Focus on the Family

Christian Activism

by Focus on the Family Issue Analysts

What ended the Roman Empire's vicious — and wildly popular — blood sport, the gladiatorial games? In large part, Christians did. More precisely, one single Christian.

Tom Minnery tells the story in Why You Can't Stay Silent: A Biblical Mandate to Shape Our Culture.

The spectacles came to an end at the turn of the fifth century, when an eastern monk named Telemachus journeyed to the mighty city of Rome. He was determined to put a stop to the madness, armed only with faith in God and the belief that human beings made in His image should not tear each other to pieces like wild animals. Entering the Coliseum one day as a spectator, he bided his time in the stands until the fighting had raised the crowd to a frenzy. Then he leaped into the arena and separated the combatants. He was cut to pieces, but he won the day. The spectacles ceased when the emperor Honorius abolished them, moved by what had happened in the arena that day. The end of the gladiatorial contests was a significant victory for the emerging church against an entrenched pagan custom.1

That's an especially dramatic example of how early Christians in the Roman Empire took action to change the culture and the laws of their society. But it's far from the only example. 

In Roman society, fathers wielded tyrannical power and women had the status of virtual household slaves. Children could be abused, sold or murdered: Unwanted infants (usually girls) were commonly “exposed” — abandoned in the streets, to be used in pagan sacrifices, raised as beggars or sold into slavery.

Christians campaigned relentlessly against these horrors and — after decades, and in some cases centuries, of pressure — got results. For the first time, rape became a crime with severe penalties. Women gained unprecedented property rights and divorce laws were tightened to protect them against serial divorce. Abandoned children sold as slaves were freed.

In these and many other ways — the treatment of slaves, the poor, the sick, the vulnerable, the imprisoned — Christians radically reformed the ancient world. They did it without anything close to the freedoms we enjoy, and sometimes at great personal risk.

And they've kept doing it throughout the centuries. Author George Grant collects many of their stories in his book Third Time Around: A History of the Pro-Life Movement from the First Century to the Present. He tells, for example, of believers during the Enlightenment who left behind comforts and ventured into the streets of Europe and colonies abroad to save lives of the downtrodden, especially children. “Homes for girls in crisis were established, maternity and foundling hospitals were established, lobbying efforts were begun, legislation was enacted, research was funded, and direct action rescues were launched,” he writes.Grant, George, Third Time Around: A History of the Pro-Life Movement from the First Century to the Present (Wolgemuth and Hyatt Publishers, Inc., 1991, p. 59). The stories can be found on pages 59-64 of the online book.)

One especially inspiring example of Christianity at work in the culture is 19th century English Member of Parliament William Wilberforce. Wilberforce worked tirelessly for 20 years to persuade his fellow lawmakers to outlaw Britain's slave trade. He fought this good fight while in poor health and often standing alone in the legislature.

But Wilberforce had support from a Christian community. He was supported by a group of Christian friends known as the Clapham Group, who shared both his faith and his moral concerns. At one point after his conversion to Christianity, he questioned whether he should remain in public office.  These friends convinced him to stay in Parliament and use his influence to promote policies consistent with his religious faith. 

Finally, the British Parliament passed the Abolition of Slavery Act on July 26, 1833 — three days before Wilberforce died.

Why did all these believers take on these challenges throughout the ages? They did it because they were compelled by conscience. And while they badly wanted to win every soul to Christ, they also knew that they couldn't stand back and ignore evils in society around them in the meantime. They stepped out and took action to change their cultures — and their laws — for the sake of righteousness.

Minnery writes: 

The fact is, when hearts are changed by the gospel, sometimes those hearts begin to beat in new rhythms. These are the people who, renewed in Christ, begin to see with fresh eyes what is wrong, because the gospel has taught them what is right. They are the ones who cannot ignore what is happening around them, the ones who stand up and say, 'Somebody has to do something!'2

1Minnery, Tom, Why You Can't Stay Silent: A Biblical Mandate to Shape Our Culture (Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2001), p. 22.
2Minnery, p. 11.

Salt and Light

Our Christian calling to be "salt and light" to the world around us.

by Focus on the Family Issue Analysts

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, “for they will be filled.” (Matthew 5:6) First and foremost, that’s a reference to His saving righteousness which brings eternal life. But He also calls us to care about righteousness in this world. Just a few verses later he goes on to say:

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled by men.

“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:13-16)

Those are powerful metaphors. Salt is a preservative that works only when it penetrates into food, and becomes useless when contaminated by other chemical substances. It must remain pure to do its job. Jesus says that Christians, likewise, must penetrate society while keeping themselves from being influenced by sin in the world.

Similarly, light penetrates darkness. To know the truth and fail to stand for it, Jesus says, is as senseless as lighting a lamp and putting it under a basket.

In other words, we don’t just live out our faith inside the walls of our churches and of our homes. We’re not to be of the world, but we’re to be in the world. We’re citizens of an earthly kingdom as well as a heavenly one. Citizens participate in the culture, everything from what children are taught in school to what appears on TV screens.

When it comes to how Christians should be active in culture, people of good will may disagree. Some will argue to limit involvement to what is sometimes referred to as the “social gospel” found in Matthew 25 when Jesus instructs His followers to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and care for the sick. And certainly Christians are, and should be, engaged in such activities. But is that enough?

Take, for example, the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10: Ministering to someone who is naked, beaten and half-dead on the side of the road is an appropriate Christian response. Taking precautions to prevent travelers from being robbed and beaten in the first place — such as supporting government protection for life, liberty and property — is equally important.

Christians also have a responsibility to be proactive in society and address issues, whenever possible, before harm takes place. That means supporting and promoting institutions that are good both for individuals and for society, like the family. That’s the kind of broad view we must take to live out a Christian response in our culture.

Christians and Politics

Laws reflect morals and what's best for our society. As Christians, we have the right, calling and duty to be involved in shaping those policies.

by Focus on the Family Issue Analysts

Part of that broad view includes getting involved in government—because government invariably is involved with all of us.

"Being salt and light in this age means contending responsibly for godly standards wherever they are under assault," Tom Minnery writes. "There is no escaping the mixture of religion and politics, because nearly every law is the result of somebody’s judgment about what is good and what is bad."Minnery, Tom, Why You Can’t Stay Silent: A Biblical Mandate to Shape Our Culture (Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2001), p. 65.

Some Christians are wary of involvement in politics and government, either because they don’t like the way some other Christians have done it or because they find politics to be corrupt. But the purpose of government, as God created it, is a noble one. As Chuck Colson writes in God and Government:

The state was instituted by God to restrain sin and promote a just social order. Western political thought often mistakenly assumes that the role of government is determined solely by the will of the people. The biblical reality is different. On the eve of His execution, Jesus told Pilate that he held his office of political authority only because it had been granted him by God. The apostle Paul spoke of civil authority as ‘God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.’ Peter used similar language, saying that governments were set by God to ‘punish those who do wrong and commend those who do right.’Colson, Charles, God and Government (Zondervan, 2007), pp. 101-102.

The state was created for limited purposes, of course. "While it cannot redeem the world or be used as a tool to establish the Kingdom of God, civil government does set the boundaries for human behavior," Colson says. "The state is not a remedy for sin, but a means to restrain it."1

Sometimes, though, the state doesn’t do its job. Worse, sometimes it does the opposite — promoting sin instead of restraining it, and actively undermining our social and moral foundations instead of supporting them. And at those times, especially, we have to pay attention to what government does, because we must live with the results of its actions.

"Political acts have profound human consequences," Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner write in City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era. "It makes a very great difference whether people live in freedom or servitude; whether government promotes a culture of life or a culture of death; whether the state is a guardian or an enemy of human dignity."Gerson, Michael and Peter Wehner, City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era (Moody Publishers, 2010), p. 24.

Gerson and Wehner go on: 

Laws express moral beliefs and judgments. Like throwing a pebble into a pond, the waves ripple outward. They tell citizens what our society ought to value and condemn. … That is not all that laws do, but it is among the most important things that they do.

Suppose that, next year, all fifty states decide to legalize marijuana and cocaine use, prostitution and same-sex marriage. Regardless of where you stand on the issues, do you doubt that, if such laws stayed in effect for fifty years, they wouldn’t fundamentally alter our views, including our moral views, of these issues?Gerson and Wehner, p. 31.

Christians are anything but helpless in our country, however. We have a right to take action — and also, as Tom Minnery points out, a responsibility.

Unlike the Roman Empire in the first century, our country is a participatory republic. We have the obligation to make our voices heard and to get involved in dialogue. Our government asks us, as citizens, to participate, not merely to shut up and obey. In the United States, ‘We, the people’ means Christians as well as non-Christians. Submission in our political system includes being willing to contribute to the political process, not withdraw from it.Minnery, p. 100.

1Colson, p. 102.

Founding Faith: Christians in America

The Founding Fathers counted on the active engagement of Christians in the country they were forming -- because they understood that morals and religion were necessary for the new form of government they were establishing.

by Focus on the Family Issue Analysts

America’s Founders would have no argument with that. In fact, they were counting on Christian citizens as the backbone of the republic.

"There was a consensus among the Founders that religion was indispensable to a system of republican self-government," says Daniel Dreisbach, professor of law, justice and American society at American University. In order to have self-government, "the Founders looked to religion (and morality informed by religious faith) to provide the internal moral compass that would prompt citizens to behave in a disciplined manner and thereby promote social order and political stability."1

The Founders themselves said this often, in their own inimitable words.

"Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other," John Adams declared.Adams, John, message to the Officers of the First Brigade of the Third Division of the Militia of Massachusetts, October 11, 1798. "Religion and virtue are the only foundations, not only of republicanism and all free government, but of social felicity under all governments and in all the combinations of human society."Adams, John, Letter to Dr. Benjamin Rush, August 28, 1811.

"Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to a political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim that tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness," George Washington stated.Washington, George, Farewell Address, September 19, 1796. "We ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which heaven itself has ordained."2

Daniel Webster summed it up in a nutshell: "Whatever makes men good Christians, makes them good citizens."Webster, Daniel, speech at Plymouth, Mass., Dec. 22, 1820.

(Many more quotes are available at

There’s a myth in some circles that the Founders weren’t primarily Christians but Deists — believers in a God who wound up the universe like a watch, then left it to run on its own. But while that describes a handful of them, it doesn’t fit the vast majority.

Of the 55 Framers of the Constitution, "with no more than five exceptions, they were orthodox members of one of the established congregations," wrote the late University of Dallas historian M.E. Bradford.3 "References made by the Framers to Jesus Christ as Redeemer and Son of God … are commonplace in their private papers, correspondence and public remarks — and in the early records of their lives."4

And they did a lot more than talk about their faith.

"The variety of surviving Christian witness in the papers and sayings of the Framers is indeed astonishing. Elias Boudinot of New Jersey was heavily involved in Christian missions and was the founder of the American Bible Society. Roger Sherman … was a ruling elder of his church. Richard Bassett rode joyfully with his former slaves to share in the enthusiasm of their singing on the way to Methodist camp meetings…. John Dickinson of Delaware wrote persuasive letters to youthful friends conserving the authority of Scripture and the soundness of Christian evidences. … both James Madison and Alexander Hamilton regularly led their households in the observance of family prayers."5

1Dreisbach, Daniel L., "Origins and Dangers of the 'Wall of Separation' Between Church and State," Imprimis (a publication of Hillsdale College), October 2006.
2Washington, George, First Inaugural Address, April 30, 1789.
3Bradford, M.E., Founding Fathers: Brief Lives of the Framers of the United States Constitution (University of Kansas Press, 1994), p. xvi.
4Bradford, M.E., Original Intentions: On the Making and Ratification of the United States Constitution (The University of Georgia Press, 1993), p. 89.
5Bradford, Original Intentions, p. 91.

The Wall That Never Was

Debunking the myth of "separation of church and state."

by Focus on the Family Issue Analysts

There's another myth that the Founders built a "wall of separation between church and state" to keep government strictly secular and free of influence by religious people and ideas. Again, though, the truth is vastly different.

In fact, those words — "wall of separation between church and state" — don't appear in the Constitution. They come from a letter written by President Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury (Connecticut) Baptist Association, which has no legal authority — and which has been widely misinterpreted.

Jefferson, who had been accused during the recent presidential campaign of being hostile to Christianity, wrote to assure his pious readers that he supported their religious liberty. As president, he would later support policies such as using federal funds to build churches and to support Christian missionaries working among the Indians. As Dreisbach writes, "The absurd conclusion that countless courts and commentators would have us reach is that Jefferson routinely pursued policies that violated his own 'wall of separation.'"1

The truth is, the First Amendment was written primarily to protect the church from the state, not the other way around. It guaranteed that Congress would not infringe the free exercise of religion or establish a national church body. The Founders wanted to preserve the many vibrant Christian churches which were thriving in America, and to ensure they would not be swallowed by a single national, official church such as England's.

The Founders' vision of active, engaged Christian citizens has been realized many times in American history. Christians drove the antislavery campaigns and the civil rights movement. Like those early believers in Rome, they did it because they were "the ones who cannot ignore what is happening around them, the ones who stand up and say, 'Somebody has to do something!' "

America today needs that same spirit from Christians as much as ever — and maybe even more so, in order to keep our cherished freedoms alive.

1Dreisbach, Daniel L., "The Mythical 'Wall of Separation': How a Misused Metaphor Changed Church-State Law, Policy and Discourse," The Heritage Foundation First Principles Series Report # 6, June 23, 2006.

Passing Along the Faith — and the Freedom to Share It

Christians must exercise and protect our freedoms -- especially our freedoms of speech and religion -- if we want them to last for our children and grandchildren.

by Focus on the Family Issue Analysts

One of the legacies citizens of the United States enjoy is the freedom to share our religious beliefs and exercise our faith.  We may assume that such freedoms will always be available to our children and grandchildren. But increasingly, current events paint a different possible scenario for the future. To cite just a few of many examples:

It's horribly wrong that grieving friends and families are told to stop praying and not to mention God's name. And it's alarming when government employees are asked to forfeit their religious beliefs in exchange for their jobs, and private business owners are forced to choose between faith and earning a living — often in the face of stiff penalties.

We cannot assume that the religious freedom we have enjoyed will be passed along to future generations if we fail to act to defend these liberties.  Decisions regarding religious freedom are made in the public square, and that’s an arena Christians can influence for the good.