God, Caesar, and Apologetics

In response to my recent post, Saturday Night Vile: What's So Funny about Antichristian Bigotry?, one Anonymous countered in part: 

You are the targets of this kind of scorn because you cry "I'm being persecuted" when you are not allowed to force others to conform to your faith. The effort to show other religious symbols at their respected holidays becomes a "war on Christmas". The request to be treated equally under law becomes a denial of your rights to refuse to serve people you deem unworthy of your business. You hold up individuals who hold illegal prayer rallies while crying outrage that a Muslim might lead a sanctioned public prayer. You fight to have your religious laws equally displayed with federal/state laws.

Now I would normally not bother much with comments like this, but I think it serves as a good representative sample of an increasingly common mindset in an increasingly post-Christian society. According to a recent article in the Washington Post, perceptions of antireligious intolerance in America are on the rise: "Sixty-three percent of respondents in the LifeWay Research survey said they agree or strongly agree that Christians are facing growing levels of persecution, up from 50 percent in 2013. The bulk of that surge comes from respondents who said they 'strongly agree' with the statement, a number that increased from 28 percent to 38 percent." That's enough to indicate that Christians are not simply "paranoid."

But let me start with some points of basic agreement. Beyond Anonymous' evident hyperbole, the idea here seems to be that Christians are simply frustrated by the gradual loss of their influence within various institutions of society. There may be some truth to that charge in certain circles, especially where believers are given to "Dominion Theology" or "Kingdom Now Theology" and the misguided, if well-intended, dream of establishing God's kingdom on earth through those institutions. To the extent that Christians do attempt to "force others to conform to their faith," and there are unquestionably some who do, they stray from the gracious and open-hearted (not manipulative) example of Jesus.

From that perspective the examples Anonymous gives are not completely unfounded. Indeed some segments of the church do appear eager for battle in the so-called "war on Christmas" (a conflict arguably as real and important as the feminist-fomented "war on women"); and for some believers a court order to remove the Ten Commandments from a government building amounts to wholesale state-sponsored persecution the likes of which we haven't seen since Diocletian.

Between these more symbolic examples, however, Anonymous mentions another: "The request to be treated equally under law becomes a denial of your rights to refuse to serve people you deem unworthy of your business." This one stands out from the others mentioned because it confuses personal religious convictions with discrimination towards others. Consider an analogous scenario. Let's say I am a proprietor of a sign shop and a man comes in and asks me to create a banner inviting the community to a "Blaspheme Jesus" rally and barbecue. If I refuse, it's not because I want to deny him "basic goods and services." At that point the issue is not whether or not I respect my customer or deem him "worthy of my business"; indeed at that point it's not about him at all.

The problem is that as a Christian I cannot, in good conscience before God, create a banner promoting the cause of blasphemy. My prospective customer still has a right under the law to hold the event, but I personally cannot and will not support it with my energies and talents. At issue, then, are not just his First Amendment rights (free speech), but mine (free exercise of religion). Since my rights under the Constitution are presumably just as valid and important as his, and since he can easily get the banner created elsewhere, it would be more than reasonable for me to respectfully decline, and for him to leave my shop and find another.

With all that said, the question remains whether Christians still enjoy fair treatment under the law in the United States. Current trends are not promising, and arguably the media merely reflect those trends. As I commented on the previous post, "The SNL thing caught my attention because it openly invites a national audience to heap scorn on an identifiable religious group that has played a huge role in the founding, growth and health of the country." This sort of thing may well serve as a public policy litmus test, a trial balloon for determining future actions toward Christians. For that reason we should and do protest. Rationally defending the human rights of Christians was in the first centuries of the church, and may soon become again, the greatest task facing Christian apologists. In this we follow the example of Paul the Apostle, who appealed to the civil authority to protect himself from (premature!) execution:

"For if I am an offender, or have done anything deserving of death, I do not object to dying; but if there is nothing in these things of which these men accuse me, no one can deliver me to them. I appeal to Caesar" (Acts 25:11).  


Don McIntosh said…
Edited for tone and clarity.

I sometimes have to post my messages in a rush, and in those cases I almost always regret some of what I said. In this instance I probably spoke too rashly regarding fellow believers. At one time I too embraced a theology that encourages participation in the culture wars, so I should be more compassionate in my criticism of those who embrace something similar presently.
BK said…
I think that responding to the type of comment made by anonymous is crucial because too many people in today's world accept it's hidden assumptions. For example, the idea that Christians want to "force others" to conform to their faith is simply and clearly ridiculous. I think you'd have to go back to prior to the early colonial days to find the use of government to "force" people to become Christians (or a certain type of Christian). So, what is Anonymous really complaining about? Almost certainly Anonymous is complaining that there have been put into law various types of laws that have been favorable or in accord with a Biblical worldview. So, using the same logic, if these laws that were in concord with Christianity are being overturned, can we not say that the present arc of laws are "forcing" people to turn from Christianity?

Oh, and I do mostly disagree with you on the war on Christmas. While I think using the term "war" is overstated, there is no question that there is an effort to remove any mention of Christmas from public displays or the use of the term Christmas. There is also an effort to shame businesses that chose Christmas over "holiday" sales. So, it is something that those of us who love Christmas and who have as much right to be heard as those who hate it will need to continue to deal with.
Well voiced editorial Don

I still say Santa Clause is not a Christian symbol so Christmas has a hidden pagan side and therefore is inclusive. I have never understood why we can't have Santa and Christmas trees and reindeer on courthouse property and stuff at Christmas time, Or anytime for that matter.

I can see why some people intermit some of the things being don as paranoia. I am nota big fan of Kim Davis for many reasons I wont go into them., But essentially I resent them sticking all Christians with the labels want to hang on her. BTW I do admire her too for the courage of her convictions.

As for the bathroom thing I am just waiting for some "normal guy" who happens to be less manly looking to be accused of something when he's just going to the bathroom as he has always done.

Don McIntosh said…
So, using the same logic, if these laws that were in concord with Christianity are being overturned, can we not say that the present arc of laws are "forcing" people to turn from Christianity?

Great point BK. In the language of secular polemics, influence = indoctrination, and persuasion = coercion. After a while it all gets, as Joe might say, Orwellian.

Your point about Christmas is well taken, and one of the reasons I tried to take a more understanding tone in my edit. Where I congregate, for example, we have honest, sincere believers all over the map on this. Some speak almost as if celebrating Christmas were the highest form of worship, others think it's been secularized and commercialized beyond repair, others still believe it's a pagan holiday that was assimilated into the church by Constantine.

The good thing is that we all honor Christ above all else, and therefore the issue, while somewhat controversial, is not a point of division.
Don McIntosh said…
Hey Joe, ditto on Kim Davis. The way I see it, what's important here is that she has the right to her convictions, whether the rest of us agree with exactly how they become expressed under pressure.

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