At Work & Public Square

Taking Belief Into the Public Square

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Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.   

                                                                                                                                                          – Colossians 3:23

In a previous post I presented a very troubling argument made by the Department of Justice in Newland v. Sebelius (see Wesley Smith’s blog in First Things). The Newlands, a Catholic family that owns Hercules Industries, are seeking court protection against being forced by the government to provide free contraception and sterilization surgeries to their female employees.  Here is a summary of the government’s argument:

  • Seeking profit is a wholly secularist pursuit.
  • Once we go into business, we lose our religious freedoms in the context of those activities.
  • All who engage in such secular undertakings must accede to the precepts of secular ideology.
  • The government establishes this ideology through the passage of laws and promulgation of regulations.

How should a Christian respond to such an argument?

First, let’s look at the central tenet underlying the government’s argument: “Seeking profit is a wholly secularist pursuit.”

If we take seriously the Biblical doctrine of work, then for Christians there are no secular pursuits.  Colossians 3:23 affirms this by encouraging us to do everything as if unto the Lord. This includes making a profit.

I have written at great length in my book and this site about the Biblical mandate for integrating our faith and our work. This argument put forth by the Department of Justice is not only unconstitutional; it is at odds with a Biblical worldview and cannot be accepted by Christians. 

In the book of Acts we read of government officials telling Peter and John not to talk about Jesus. Acts 4:18-20 says,

Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

We likewise must reject this arbitrary standard being put forth by the Justice Department.

The next conclusion the government draws from its flawed presupposition is, “once we go into a profit-making business, we lose our religious freedoms in the context of those activities.”

We have already heard a version of this argument. For fifty years Christians have been told that when we move into the public square, we have to leave the religious parts of our worldview at home.

This is all but impossible for Christians, because our worldview constitutes our identity. It is a set of faith-assumptions about reality. It provides a framework of ideas and beliefs through which we interpret and interact with the world.

Everyone, including Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, and atheists, all live and operate out of some narrative identity or worldview. Even the most secular pragmatists come to the table with deep commitments and narrative accounts of what it means to be human.

When anyone comes into the public square, it is impossible for them to leave their convictions about ultimate values behind. It is arrogant and absurd for the humanistic secularist to say that he can bring his worldview into the public square while no one else can.

Tim Keller states in his book The Reason for God:

Although many continue to call for the exclusion of religious views from the public square, increasing numbers of thinkers, both religious and secular, are admitting that such a call is itself religious.

Jesus said, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and unto God what is Gods.” Yet when the demands of the state are in conflict with what God has called us to do, then as Christians we must stand with God. Rendering unto God trumps everything else.

We will examine the other parts of the government’s argument next Monday.

What do you think? Can you leave your beliefs at the door when you enter into the public square?

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