J. Gresham Machen wrote in similar fashion back in 1949. Speaking of the tolerance of religious liberty and the freedom citizens hold to teach their children whatever they deem appropriate, he wrote, “Tolerance was a great achievement for our forefathers. But now, apparently, in , it is being given up. It has been given up, for example, in Oregon, where a law soon to go into effect requires that all children up to sixteen years of age (until a certain grade has been reached) shall attend the public schools. Private schools and Christian schools are thus legislated out of existence, and children are taken forcibly from their parents and placed under the despotic control of whatever superintendent of education happens to be in office in the district where they reside. Similar legislation has been proposed in many other states, and the dangerous Towner-Sterling bill in Congress has as its ultimate tendency (whatever temporary safeguards there may be) the establishment of a uniformity of education which is the most appalling calamity into which any nation could fall. It would be difficult to imagine, at any rate, a worse tyranny than that of the type. Place children in their formative years under the despotic control of experts appointed by the state, and you have a really more effective interference with civil and religious liberty than the Inquisition, perhaps, ever achieved….the danger is certainly great. Unless there is tolerance on the part of the state, any great spiritual advance, whatever its direction may be thought to be, will be hindered. It will not, I suppose, be prevented. Men of real convictions now as always may perhaps maintain their convictions even under hostile government. But why should the battle for freedom be fought again? Why should we not retain the freedom which, at such great cost, our fathers won (God Transcendent, pp. 43-44)?”
Today we accept as normal what was unthinkable in 1949. And Machen’s questions should still ring in our ears: “Why should the battle for freedom be fought again? Why should we not retain the freedom which, at such great cost, our fathers won?”
Just a couple of months ago, LifeSiteNews.com reported that “the case of a Christian photographer who refused to photograph a same-sex ‘commitment ceremony’, was heard before the New Mexico Human Rights Division. A same-sex couple asked Elaine Huguenin, co-owner with her husband of Elane Photography, to photograph a ‘commitment ceremony’ that the two women wanted to hold. Huguenin declined because her Christian beliefs are in conflict with the message communicated by the ceremony.
The same-sex couple filed a complaint with the New Mexico Human Rights Division, which is now trying Elane Photography under state antidiscrimination laws for sexual orientation discrimination.”
In their complaint the homosexual couple has sought for an injunction against “Elane Photography” that will forbid them from ever again refusing to photograph a same-sex ceremony. Similar cases are in the system in other states even now. The obvious issue here is that no one should be forced to participate in something with which they do not agree. The first-amendment rights of the Huguenin’s are certainly being violated here. The mere fact that they should have to defend themselves is a travesty of justice. Anti-discrimination laws must be reviewed in principle and be re-written so that liberty is available to everyone, even those who do not wish to promote a cause they find objectionable.
Consider this report from Husdonville. “After a week of deliberations, Hudsonville's mayor says the city will keep a reference of God in its mission statement. An activist group says Hudsonville is violating the separation of church and state by having the phrase ‘strive to serve God’ in the city's mission statement. The statement, approved in 1995, says, ‘The City Commission and Administration of the City of Hudsonville strive to serve God through the strengthening of family and community life and are committed to excellence in providing quality municipal services.’
Those in opposition to this move are crying foul, (and please excuse the mixed metaphor), by playing the separation of church and state trump card which is no trump card at all in this case. A reference to God in a city’s mission statement is not a violation of the so-called separation of church and state. The First Amendment prohibits a state mandated religion and protects the free exercise of religion. No where are public entities prohibited from making references to God. While Christians need not be up in arms about such things in that civil religion is not the goal but conversion, neither are Christians to be concerned with putting God’s stamp upon Caesar’s palace, at the same time, those opposed to God references in the public square must learn the true meaning of liberty and justice for all as well as freedom of religion for all. No one has the right not to hear or see a reference to God.
Mull over one more. From the campaign trail, there is this story from Baptist Press. “Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama sought the support of voters in the homosexual community Feb. 28, telling them in a letter that if elected president he would work to pass laws important to that constituency and would use the ‘bully pulpit’ to urge states to grant same-sex couples the legal benefits of marriage….He once again said he backs the ‘complete repeal’ of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a law passed in 1996 that gives states the option of not recognizing another state's ‘gay marriages.’”
We interviewed Senator Obama on our radio program just before the primary. One thing was crystal clear: he is militant about what he believes. He did not tout the usual rhetoric the Democrats do regarding abortion saying zero is the right number of abortions but we still affirm a woman’s right to choose. Rather, he called for reproductive justice. He swept away the idea that Dr. Martin Luther King’s vision of civil rights for everyone had implications for unborn children. In this most recent letter with reference to homosexuals, his zealous activism shines brightly. Not only will he work for gay marriage, he will work to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act which gives states the option of not recognizing another state’s “gay marriages.” Where is the justice in trampling upon states’ rights that are bound up in the U.S. Constitution? As one looks at Obama’s policy positions and plans, one is confronted with the profound reality that he is not merely one with whom we disagree. He is an ideologue and a radical one at that. An Obama presidency will be far more dangerous for the American people than we can imagine. Among other things, it will be destructive of true liberty.
At issue here is freedom. On the one hand, we must affirm that human beings have no rights before God. He is sovereign and all any of us deserve is death and Hell. Grace is God’s choice and not our right. We don’t have a right, before God, to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, salvation, or anything else. However, on the human plane, no man has the right to take the life of another because an attack on another man is an attack on God Himself by virtue of man being created in God’s image (Gen. 9:6). In such a dynamic is an implied right to life just as in God’s commandment not to steal there is an implied right to own property. Those verities and others like them in combination with the New Testament vision of the church within a composite society as opposed to a sacral society in which church and state are not separate, as well as the mode of gospel advance being persuasion and not coercion, we come to grips with the fact that liberty and justice for all is a biblical concept. We do have rights on the human plane granted to us by God. In His sovereignty, He may want our rights trampled upon for our sanctification and His glory. However, that does not mean that those who do the trampling are not guilty of egregious sin. They most certainly are.
The implication, then, is that as Christians who espouse a fully orbed biblical worldview and have as our task to be salt and light in this culture, we must be concerned with the erosion of liberty. God has not changed. We are not panicked by His providence. At the same time, we must not close our eyes to the wearing away of our God-granted rights. Rather we must continue to preach the gospel that men might know what it is to be free and that they might then want freedom for others both in a spiritual and temporal sense. If we don’t, there is no doubt we will have to fight the battle for liberty all over again.
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About Paul Dean
Dr. Paul Dean is a pastor, cultural commentator, and author. He serves as a Regional Mentor with the International Association of Biblical Counselors, speaks at several conferences throughout the year, and provides training for ministers and churches on a regular basis. Paul resides in the Upstate of South Carolina with his wife and three children.
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