Christian Americans must commit to taking an active stand against the galloping secularism of our time
By Peter Marshall
The secularists who constantly attack our religious rights in today’s America remind me of wolves endlessly circling the campfire, just beyond the ring of light, eyes gleaming in the darkness. Periodically, a beleaguered Christian snatches up a First Amendment firebrand and lunges at the wolves with it through a court action that forces them to retreat momentarily. But, the wolves keep returning, each time slinking a little bit closer to the Christians.
I’m writing today about the steady erosion of our religious liberties, particularly in regard to the continual chipping away of the First Amendment right to resist being forced to act against one’s religious convictions in public life.
* A Montana judge rules that healthcare providers are required to arrange for euthanasia when a patient requests it.
* A California court penalizes doctors for referring a patient to another clinic because they did not want to perform in-vitro fertilization for an unmarried couple.
* The Equal Employment Commission rules against a Catholic North Carolina college for refusing to provide its employees with health insurance that covers contraception, which is against Catholic doctrine.
* Catholic Charities in Boston is forced to shut down its adoption services because the Massachusetts court decrees that it will have to place babies with homosexual couples, in contradiction of Catholic doctrine.
* The Ninth Circuit court seeks to compel a park on CaliforniaState land to remove a long-standing memorial cross, rather than trade the land with the cross into private hands.
* A New Hampshire divorce court orders a Christian mother to stop homeschooling because her daughter “appeared to reflect her mother’s rigidity on questions of faith” — (which translated merely means, I suspect, that she is a committed Christian like her mother).
* Virginia mother Lisa Miller has defied a Vermont court order of January 1 to deliver her beautiful seven-year-old biological daughter Isabella to her former lesbian partner, Janet Jenkins. Lisa became a Christian, got out of lesbianism, and does not want to expose Isabella to Janet Jenkins and her lifestyle. Lisa has taken her daughter and disappeared, forced into hiding to protect her child from the monstrosities of modern secular sexuality.
Even in the face of these developments there is no reason for panic. None of these incidents by itself spells a crisis in the practice of American Christianity. None of them in itself presages the end of the freedom of religion in our country. Even all added up together they do not indicate that Christians are being thrown to the wolves by the courts — at least not yet. But the courts are allowing the secularist wolves to creep ever closer. And, to continue employing the allegory, the courts are shrinking the size of the First Amendment fires that our Founding Fathers bravely lit against the world’s darkness. Every judicial ruling against someone attempting to stand on his or her First Amendment religious freedom rights sets a precedent for the denial of those rights in the next court case.
What are Christians to do?
The choice of many, if not most of us, seems to be accommodation and appeasement. Or, what I call the Rodney King plea: “Can’t we all just get along?” The underlying motive here is invariably one of currying favor — trying to gain acceptance from the secular world around us. One of the most egregious examples of this comes from storied Notre DameUniversity’s President, Father John Jenkins. Last year, he invited President Obama, a notoriously pro-abortion politician, to deliver the commencement address at Notre Dame’s graduation. Here, at one of the great bastions of the American Catholic Church was an open, deliberate, highly visible rejection of the Catholic (and of course Christian) teaching that abortion is sinful and wrong. For a supposedly Christian university to so publicly honor a man who, throughout his public career has bent over backwards to support the slaughter of unborn babies, is to dishonor the Christian faith. Jenkins tried the nakedly political ploy of supposedly balancing the scales by inviting Harvard Law Professor Mary Ann Glendon to receive the prestigious Laetare Medal at the same time. To her everlasting credit, Ms. Glendon, a conscientious Catholic, refused the honor. In an open letter to Father Jenkins she explained that in honoring Obama the university was acting in express defiance of the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ request of 2004 that Catholic institutions “should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles” and that such persons “should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.”
Appeasement never works. Whether it’s Father Jenkins trying to be Catholic and at the same time currying favor with the secular academic world, or Neville Chamberlain throwing Czechoslovakia to Hitler at Munich in 1938 in an attempt to make him stop bullying Europe, you cannot make a bully change his behavior by trying to curry favor with him. We conservative Christians can never succeed in holding on to our shrinking religious rights by “making nice” with the militant secularists. That will not work.
Another option open to us is to simply withdraw from the culture and adopt a ghetto mentality that concentrates on huddling in our local churches while decrying the sad state of things in society. This is what one columnist termed “the Amish option.” This, of course, is exactly what the militant secularists want us to do. “You Christians can believe anything you please, as long as you keep it to yourselves.” To a great extent, this is the posture adopted by British Christians, and to a slightly lesser degree, by Canadian ones as well. But, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not, by definition, able to be kept to oneself. “Go into all the world and proclaim,” our Lord said. Christianity demands involvement with our neighbors. Further, since Satan hates all things Christian, and seeks to destroy Christians altogether instead of being satisfied to make them merely less influential, he will not allow an increasingly secular society to leave Christians alone to mind their own business. The Neronian persecution of the Early Church teaches us that the great Enemy of our souls will cause his secular minions to actively pursue and hunt down the people of God.
And, speaking of minding your own business, it is becoming much more difficult for Christians to do that. To be an evangelical Christian and also a pharmacist is becoming a contradiction in terms. Refusing to sell a prescription for the “morning after” abortifaciant can cost a pharmacist his job these days, if the customer sues. In Canada, preaching against homosexuality can cause a pastor to be convicted of hate-crimes speech. And if Canada is there already, can America be far behind? We may well see the day in the not too distant future when clergy that refuse to perform same-sex marraiges will be stripped of their right to perform marriages recognized by the state. The wolves are not inclined to leave us alone.
Withdrawal is really not a viable option.
Two religious freedoms are at stake here: the freedom of conscience for the individual, and the freedom of religion for churches. The loss of either is severely damaging for America; the loss of both is devastating. As the secularists seek to strip the public square of all religious influence, they seek to shame Christians’ beliefs, silence public Christian speech, abolish Christian teaching from education, and prohibit Christian argument against any sinful and immoral elements of modern life.
But, if religious speech and Christian involvement in society is gradually eliminated, if Christians are intimidated by suppression or refused participation in society because of their Christian faith, then society will be the loser. Consider the sad outcome of the State of Massachusetts’ insistence that Catholic Charities of Boston must place babies with homosexual couples. That Catholic organization could not abide by the court’s ruling without violating the Church’s (and Holy Scripture’s) stance on homosexuality. So, it closed its adoption agency, depriving the people of Massachusetts of one of the best social service organizations in the state. A sad thing indeed.
Note that as a society becomes increasingly secular, than the compassion and caring will disappear, because Christians are far more motivated to help the poor, hurting, and needy than secularists are. But, of course, the secularists will never admit that. They can’t afford to believe that they fall short of Christians in charity and at the same time maintain their smug superiority, which may be the only thing preventing them from becoming Christian.
The Church of Jesus Christ cannot shrink from the duty to which its Lord has called it: to stand up to the wolves and proclaim that Jesus Christ is the only cure for all of society’s ills; that every human being is made in the image of God and valued by Him, and therefore is worthy of our protection and care; and that the eternal truths proclaimed by Holy Scripture from ancient days are still the truths which give purpose and meaning to life today.
In a democratic, open, and free society, all religious believers must be free to live publicly according to their consciences. Correspondingly, all churches must be free to publicly proclaim the Gospel of Christ, administer programs of charity, denounce sinful aspects of society, and defend the dignity and life of those unable to defend themselves.
To this end, we Christian Americans must commit to taking an active stand against the galloping secularism of our time. Pastors and churches must throw off their reluctance to speak out against the evils of our time because of their fear of losing their 501 C-3 status, or incurring the disapproval of the local newspaper, or their denomination, or their friends, or the deacons, or whomever.
Against the encroaching wolves, we must be willing to fight for genuine religious freedom for all Christian believers (and others, too): the freedom to earn a living as Christians, the freedom to educate our children as Christians, the freedom as Christians to minister to the poor and needy, the freedom to participate as Christians in the debate of public policy, and most important of all, the freedom to proclaim the Gospel that Jesus Christ is the Resurrection and the Life into every corner of an American culture that is more and more captive to a spirit of death.
Stand. And proclaim the truth of Christ, my friends.
Thrust the burning light of Christ’s truth at the wolves.
“The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
It never will.