Monday, October 14, 2013

Do Christians Force Their Beliefs on Others?

Whenever Christians take a stand on moral and political issues in public, you are likely to hear liberals counter with “You can’t force your beliefs on other people.” I totally agree that no one should force their beliefs on another person. However, I disagree with the way the liberals use that phrase.

The way liberals use the phrase, they talk of Christians "forcing religion" on people when they are simply voting according to what they believe is right or practicing their faith in public. But forcing your beliefs on someone is when you use force (whether your own or the force of the government) to make them observe your religion or to try to coerce them into believing as you do. I don't see Christians doing that. I haven't heard anyone saying that government should force people to become Christians, to tithe to the church, to say prayers, or do any other religious observance. If anyone knows of such things happening, let me know. I’ll be first in line to say that it should not be happening.

The fact of the matter is that it is not, and should not be, illegal to practice your faith in public as long as you are not infringing on anyone's rights. In fact, the Bill of Rights specifically states that Congress may not "prohibit the free exercise" of religion. Allowing people to act and vote according to their religious beliefs is precisely what the First Amendment was designed to ensure.

One thing that confuses a lot of people is that a lot of Christians do vote (and otherwise participate in government) in ways that are consistent with their faith. For example, Christians believe that abortion is wrong, according to the Bible, and thus want it to be illegal. However, that is not forcing religion on anyone. They are not forcing anyone to agree with them, but are simply using their voice in government according to their own beliefs just like everyone does (including liberals). Everyone votes according to their own beliefs. The political views of Christians are informed by their religion, but that does not make any and all stances that they take a forcing of religion on others. If Christians were trying to force people to go to church on Sunday, that would be forcing religion on others. Having your faith influence the way you vote is simply exercising your religion in the public square, which is a Constitutionally-protected activity.

So there is nothing wrong with someone citing the Bible as reason for the way they vote and the laws they advocate. Christians have every right to do that, just as people of other belief systems have every right to use their beliefs to inform their political stances.

I will say, however, that we Christians should have independent reasons for the laws we advocate for. "The Bible says it is wrong" is not sufficient reason to make something illegal. After all, coveting and lust are wrong according to the Bible, but shouldn't be illegal (and how could you tell if someone is lusting or coveting, anyway?). Not all wrong things should be illegal. Not all good things should be required by law. We should keep this in mind whenever we take any political stance. When Christians give only religious reasons for making an activity illegal, we open ourselves up to the charge of forcing religion on people (even if it is not the case). Instead, we should also be giving informed and independent reasons why things like abortion should not be allowed by government. (Click here for my secular argument against abortion.) In other words, Christians need to be able to give reasons, not only that an activity is morally wrong or against our beliefs, but that a secular government should disallow it for all of its citizens.