Incongruously, the church seeks more and more to serve as the instrument of Christ and transform the world through political means. This becomes evident with each new election cycle and the constant involvement of religious leaders in promoting various public policies and trying to influence voters and politicians in their support. No matter what the specific policy issue, be it a favorite of liberals or conservatives, the emphasis on the political process as a divine instrument is problematic for those who claim Jesus as their guide. In no way was Jesus what we could consider a political activist. He was a revolutionary of the heart. His was a message of conversion and not coercion.
Many of us might forcefully contend that the political process has forced several much needed moral and ethical reforms in our country, civil rights and environmental laws being prime examples. Some who favor these past social laws might assume that after the law forces the intended changes for a time, a new national mindset ultimately results which then makes the laws largely self enforcing. In other words, after people develop new habits, the new ethical standard becomes the new norm. Thus, the law is said to be a valid instrument to bring about a long term beneficial change in attitude and thinking. Coercion first, brings ultimate persuasion. Valid? Maybe??
Many others, including a great number in the church, still scream about governmental overreach in enacting and enforcing such laws. In some cases, these opponents contend that the long range consequences of these laws are worse than the problems they addressed; and, in other, they claim there was never a real problem in the first place, or at least not one worthy of a public policy approach. A the same time these same opponents often support governmental enforcement of their own concept of moral behavior. In so doing they admit to a government role in enforcing ethical standards. The only difference between the two opposing groups are the issues supported. Both sanction governmental coercion as a legitimate means to advance the church's agency as the representative of Christ.
Though, as noted, some examples of beneficial social changes through the legislative process can be cited and assumed, I suspect that both groups above would agree that what they ultimately seek is the change of heart which makes laws unnecessary. That being the case, the fixation of the church, be it liberal or conservative, has with politics is strangely misplaced. Coercion can force a resigned compliance with someone's concept of right behavior, but only by convincing ourselves and others of the need for a transformed heart can our world be changed for the better as needed and as God intends.
Everyone's obsession with laws and their enforcement is merely a distraction from what really works. In addition this distraction generates endless conflict and recrimination, neither of which are beneficial to the practice of Christ-likeness. Whatever the proper role of government, the real purpose of the church would seem to be persuasion of the best mode of living, a mode which enhances all aspects of life. This persuasion surely involves a new attitude toward others. That attitudinal change will then guide our public policy in support of the general welfare.
Either laws precede attitude adjustment or the other way around. Jesus was either a lawyer of an attitude adjuster. Which was he? Is Christianity enforced from the top down, using the government as the church's tool, or is Christ promoted from the bottom up by persuading men of his wisdom?