Christianity is Better: What Place for the Christian in a Post-Christian Political World?


Jay Watts

Article ID:



Mar 6, 2024


Feb 28, 2024

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A common question I get when I visit campuses to discuss issues like abortion is, “Why should we be forced to live by Christian beliefs?” Most college students reject the Bible as authoritative, reject the central tenets of the Christian faith, and even worse, associate Christianity with concepts like oppression of women, hatred of sexual freedom, and a history of crimes against marginalized people groups. They see my efforts to argue for the equal dignity of the unborn as forcing my religion on them.

This threatens to poison the well on discussions surrounding important moral issues. The first step in getting back to the basics of engaging unbelievers is to set the table for the case that much of what Christians believe, though revealed through Scripture, can be argued for without direct appeal to our faith and is good for society. Christian ethics grounded some of the most celebrated human rights advancements in history from Thomas Clarkson and William Wilberforce’s abolitionist movement in the UK, to Harriet Tubman working to transport slaves to freedom, to Martin Luther King Jr. leading the US Civil Rights Movement. Christian men and women repeatedly rise to confront evil and improve society.

As I told one audience member during a question-and-answer session who felt religion was being forced on her, given what we are facing both currently with abortion and with the impending capacities to manipulate human life through biological and medical science, we are all going to want to live in a society where every human being is understood to have intrinsic worth. Concepts like equal human dignity, the elevation of mercy and forgiveness, the rejection of selfish interests, and the admonishment to use power to serve the weak reside at the core of the Christian faith. The cultivation of those ideas can protect us all far better than ill-defined concepts of empathy and autonomy. The values of the Christian faith are so important to human flourishing that a faithful witness of the gospel requires we pursue them even when we know those efforts will bring political and personal division.

Naturally Divisive

Recently, three public Christian leaders — former evangelical pastor and Duke Divinity School professor Curtis Chang, Editor-in-Chief of Christianity Today Russel Moore, and New York Times columnist David French — released a curriculum entitled The After Party intended to be used by churches and Christian community groups to discuss navigating the emotional intensity of the current political climate.1 They define divisiveness as the key problem to address, with an emphasis on how political differences have ended friendships and fractured the unity of their congregations. Their stated goal is to move from the question of what we advocate for in politics to how we discuss the issues we care about the most. The curriculum barely weighs in on specific political issues except to broadly acknowledge the injustice of racism and briefly mention immigration and abortion. Rather, they focus on establishing a framework to be a more Christ-centered person as we engage in politics. In a completely expected twist, the publication of the curriculum has become a source of division.

Megan Basham at First Things wrote an article questioning the motives of the people funding The After Party project and the impact it could have on churches engaging political issues during election cycles.2 The Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisers (RPA) is chief among those donors through a project called New Pluralists, founded to advance efforts to address division in our communities.3 Other Christian social media personalities also questioned the motives of RPA,4 a philanthropy group who funds abortion advocates, diversity programs, LGBTQ+ inclusion efforts, and international efforts to control carbon emissions. The leadership and aims of these organizations appear left leaning, which raises questions for these Evangelical Christians as to why RPA would fund an effort to influence conservative evangelicals, which The After Party explicitly aims to do.

The concern of conservative Christians is that the creators of The After Party are encouraging pastors to avoid important moral issues and their responsibility to engage communities with truth precisely because that truth is unpopular. The curriculum might encourage the church to prioritize getting along with our neighbor rather than boldly engaging politics to limit evil policies as much as we are able to through activism. They believe The After Party approach actively undercuts important political efforts on morally charged issues.

All parties agree on one very important point; namely, Christian involvement in the political process is a source of division and resentment both within the Christian community and in the greater population at large. In The After Party videos, Chang, Moore, and French all share stories about losing friends and broken communities through political disagreements during roundtable discussions. RPA and their New Pluralists are spending $10 million to fund efforts to address division born from deep distrust caused by political and moral disagreements. The distrust is so deep that their efforts raise suspicion and open speculation that RPA would fund this effort only if they felt certain it would negatively impact their political opponents, the conservative evangelicals they claim they are trying to reach through supporting The After Party. Even as people claim to be addressing division, the result is more division.

The root of the frustration from the secular side can be understood in the name of the RPA project, New Pluralists. They argue we now live in a pluralist society, what many call a post-Christian world.5 Efforts must be made to accommodate a broad range of understanding human community. Christian thought and institutions once held a hegemony over Western culture, but that is no longer the case. The trend of the last several decades has been that more and more people in the United States and throughout what has been traditionally understood as the Western world identify themselves outside of traditional or orthodox Christian faith.6 Fewer Americans go to church, fewer Americans believe the central tenets of the historic Christian faith, fewer Americans feel bound to traditional Christian morality.7 They argue that it is unfair to expect members of a pluralistic society to act as if they believe something they do not. Why should abortion rights advocates, the LGBTQ+ community, or the trans community face restrictions in their freedom based on religious beliefs that are being increasingly rejected?

These same arguments existed at the founding of our nation, and some scholars argue that the framers of the US Constitution intended to both protect the freedom of Americans to worship as they saw fit while also frustrating the efforts of churches to establish state religions and introduce clerical power into the governance of the United States. The problem is compounded by a lack of clear definition of what constitutes a religious view of man’s moral duties and obligations and what is a secular view. Some scholars and historical luminaries like T. S. Eliot characterize modern objections to traditionally received Western moral values and duties as being more grounded in a modern paganism than secular reason.8 All parties attempt to offer answers to deep questions like what humanity is and what governs appropriate actions toward one another. But in saying, for example, that the unborn are not human and are appropriate to be destroyed through abortion, the abortion advocate makes a claim that cannot hope to be substantiated through empirical evaluation and the scientific method. Their claim centers on value and is argued in the language of philosophy and ethics. It offers something like a pagan view of the elevation of the self and the imminent rather than an elevated unimpeachable secular logic. Their views on human value should not receive special privilege over other views on human value simply because one side makes the bifurcated claims that opposing views are religious in nature and religious views are not appropriate for public debate.9

Finally, for many of our brothers and sisters in Christ, being a good citizen is how they complete their requirement to obey the great commandment to love their neighbors as themselves. Politics are not separate from their faith because the true expression of their faith requires them to act to protect human flourishing in their communities. Those activities simply are, for all practical purposes, political.

The Separation of Church and State

The concept of a wall that separates the church and the state developed from two distinct tensions in the American colonies and early United States. The first tension arose from the history of institutional and official national religions operating to persecute citizens who rejected that religious belief. The Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church, and even Anglicanism in the Virginia colony were all guilty at some point of persecuting non-adherents to the dominant denomination with either the full weight of the government behind them or the indifference of the greater community. In the latter case, Baptists wanted the freedom to evangelize in Virginia, eschewing Anglican constraints; and both Thomas Jefferson and James Madison fought for a legal environment that recognized the freedom of all individuals to worship as they pleased.10 This is why, according to historian Thomas Kidd, Madison insisted religious freedom be articulated as a matter of free exercise and not through the language of religious tolerance.11 The state does not merely tolerate the practice of religion. We have a natural right to freely exercise our religious beliefs. Madison adapted this language both for the Virginia Declaration of Rights and the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights.

The framers of the US Constitution saw the free exercise of religious beliefs as a natural right to be protected by legitimate government. They also knew the dangers of a particular religious denomination acquiring so much authority as to warp the government into a means of compelling belief and practice while eroding the public trust in the church by turning it into a means of political coercion.12 They feared both governmental intrusion on the individual and institutional intrusion on the government.

Given the evolution of beliefs that individuals can progress through during their lives, it isn’t clear how a litmus test for religiously motivated political participation could be enforced. Many of the founding fathers of our nation expressed themselves at times in ways that made them appear very religious, and other times sounding less so. Benjamin Franklin famously called for the Constitutional Convention to fervently pray as a means of settling seemingly irreconcilable differences in the process of crafting the new government, a suggestion that appears to have been rejected.13 At the same time, it is commonly understood that Franklin was not a deeply religious man throughout most of his life. The rest of society falls into similar categories across the spectrum between pious and worldly. Neatly dividing up the religious and areligious for the purpose of excluding the former from the political process would be impossible.

What Is Religious Belief?

Everyone engaging in the public forum brings ideas about what it means to be a human being, convictions about what our responsibilities and duties to one another are, and ideas about which individual freedoms ought to be prioritized. Whatever path people take to answer these questions, the result will be something like a religious belief. They explain the human condition, human nature, concepts of human flourishing, and a sense of what is good and bad. Without these standards, the concept of moral improvement is impossible. Those who claim that concepts such as personal and collective interests, autonomy, and empathy constitute sufficient secular foundations for law and governance must ultimately come to terms with the idea that their own philosophy falls victim to the same criticisms leveled against traditional religious concepts such as dignity,14 meaning, and the holy.15 There must be a hierarchy of interests to sort through when interests come into conflict. Autonomy must be balanced against other concepts like non-malfeasance and beneficence to avoid a world driven by radical and unyielding expressions of self-determination. Empathy must be appropriately directed, which requires standards of prioritizing whose circumstances require intervention. We must sort out the good and the bad and everything in-between. Society still makes value judgments based on how we answer the big questions, “What does it mean to be a human being?” and “What community structure is most likely to lead to human flourishing?”

Public Engagement as Part of Faith

Princeton jurisprudence professor Robert George makes the case in his book, The Clash of Orthodoxies, that Roman Catholic tradition requires its followers to engage in the flourishing of the community.16 Catholics need to use their reason, engage culture, and cultivate a society that values truth and tends to the needs of the less fortunate. In a similar fashion to the framers of the US Constitution, George argues that Pope John Paul II saw the need to actively protect private institutions through a principle of subsidiarity, the idea that the most local institutions (the individual, the family, the church, etc.) are best equipped to fulfill the needs of our communities, while maintaining a strong communal effort through government to provide resources to deal with human need on a scale beyond the scope of smaller institutions. Such a balancing act requires intense attention and involvement on the part of committed Catholics, and it is not at all obvious that any of their aims, either the protection of the family unit or the protection of the vulnerable, can be categorically dismissed by virtue of the religious beliefs of Catholics. In fact, both John Paul II and George encouraged the use of the language of philosophy for those who enter the public square precisely to undercut any accusation of forcing religious beliefs on others. The ethical practice of sound philosophy helps us all discern the truth with more clarity.

Previously mentioned author Megan Basham made similar claims from an evangelical position.17 Politics is the practice of crafting policy to contribute to the flourishing of our communities. It would be immoral to abandon such an important duty out of a need to make non-believers more comfortable with faith communities. We are required out of devotion to the great commandment to love our neighbor and to engage in creating a world in which we and our neighbors will flourish. Faith isn’t a private affair.

Religion and Abortion

Philosopher Francis Beckwith writes that these confusions are seen clearly in the public debates about abortion, something the Roman Catholic Church teaches is an intrinsically evil act in which no context can ever mitigate the nature of the act.18 Directly destroying an embryonic or fetal human being is objectively wrong. It is an evil that permeates our society and leads to the deaths of approximately 73 million human lives worldwide every year.19 The combination of moral clarity with respect to the nature of the act and an incomprehensible moral cost in human lives motivates many Catholics to see speaking out against abortion as a necessary part of loving their neighbors. Other Christians of various denominations agree with this assessment. Christian duties and obligations to other human beings requires some effort to respond to an unplanned pregnancy with love and hope rather than an intrinsically evil act of destruction.

Beckwith and others argue for the equal dignity of embryonic and fetal humans without appeal to religious commands.20 The standard approach requires a case using two categories, science to define biological humanity, and philosophy to discuss value. The science of embryology determines the beginning of the biological humanity of the unborn. Philosophical arguments make the case that the best explanation for our shared experience of equal human dignity is that the dignity in question is grounded in a characteristic equally shared across all human life. Only our shared humanity meets those criteria. We are all equally human, maturing and growing in accordance with our nature. This argument advances an inclusive view of human value and a view of our moral duties to our fellow man.

To argue an opposing position, abortion advocates must advance their own view of human value and their own ideas about human flourishing. They don’t get to simply declare one side of the argument religious and the other as secular and assume, without argument, that being secular brings with it an obvious superiority, while being religious automatically disqualifies a view, especially given that neither side argued the merits of their position by appealing to God or biblical commands. Both parties answer the same types of questions.21

Christians as Good Citizens

In the Gospel of Matthew, a Pharisee asks Jesus a question: “‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied: ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments’” (Matthew 22:36–40 NIV).

Christians are always at our best when we understand the great commandment with the broadest possible definition of who we consider our neighbors. Our neighbors need both direct personal interaction from us and to live in a community that attends to their most basic protections for all of us to flourish. Loving our neighbor requires us to engage in political advocacy.

Christian organizations feed and clothe the poor, provide aid to refugees, and medical assistance to areas otherwise lacking the resources to provide lifesaving care. No one cares how much religion informs the politics and motivates believers to action when they agree with our goals. Religious belief is fine in the marketplace of ideas until such time those same religious beliefs lead people to advocate for positions their critics oppose. Christians are free to fight sex trafficking but not abortion. Christians are welcome to ask questions about the ethical distribution of medical treatments but not about the ethics of medically altering young people to treat sexual identity confusion. Faith is fine as long as it makes no demands on the personal lives of those who reject it.

If our culture continues to become less and less Christian, advocating for the good, the true, and the beautiful will draw more and more resistance. That cannot deter our engagement. Our political efforts to limit evil are not pursued to acquire power over the secular world. Our goal is to offer a better way to live in community through grace, mercy, and a foundation built on inclusive values inspired by Christ. That benefits everyone, even those who hate us.

Jay Watts is the Founder and President of Merely Human Ministries, Inc., an organization committed to equipping Christians and pro-life advocates defend the intrinsic dignity of all human life.


  1. “The After Party: Toward Better Christian Politics,” Redeeming Babel, accessed February 23, 2024,
  2. Megan Basham, “Follow the Money to The After Party,” First Things, January 22, 2024,
  3. Alison Grubbs, “What Healing Looks Like: Meet the People Working Across Difference to Build Stronger Communities,” New Pluralists,
  4. Alisa Childers and Natasha Crain, “#31 Russel Moore, David French, and The After Party Curriculum: Why the Church Should Be Concerned,” Unshaken Faith, February 7, 2024,; and Allie Beth Stuckey, “The Rockefeller-Funded Curriculum Headed to Your Church,” episode 945, Relatable Podcast, YouTube, February 5, 2024,
  5. Leonardo de Chirico, “Post Christianity Is an Opportunity for Real Christianity,” The Gospel Coalition, July 13, 2020,; and John O’Sullivan, “Our Post Christian Society,” National Review, December 14, 2013,
  6. “The Guardian View on ‘Post-Christian’ Britain: A Spiritual Enigma,” The Guardian, March 28, 2021,
  7. “Modeling the Future of Religion in America,” Pew Research Center, September 13, 2022,; PRRI Staff, “Religion and Congregations in a Time of Social and Political Upheaval,” PRRI, May 16, 2023,
  8. Steven D. Smith, Pagans and Christians in the City: Culture Wars from the Tiber to the Potomac (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2018), 8–11; Samuel James, “A Vision for Engaging Post-Christian Culture,” TGC, July 16, 2021,
  9. Francis J. Beckwith, Taking Rites Seriously: Law, Politics, and the Reasonableness of Faith (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 111.
  10. Thomas S. Kidd, God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution (New York: Basic Books, 2010), 52–53.
  11. Kidd, God of Liberty, 53.
  12. Kidd, God of Liberty, 58–59.
  13. Robert Tracy McKenzie, We the Fallen People: The Founders and the Future of American Democracy (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2021), 27–29. McKenzie writes, “Franklin’s motion was supposed to be the cue for his fellow delegates to experience deep conviction….In the end, according to James Madison’s meticulous notes of the proceedings, the convention adjourned without even voting on Franklin’s motion for prayer….Franklin’s own summation of the awkward affair was terse and unsparing: ‘The Convention, except three or four persons, thought Prayers unnecessary.’ No one mentioned it again” (29).
  14. Beckwith, Taking Rites Seriously, 86–99.
  15. Smith, Pagans and Christians in the City, 241–48.
  16. Robert P. George, The Clash of Orthodoxies: Law, Religion, and Morality in Crisis (Wilmington: ISI Books, 2013), 231–58.
  17. Stuckey, “The Rockefeller-Funded Curriculum Headed to Your Church.”
  18. Editors’ note: Concerning the issue of saving the life of the mother, see Rev. E. M. Robinson, “Exception: To Save the Life of the Mother,” All about Issues, June-July (1991): 29, EWTN, accessed February 23, 2024,; Matthew A. C. Newsome, “Abortion and Double Effect,” Catholic Answers, September 1, 2006,
  19. “Global and Regional Estimates of Unintended Pregnancy and Abortion: Unintended Pregnancy and Abortion Worldwide,” Guttmacher Institute, March 2022,
  20. Beckwith, Taking Rites Seriously, 50.
  21. Beckwith, Taking Rites Seriously, 48–49.
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