By Steven Norris

     Recently, the state of Louisiana passed a law requiring that the Ten Commandments be posted in every public school classroom in the state. As a Christian pastor who has devoted much of his life to studying the Bible and teaching it to others, I affirm that the Ten Commandments are good. I believe that they were given by God to promote human flourishing and a world more closely aligned with God’s original intent.

     I worry, however, about the intent and efficacy of this move by the State of Louisiana. I fear that many will see this as a victory in the so-called “culture wars” that have raged in our society over the past 50+ years. Posting the Ten Commandments may look like a moral victory on the surface, but a spiritual victory only comes when the Holy Spirit changes a persons life. As one pastor put it, “The temptation in the evangelical church is often around having Christianity pervade our culture but not have Christ permeate our being.”

     Jesus was clear that external behaviors without an inward transformation fall short of God’s ideal. At least six times in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus declares, “You’ve heard it was said…, but I say to you…” His logic moves from an emphasis on external behavior to the inward motivations behind one’s actions.

     For example, Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, You shall not murder…But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.” If you don’t want the external fruit of murder, don’t plant the internal seed of anger. In the ethic of Jesus, transformed behavior comes as result of a transformed heart, not the other way around.

     Later in the book of Matthew, Jesus says in no uncertain terms, Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.”

     My worry is that this law may make some Christians feel “righteous” on the outside, but it falls short of cultivating a Christlike character. After all, how many of you remember the posters and decorations on the wall of your elementary school classroom? Personally, I cannot think of a single one.

     What I do remember is the way that Miss Rolf gave me a ride to school when my mom was healing from back surgery. I remember the way that Coach Lee opened up the gym and was there for us athletes after one of our teammates was tragically killed. I remember Mr. Douglas investing in me and providing me private trombone lessons when my mom couldn’t afford them.

     Externally imposed visions of morality without the corresponding inward spiritual change often lead to little more than “coercion, exclusion, idolatry, and hypocrisy.” When our sacred symbols become mere props to score political points, I find it hard to celebrate. Instead, I choose to pray that God will strengthen the faithful men and women embodying Christ’s love on a daily basis and magnify their witness.