I’m no legal expert when it comes to religious liberty. Not like Brent Walker or Holly Hollman. Neither am I a political pundit or a talking head who takes an extreme view in order to satisfy the base. I write from a pastor’s perspective.
In reading the Easter narrative anew last week, I was struck by the fact that political and religious leaders tried to buy off the guards and even the governor in order to control the narrative about Christ (Matt. 28).
Right from the start, people try to contain and control the story of Christ for their own political gain. Just one problem – the resurrected Christ
- refuses to be coopted by fear,
- refuses to be held captive by the system that crucified him,
- refuses to play dead (even when it would serve the political interests of religious leaders)
A dear friend of mine stated recently that “the primary purpose of the gospel is not to win a cultural war.” I agree 1000%! In many ways, I believe the narrative of Christ subverts the idea that God can be claimed or contained by any political party or government.
The first thing the angel says to the ladies at the tomb is “Do not be afraid.” Part of being an Easter people is to live without fear, but is seems much of the way Christians act in our society bases in fear.
- Fear of change
- Fear of losing control
- Fear of being marginalized ourselves
- Fear of our institutions failing
- Fear of immorality (however we define it) in our culture increasing rather than decreasing
- Fear of what it all means for our kids and the future of faith
My small-town church knows something about the struggle for religious liberty. In the colonial era, there was a man named John Waller (an early VA Baptist pastor) who was thrown in a jail (literally two blocks from the church) for preaching without a license from the state. He had no fear.
Another early VA Baptist (John Leeland) once said, “The notion of a Christian commonwealth should be exploded forever. … Government should protect every man in thinking and speaking freely, and see that one does not abuse another. The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks (Muslims), Pagans and Christians.” No fear there either.
It seems the thinking of some Baptists was better when Baptists were an oppressed minority. In their pursuit for religious liberty, our forbearers spoke out boldly – so boldly many of them called for the equal treatment of all people under the law. No fear.
The courts will surely find that freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and anti-discrimination are all compelling interests of the state (Constitutionally speaking), and I sincerely hope they hold them in balance.
The west facade of the Supreme Court building (the side facing Capitol Hill) bears the motto “Equal Justice Under the Law.” That’s my hope in this mess for all parties involved.
No matter potential outcomes, however, we are called to “fear not.” Does it not prove worrisome that so many who call themselves Easter people operate out of fear?
What would it look like to speak of religious liberty in terms of Easter? Not religious liberty in terms of political parties, or of some idea that America can be a more “Christian nation.” Not religious liberty in terms of silencing or shunning the other. Religious liberty in terms of Easter.
On Easter, Christ claims victory over sin, over death, and over fear. If we are an Easter people, then we have to ask ourselves,
- when it comes to following Jesus with all our hearts,
- when it comes to faith in a risen Savior,
- when it comes to engaging and loving those on the margins of faith and culture,
- when it comes to refusing to let our lust for power railroad the Gospel of Christ and set the course for the church,
- when it comes to making more disciples (even if we don’t have it all figured out yet),
What are we so afraid of?