Recently a number of events have hit the news. These events involve the intersection of religion and public life in American society. A number of thoughts and themes have been bouncing around my head about these issues and finally this morning at church they congealed into this blog entry.
I must admit I would love to get political here. I would love to mention specific events and analyze them. But I know I can’t do that. I can’t do that because if I did mention a political event and take a side I would instantly lose half of you. Depending on which side I take and how hard a line I took I would probably even lose a vast majority of you. The side that agrees with me would cheer and laud my stand against the “others”. Meanwhile I will have alienated and hardened the views of those who disagree. My goal is to not take sides with this entry but to attempt to explain how I feel my Christian faith should respond to these issues of religion in public life.
Many genuine, faithful Christians would argue that in America today Christianity, and religion in general, is under attack. Sometimes the phrase is used that there is a “War on Religion.” The only way to “win” this war is to openly and publicly fight for our “rights” as Christian believers in this country. I respect this viewpoint and having grown up hearing about it all the time as a teenager I think I know where it comes from. Nonetheless I have to say I almost completely disagree with this characterization.
America has freedom of religion perhaps unparalleled to anywhere else in the world. Many countries (including a good number of “secular” European ones) have national faiths. America does not. You can follow any religion you wish and the government cannot make a law infringing this right per our constitution. Think about it. As an American have you ever worried about going to church, synagogue, mosque, or temple at any time in your life? Have non-religious folks ever worried about been woken up at gunpoint and forced to services? Of course not. It’s absurd. We in America are incredibly blessed.
Americans can have reasonable arguments and disagreements about how far the law does and does not go. Many people ultimately have different worldviews of how religion and public life should co-exist in society. Nothing I can say will bring these types of people closer together. But where does that leave Christians? How should we respond to real or perceived aggression from others in society?
I think Jesus was very straight to the point when he said, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”–Matthew 5:11-12
As Christians any “rights” we may have in a spiritual sense are null and void. We have given them up and surrendered them completely to the God of the universe. We have done this because we believe we have gained something far better in the here and now: salvation of our sins through the sacrifice of Jesus. What can society do to possibly change this? Even death has lost its sting to us. If there is a “war” against Christians we need not worry about it nor should we fight in it. In every important sense we have already won.
So what should our goals be as Christians? These should not be to perpetuate an “us” versus “them” mentality. It should not be to fight for rights we have freely given up (and we largely have in America anyway). Our goal should be to serve and worship God in faith and humility and to help everyone we can with whatever need they may have. When we do this I think we will find regardless of who remains to stand against us we will ultimately be content in the fact that the world can’t touch us. And I suspect that many more people will see the goodness and reality of who Jesus is. And that in the end is my goal.