Now that the Ten Commandments monument is removed from its Alabama rotunda, could we all take a deep breath?
Yes, Justice Roy Moore has put on the front burner -- and the flames are hot -- many vital questions concerning the intersection of religion and American society.
But it's not right that the Alabama governor and attorney general, the eight associate justices of the Alabama Supreme Court, and Christian leaders like Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention and Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice, who have advised Justice Moore that he's trying to defend a bridge too far, have been lambasted by some as traitors to the Alabama or U.S. constitutions, or to the Bible itself.
This is a question on which Bible-defenders have disagreed and will continue to do so. The debaters in this situation should be charitable and not assume bad motives on the part of those who disagree. No one should call Justice Moore a demagogue or mere headline-hunter; he is a man acting on his beliefs. No one should call Christian critics of Justice Moore wimps or immoral compromisers, particularly when those critics have again and again demonstrated a willingness to stand up for biblical principle and take the heat.
We need now a renewed discussion among Bible-defenders as to whether we are living in a new Israel or a modern Babylon. That makes a huge difference. Ancient Israel was designed to be a holy land with no witches allowed. Babylon was different, a murderous country where there is no record of the Ten Commandments being exhibited, but one in which the prophet Jeremiah told the Israelites to build houses, plant gardens, and "pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare."
Bible-believers are on thin ice to suggest that Esther in Persia was wrong to obey an order to join the king's harem, or that it was wrong for the apostle Paul to tell Christians in Rome, and the apostle Peter to tell exiles in other parts of the Roman empire, that they should obey ungodly rulers -- including those who were persecuting believers in Christ. "Fear God. Honor the emperor," Peter wrote bluntly.
Those who want a religious presence in the public square should ask political questions: Do we want a civil war? Are we declaring the federal judiciary's authority to be illegitimate, and how far do we want to take that? Maybe Congress will step in and put limitations on that authority, as it is allowed to do constitutionally, but what's right to do until then?
Christians should ask evangelical questions. How can we best proclaim the gospel of grace? Words on granite are important. So are the words written on our hearts when God changes them from hearts of stone to hearts of flesh. How do we communicate the life-changing nature of the gospel to a desperately needy world?
Bible-defenders should ask tactical questions. Is it ungodly pragmatism to consider whether The Wall Street Journal is correct in its assessment that Justice Moore is "doing more to raise money for the ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State than advance the cause of religious liberty"?
Bible-defenders should ask historical questions: for example, what have we learned about the best way to reduce the number of abortions in this country? It does appear that the provision of compassionate alternatives has worked better than the well-intentioned protest tactics of 15 years ago.
On television talk shows it's hard to offer light rather than heat, but it's not too late for defenders of the Bible to reason together.