I walk into the coffee shop on the corner of Main Street and there is almost always someone reading a Bible, devotional or the latest Christian best-selling book. This week it’s the Benham brothers, next week I’m betting it will be Chelsen Vicari. The point is that we talk about religion freely, openly, and honestly because we live in a nation where freedom of religion is real and realized. We pray over meals in public, we attend our churches without fear of being arrested, we invite others to join us in studying the Bible and we share our faith freely.
But what we call fellowship others in the world call felonious.
The stories coming out of Iran and other despotic regimes should drive us to our knees in prayer for our Christian brothers and sisters. The “offenses” with which they are charged, tried, convicted and imprisoned (for up to six years) include:
- attending a house church
- spreading Christianity
- having contact with foreign ministries
- propaganda against the regime and
- disrupting national security.
Consider that list.
These are not people who are proselytizing in the streets or forcing their religious convictions upon others. These are people gathering in homes. Accepting the gifts of tracks and CDs and MP3′s that well-meaning Western ministries send to them.
Christians who fellowship with one another and communicate with other Christians outside of Iran are considered threats to national security and they are sent away as felons to do hard time.
At issue is what we casually refer to as the freedom of religion or religious liberty. It is precious and it is under serious threat.
In America, we have a model of religious liberty that takes a positive view of public and private religious practice. That means that we not only protect the right of individuals and groups to practice their religion in private settings – like home and church – but also to live out their religion in public, engaging their faith with the world.
Because we are like fish who have been living in the water of this kind of religious liberty for so long that we can’t even imagine what life is like in another environment, Americans often fail to appreciate just how unique a brand of religious liberty we enjoy.
In just one month (February 2015) The Heritage Foundation “Religion and Civil Society” page identified a litany of religious liberty related stories:
- Obama Helps Spark a Religious Freedom Debate in India
- State Says 70-Year-Old Flower Shop Owner Discriminated Against Gay Couple. Here’s How She Responded.
- Former Fire Chief Sues Atlanta, Mayor for Firing Him ‘Solely’ Because of His Beliefs About Marriage
- Republicans in Congress Demand Answers About Military Chaplain Disciplined for Referencing the Bible
- Appeals Court Rules Against Geneva College in Obamacare Abortion Drug Case
- Bakers Who Declined Service to Same-Sex Couple Found to Violate Anti-Discrimination Law
- ‘It’s a Two-Way Street’: What Americans Think About Same-Sex Marriage and Religious Liberty
- Charlie Hebdo, Intolerance, and the Problem of Double Standards
- California Supreme Court Attempts to Ban State Judges From Volunteering with Boy Scouts
This is both the tip of the iceberg and the tip of the spear. These stories rise to the level of public awareness but simmering just beneath the surface of our desire driven secularism are a mountain of threats to the everyday religious expression of countless Americans. Those are the stories we don’t read but they are being lived out everyday in classrooms and cubicles and court rooms – places where people of convictional faith are told to shut up and keep their religion to themselves. And then the very Constitution that guarantees the right of free speech to both the bully and the bullied is used to browbeat the religious person into the closet because of the mis-application of the so-called “separation of church and state.”
This is a fight for which every person of convictional faith must be equipped lest we find our own fellowship felonized in the future.
Wow! I thought this was going to reflect Christian views of acceptance, forgiveness and love but instead just became selfish, fearful and acusing. What we need to pray for is understanding and tolerance for all. The self righteous among us are really little different than the self proclaimed Muslim extremists. As our president pointed out, loosely stated by me, we as Chritians have our own history of horrific acts to apologize for. Not just in the 12th or 13th centuries either. The “good” Puritans murdered over 60,000 for being witches. Countless African Americans were routinely murderered by “good” Christians, community leaders, as recently as the 1960’s and there is much more.
Which of us obeys the model set forth by Jesus? It would seem that we have adopted butchered, self serving variations of that model. Do you forgive 7×70, do you turn the other the cheek, do you love your enemies, do you love and honor God with all your heart and soul, do you visit thd imprisoned, do you heel and care for the sick, do you feed the hungry, do you give of yourself in any real way or just give a donation to support your church? Do you complain about poor persons taking from the system? Do you condemn governmental efforts to assist the less fortunate? Do you decry those actions as being socialist and wasteful?
Would you be afraid or troubled if you saw Muslims praying in public, in the grocery, in the coffe shop or restaraunt? What if you found a Arab looking person in a public bath washing their feet? The separation of religion and state is governmental in nature. It makes perfect sense. A persons desire to not have to hear what they are disinterested in or offended by is just as important as our right to worship. Common sense and decency should dictate both actions. Thomas Jefferson was a deist, he cut up his bible and removed the parts he disagreed with, he believed Jesus was a mere philosopher. That was much the same belief with all the founding fathers. Most of us have done similar in as much as we have chosen which parts we believe and seek compliance to and which parts we simply ignore. Odd how we have pressed our faith in a part that doesn’t impact us, it applies to the rights and freedoms of others. Like women as pastors and elders was once such an enormous cause for hostile disagreement and division. That one effected about half of the population and was equally supported by scripture we have just chosen to ignore. The rights for homosexual persons affects less than 10% of the populous, perhaps as little as 5%? Why get all twisted up about it? Because it’s so misunderstood. Because it’s confused as a sexual thrill, a choice and not a natural result of a different chemical composition in the brains and bodies of some individuals. Nature or God’s doing or all the same? They can’t change it any more than you can change your own sexual preference and desires. It’s chemical, hormonal, not selected like a cupcake.
We need to pray for understanding, for discussion, for learning, for acceptance, for forgiveness, for love and peace and the strength to do as Jesus said. Other wise we are something other than Christians. We just give lip service to his instructions for us while we pretend to know him.
Robert, did you copy and paste this comment from another discussion? That is likely, because your comments seem to have little relevance to Carmen’s entry. Your preaching might be better saved for a topic to which it applies. The obvious point that Carmen is making is that we, as Christians, need to watch diligently lest our religious freedoms in America be eroded and, at worst, lost as they have been in other parts of the world. One comment of yours that struck me as particularly odd was that “A persons desire to not have to hear what they are disinterested in or offended by is just as important as our right to worship.” You should not confuse a person’s desire with a God given right. We have the right to worship as we please and the right to free speech, but we have no right to be not offended by others. Your religious views, even Christian convictions, obviously are different than mine, and you have every right to express those views. But what gives you the right to have protected speech and actions to support your convictions at the expense of those who do no agree with you?
I think the number of deaths associated with Salem was around 100. Too many, to be sure, but nothing close to 60,000