Ever since 330 A.D., when Emperor Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire, government has been a crutch for Christianity. This even though the Bible expected Christianity to be independent of secular powers.
This dependence on secular authority continued through the centuries as the church surrendered its autonomy to secular forces and secular powers gladly accommodated the church. It has been a centuries-long symbiotic romance.
Even with the arrival of the American doctrine of separation of church and state, government continued to be a crutch. Governments, especially schools, were expected to tout religious doctrine.
But that era is closing. For a variety of reasons, Christian ethics have been taking a beating in the United States in recent times. Social, ethnic and religious pluralism is forcing the government to religious neutrality, meaning that the church can no longer depend on the government to enforce religious ethics through legislation.
In North Dakota, the church lost the fight for a sacred Sunday during the past 100 years. In the 1920s, North Dakota voters were voting to legalize baseball and movies on Sundays. Then in the 1930s, the church lost the war on alcohol with the repeal of state prohibition laws. In more recent times, the church fought a losing battle against gambling and Sunday retailing.
Look at the national and state issues today. The fight for sanctity of life is failing. So is the definition of marriage as consisting of one man and one woman. Laws relating to fornication and sodomy have been repealed; another addictive drug (marijuana) is sweeping the country, and PG13 movies and television reek with crime, violence and sexual exploitation.
The reaction of Christians to this secularization of morality has been adversarial, if not antagonistic. We have enjoyed government support in laws and practices for so long that we think of it as an entitlement.
The Christian community has not been turning the other cheek but delivering a kick to the solar plexus whenever possible. The humble and peaceful demeanor demonstrated by Jesus has been exchanged for militant pressure groups, propaganda, half-truths, harsh rhetoric and whatever it takes to carry the day.
The letters of John, Peter and Paul counseled a demeanor that would be exemplary so that the spread of the Gospel would not be impaired by conflicts that would detract from the Christian witness. The church has not accepted that counsel.
The primary missions of the church are spreading the Gospel, building disciples and caring for the needy. Instead of focusing on these goals, the church has become mired down in secular controversy about creationism, the Ten Commandments, and other social and legal conflicts that do not spread the Gospel, build disciples or help the needy.
The irony about this slide into secular morals is that three-fourths of the people in America claim to be Christians. Making up that large a proportion of society, Christians must be willing co-conspirators in the secularization of Christian morals.
If the church wants to fight addiction, abortion, fornication, sodomy, divorce, greed, self-righteousness and all of the other forms of worldliness and sin, it needs to forget the government and assume responsibility for teaching professing Christians what it means to be a Christian.
The church has failed to communicate Christian values to Christians. Apparently, a few sessions of catechism have not been enough. Neither has the follow-up one-hour weekly visits to church services.
The ball is now in the church sanctuary and not in secular legislation.
(Lloyd Omdahl is a political scientist and former North Dakota lieutenant governor. His column appears Sundays.)