
What's more, if we are to obey the command given by Jesus to "love our neighbors as yourselves," how can we love our vulnerable neighbors if we don't speak into laws and systems that are bad for their flourishing? How can we be silent when people profit, for instance, off of the trafficking of vulnerable children into sex slavery? How can we turn a blind eye to the evils of the abortion industry that rob our unborn neighbors of their very breath? How can we not speak up against racism and other social ills that hurt people of color?
To do each of these things is to love your neighbor as ourselves. This doesn't mean, of course, that we will always agree on the best approach to combatting social ills. But fulfilling the demands of the gospel requires more of us than simply gospel proclamation, as important and primary as it is. This is especially true in a representative Republic like ours, where we possess a voice and a vote. According to Romans 13, if we share power, we bear responsibility for this God-given stewardship.
This means we should work, as much as we can, to not only change minds but change laws. Laws can change behavior, but they can help protect the strong from taking advantage of the poor. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said, "It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me, and I think that's pretty important."
Laws are a reflection of the moral values of a society. A law against stealing makes a statement that theft is wrong. A law against murder makes a statement that taking an innocent life is wrong. A law against indecency says that it is wrong to be indecent in public.
Of course, laws can't change the human heart, and there is a way in which Christians are tempted to put all of their faith in politics in such a way that we lose the gospel, we lose our first love, we lose sight of Christ's ultimate triumph over sin, death and the grave. We can easily clutch so tightly to our political parties, to sweat so deeply every election, to follow this stuff so closely that we become agitated and angry and uncivil. Peter, in that same passage mentioned above, says to conduct ourselves with gentleness and kindness. Courage and civility are not enemies but friends.
The answer to a coarsened politics is not to abandon it altogether. The solution for solving social ills isn't abandoning the culture. It is to engage in a way that is distinctly Christian, to be both firm and yet open-handed, courageous and yet kind. And to use our influence to change both hearts and minds.
The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Christian Headlines.
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Daniel Darling is the Director of the Land Center for Cultural Engagement. He previously served as the Senior VP for Communications at National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) and VP of Communications for the ERLC. You can find more from Dan at DanielDarling.com.