At Work & Public Square

Does Belief Belong In the Marketplace?

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Christians, when rightly informed and motivated, change the character of political debate. They bring the moral standards of God’s kingdom into the civic realm and thereby become agents of His common grace — of His provision for those who believe as well as those who don’t.

– Richard Doster, byFaith

This is the third post in a series asking how Christians should respond to a recent argument made by the U.S. Department of Justice in Newland v. Sebelius.

Last week we looked at the first half of this argument, which claims that seeking profit is a wholly secularist pursuit. Once we go into business, compete in the marketplace, or enter the public square we lose our religious freedoms in the context of those activities.

As bad as this is, the second half of the government’s argument is perhaps even more chilling. It suggests that all who engage in such secular, for-profit undertakings must comply with the precepts of secular ideology, which the government establishes through the passage of laws and regulations.

We have already suggested that the founders used the Judeo-Christian ethic as a foundation for our government. It was their intent for Judeo-Christian principles to undergird our laws. John Adams once wrote in a letter to officers in the Massachusetts militia that,

We have no government armed in power capable of contending in human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other.

Nor is this idea lost on today’s scholars. Richard Neuhaus, in his book The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America argued that once God is removed from civic life there’s no mediating structure to create moral values. Without religion, there’s no counterbalance to the state’s ambitions, extreme examples of which were all too common in the twentieth century – Hitler, Stalin, Mao.

Richard Doster, editor of byFaith Magizine, suggests in his recent article Politics: Why Christians Must Be Involved that there are four factors which support the necessity of Christians’ participation in politics and bringing their faith into the public square:

  • Christians keep government accountable.
  • Christians bring transcendent values.
  • Christians provide a restraining influence.
  • The Bible instructs us to get involved.

Doster concludes his essay by asking the following question:

When Christians abandon the public square, what happens to community values? To ethics? To moral standards? When Christians wash their hands and turn away, who speaks for the poor and powerless? Throughout history we’ve seen the effect of Christian influence: in the abolition of slavery; advocating for universal literacy; for improved education; and for laws that protect children, factory workers, and women. That sort of impact doesn’t come from silence or withdrawal. It comes from faithfulness.

I think these questions about belief and the public square apply just as much to the marketplace. When Christians abandon the marketplace, what happens to community and business values? To ethics? To moral standards?

The arguments made by the Justice Department in Newland v. Sebelius may infer that religious belief can be left at the doorsteps of both the marketplace and the public square. But they cannot.

While we must obey the law, we do not need to accept a secular ideology that demands our beliefs be separated from our everyday lives. The Biblical doctrine of work teaches that faith knows no division between the sacred and the secular. Likewise, our faith cannot be divided into private and public spheres.

We live in a country where religious freedom is the cornerstone of our liberty. We cannot lose our religious freedom in the context of any legal activity, especially those of the marketplace. The government has no right to make us lay it down.

As Christians we are called to be salt and light in a dark and tasteless world. When we are faithful to that call we exude great influence to those around us regardless of their religious inclinations.

Jesus instructs us in Matthew 5:13-16,

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Nowhere is the influence of Christianity needed more today than in the marketplace. When you go to work, no one should make you leave your beliefs behind.

What do you think? Can belief be separated from participating in the marketplace or the public square? Leave your comments here.

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