Battle for Jesus
in the public arena is a recurring theme in recent years. Should
the Ten Commandments be displayed in government buildings? Should
public meetings be opened with prayer? What about prayer that invokes
the name of Jesus?
I wonder what
Jesus would think? We don't have to wonder, actually. He told us.
"And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for
they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street
corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they
have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room
and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and
your Father who sees in secret will reward you." Matt 6:5-6
of religion was clearly not on Jesus' agenda. Why is it on ours?
There is an
attitude going around that says, We must take back our nation
from all the people who think that anything that offends them should
be removed. I know because those very words came in an email
forwarded to me that advocated a similar cause. The email went on,
It has been reported that 86% of Americans believe in God.
Therefore, I have a very hard time understanding why there is such
a mess about having In God We Trust on our money and having God
in the pledge of Allegiance.
If 86% of the
population believes in God (not all of whom buy into this agenda,
by the way), that leaves 14% whose beliefs should be equally respected.
Your freedom OF religion is intimately bound with their freedom
FROM religion. You can't have one without the other.
As a matter
of Christian love, as well as civic wisdom, we should avoid making
displays of public religion in governmental forums that will alienate
other citizens, who are every bit as American and every bit as worthy
of respect as we are.
of separation of church and state did not arise in a vacuum. This
nation was founded as a haven from the bloodshed of the Reformation
in Europe. The Pilgrims did not come to this land to flee persecution
from atheists. They were a minority Christian group fleeing persecution
by other Christians! The Reformation brought with it 120 years of
warfare throughout Europe. The result was the deaths of over third
of the population of Germany and similarly massive deaths throughout
the rest of Europe! Islamic Moors and Jews were driven out of Spain,
protestants were massacred in Catholic countries and Catholics were
massacred in protestant countries. We're talking massive bloodshed.
Religion is very dangerous when used as a wedge issue because on
matters of faith people literally stick to their guns and treat
compromise, tolerance and accommodation as vices. Religion used
in this way can be lethal.
It has always
interested me that Jesus never seemed too concerned about people's
doctrinal beliefs. The heroes of his stories were typically heretics
(the Samaritan whose compassion was contrasted with the callousness
of the religiously pure), Pagans (the Roman soldier who Jesus declared
had more faith than he had found in all of Israel), prostitutes
(the woman who poured expensive oil on his hair and washed his feet
with her tears), collaborators with Rome (called publicans
in the Bible), wild teenagers (the prodigal son), lepers, adulterers,
drunkards, the lame, the poor, and finally, the thief on the cross.
He didn't ask the people he met to change their theology. He asked
them to follow him. Belief, for him was not a matter
of words or ideas. It was living a life of compassion. Compassion
is both a religious and a secular virtue. It is one religious value
that does not violate the boundaries of church and state, but rather
brings people of all religious traditions together for a better
Let us not
defiantly invoke the name of Jesus in governmental meetings but
rather honor Jesus by following his example in making compassion
the centerpiece of both our public and private lives.
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