The nation’s political conflict and divisions are being fueled by culture wars largely initiated and perpetuated by Christians, most of whom are political evangelicals. 

The endless nature of these wars is wearing all of us down. For this reason, and for what it’s worth, which may not be much, I want to make a single, though I think essential, plea to the American Christian community: Stop telling everybody else how to live.

The reason Christians do this is because churches have taught them to do it. It’s called “witnessing,” telling others about Jesus, telling others what God thinks of them (good or bad), telling others how they can live a happy life, and on and on.

It all stems from the way the gospel of Matthew concludes with Jesus telling his disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you” (Mt. 28:19-20).

That is not an accurate translation of these verses, by the way, nor are these words necessarily anything Jesus actually said, but that is not my concern here.

What does matter is that churches have told their members over and over that these verses place on them the “burden” of telling others about Jesus, to the point of using any means of persuasion possible to get them to enlist in the army of onward Christian soldiers.

Would to God that churches had never done that. It’s caused far more harm than any good it has done, serving as justification for the worst kinds of atrocities done by Christians throughout history, from the Crusades to the persecution of the Jews in the Middle Ages to the Spanish Inquisition to the destruction of Native American life and culture, just to name a few.

Today it is being used as justification for political evangelicals persuading Republicans to pass laws that ban a woman’s right to choose, end legalized gay marriage, and purge school libraries of books they find offensive, even if they are literary classics.

It’s enough to make decent minded Christians want to hide their faith for fear they will be seen as being one of those who wants to tell everyone else how to live.

To almost anyone with any commonsense, telling other people how to live, especially when you’re not an example they want to follow, comes across as stunningly arrogant.

More over, the prescription for life these Christians are writing are based on very sketchy knowledge of Christian tradition. What most Christians believe about God, Jesus, or the Bible is what they have been told, what is called second-hand knowledge. In a court of law it would be “hear-say” that may be true, but lacking any way to prove it is.

Worse, what they have been told often makes them resistant to reliable information and knowledge that could help them understand what they believe better than they do.  

One of the reasons so many Republicans don’t believe facts and refuse to accept or tell the truth is because they are Christians. One of the ironies about politics and Christianity today is that both encourage people to believe what is not true in the name of truth. 

As a Christian myself, I wish all Christians could see that the nation would be better off if we would keep whatever we believe to ourselves and stop trying to impose our will on everybody else.

Communities of faith, including churches, exist to encourage each other and give support in trying to live the way the community says one should.

That is where it should stay. Going into “all the world” telling people who are not members of their communities what they need to believe and how to live does little more than create conflict while making them less receptive to the message.

What is more, Christian efforts to Christianize the nation’s laws is not even needed. The nation doesn’t need the Bible to be a great nation, or even a good one. It needs the Constitution. Americans don’t need to be Christian to please God. We need to be moral. 

The facts of our history make it clear that we are a secular nation, but there is no such thing as a secular religion. That is something Christians made up to justify the culture wars they want to fight. Secularism is what you have when you’re not religious, no less moral as religion and no more dangerous.

Being willing to let the Constitution determine the laws that govern the rights of all Americans rather than the Bible is not a demanding challenge. It’s pretty commonsensical, actually.

Just as Christians want the freedom to practice what they believe and live by the moral rules they believe in, so should they allow others to do the same.

Citizenship in a democracy is about living peaceably in the tension between personal beliefs and social diversity.

Some Christians have learned how to do that. Many others have not, and the culture wars we are experiencing will not end until they do.