As recent attacks against religious liberty have demonstrated, it is increasingly difficult for Christians to speak truth in the public square. The temptation is to respond by withdrawing, turning your faith inward, and warming yourself in quiet communion with like-minded faithful. However, even if this were a legitimate response, the purveyors of societal change have demonstrated they will not be satisfied with acquiescence. In the end, they will demand cooperation, which is why the fight over religious freedom and conscience has become so toxic, so vitriolic, so quickly.
It’s easy to point to the culture wars and see them as a proxy for living out our faith. There are real dangers to a nation when the powers-that-be succumb and embrace societal sin. But fighting these battles, while important, is not enough to spread the gospel. The church, having turned in to itself in so many places, no longer provides the moral yardstick by which people measure cultural norms. While we must continue to stand for truth and religious freedom, it is not enough to get us back to a path of societal renewal. We must also return to the basics of personal holiness and care for the physically, morally, and spiritually destitute.
When the tyranny and paganism of Rome was at its height, James assigned in his epistle a surprisingly simple role to the church. He wrote that a “religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27). In applying his words to today, we can and should continue our fight for truth in the public square, but only as long as we continue to live in holiness and demonstrate that Jesus lives within us by caring for those who are suffering, doing so with both love and in truth.