The State of Religious Liberty in America

The video below was recorded Thursday, February 25, 2016 at Opryland in Nashville, Tennessee.  It was one of the sessions held at the annual convention of the National Religious Broadcasters, this year called Proclaim 16.

Although I was familiar with most of the information presented in this hour-long panel discussion, it still struck me with great force.  There were three reasons for this impact: 1) religious liberty in America has reached a twilight stage, 2) the three protagonists on the panel are such profiles in courage, and 3) it made me think of all the other tee shirt makers, pharmacists, florists, and workers from other occupations who are suffering real loss in life for the name of our Savior but about whom there are no videos.

If this issue of religious liberty has not yet touched your life, it will.  I hope you will find an hour to watch this video (56:46).  We can be light for the Lord in this cultural moment, but only if we understand how dark things have truly become.  Please give your greatest attention to Greg Stormans (the grocery store owner from Olympia, Washington), Blaine Adamson (the tee shirt maker from Lexington, Kentucky), and Barronelle Stutzman (the florist from Richland, Washington).  Also, the lawyer Kristen Waggoner speaks quite eloquently on their behalf.

The antidote to cultural drift

The antidote to cultural drift is having a fixed point of reference.  Without such a reference point, you drift along with the culture…not even realizing that you’re drifting.

It’s like drifting on a raft in the river.  Until you look back and see how far you are from that tree where you started, you’re often unaware of the drift.

Here’s our fixed point of reference:

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
–  Hebrews 13:8

Keep the eyes of your heart on Him and you’ll know when you’re drifting.  Stay attached to Him and you’ll begin to feel tension with the culture.  That tension’s a good thing, because it means you are not drifting.

Where is the best place to apply the cure?

If all the people who are trying to get the nation right through politics were to go home and get their own family right, we’d make a lot more progress toward getting the nation right.

As the health of a tree proceeds from the health of its roots, so the health of a nation proceeds from the health of its families.

There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.
–  Henry David Thoreau

Get the family right.  Your family.  And keep it right.  If enough of us do this, the nation will take care of itself.

What’s an American Christian to do about the current presidential election campaign?

Unless you live in a state where the primary or caucus has not yet been held, there’s not much to do except to wait until November and see what choices are put before us.  Once we’ve exercised our duty to vote, there’s little more we can do.  The main problem is that we committed Christians are too few to influence direction of the country.  If Roe v. Wade didn’t convince us of this in 1973, Obergefell v Hodges certainly did in 2015.

If you are actively involved in politics, especially if you earn a living in politics, you, of course, cannot afford to turn away from politics until then.  But the rest of us are better off just ignoring the slow-motion train wreck that’s taking place before our eyes.  There’s not much we can do any longer about what’s happening, and we’re certainly not being edified by what we’re seeing.

Donald Trump has divided Christians and he has divided conservatives.  And he is certainly dividing Republicans, even to the point that no one knows what the Republican party will even look like in November.  At that time either the Republican party will bear the face of Trump – and be smaller as a result (because anti-Trump people will bolt the party) – or it will not bear the face of Trump – and be smaller as a result (because pro-Trump people bolt the party).  In either case, the Republican party will be a diminished force relative to past Republican versus Democrat contests.

As for the Democrats, it looked for a while like Bernie Sanders might split their party as Donald Trump was splitting his, but of late Sanders has seemed to lack either the will or the support necessary to do that.  Of course, we do face the possibility of Hillary Clinton being indicted, but it’s hard to know what would happen after that.  It’s even possible that her supporters would not be bothered by her indictment.

Since so much is unknown at this point, our faith is better served by placing our attention elsewhere for the next half-year.  We can re-engage in November and decide then among the candidates put before us.  At this point, it sounds like we’ll be choosing between the frying pan and the fire so what’s the point of fretting about it ahead of time?  Perhaps God will show us mercy and cause us to have better options than it appears we’re going to have.

As a nation, we have lost the virtue that our founders said we’d need to retain the liberty and self-government they gave us.  Nevertheless, our commitment to Jesus and His kingdom is not contingent on how well the United States of America sticks to its constitutional foundations.  Rather, our commitment is to obey our King …NO…MATTER…WHAT.  He is the One – the only One – in whom we put our trust.

Christian Duty in a Democracy

In a democracy, our Christian duty is to keep reasonably informed and to vote.  It is not our duty to fret afterward about election results.

In each election, we deal with the choices set before us and choose as best we can.  Sometimes it’s a matter of choosing the good candidate over the bad one.  More often, it’s choosing the lesser of two evils.  Sometimes the choices are so bad that it’s a matter of “pick your poison.”  In any case, however, we are not called to worry; that is not a part of our duty.

When you can’t rejoice in anything else, you can always rejoice in the Lord:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!
–  Philippians 4:4

…The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever.
–  Revelation 11:15

Therefore, let us leave aside the duties of yesterday and tomorrow and focus only today on our duty for today.  The apostle Paul put it this way:

…one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
–  Philippians 3:13-14

Note to Evangelicals planning to vote for Trump today

Please reconsider your intention to vote for Donald Trump.

I believe that many of you are voting for Trump out of legitimate concerns about the failures of our government.  And I’m sure it hurts when others accuse you of bigotry or racism, thus stigmatizing your valid concerns.  While some of Trump’s support comes from bigots and racists, I wouldn’t ascribe such motives to the majority of his supporters.  When people do tar you with that brush, the unfairness of it probably just reinforces your determination to vote for Trump.

But consider this:  Trump has a history, and this history practically guarantees that he will not deliver to you what he is promising.  That is, he’s promising a host of things that he has worked against his entire life.  I won’t try to make that case here because it’s widely available elsewhere if you’ll only look for it.

If you think, “Well, he couldn’t make things worse than they already are,” I must tell you emphatically that you are mistaken.  Things are not good with our government, but they could be made even worse.  A lot worse.

Perhaps the biggest frustration for you as a Trump voter is that the other candidates keep telling you not to vote for Trump but they themselves don’t sufficiently amend their own positions to adequately address your valid concerns about the direction of the country.  Neither will enough of them bow out of the race to give one of them a better chance against Trump.  I understand why this would frustrate you, but I can’t do anything about that – except to say that any of the other Republican candidates stand a better chance of living up to their weaker promises than Trump has of living up to his boastful and extravagant promises.

Yes, our country is spiritually sick.  But Donald Trump is not an antidote to that sickness.  He’s just one more toxin, and he’ll make matters worse.

Since you are an evangelical, you know not to trust in any messiahs except One.  Trump is running as the Republican Obama – a messiah for our discouraging times, long on generalities that conceal a hidden agenda for the accumulation of personal power.  “Make America Great Again” is just another mantra like “Hope and Change.”  The two men are mirror images of each other – both are excessively narcissistic, both are particularly adept at manipulating the media,  and both see the role of president as holding far more power than our nation’s founders ever envisioned when they established our divided government with its separation of powers.  The only material differences between the two men is that they operate from opposite sides of the political aisle, and that one man is sophisticated while the other is loutish.  Do not project your hopes onto a human vessel.  Keep your hope in Christ alone.

Is there no other candidate who excites you?  That’s fine, fellow Christian.  We do not need candidates who excite us.  We just need to do our duty as citizens of a democracy, which is to go to the polls each time we are offered the opportunity and there choose the candidate we think will do the least harm to the country.  Voting, especially in times like these, is much more about choosing the lesser of evils than it is about choosing the good over the bad.

Rome cemented its fall when it chose to go from being a republic to being an empire.  We already have suffered from one man who has behaved as America’s first emperor; it won’t help to put in power a man who claims he’ll be a better emperor.

The one-third of Evangelicals who are supporting Trump are the difference between his being in first place and last place (Without Evangelicals, Where Would Trump Be?).  He simply cannot win without Evangelical support.  I don’t expect unbelievers to heed what I’m saying, but you say you are an Evangelical.  Therefore, you – like me – claim to serve the Lord Jesus Christ.  Please don’t vote for another man who says he’s a Christian and wants to help the country but whose behavior tells an entirely different story.  Donald Trump will not make America great again; he will make it even worse.  You do have valid concerns, but Trump will, in the end, bitterly disappoint you.  Do not trust him.  Trust the Lord, and vote for the candidate you think has the best chance to beat Trump.

Today’s voting could effectively finalize the Republican nomination.  Let Evangelicals be part of the solution, not of the problem.  That is, let the one-third of Christians who’ve departed from the fold return to it today.  O Lord, I pray.