Churches should stick to what they do best

Tom Bisset

December 02, 1992|By Tom Bisset

MARYLAND'S great abortion war is over. Question 6, th referendum on the state's abortion rights bill, has prevailed convincingly at the polls.

The opponents of Question 6 were churches and church-going people who put together an informal coalition of individuals and groups determined to overturn this bill. The Catholic Church, FTC which has been in the fight against abortion from the beginning, led the way, followed by conservative churches of all sizes and denominations.

Numbers of church leaders, black and white, willingly went public with their opposition to the bill. Signs urging citizens to vote against Question 6 dotted church landscapes throughout the state. Media ads featuring area pastors and religious leaders showed up on the commercial logs of local radio and television stations. Both were firsts in Maryland so far as I can determine.

Yet Question 6 passed Nov. 3 by a margin surprising pollsters and even its most optimistic proponents.

Some analysts believe this was more than a political defeat. It was, we are told, the end of the church's ability to influence public policy through moral persuasion, a role it has exercised throughout American history. Question 6 was proof positive, they say, that the majority of people do not care what the church thinks.

Don't care, you say? To be sure. Most people consider the church irrelevant. That so many churches opposed Question 6 and called for all good citizens to do the same was meaningless to the typical Maryland voter.

But a collective nose-thumbing at the church was not what happened on that Indian-summer Tuesday in November. What really happened was a public statement, composed in the privacy of voting booths, that America has become a secular nation.

Religious values, which affirm the sanctity of human life and which once informed most of American culture, are now held by a minority. Individual rights now are of higher value to a majority of Americans.

The clear lesson for churches in Question 6 is that political activism is a failed strategy for achieving moral objectives in society. The numbers simply aren't there. You can't overturn a pro-abortion bill without the votes. Period.

Dissent in word and deed remains a viable course of action for all who oppose abortion. It's still America. But from now on, a strategy that pours time and money into defeating a measure like Question 6 would be mistaken, however well-intentioned.

Some people will say this is defeatism, a return to the pietism/quietism of an earlier day. Not true. It's realism. It's recognizing that trying to make America a righteous nation by force of law is not possible.

Jesus told his followers they were to be salt and light in the world, preserving what is good and doing good deeds to all. He told them to go and make disciples of all nations, not politicize them.

The time has come for a different strategy. That strategy is for churches to get back to what they do best -- the worship of God, the salvation of souls, prayer, the healing of broken lives and families, care for the poor and a hundred other such callings.

People living out the gospel in the real world is the church's only hope for effectively influencing America in the years to come. The simple truth is that society will not change unless people change. That is the indisputable lesson of Question 6.

Christians of all denominations will do well to learn it and get on with the task before them.

Tom Bisset is general manager of WRBS-FM, an evangelical radio station in Baltimore.

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