Coercion Is Not Christian
I just read this brilliant article titled ‘Life and Liberty’ by W. Robert Godfrey. Godfrey lays down the definitions which separate religious life and religious liberty from political life and political liberty. Of political and religious life he says,
““Life” has both a political and a religious definition. In the political arena, “life” is biologically defined; the state defends “life” by protecting people from acts and policies that would injure or take away their lives, biologically considered… But religiously, “life” has a fuller meaning, such as Paul’s usage when he says that an individual can be dead even while he lives (1 Tim. 5:6). Jesus recognized this distinction between mere biological life and the truest religious life when He cited Moses: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). Bread might very well sustain and promote our biological health, but our spiritual and religious life is sustained by the creative and redemptive word of God. No governmental power can promote or protect “life” in this full religious sense, since such life is the result of the Holy Spirit’s blessing on the means of grace.”
He makes the same distinction between political and religious liberty -
““Liberty,” similarly, has both a political and a religious definition. Religiously speaking, the truest liberty is freedom from sin, and such freedom can even be described, paradoxically, as its own kind of slavery: “For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification” (Rom. 6:19). Political freedom, on the other hand, is freedom to be fully human, to be fully responsible for oneself, and therefore to follow one’s conscience without interruption by the state, until or unless the exercise of one’s liberty injures the person, liberty, or property of others.
Political liberty, in other words, includes the political “right” to sin, provided that one’s sin does not harm others… We do not promote liberty because everyone will exercise it well or wisely, nor as an end in itself. In Christian theology, liberty is promoted as a means to an end: works of obedience offered to God sincerely. No religious act that is done out of mere coercion pleases God; God wishes our obedience to be offered to Him freely, from hearts moved by His remarkable grace: “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Tim. 1:5). Paul was concerned that love come from right motives, that it be sincere and conscientious.”
Godfrey concludes his commentary making the case that a Christian culture, through the use of the state, will not and should not exist. He lays down the two reasons for that:
“Christians cannot win a culture war for two reasons: First, if we gained a majority and imposed our will on others by means of the coercive power of the sword, we would not have won; we would have lost. We would have lost the remote possibility that others would offer obedience to God sincerely from the heart. If an individual behaves externally according to certain Christian principles only to evade going to jail or being fined, he has not been “converted.” He is still lost, still estranged from God, and the culture has been lost with him.
Second, by embracing coercion as our tool of influence, we reject the two tools by which progress might genuinely be made: moral suasion and example (“that they may see your good works…”). That is, we only resort to coercion when we have already failed by moral suasion and example. When we embrace coercion, we embrace the very tool the apostles refused to employ (The weapons of our warfare are not fleshly, 2 Cor. 10:4). We thereby concede not that we might lose the so-called culture war, but that we already have lost it. Far from converting others, they have converted us; they have converted us to using their totalitarianism, their coercion, and their disregard for conscientious faith or obedience.”