As Western society becomes more bullying in its attitude towards Christians, there has been an increasing tendency on the part of many believers to be content with arguing for our space in the public square. There has been a reluctance to call on unbelievers to repent, and even an assumption that unbelievers cannot be expected to hold the same moral views as Christians. It is true that without the Holy Spirit, the Christian message will simply seem to be foolishness to those who hear it (1 Cor.2:14). However, God has written His moral law on the hearts of all human beings (Rom.2:12-16) which means all have a responsibility to adhere to it.
Every human being is made in God’s image, and has His law written on his or her heart, and testified to by conscience. If someone is guilty of murder or stealing, we expect to agree that such a person needs to be called to account. If someone is obnoxious, and pushes in ahead of others in a queue, we all dislike such behaviour for moral reasons. No Christian argues: ‘We do not wish to impose Christian standards on unbelievers. There is a separation between church and state, and we do not want a theocracy.’ It is a universal given that murder and stealing are crimes to be punished, and that being pushy is somehow wrong.
A secular ethic is not neutral. If we say something is morally neutral, we are saying that it is allowable, and that will be heard as saying it is therefore moral. It will be put in the category of subjective likes and dislikes, along with what one thinks of beetroot and what is one’s favourite colour. God calls the nations to account in the Old Testament (e.g. Amos 1:1-2:3). Yahweh used the idolatrous and brutal Assyrians to chastise His own people of Israel (Isa.10:5-7), but then judged the Assyrians for their pride (Isa.10:15-19). In fact, Abimelech chastises Abraham (Gen.20:9-11) and the pagan sailors were shocked that Jonah could flee his own God (Jonah 1:10). David committed adultery, tried to hide it with a murder, and then sought to deceive Israel, himself, and even God, until Nathan confronted him (2 Sam. 11-12). Calvin comments rightly: ‘If David had been a poor pagan, he would still have been inexcusable.’
C. S. Lewis pointed out that ‘there would be no sense in saying that a footballer had committed a foul unless there was some agreement about the rules of football’. All world views – whether theistic or atheistic – use the language of right and wrong, even when they are trying to deny that there is a right or wrong. What this means is that Christians should have more confidence that in opposing same-sex marriage, for example, we are actually resonating with unbelievers to some considerable degree. We should pursue this line, and not be concessive. This is not for our good so much as for the good of society. Just as a drug addict is not helped when he is given more ice, so a homosexual is not helped when he gets his own way regarding his sexuality.
Christian social policy ought to consist of rather more than demanding that we have the freedom to say some things in our own little corner of the public space. On the issue of same-sex marriage, we are saying: ‘This is wrong, and even unbelievers know it deep down, and society ought not to pander to the homosexual lobby but oppose them – for the good of society and for the good of sinners too.’ ‘Repent’ is not just a message of law; it is part of the proclamation of grace.