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Karen Pence’s Powerful Analogy for Religious Liberty: How and Why to Speak the Truth in Love

Karen Pence is in the news as she increases her role in the 2020 presidential campaign. In an interview with USA Today, she was asked about her decision to resume teaching art at Immanuel Christian School, which doesn’t allow gay teachers or students.

The reporter suggested that “a gay person might say that your faith is attacking them for who they are.” Mrs. Pence replied: “I don’t make that connection. This country was founded on religious liberty. And I think we have to be careful about infringing on anyone else’s beliefs. I think that if you have someone who has a certain belief, that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily judging you.” 

She illustrated her point effectively: “For example, there are people who have certain dietary restrictions because of their faith. I don’t feel like they are judging me if I eat that food.” 

She then added: “That’s unfortunate if someone feels judged. It certainly would never, ever, ever be my intention for anyone to feel judged by me. Definitely not. But I’m just a person who believes in the Bible, so it shouldn’t be right for someone to attack me for my beliefs.”

Ordering a cheeseburger in a kosher restaurant 

Let’s work with Mrs. Pence’s analogy for a moment. 

The website Dallas Kosher lists a large number of restaurants that serve kosher food in our city. If I walk past one of these restaurants while eating a cheeseburger (violating the orthodox Jewish interpretation of Exodus 23:19 and Deuteronomy 14:21), I cannot imagine that I would feel judged by those inside. 

If they are observant Jews, they are simply following the teachings of their religion. As a Gentile Christian, I am following the teachings of mine (cf. Acts 15:19-20). 

But imagine that I walk into one of these restaurants and demand that they cook a cheeseburger for me. I am asking them to violate their religious beliefs for the sake of my personal preference. I could order a cheeseburger at the McDonald’s down the street, but I insist that since this kosher restaurant serves the public, they must provide what the public wants. 

If they refuse, I take legal action and the courts agree with me. As a result, a kosher restaurant has to prepare nonkosher food, violating its owner’s religious beliefs and practices, or close its doors. 

This scenario seems ludicrous because it is. I am not aware of Nazi sympathizers who have successfully petitioned the courts to force Jewish bakers to produce cakes with swastikas on them. Or non-Muslims who have successfully required Muslim bakers to make cakes defaming the Prophet Muhammad. 

But evangelical Christians are regularly asked to violate our religious beliefs by those who claim our rights are violating theirs. 

Sharing truth with those who disagree with it 

This subject is relevant as the follow-up to yesterday’s Daily Article, where we explored biblical teachings regarding premarital cohabitation. I outlined the nonreligious reasons why biblical teachings on sexuality and marriage are best for us. Then we explored God’s word on this issue and sought his forgiving grace wherever we need it. 

Today we’ll pivot that conversation into a discussion of ways to speak biblical truth to those who disagree with its wisdom. 

Richard Niebuhr’s classic Christ and Culture describes five ways Christians have historically interacted with culture:  

  1. Christ against culture, where we withdraw as far as possible
  2. Christ of culture, where we follow the culture wherever it leads
  3. Christ above culture, where we live by both secular and spiritual values
  4. Christ and culture in paradox, where we engage cultural issues as a means to growing the church
  5. Christ transforming culture, where we seek to be salt and light through the transformational witness of the gospel.

Now let’s apply these to the issue of premarital cohabitation. The first approach would call us to retreat from such conversations; the second would endorse secular practice; the third could cause us to hide our Sunday values from our Monday friends; the fourth would stand for biblical truth but without working to change cultural values; the fifth would seek to change minds and hearts in alignment with God’s best for us. 

How can we be catalysts for such transformation?

“And such were some of you.” 

When we hear a convicting message, it is human nature to convict the messenger. That’s why, to be change agents in our secular culture, we must first convince others that our message is motivated by love for them. 

Those who are living outside of God’s will for sexuality need to know that we care about them enough to share hard truth with them. The same is true for those who sin in any other way (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10). 

It would be far easier for us to go along to get along, to tell people what they want to hear rather than what they need to hear. But we are custodians of grace called to pay forward what we have received, giving others truth that transforms all who receive it.

We are to do so with humility and hope: “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (v. 11). 

The sins for which God has forgiven you may be the very sins he is now asking you to address with his truth and forgiving grace. 

Where will you begin today? 

NOTE: Our Advent devotional, The Songs Tell the Story, is now back in stock. In each of its twenty-five chapters, my wife, Janet Denison, tells the origin stories of well-known Christmas carols. Even better, she applies a meaningful spiritual insight into their stories and lyrics. Her devotionals are routinely popular—as evidenced by the fact that we quickly ran out of our first printing. Consequently, we have ordered a reprint, and they will be available until November 15, or while supplies last. I am sure that you will be blessed this Christmas by The Songs Tell the Story.

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Publication Date: November 13, 2019

Photo Courtesy: Getty Images/Paul Morigi/Stringer

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