Let’s return to virtue

Published March 20, 2024

WORLD Opinions

In a thought-provoking recent column at his Substack, evangelical commentator Aaron Renn offers a forceful summons to American Christians to get serious again about the idea of “vice”—and serious about rejecting vice in our own lives and communities. The very concept of “vice” is apt to feel passé, a throwback to medieval morality manuals or perhaps mid-20th century “vice squads”—police units responsible for busting gambling or prostitution rings. And if there’s anything that Christians in 2024 are nervous about, reeling from a string of culture-war defeats, it’s seeming old-fashioned or “puritanical.”

With voters lining up behind abortion rights, some Republicans voting to formalize federal same-sex marriage protections, and conservative candidates hastening to distance themselves from Alabama’s ruling on IVF, the consensus seems to be that it’s time for Christians to stop talking about morality in public. It only serves to get us dismissed as judgmental schoolmarms who like meddling in others’ lives.

This consensus, though, is nothing new. For decades, at least some evangelicals have been soft-peddling moral issues, abandoning their traditional opposition to the legalization of pornography, gambling, marijuana, and more on the grounds that “it’s a free country” and government should restrict itself to legislating only on serious harms. The tacit bargain that many evangelical leaders tried to strike with the culture was, “we’ll drop our ‘fundamentalist’ opposition to all these private vices, and prove we’re not puritans, if you let us continue opposing abortion and same-sex marriage.” Needless to say, the bargain has not been accepted.

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Brad Littlejohn, Ph.D., is a Fellow in EPPC’s Evangelicals in Civic Life Program, where his work focuses on helping public leaders understand the intellectual and historical foundations of our current breakdown of public trust, social cohesion, and sound governance. His research investigates shifting understandings of the nature of freedom and authority, and how a more full-orbed conception of freedom, rooted in the Christian tradition, can inform policy that respects both the dignity of the individual and the urgency of the common good. He also serves as President of the Davenant Institute.

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