Religious Freedom + Cultural Tolerance = ?
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
When the First Amendment was added to the U.S. Constitution, it was designed to erect a “wall of separation.” Not, as some think, to keep religion out of politics. Rather, the amendment was added to the Constitution to ensure that the government is thwarted in any attempt to limit the religious freedom of any American citizen.
But our Constitution is under attack. Are you aware, for example, that a recent government report, titled Peaceful Coexistence: Reconciling Nondiscrimination Principles with Civil Liberties, appears to be fully committed to controlling religious freedom in America?
In his letter attached to the report, Martin R. Castro, chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, writes, “The phrases ‘religious liberty’ and ‘religious freedom’ will stand for nothing except hypocrisy so long as they remain code words for discrimination, intolerance, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, or any form of intolerance.” Adds Castro, “…today, as in the past, religion is being used as both a weapon and a shield by those seeking to deny others equality.”
Those statements are so far from the heart of Christianity, that it’s hard to read them without shaking my head. Unfortunately, in large part because of cultural tolerance, many Americans now truly believe that God’s way are archaic and intolerant. And many don’t grasp the dangers associated with religious freedom becoming a norm of the past.
Growing Intolerance for Christianity?
Despite our Constitutional protections, many government — and civic — leaders are pushing for society’s full embrace of self “truth.” Everyone, they assert, should have the right to believe and act as they want — without societal condemnation. My right to abortion, says one, trumps the Christian view that abortion is murder. My right to happiness, says another, trumps the Christian view that some lifestyle choices are “sinful” to God.
Who are you to tell me how to live, you hateful, bigoted, intolerant Christian?
Sigh. I don’t know about you, but I get sad when I hear that line. Perhaps because I want people to be happy. I want people to feel accepted. I want people to feel good about who they are. I really wish the world could function with each of us merrily rolling through life with whatever belief system we pick. But that world, very quickly (as we are daily seeing), turns into a self-indulgent mess due to a slippery moral code. Sinful choices lead to fear, pain, and hatred. And not just hatred of others, but deep, demoralizing self-hatred. It hurts my heart that suicide rates continue to climb in America, most markedly among adolescent girls.
For reasons I don’t fully understand, those who hate God truly believe that a world erased of Judeo-Christian influence will somehow lead to a utopia not possible under God’s influence. On the one hand I respect anyone who passionately believes in and furthers a cause. But on the other, it saddens me when I can clearly see where they are misguided. Convinced they are doing good, they may be hastening the downfall of America. As one lawyer plainly put it, “Once America loses her religious freedom, all of the other freedoms will go, too.”
Why? Because when a society chooses to remove itself from the authority of a higher power, man becomes the architect of right and wrong. Our founding fathers clearly understood the inherent dangers with our government holding such power.
In an article writer Nicholas Senz penned for The Federalist, Senz writes, “The First Amendment prohibits the government from establishing a religion. But when the federal government declares ideas that everyone held until five minutes ago, supported by reason and lived out with compassion, as de facto hateful and criminal (“first they came for the photographers and bakers…”), then the government is essentially creating a new public faith and forcing everyone to adhere to it.”
According to First Liberty Institute, some of the best lawyers in our country are hard at work, daily defending and protecting the religious freedoms of all Americans. Cheerleaders banned from painting scripture verses on cheer banners. School coaches banned for leading their sports teams in prayer. A U.S. Marine court-martialed for refusing to remove Bible verses in her workspace. An Oregon bakery fined for refusing to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding.
Can those who demand tolerance for all lifestyle choices also refuse to offer the same tolerance to Christians? Not if the goal is true tolerance. If religious rights are removed from America, it will be to ensure control of society norms.
Per the example of Jesus, we know that true Christianity offers people the freedom to choose whether they will follow Him. You and I know that only through complete freedom can a person truly love Jesus. When the Church is guilty of coercion and hatred, it needs to repent and beg forgiveness for being so human.
What Awaits Us in the Future?
As evidenced by the presidential election, our country is clearly divided on whether Christian values should still be respected and followed. But even if society does manage to legally remove our right to religious freedom (We must diligently fight to retain this right for all religions!), will it succeed in binding the power of Christ? Nope. It’s simply not possible. God is our creator; His influence is, and always will be, ever present. The Bible tells us that if man won’t do it, the very rocks will cry out in praise of the creator!
As followers of Christ, we are called to actively live out our faith. By its very nature, Christianity is missional. God directs us to be His hands and feet. We are to get involved in the lives of others. To love, forgive, exhort, and be a blessing to others. And when given the opportunity, to help people come to a deep understanding of how much God loves us all. We must stay active, even in a culture that increasingly resents God. The Bible warns us to not be surprised when society abandons His principles. In John 15:18, for example, Jesus said, “If the world hates you, remember it hated me first.”
What do we do with such hate when we’re trying so hard to daily get past our own human failings to reflect even a glimmer of Christ’s love? We might follow the example of Daniel, who, per the Old Testament, found himself in a lion’s den because of his unwavering commitment to God’s standards.
Daniel trained in the courts of the great Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar for three years to prepare to enter into royal service. Though pressured to conform to Babylonian thought and practices, Daniel consistently and repeatedly held fast to his moral convictions, even to the threat of death. Let us, likewise, stay committed, when this crazy world pressures us to cave in or face the consequences.
Those of us who believe in Him understand that God, not our government, is in control of America. He holds the globe in the palm of His hand. Let us rest in that calm, that we might be a loving, calming influence on a world that seems to grow ever darker and chaotic. Let love flow, and let it begin with those who love Jesus.
Thought to Ponder
It’s time to grow up, grow in, and grow out. By growing up, we take responsibility for being aware of the state of our country and our world. Where do we need to actively engage to thwart Satan’s wins, including the debate on religious freedom? By growing in, our Christian maturity becomes paramount. Who is this Jesus we follow? Why do we love Him so? How can we love others? By growing out, we are intentional in helping those in need and hurt. How, this week, can you take action in growing up, growing in, and growing out? Start by getting fruity (Galatians 5:19-23), to offer the world your best self. #growupinout
This blog post has been adapted from the book The Beauty of Intolerance, by Josh and Sean McDowell.