This morning I heard on the radio about a quote made by Martin Castro, the chairman of the US Civil Rights Commission recently wrote in his latest report, “the phrases “religious liberty” and “religious freedom” will stand for nothing except hypocrisy so long as they remain code words for discrimination, intolerance, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, Christian supremacy or any form of intolerance.” As I contemplated these thoughts it quickly occurred to me the grave situation that is now facing Christians in America today. 10 years ago, civil rights activist Chai Feldblum, who now serves as the commissioner of the Obama’s administration’s Equal Employment Opportunity, said that when religious liberty and sexual liberty conflict that she has a hard time coming up with any case in which religious liberty should win. Let that sink in for just a moment. When dealing with issues that are defined as LBGT issues one’s faith is irrelevant. This means that if a local church does not have the right to choose what doctrines can be preached in the pulpit (or what life style) the new preacher lives. A church cannot refuse to hire a practicing homosexual even if they believe that homosexuality is defined as sin in the bible (which it is according to I Cor. 6:9-11). Churches cannot deny the use of a bathroom to a transgender person, (something that we are already seeing being fought in the courtrooms here in Iowa). The foundations of our religious liberties are eroding away. For the first time in America’s history the future of Christianity appears murky. If things don’t change, the freedoms the church has had to operate as they deemed right in holy in the eyes of God will no longer exist. So what does that mean for me as a Christian?
We need to stop being overly worried about it. Yes, I am concerned. Yes, as a preacher I do get nervous about how someone, namely those that strongly disagree with me might react to a sermon I am preaching (or article I am writing). However, we need to stop thinking that if our religious freedoms are removed that we are entering foreign territory. Christianity was not a protected or “recognized” religion until the 4th century under the protection of Constantine. The last persecution against Christianity by the Romans happened as late as February 23, 303 under the order of Diocletian. Christianity was born in the midst of persecution. It was not long after it was founded that the Jews began persecuting Christians. (A man by the name of Saul from Tarsus was one of the chiefest of these persecutors.) Nero became the first emperor to order the persecution of Christians (although his seems to be limited to the city of Rome). During the days of Domitian Christians were persecuted for not worshipping the emperor. The point is, Christianity found a way to grow during this persecution. It didn’t just survive, it prospered.
So, what as Christians are we supposed to do? A reading of I Peter is a great place to start. Years ago I heard I Peter could be likened to the Job of the New Testament. It was written to Christians who would be living through the early days of the persecution against the Lord’s Church. In it, Peter encouraged the saints to suffer as a Christian (I Peter 4:16). Suffering as Christian is not shameful, but it is a badge of honor. When Peter first suffered as a Christian, he went home rejoicing because he was found worthy to suffer for Christ (Acts 5:41). I know that doesn’t sound easy. Thankfully, Peter spends much of that first letter explaining how it is we can indeed suffer for Christ with joy in our heart. If you are finding it difficult to see all of this, I highly encourage you to attend our upcoming meeting. Starting Sunday and running through Friday night we are having a special series of lessons on I Peter. Check out www.grinnellcoc.com for more information.