Results tagged “Religious Liberty” from Reformation21 Blog

Time to Bury the Bibles?

Few things bring out the hysteria in all of us like a presidential election. Perhaps only the close of a millennium (anyone remember Y2K?) can compete for catapulting Americans into a posture of fear and anxiety about their nation's collective future (or lack thereof). Don't get me wrong. I like to indulge in a bit of anxiety just as much as the next guy. And as I've contemplated, over the past few months, the direction our country might take under the leadership of candidate A or candidate B, I have often felt like I was nine years old again, reading a choose-your-own-adventure book where I'd managed to pursue a plot line with no remaining positive outcomes.

If asked, I suspect many American Christians would judge this most recent election the worst in our country's history (in terms, that is, of the perceived quality of their choices for supreme leader). But according to Daniel Dreisbach--in an article titled "The Wall of Separation" written several years ago for Christian Today--American Christians in election year 1800 felt just as worried, if not more so, than American Christians have in recent days about the future of their country under the leadership of either prospective president. The rather grim choice of leaders facing voters in 1800 was between the incumbent John Adams and Adam's own vice-president, Thomas Jefferson, two men who had played pivotal roles in the founding of the young nation.

The biggest problem early nineteenth-century Americans had with Jefferson was his purportedly suspect religious views and his supposed sympathy for the revolutionaries who had turned France on its head a decade earlier. Actually, the two worries went hand in hand. The French revolution, whatever aims it originally embodied, had evolved into pronounced efforts in 1792 and 1793 (during Robespierre's "reign of terror") to eradicate Christianity entirely from the country (the "de-Christianization of France"): Christian Scriptures and artifacts were destroyed; Church buildings were converted into stables or temples consecrated to Human Reason; towns, streets, and squares were stripped of their Christian names; the seven day (Christian) week was replaced with a more "rational" ten day week and the year of the French revolution was declared "year one" in the new dating system. Many Americans assumed that Jefferson's election would set America on a similar course, and that hard won religious freedoms of recent years would be forfeited.

Jefferson's stated religious convictions did little to assuage such fears. To be sure, Jefferson's religious views were considerably more conservative than those of the atheistic revolutionaries across the Atlantic who were championing the Cult of Reason. His views were closer, perhaps, to those of Robespierre, who himself championed the Cult of the Supreme Being as an alternative to the blatantly atheistic Cult of Reason. But to most Americans that seemed a distinction without a difference. Most Americans--quite rightly, in fact--recognized that you either accept God's own revelation of himself at face value or not, and that a "God" made in man's own image offers little improvement upon no God at all. In other words, Americans appropriately saw through Jefferson's claim to be a "real Christian" since the Christianity he embraced disallowed Christ's deity, Christ's virgin birth, Christ's resurrection, and other biblical accounts of the miraculous. The Gazette of the United States summarized Americans' perception of Jefferson's religious convictions when, shortly before the election of 1800, it declared a vote for Jefferson equivalent to a vote for "NO GOD".

But to many Americans, Jefferson was the lesser of two evils. Adams, after all, was the incumbent (and who ever likes that guy?). Plus he was a Presbyterian, and many Americans -- though not most, as things turned out -- deemed Presbyterianism one degree worse than rabid atheism. No matter his suspect religious views, Jefferson remained particularly popular among New England Baptists who were more invested (for obvious reasons) than other religious identities in disestablishment. Fears that Adams was secretly plotting to impose Presbyterianism on the nation in toto seemed to be reaching fulfillment when Adams called for a national day of fasting and prayer during his time in office -- no doubt Adams intended that everyone should pray to the Presbyterians' God!

In the end, of course, Jefferson won. And, as Dreisbach observes, that fact led some American Christians to bury their bibles in their back yards or hide them down their wells (presumably above the water line), confident that governmental forces would be knocking on their doors shortly to inaugurate the de-Christianization of the United States of America.

Of course, those authorities never came knocking. In fact, the bulk of the peoples' worst fears about what would come after 1800 never materialized. And, to bring it back to the present, I'm guessing the worst of our present-day fears about what's coming under our now president-elect probably won't be realized either. In part, that truth is simple testimony to our tendency towards hyperbolic anxieties. In even greater part, it's testimony to the fact that, come what will, "God reigns over the nations; God sits on his holy throne" (Psalm 47:8).

The litigious assault on bakers, florists, and photographers who have convictions against serving same-sex wedding planners is a sad cause of much angst these days. Noticing this, Frank Bruni of the New York Times devoted his Jan 10 column to reassuring readers that gay activism is no threat to religious liberty. The very idea is "absurd," he claims, and little more than "a fig leaf for intolerance." Anyone actually concerned is the victim of "cynically engineered" confusion "about the consequences of marriage-equality laws."

Bruni surely knows cynical engineers are equal opportunity exploiters. But never mind that, there's no ground for concern. Just because the courts have "been siding so far with the gay couples" who are suing to coerce these small business owners does not mean religious liberty is at risk:
marriage-equality laws do not pertain to religious services or what happens in a church, temple or mosque; no clergy member will be compelled to preside over gay nuptials. Civil weddings are covered. That's it.
Glad to have his promise on that. Now what about the devout at work in their own businesses--do they enjoy similar protections?
Baking a cake, arranging roses, running an inn: These aren't religious acts, certainly not if the establishments aren't religious enclaves and are doing business with (and even dependent on) the general public.
Oh, I see.
I support the right of people to believe what they do and say what they wish--in their pews, homes and hearts. But outside of those places? You must put up with me, just as I put up with you.
As Bruni sees it, the liberty of conscience and religious speech only pertain to what happens in worship services conducted in recognized religious spaces by clergy, and in the privacy of their homes and hearts. Citizens are not protected from government coercing them to act contrary to their respective religious community's long-established and peaceably-held moral convictions. In public, the devout must put up and shut up--which seems to be what some same-sex activists are demanding.

But the accused small business owners don't seem to have a problem putting up with gays and lesbians. At least one couple employed an openly gay man, surely most of the accused served gay and lesbian customers without issue in the past, and I suspect they were trying to serve the ones who ended up suing them when they were confronted with a personal moral dilemma. They did not "exile gays and lesbians" as Bruni claims, they only balked at providing a particular good or service when doing so meant participating in what they are convinced is an offense to God.

Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, was recently asked about this issue in Acton Institute's Religion & Liberty journal:
The issue at hand is whether or not the state has the power to coerce someone to participate using his or her creative gifts to celebrate something that that person believes to be deeply sinful. . . . I think there are tremendous implications from that not only for Christians, but for everyone.
Admittedly, providing a good or service is not always the same as participating in the activity for which it is procured. Yet in some cases it may be a way of participating in or endorsing the activity. The moral question for these bakers and florists turns in part on whether supplying a wedding cake or flower arrangement in celebration of same-sex wedding ceremonies is such a case. That's a question to take up in another post.

Assuming it is, however, Moore draws a helpful analogy:
What about a Christian web-designer? Should he or she be forced to design a website for a pornographic company? It's legal. So should that person's conscience simply be run over in the process? I think that if the answer to that is yes, we have a society that is less free.
Many people would reject this analogy, however, because they view homosexuality as just like race or gender. There is, they believe, a fundamental difference between refusing to participate in legally permitted immoral behavior (producing pornography) and discriminating against people who happen to be homosexual (or Arab or female). This view now prevails and is the reason why conscientious objectors to same-sex weddings are finding little favor in the courthouses and market places of America.

We do not have to agree with those who refrain from serving same-sex wedding planners to feel the sting of being denied the right to refuse as a matter of conscience--a sting that smarts with economic persecution.

So, should we be anxious about the apparent erosion of religious liberty in America? God forbids it--literally. Not because the crusade is sure to soon sputter out--this may well be just the beginning. And certainly not because Bruni has given us his word that same-sex activists will leave the devout alone at church and at home--his narrow construal of religious liberty is chilling and promise of peace unconvincing. No, we must not be anxious because our hope is in Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Lord. He is for his own and ordered this to his glory and our saving good, and he promises to stand with us whatever comes our way, even in death itself. To be anxious is to forget that Christ has overcome all things, to act like those who have no hope. In hope we must keep baking, arranging, and serving the good of all people until he returns--as far as our conscience, ruled by his word alone, allows.