Rounding off what has actually been a four-part set of blogs on “Civil Pluralism vis-à-vis Theological Pluralism,” I want to conclude with a clarification. My previous three posts on the topic probably sound more progressive in tone and posture; here I want to deliberately provide a very conservative sounding note of clarification; viz., secularism is not the same as neutralism — and recognition of that nuances everything. 

Secularism, the absence or conscious elimination of religious fidelity or convictions, should be recognized itself as a religious view, sometimes bearing all the zeal and passion of the most fanatical religious advocate.  Therefore, conscientiously banning religious viewpoints from decision-and-policy-making deliberations should be considered every bit as much an establishment of religion as establishing Catholicism, Reconstructionist Theonomy, or Sharia Law.  

What I would propose is that evangelicals engage in political deliberation and the political process. I’d further propose that they not be banned from (nor should they voluntarily restrain themselves necessarily from) expressing their viewpoints out of their religious convictions.  Rather, they may sometimes appropriately cite their rationale for advocating a certain viewpoint as being self-consciously rooted in their religious or biblical convictions. (E.g., like Martin Luther King, Jr. did in his case for civil rights for African-Americans.)  

Yet, they should engage the public square with the understanding that other people with different, sometimes opposing, religious convictions will be doing the same and that advocacy in the public square is and must be advocacy for what is understood by all as seeking the common good.  This means that sometimes compromise will be necessary in public policy. It also meant that there will be times when a certain practice or prohibition is enforced by one’s religious community of faith and not by the government at large. 

What I am advocating is a civic or political pluralism — different from traditional Anabaptist thought (in which Christians withdraw or concede the realm of the public square in order to pursue exclusively more purist adherence to religious standards in more private, separated communities), and different from theonomy or reconstructionism or some religious right groups (in which specifically and exclusively Christian values are pursued and implemented over the objections or against the will of others). That is, I would seek to employ what James Davison Hunter calls “faithful presence” in the socio-political arena (as one of the “culture-shaping centers” of our society).

The issue is complicated enough and important enough to allow for a diversity of opinions on this.  Here I’ve laid out my thinking on it.  What’s yours? 

Todd Mangum is the Academic Dean and Professor of Theology at Biblical.  He is ordained by the Southern Baptist Convention.  Todd is the author of The Dispensational-Covenantal Rift, and of several articles seeking to bridge divides among Bible-believing Christians. He is married to Linda and they have three sons.  See also

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