The following essay first appeared as a devotional at Open Doors USA * * * * * * *
Ron Boyd MacMillan is a perceptive communicator. He writes for the next two days.
As my plane touched down after a trip to the Middle East, I breathed a big sigh of relief. I was back where I did not have to watch my back, be careful what I said, or where I went. Whew. I was back in a country that had religious freedom. I prayed to God, “Thank you for the men and women who fought to bring me this freedom. Thank God they won.”
Then two incidents happened, one after the other, that made me think again.
I was at an art exhibition and looking at a painting entitled, Man startled on a horse. I sought out the artist and said, “Was that the Apostle Paul on the Damascus road you were depicting?” I thought he would be pleased I had figured it out.
But he looked horrified, and glancing around he hissed, “For goodness sake keep quiet. Do you want me to get labeled as a religious artist? I’d never sell another painting if that happened.”
Then I was talking to a priest in charge of a large church in my city. His church had just received a large sum of money from the State for the refurbishment of a church hall. Then he said, “Well, we had to sign an agreement that the church would be available for everyone of any religion, and that we would not try to convert anyone. But we were happy to do that. We just want to be a community resource.”
Suddenly, I became aware that I had to fight for religious liberty in my own country. I had thought that because certain toleration laws were in place, I was safe.
But no, it was clear from the artist that to admit one’s Christian faith in a public context was professional suicide.
How did my society suddenly get so prejudiced? And look at the priest blithely giving up his right to evangelize, without a thought to the long-term cost. Who was asking him to refrain from evangelizing? And how could he be so unaware of the freedom he just signed away?
RESPONSE Today I will not assume that freedom is automatic. I will stand up for the truth of God’s Word and be truly free. PRAYER Lord, may I never take the free expression of my faith for granted. Help me to understand the challenges that representing Your truth will bring.
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Notice two important issues that have become prominent in our culture:
- There is a great deal of pressure to suppress the expression of any public reference to Christ or Christianity, and
- Many churches in the US have become willing to sign away their freedom to behave as churches in return for money from the government to pay for buildings and programs.
Have you observed any events similar to the ones mentioned in this essay? Neither of these restrictions on the exercise of religion had to happen. Individuals who presumably claim the name of Christ and claim to follow him chose to deny him by their actions. The artist succumbed to cultural pressure and could also be said to have succumbed to fear that God would not provide for his economic needs if he were known as a Christian artist. The priest succumbed to economic fears, a fear that God would never provide enough money for the repairs to his building. Have you seen anything similar to this in your own community or church?