Tuesday, December 3, 2019

What Can Be Done? (Free To Believe: The Battle Over Religious Liberty In America - Part 3/3)

Luke Goodrich works for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. He's won multiple Supreme Court victories for religious freedom. He has appeared on Fox, CNN, ABC, NPR, and been in the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Time Magazine. He's also an adjunct professor at the University of Utah law school where he teaches constitutional law.

I am summarizing his important and timely book in three installments that match the three sections of his book:

1) What Is Religious Freedom (read it here)
2) What Are The Most Serious Threats (read it here)
3) What Can Be Done? (the subject of this post)

What I blog is a mix of direct quotes and paraphrases from his writing. I will try to note where I am stepping out of the book and offering my own commentary.

Part 3: What Can Be Done

The first thing Mr. Goodrich recommends is that we Christians let go of ‘winning.’

We feel afraid that our rights will be taken away and we want justice, so we want to win. This  is the wrong way to approach the question. It assumes the primary goal of religious freedom complex is to win, and it's often driven by fear, fear that our rights will be taken away or bad things will happen if we lose. That fear in turn produces anger, hostility, frustration, and despair. Scripture, however, calls us to a radically different approach.

"We're called not to win but to be like Jesus; not to fear suffering but to fear God;  not to be surprised at hostility but to expect it; not to complain when we lose but rejoice; not to lash out at our opponents but to love them."

We're not called to avoid losing at all cost; we are called to glorify God at all cost. We need to reconsider what type of people were called to be in the midst of religious freedom conflicts. Only if we become a particular kind of Christ-like people can we win the religious freedom fight in any meaningful sense

Mr. Goodrich offers seven principles for Christians that can be helpful in becoming the kind of people he believes we need to be in the midst of religious freedom conflicts..

  • First, expect suffering. We need to reject the idea that just because we live in America, we won't suffer for our faith. We've enjoyed years of extraordinary religious freedom, but we aren't supposed to expect it, much less assume we're entitled to it.
  • Second, rejoice when persecution comes, not because it's pleasant or good, but because it reminds us that our reward is not of this Earth. Jesus said persecution was an opportunity to bear witness of the hope of the gospel; Paul confirmed that his imprisonment had actually served to advance the gospel.
  • Third, fear God, not people. We must remember that we serve a holy and sovereign God who cares about us, and our actions of eternal consequences far more significant than anything that happens on Earth.
  • Fourth, strive for peace. Some Christians seem to want religious freedom conflicts. They look for ways their faith might conflict with the law, then use inflamed rhetoric to stoke the conflict even when it might be avoided. Scripture commands the opposite. As much as possible and as far as it depends on us, we are to live peaceably with all, including those who persecute us (Romans 12). There is certainly room for civil disobedience, but we don't go looking for conflict for the sake of conflict, and we don't stoke conflict for self-serving reasons. We do our best to look for ways to obey both God and government, to protect both our conscience and the peace. The goal is not to win religious freedom conflicts but to lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way (1 Timothy 2).
  • Fifth, continue doing good. We can't let the prospect of conflict or suffering stop us from doing good. This is not only the right thing to do, it’s also a path to greater religious freedom. Remember: the Quakers were brutally persecuted by the early colonies, but eventually the colonies realized that punishing them was futile. Sometimes religious freedom is not gained through political power but through patiently suffering and continuing to do good.
  • Sixth, love our enemies. This is a clear command  in Scripture.This doesn't mean we approve of or join those with whom we disagree; love can even include exposing actions that we believe to be evil. However, loving our enemies certainly means changing our speech in order to bless them and speak with graciousness, gentleness, and respect. It means changing our prayers to pray for them. It means changing our actions to find ways to do good to them without participating in unjust actions. Remember:. our primary concern is not defeating enemies but loving them.
  • Seventh, care for one another. This includes caring for Christians with whom we might disagree on questions of conscience (like baking a cake for a same-sex wedding). Sometimes, we will be tempted to condemn Christians with whom we disagree. This is not a new phenomenon (see “meat offered to idols”). There's room to debate how to apply scriptural principles to modern disagreements over questions of conscience, but this debate must happen in the context of the biblical command to walk in love, pursue peace and build each other up.

The Biblical Model of  Civil Disobedience

In Scripture, we see several ways in which the people of God engaged in civil disobedience.

  • In Exodus, we see the Jewish midwives refusing to kill baby boys.
  • Rahab deceived the king of Jericho; Jonathan deceived Saul, and Hushai deceived Absalom.
  • Jeremiah essentially committed treason at one point when he told the people to desert Zedekiah and surrender to the Babylonians because that was God’s will. 
  • Daniel and his three friends refused the king's food. (Notice with Daniel that he didn't make the conflict worse. He didn't stage a hunger strike, condemn the leaders, or draw attention to himself. He quietly asked for religious accommodation.)  
  • Daniel's friends refused to worship an idol.
  • Esther rescued the Jews by going through the proper channels of the law.
  • The Apostle Paul at different times fled from persecution, at other times flourished in it, and at other times fought it by claiming his rights in the legal system.

In other words, there is not a textbook template for all situations. Christians are called to respond to suffering and persecution in radically different ways. There's no formula. Rather than offering simple answers, Scripture calls us to know God.

How To Prepare for the Future

It is important that religious organizations clearly define a religious mission that is grounded in religious principles. These values must be communicated throughout the organization, practiced consistently, and enforced fairly. Christian organizations should be models of kindness, grace, and generosity toward employees. They should pay employees well, treat them fairly, care for their interest, and speak kindly to them. Even in conflict, they should love, bless, and pray for them. These are biblical mandates - and they reduce litigation.

It is crucial that Christians strive for peace with those who are not religious. As noted, the peace we are called to pursue is much easier to maintain if every aspect of a church, organization or business is aligned with its foundational religious principles.  However, this is also an opportunity to be creative with what a conscientious but generous accommodation looks like when it’s extended the other way. Could a Christian baker, for example, proactively partner with another bakery that has no objection to same-sex weddings? Should a baker consider offering a cake as a counterintuitive act of love? (I personally know a Christian baker who takes this approach).

In addition, religious organization should cultivate relationships with those who share common interests, both Christians and non-christians. They should speak up in defense of situations that impact religious liberty for all religious people. They should partner in the community with effective social services. Most importantly, they should pursue christlikeness.

In Conclusion

  • We need to abandon the idea that just because we're Christians in America, we deserve a privileged place in society.
  • We need to reject fear and gloom.
  • We need to stop predicting worst-case scenarios and then treating them as if they were losses from which the church may never recover. (It's as if we get an odd sense of pleasure from complaining about how bad things are and predicting how bad things are going to get. These dire predictions are often inaccurate. Mister Goodrich's firm has won 90% of their cases in the last 10 years, and they are undefeated in the Supreme Court.)
  • We should reject anger and hostility toward our opponents. We are commanded to speak with gentleness and respect, to bless them, pray for them, do good for them, and love them.

When was the last time we prayed for the gay couple in a religious freedom dispute? When was the last time we tried to do something good for someone who was hostile to us? When was the last time we went out of our way on social media to say something kind to someone we sharply disagree with? The primary characteristic of our tone toward our opponents should be kindness, gentleness, humility, and love even as we speak truth with gentleness and respect.

Far too often we treat each new religious freedom conflict as a life-or-death battle with the future of the country and the gospel hanging in the balance. Don't forget the God is on the throne, and  no religious freedom conflict is beyond God's control. We should face conflict not with fear of losing but with confidence in the goodness of God. We should  receive each loss not with anger toward our opponents but would hope in the justice of God. And we should celebrate each victory not with confidence in the Supreme Court but with thankfulness for the mercy of God.

No comments:

Post a Comment