Paul penned his second letter to Timothy locked in chains, confined to a dank prison cell, hidden from the rays of the sun, and awaiting what would be his death at the hands of the Romans. Yet Paul, knowing he had fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith, charged Timothy to likewise persist in his ministry, come what may (4:7). Paul’s missionary journeys occupied decades of his life. His martyrdom was preceded by serious, painful persecution. Yet his steadfast refrain to Christians was to keep fighting, keep living, keep working, and keep obeying. Likewise, we are called to persist in a fallen world without regard for our self-preservation or comfort.
What better example could we follow than Paul as we persistently work to affect the troubling issues that dominate our current political and social landscape? Let’s look at four such issues where Christians can and are persevering in their efforts to change attitudes and actions in spite of relentless opposition and even oppression.
- Protecting the unborn
- Rebuilding a culture of marriage and family
- Protecting religious liberty
- Encouraging moral economics
Who Is Human?
More than forty years ago when the Supreme Court gave legal cover to abortion, some thought the sharp public debate was over. Not so. According to a January 2013 Pew Research Survey, 47 percent of Americans think abortion is morally wrong, compared to 13 percent who say it’s morally acceptable, and 27 percent who say it’s not a moral issue. 1 Last year was a banner year for states looking to turn the tide of abortion-on-demand, utilizing pro-life allies in state houses across the country. This year looks to be much the same. In the first quarter of 2013, nearly 700 bills have been introduced in state legislatures across the country to make abortion less frequent; 47 percent of all health-related bills have focused on abortion. 2 The rising generation of millennials is commonly referred to as the “Pro-Life Generation.”
Yet, what has really changed the abortion debate has been the unwavering insistence that an unborn child is, in fact, human. Ultrasound technology shows mothers who are intent on abortion that their fetus is a living, breathing human. Summit alumnus Joe Baker (featured here) and his organization Save the Storks exemplify the power of ultrasound technology. Pro-life apologists like Scott Klusendorf train people how to effectively and winsomely convince others that the key abortion question relates to personhood and that science and philosophy prove that the unborn are human.
While Roe v. Wade represented a major legal setback for protecting the sanctity of human life in the U.S., signaling a shift in public opinion that the most vulnerable among us are disposable, persistence on the part of Christians is helping stem the tide of the culture of death, made so evident by another Summit alum, Lila Rose, and her organization Live Action.
Rebuilding Marriage and Family Will Be an Uphill Battle
Perhaps the most difficult issue for Christians (especially young Christians) to speak into today is marriage and family. According to some, there’s no such thing as a millennial who thinks same-sex marriage is a bad idea. As of press time, we’re still awaiting the Supreme Court’s decision on two pivotal marriage cases argued earlier this year. But the uncertainty of the legal picture — or the possibility of an errant ruling — isn’t stopping a group of young Christians from trying to affect the marriage conversation.
Chris Marlink is one of the principal leaders of Marriage Generation, a website and a movement of millennials who want to change the conversation about marriage and family and emphasize — through accessible, sound reasoning and good storytelling — why traditional marriage is a good thing for individuals, families, and whole societies. “So much is out of our control in terms of elections and how the Supreme Court is going to rule,” Marlink said. “But we understand our task as the same either way.”
Marlink — along with Marriage Generation collaborators Owen Strachan, Eric Teetsel, and Andrew Walker — thinks there are many young Christians who want to shape their spheres of influence on the marriage question but have been stymied by ruthless blackballing. Marriage Generation is a way for those Christians — and non-Christians who see the importance of traditional marriage — to begin a conversation within their own spheres of influence. “The only way we begin to counter that narrative is if our generation actually stands up and starts to lead,” Marlink said. “The older generations are not going to carry our water on this; not only do we exist, we’re going to lead the discussion.”
If marriage and family is to become a flip-flop issue the way abortion did after Roe v. Wade, it will take years of long, persistent, and intentional work. “This is not the work of election cycles or a few years. This is the work of a generation. We understand this is a long-term project,” Marlink said. The political changes we see now were really wrought by cultural changes decades ago, which flowed downstream into the realm of politics. Reversing those trends will require not only time but also courage to take an unpopular stand in the midst of name-calling and ostracizing.
Preserving Religious Freedom Is a Way to Love Our Neighbor
While some may question claims that religious freedom in the U.S. is eroding, last year’s U.S. Department of Health and Human Services so-called contraception mandate signals otherwise. In recent years, several charitable adoption organizations — most notably Catholic Charities — closed their doors because state laws forbade them to refuse adopting children to same-sex couples on the grounds of religious beliefs. Seemingly small, rhetorical shifts like the move from “freedom of religion” to “freedom of worship” signal a devolved understanding of our first right. Words matter, and as Summit faculty member Dr. Michael Bauman says so often, when words lose their meaning, people lose their lives.
Preserving a robust freedom of religion doesn’t benefit just religious groups in question; it benefits the whole of society, even those who consider themselves nonreligious, according to Wilfred M. McClay, writing in Union University’s spring 2013 edition of Renewing Minds. He lays out five arguments for why religious liberty ought to be preserved. Perhaps most important is the argument that robust religious freedom allows churches and religious organizations in the U.S. to do the charitable, preservative work that they have historically done. McClay points out that while the HHS mandate most stymies Catholic organizations, the Catholic church is the largest private operator of educational and health care systems in the U.S, including 7,500 schools, 630 hospitals, 400 health centers, and 1,500 specialized homes. 3 Handcuffing freedom of religion doesn’t affect just Sunday worship; it hurts the millions of people helped by religious charities.
McClay also rightly points out that our religious institutions — and in the U.S. that historically means Christian institutions — are where moral conscience is formed, second only to the nuclear family. 4 For that reason, religion should enjoy a special and revered freedom — as it has historically in the U.S. — in the corporate sense as well as in the individualistic sense. If freedom of religion is bound to only an individual’s freedom (and even that is under fire these days), it is no more than freedom of worship or freedom of conscience, which necessarily curtails the corporate good work done by religious communities in the life of a society.
Though moving at a slower pace, cultural and political trends are marching toward a much more restricted religious freedom. Christians will need to persevere in making reasoned arguments within their own spheres of influence as well as within the realm of politics and the courts.
Economics Is About Morality
Economics isn’t simply about number-crunching. Economics is essentially a moral issue. Yet, Keynesian and state-centered economic programs seem to be proliferating in the West and the U.S. The rallying cry of folks like Jim Wallis of Sojourners is that more government intervention is the way to love our poor neighbors. Yet while welfare spending has catapulted since Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Great Society” legislation, little headway has been made in truly helping the poor.
We will have to continue winsomely arguing that private economic growth (coupled with a necessary understanding and practice of virtue in the marketplace) is the best way to help the poor. The world population living in poverty was cut in half from the 19th century to the mid-1900s. It was halved again between 1980 and 2005, as the result of increased economic productivity. As the Acton Institute’s Rev. Robert Sirico puts it, “While the price system in a free economy does not provide a moral foundation for a society, and while it doesn’t remove opportunities for ill-gotten gain, it handily beats every form of socialism at providing moral and socially beneficent options for escaping poverty. 5
So how to be persistent in this case? Certainly politics has a major role to play; statism can be rolled back only by the state, ironically. But the public needs to know how freer markets benefit the poorest among us, along with middle and upper classes. Those stories need to be told persistently, and those principles need to be persistently and winsomely argued.
- Public Opinion on Abortion and Roe v. Wade, Pew Forum, January 22, 2013, http://www.pewforum.org/Abortion/Public-Opinion-on-Abortion-and-Roe-v-Wade.aspx.
- The Guttmacher Institute is one of the leading pro-abortion organizations and tracks various abortion-related statistics. To see their publication bemoaning legislation is a good thing. “State Policy Trends 2013: Abortion Moves to the Fore,” Guttmacher Institute, http://www.guttmacher.org/media/inthenews/2013/04/11/index.html.
- Wilfred M. McClay, “What’s So Special About Religion? Five or Six Answers,” Renewing Minds, Spring 2013, 12.
- Ibid, 10.
- Rev. Robert Sirico, “The Role of Profits,” Religion and Liberty, Volume 22, Number 4, The Acton Institute, http://www.acton.org/pub/religion-liberty/volume-22-number-4/role-profits.