In a recent Facebook post, Franklin Graham praised Indiana’s House of Representatives for passing a “religious freedom” bill “that would protect business owners who want to decline to provide services for same-sex marriages.”
Religious freedom, which has been a hallmark Baptist principle from our very founding, is extremely difficult for many people to grasp — obviously Mr. Graham included. The separation of church and state is apparently a good thing only if the government is separating everyone else’s religion from the state, not yours. But we are discussing “religious freedom,” not Christian freedom, so that’s the problem, is it not?
Graham ends his post by saying: “Thanks to those in government who are standing up for the freedom and protection of Christians to live out their faith. I hope more states will be quick to follow suit” (emphasis added). Does Graham stand up for the same protections for Jews and Hindus, Muslims and secularists? What if Indiana had approved a measure to protect the right of business owners to decline services that are opposed to Islamic Sharia law? Would he praise that?
Why is it that so many Christians think we need the government to prop up Jesus?
Yes, religious freedom is difficult. Years ago my mother complained that most calendars show Monday as the first day of the week. “The first day is Sunday,” and she is right — but her issue was not that printers were technically wrong about the calendar, but that putting Sunday last, implies that Sunday is … well, last! Sunday has always been first for her. Praise God for my mother’s faith, and may her tribe increase — but not if the only way Christian faith can increase is to have the government promote our faith for us!
If the only reason you go to church on Sunday is because the government won’t allow businesses to open, or because our cultural “blue laws” protect our faith (“our” being the operative word), that’s hardly an affirmation of the power of faith. I replied to her that if Christians won’t defend Sunday as a priority, our day of worship — why should we expect the culture to do it for us?
And what kind of country will it be if the government keeps defending the “Christian principles” of some of its citizens? Indiana’s legislation doesn’t defend all of its citizens, of course — not even all of Indiana Christians share Mr. Graham’s religious views.
When issues like this arise, you have to think through the implications. So … Mr. Graham opposes same-sex marriage. Maybe he also thinks women should stay home with their kids, and not work outside the home. Some Christians believe this, too. Maybe Indiana should also defend an employer’s right to decline employing young mothers? Whose religious views will we defend? Whose won’t we defend? And where will it stop?
Religious freedom is one of the principles that defines the genius of America – but only a secular state can actually defend that principle for all of its citizens. Otherwise, we might have Indiana defending conservative Christian views and another state defending liberal Christian views; one state defending Sharia law and another writing the codes of Leviticus into the law books in favor of a Jewish majority.
What this means, of course, is that some Christian business owners may have to break the law to defend their religious convictions. (Some Christian business owners did just that when Jim Crow was the law of the land.) But when Christians, or adherents of any religion, go into business, the secular law of the land rules. I have no doubt that in the coming months gay marriage will be the law of the entire land, so some Christian business owners will have a decision to make: uphold the law, or defend their understanding of one religious conviction — and suffer the consequence of breaking that law.
But let the government keep its hands out of religion. When the day comes that Christians have no other way to motivate religious conviction than through legislation, secular government will be the least of our worries.