Here’s my response to the endless hordes of people, both in and outside of the church, who say that Christians should stop trying to impose their morality on non-Christians.
We need to start by asking the right questions. Is immorality harmful to people? Yes. Do Christians have a more clear understanding of what morality is than secular people do? We as Christians had better hope so. Should Christians try to persuade people, even non-Christians, to live morally in their public lives? Not to do so would be uncharitable, both to those people themselves and to their neighbors. That much ought to be easy.
The hard part comes in how far Christians should go to try to get specifically Christian morality encoded into civil law. On the one hand, they should not be hesitant to use their understanding of God’s moral order as a guide to civil law because legislating some form of morality is unavoidable; but on the other hand they have to realize that there are limits. Not everything that is immoral should be illegal. I can think of three categories of acts that are against God’s law but should not be against man’s.
First, there are some moral principles that should not be laws because the state is incompetent to judge them. Cop looketh on the outward appearance, but God sees the heart. That is why we have (human) laws against stealing but not against covetousness. Second, there are some moral principles such that it would be spiritually counterproductive for us to have the state enforce them, because it would lead only to hypocrisy, not real faith: church attendance, for example. Third, unenforceable laws are bad laws even if they prohibit things it would be ideally good to prohibit, because they lower respect for other laws and for law in general. There are prudential judgment calls to be made here.
With those limits in mind, Christians should boldly seek to have our national laws reflect God’s moral order, and their specific understanding of that order to boot. Why should they be the only citizens forbidden to participate in our democracy? But as citizens they should do it by persuading their fellow citizens that such an understanding of morality is indeed the best (and only) path to human thriving, not by guilt or judgmentalism. Don’t misunderstand me. There is a time and a place for preaching guilt and judgment, but the political party and the legislative chamber are not it—not if you want to get more just laws passed.