Every Friday in Sacred Space, Brad Williams explores the place of popular culture in the local church.
Evangelicals are particularly prickly about the infringement of the government upon the free exercise of religion. One of the worries about legalizing same-sex unions is that the government would somehow force the church to recognize them. Also, there is the perennial worry in churches that teaching that homosexual sex is sin will soon be labeled hate speech, resulting in pastors and Christians being hauled off to jail. Or we fret that we will no longer be able to openly proselytize for our faith without being carted off to prison or fined or censured by the government.
I want to whole-heartedly and adamantly affirm that we ought to be eternally vigilant concerning the protection of freedom of religion and the free exercise thereof. Vigilance, however, does not equate with worried hand-wringing about every law that is passed, and I would like for you to consider you friends at church in this and yourself. Do you have a nagging fear that the government is going to take away your religious freedom? Even with the huge numbers of evangelicals in the United States, I believe it is safe to say that many of our friends in church live in the genuine fear that our liberties will no longer be protected.
Now I want to say something that did not originate with me, but I cannot recall the source. If you only believe in the freedom of religion for yourself and those who think like you, then you do not believe in the freedom of religion. The government’s obligation to protect the freedom of religion and its free exercise is not enshrined for the sake of Christians. It is for every last individual in the United States, including Muslims.
Muslims ought to be able to build mosques where ever the building code allows, just like church buildings. They ought to be able to vote for the laws they like, and they ought to be able to honor Muhammad as Allah’s prophet. They should be able to preach on the street and hand out pro-Islam tracts. As long as their beliefs neither pick our pocket nor break our leg, as Jefferson famously wrote, then they ought to worship freely and unfettered.
So what does this have to do with your local church?
First, we ought not be afraid. Fear of the government or loss of protection is fine, but it is not necessary. When we cower at every apparent infringement of our rights, it makes us look like spoiled children, not sons and daughters of God.
Second, when religious freedom is genuinely encroached upon, we ought not be looking out for our own religion, but also the rights of others.
Third, we ought to celebrate this freedom because it allows us to freely demonstrate to others the superiority of Christianity. Note that I said “of Christianity”, not of Christians. If we really believe that ours is the religion given to us by God in an inerrant Scripture, and that salvation has been won for us by God’s only Son, then shouldn’t we welcome the opportunity to demonstrate how that changes us and our culture in a positive way?
If, then, you find yourself in church and people are thanking God that we live in a country where religious freedom is protected, you should join them in a hearty “Amen.” But remember, it isn’t just for us. It is protected for everyone. And if someone begins to fret that someone is going to take that liberty away, remind them that God has given us that freedom, therefore no one can take it away. We can worship all the way to the gallows, if necessary. No one can stop it. Also, remember this, God not only granted us the liberty to believe on His Son Jesus, but He also allows men and women to worship rocks and sticks and false gods and all manner of folly. It will have consequences in this life and the one to come, but God Himself is not preventing it, and instead of making it illegal, He calls us to engage and persuade.