Christianity in the Public Square

Last year I met with the minister of internal affairs in the Soviet Union. He was surprisingly candid about his country's crime crisis--a 38% increase in a single year.   The Soviet people, he told me, are being driven to crime by political and economic hardship. No, I told him, that's not it. Your problem is not economic or political, Mr. Minister; it is spiritual.   You only need to read your own Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky, I told him. Dostoyevsky wrote a brilliant novel called The Brothers Karamazov, a story about three brothers who debate the source of evil in the world. Finally one brother cries out, If there is no God, then everything is permitted!   That's your problem, I told the Soviet minister: seventy years of atheism. The Soviet state has pounded it into the people's heads that there is no God ... and the people have concluded that therefore everything is permitted.   Without God, there is no restraint on our baser impulses. Crime becomes inevitable.   Then I told the Soviet official about Prison Fellowship, how it brings the Word of God into the prisons. He looked across the table at me and he said, Mr. Colson, You're right. That's what we need in the Soviet Union.   The Soviets have watched a civic order based on atheism collapse. They now understand the need to restore religion to public life.   Ironically, here in the West we're moving in the opposite direction. Many people are trying to remove religion from public life. Under the banner of pluralism, cultural and political leaders are seeking to push all talk about God out of the public arena. We're told we can't publicly espouse a Christian view of crime or abortion because America is a pluralistic nation.   The answer we should be giving is that it is precisely because we are a pluralistic nation that we can espouse a Christian position on these issues. In the traditional sense, pluralism means every group has a right to argue its own case in the public square and try to persuade the populace.   If people understood the social impact of Christian faith, they would welcome its contribution. According to a recent study, Christians give more money per capita to charity--even to secular charities--than any other group in America. They are also much more likely to volunteer their time to charitable causes.   In the past, the Church's record was even stronger. Historian Marvin Olasky has studied charity in America. He found that in the middle of the last century there was a remarkable flowering of Christian compassion. A huge wave of migration to the cities had resulted in America's first real problems with slums and city crime. But Christians responded, opening their homes to deserted women and orphans, offering employment to rootless men, founding societies to combat drunkenness and other social evils.   The result was a widespread uplift in morals, and a decrease in crime. Crime rates fell until the 1960s, when a surge of secularism undercut the Christian social ethic.   When I gave my lecture on ethics at Harvard, as you may remember, the suggested title was "Why Good People Do Bad Things." I replied that a much better title would be "Why Bad People Do Good Things." The real question facing our society is how we can get bad people to do good.   The only compelling reason to follow ethical standards is that they are not the creation of our own minds--that standards of right and wrong are enduring, unchanging principles binding on all people and based on the character of a holy God.   It's a truth the Soviets have had to learn the hard way. And a truth we ignore at our peril. This is the 10th in an 11--part series on Christian Ethics


Chuck Colson



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