Christians and Public Policy

Posted Oct. 17, 2010, at 6:55 p.m.

The Christian Civic League of Maine has been one of the more divisive institutions in state policy debates over the last 20 years. The league — which has re-branded itself the Maine Family Policy Council — has seen its role as drawing the line between right and wrong, between moral and immoral, between traditional and permissive. Drawing that line, by definition, divides people. And people on opposite sides of a line are more inclined to shout at each other than they are if gathered around a table.

The organization has done more than change its name. Its new executive director, Carroll Conley, who succeeded the controversial Michael Heath, wants the league to be less focused on attaching scarlet letters to some and more interested in sustaining Christians as they engage with civic life. That’s a laudable goal, though not without its pitfalls.

There is an inherent conflict for faith-based groups that want to influence public policy. They believe the world would be a better place if more people lived the way Christians are called to live. That’s a persuasive argument. But at the same time, the New Testament does not record instances of the early Christian church seeking to impose its precepts on the secular world.

The league could be a beacon for those seeking a better way to live, both publicly and privately. It also could define its mission more in terms of what it favors, rather than what it opposes.

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The league’s most high-profile tussles have come over the expansion of gay rights and the effort to allow gay marriage in Maine. Rather than using its influence to block both, the league could instead work to provide practical supports to the very institution conservative Christians say is under attack by those who would legalize gay marriage. Too many marriages end in divorce, and too many parents never marry. Too many children are not getting the time, attention and nurturing they need. The league could push policymakers to make it easier for marriages and parents to succeed.

A piece called “The Future of the Pro-Family Movement” on the league’s website suggests the organization is ready to change course:

“In order for the pro-family movement to flourish in the 21st century, it must offer a more all-encompassing message that can build new coalitions. This means refusing to demonize gay and lesbian people, but instead treating them with dignity and respect, and looking for areas of common ground where we might work together. This means not merely opposing abortion, but reaching out to women who are considering abortion and by partnering with other organizations and faith communities to help these women understand the alternatives to terminating a pregnancy.”

As a mission statement, that deserves an amen.

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