A source of considerable conflict in the public square emanates from earnest Christians who agitate for the imposition of their religious values on society as a whole.

Before we can consider this conflict, however, we must look at two relevant subthemes that run through the Gospel. Both have been lost or disregarded in modern Christianity but are crucial to an analysis of Christians in the public square.

The first subtheme relates to the sacrifice expected of believers to qualify as followers of Christ.

There are scores of Scriptural references supporting the premise that Christians are expected to surrender everything, the most powerful statement coming from Jesus himself when he said “take up your cross and follow me.” It was not just a passing comment but a constant theme in his preaching.

Matthew: “If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.”

Mark: “Take up his cross and follow me.”

Matthew: "And he who does not take up his cross and follow after me is worthy of me.”

Mark: To the rich young man who kept all of the commandments: “sell all that you have, give it to the poor, and follow me.”

Luke: To be a follower, deny self and take up cross daily.

When Jesus said “take up your cross,” he meant that it was necessary to give up families, property, pride, rights and reputation, everything, to qualify as a disciple. The cross symbolized crucifixion of human wants and desires.

The messengers of Christianity have glossed over this call to total sacrifice. Of course, being a citizen of both the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Earth has created considerable confusion for Christians who want to adopt and live the values of both kingdoms.

Today’s believers no longer aspire to divest themselves of earthly inclinations. At most, churches suggest that 10 percent would be acceptable. Consequently, there is no longer a cost to discipleship as proposed by Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

In the second subtheme pertinent to political activity by believers, Christians are called to bring honor and glory to God by peaceful, loving and humble behavior in the public square. In other words, consider the public relations of Christianity.

Romans: “God’s name is blasphemed among the gentiles because of you.”

Matthew: “Let your light shine before men….so they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

Peter: “Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles ….”

Matthew: Jesus and Peter fished for taxes even though they were exempt “lest we give them offense.”

I Timothy: Qualifications for church leadership included having “a good reputation with those outside the Church.”

In other words, we want the secular world to think kindly about Christ and Christianity.

These two subthemes — total surrender and giving Christianity a good image — offer valuable paradigms for professing Christians who want to engage in secular politics. Of course, there are many other applicable subthemes in Scripture but these two will have particular relevance when we get into the nuts and bolts of the controversial social issues.

And there are numerous sectarian issues to consider — abortion, same-sex marriage, creation, Ten Commandments, separation of church and state and the other conflicts that divide Martin Luther’s kingdom of God and kingdom of Earth. We will apply the two subthemes to these issues — and perhaps the seven deadly sins — in the next writing.

Lloyd Omdahl is a political scientist and former North Dakota lieutenant governor. His column appears Sundays.

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