Tag Archives: Freedom From Religion Foundation

I am Glad That People Love Christmas

It isn’t uncommon to hear Christians deplore the fact that so many people who clearly have no idea what Christmas is about busily decorate with Christmas ornaments and buy Christmas gifts and dine at Christmas parties and feasts all through the month of December. “They don’t have a clue what Christmas is about,” Christians wail, wringing their hands.

I am starting to ask, “Why don’t they have a clue what Christmas is about?” We decorate and buy gifts and feast, too. With all these Christians celebrating all over the place, why don’t people in general know what Christmas is about? Is their ignorance the real problem, or is it something else?

I believe it is something else.

I believe that Christians are too focused on the way nonbelievers get Christmas wrong. Christians deplore the commercialism that starts advertising Christmas gifts by the first of October. Christians despair of the frenzy of parties and choirs and plays and charity events during a season of prayerful waiting in the church calendar. Some Christians are upset because cashiers won’t say “Merry Christmas, while others are upset that the retail window displays blend Santa Claus and the baby Jesus.

There is another way to look at this situation.

Think about the culture into which Jesus was born. In that culture there were people faithfully waiting for Messiah, there were people who suffered in hopeless despair that Messiah would ever come, and there were people who scorned the whole idea of a Messiah. There were people who had unflappable faith that God always keeps his promises, and there were people who thought that believing in God was the attitude of a simpleton.

The time and place where Christ was born was just like the times and places in which we all live. With that in mind, I am glad that every December, America lights up like a Christmas tree. I’m glad that the phrase Christmas tree has found its way into the language in standalone usage. I’m glad that in the classic secular poem of the holiday season, Santa Claus says, “Merry Christmas to all!” I’m glad, because even though the language and culture pervert the Christmas story, the fact that Christians set up nativity scenes and sing “Silent Night” during this season keeps pointing to the Christmas story, the real story of Christmas. The cultural folderol does not crush the truth that Christ was born to bring God’s salvation and grace to every person on earth.

I have been known to rant a bit about the silliness of some of the “holiday” customs. I rant about silliness wherever I see it. I enjoy poking fun at all sorts of nonsensical excuses for meaningless festivity. However, I don’t think that the abuse of the opportunity for celebration at Christmas is necessarily a bad thing.

Jesus addressed the issue of misuse of blessings when he said, “[God] makes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” God does not prevent evil people from receiving the blessing of rain. He lets them enjoy rain and grow crops watered by rain the same way he blesses his faithful children. Likewise, at Christmas, even in the midst of tinsel and baubles, you will also see the star over Bethlehem and the manger with the baby Jesus. Because the images of the birth of Jesus are so widespread at this time of year, we who love the Lord have many, many opportunities to tell people about him. We even get to talk about Jesus when the Freedom From Religion Foundation sues yet another municipality or homeowners association for allowing a public display of a nativity scene. We don’t have all those opportunities every day.

We should thank God for every instance of Christ’s name or his story in public life. If the people talking about it, we should thank God for the opportunity to discuss the story with them, and tell the story correctly. If people are confused, it gives us a chance to speak the truth.

I am very glad that Christmas is a very big deal in the USA in December. I am quite sure that Christians in Kazakhstan, where people can be arrested for carrying a Bible in a shopping bag on a public bus, would love to have the problem of too much glitz about Christmas in Kazakhstan. I can well imagine that Christians in Pakistan, who must be extremely cautious about their behavior during Ramadan, would love to need to explain to fellow Pakistanis which elements in a storefront Christmas display were Christian and which were secular. These Christians know what it is to be silenced by laws and regulations that are prohibited in the USA by our First Amendment right to free speech and free exercise of religion. Let us give thanks for free speech, even when the speech we hear is repulsive, because free speech is our guarantee that we can say “Jesus is Lord!” fearlessly on any occasion when we feel led by the Spirit to speak out. Let us give thanks even for confused and error-filled Christmas displays that allow us as Christians many opportunities to talk about the real story of Jesus.

The apostle Paul wrote, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-19 ESV). At Christmas, in the midst of the frenzy, when you feel frustrated that people just do not understand what Christmas is all about, be glad. Let the Holy Spirit give you the words to share Jesus with everyone, because it is his season and his time. It is our open door to testify to Christ. We will not likely see the immediate response we hope for in those who hear us speak, but that is not our business. Our business is to share Jesus fearlessly and consistently. I am thankful that, because people love Christmas, I have a chance to introduce them to the love of Christ.

 

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What is a Christian to Do?

Statistics show that religious liberty around the world is a precious and endangered human right. Statistics further show that in the set of all acts of religious persecution, the majority of such acts are directed against Christians. Saddest of all, statistics for recent years in the US show a rising number of events which may not meet the legal standard to be called persecution, but they are the sort of events that can easily escalate to that level. It is clear that Christians must be alert and attentive to cultural pressures that influence governmental pressures on human liberty. In fact, it is possible for pressure to restrict a right not specifically limited to religious liberty to seriously infringe on religious liberty.

In a recent blog post, Matthew Clark provided some important perspective on an IRS plan to monitor speech in churches. The IRS has announced that it will collaborate with the Freedom From Religion Foundation in a manner not yet publicly disclosed. The purpose will be to determine if a church is advocating a position on a political issue, whether it be in the realm of social morality such as abortion or in the realm of elections such as support for a candidate who stands for traditional marriage.

The US Constitution specifically prohibits the federal government from engaging in such a practice, because the Constitution protects both free speech and religious liberty. Every citizen, whether or not he is a member of a church, whether or not he is a pastor of a church, has the fundamental human right to hold and express his views on all matters. However, as Ronald Reagan pointed out years ago, we are never more than one generation from tyranny, because each generation must defend liberty as if the battle had never been won before. The IRS proposal to monitor what is said in churches specifically intrudes on freedom of speech, but by imposing such monitoring on churches, it also intrudes on religious liberty, because such monitoring makes it clear that the IRS believes it can and must prevent churches from promoting their views by teaching members to act on positions that are being discussed in political circles. It is as if the IRS is saying that churches have no right to speak on any moral issue if the public is talking about it. Since the people who founded the USA have always regarded the churches as integral to the moral fiber of the nation, it is hard to imagine how the IRS concluded that churches should be prevented from speaking on any issue.

What is a Christian to do about this information? How does God want us to live and behave when our deeply held convictions are threatened in this manner?

Paul wrote to the church in Rome, the seat of government for the Roman Empire, a government that was corrupt and tyrannical in many ways. He told them, “The authorities that exist have been established by God.” Rom 13:2 Many people in the USA certainly believe that this country was founded by people who trusted God and followed his guidance. The Constitution of the USA sets a standard for government that has been copied all over the world, and many people believe that God inspired the design of government in the Constitution. It builds in structures that impede tyranny as long as the citizens and the elected officials live by God’s moral code. The authors of the Constitution conceded from the beginning that only people with personal integrity could make this government work. It was always understood that the integrity of the voters and the integrity of elected officials was crucial to the success of the designed government. When the integrity was missing, the liberties would die. Yet, even though Paul knew how corrupt and tyrannical Roman government was, he taught early Christians to be good citizens. He modelled that citizenship in his own life, taking his case to the emperor, his right as a Roman citizen, in order to obey his higher calling to take the name of Christ to Gentiles.

Peter likewise admonished Christians to be good citizens, saying that governors “are sent by [God] to punish those who do wrong and commend those who do right.” 1 Peter 2:14 Peter, too, advocated good citizenship as a testimony to Christ. He taught that “doing good” would “silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.” 1 Peter 2:15 However, this is the same Peter who, ordered to stop preaching in the name of Christ, replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” Acts 4:19-20 In Peter’s life there is a model for obedience to authority, right up to the point where that obedience conflicts with obedience to God.

This is the conflict being addressed in the book of Revelation, written to churches under serious threat because of the unwillingness of Christians to worship the emperor. They were viewed as traitors for this attitude, because while Peter taught that Christians should pray for the emperor, he never tried to tell Christians they should pray to the emperor. Roman citizens who were not ignorant of the depravity of Roman emperors often worshiped tongue in cheek in order to be politically correct. They thought Christians were silly for balking at a public ritual. Christians were ridiculed then for their conviction that they must worship and obey God, just as they are ridiculed now for the same reason. In Revelation, Christians are encouraged to hold fast to their testimony, no matter the price, and the book is full of promised rewards for “him who overcomes.” To overcome in Revelation is to overcome the temptation to go along to get along.

What is a Christian in the USA to do when government intrudes into the words and deeds of churches? The Bible teaches good citizenship and faithful testimony to Christ.

As good citizens, Christians have both the right and the responsibility to use the powers of citizenship, speech and the vote, to push back against tyranny. To act as a responsible citizen in advocacy for the God-given rights protected by the Constitution is not a benefit solely for Christians; it benefits every citizen. Christians may be the target today, but tomorrow it could be some other group. Therefore, when Christians recognize that the government is trying to diminish or destroy rights protected in the design of the government, they have the obligation as citizens to prevent that overreach of government.

In faithful testimony to Christ, Christians must not accede to government overreach and go silent on matters of public morality and good government. They must speak on the subjects of God’s plan for families, God’s sovereignty in the gift of life, and God’s insistence on truth and integrity in human words and deeds. Inside churches or outside of churches, Christians must stand on biblical principles and speak God’s truth.

At the same time, both as a duty of good citizenship and as a duty of faithful testimony, Christians must uphold the government and all the officials of government in prayer. Christians must ask for God’s guidance in their own words and deeds as parties to conflicts between the government and the citizens.

It is not always easy to know the right thing to do. Some of the social problems facing the culture are so complex that human wisdom is inadequate to the task of solving them, but none of those problems is beyond God’s understanding or concern.

The fact that the IRS even explores the notion of monitoring the speech of churches with a view to suppressing speech deemed as political is an affront to the First Amendment. The fact that the IRS even explores the notion of monitoring any speech whatsoever is an affront to the First Amendment. God-fearing men wrote that amendment because they believed that the freedom to hold and express opinions is God-given, not something for government to dole out.

What do you suggest Christians do?

The Juggernaut Rolls Forward

A couple of years ago, the Cheektowaga Central School District of the state of New York reprimanded a teacher who displayed Bible verses and other material about her Christian faith, and all the material she had displayed was removed from her room. At the same time, a social worker at the high school was permitted to display materials supportive of LGBT political and social activism, such as bumper stickers, the Human Rights Campaign’s “Equal” sign, and other related materials.

The alleged reason for removing Christian materials from the teacher’s room was that they were “offensive” to a student. The teacher pointed out that materials supporting LGBT activism are also “offensive” to some students. The situation was instigated when the school administration received a complaint from the Freedom From Religion Foundation alleging that an anonymous student was offended by the Christian material in the teacher’s classroom. There is no evidence that the complaining student has ever been identified.

The teacher, Joelle Silver, filed a lawsuit claiming that removal of her Christian materials infringed her First Amendment rights to speak of her faith and that the continued display of LGBT materials inside and outside the social worker’s office infringed Ms. Silver’s equal right to display materials that promote her worldview.
Judge Leslie G. Foschio who heard the case ruled that the teacher’s First Amendment rights were not infringed, but that the lawsuit alleging selective enforcement could proceed. Ms. Silver is represented by the American Freedom Law Center, whose founder and senior counsel, Robert Muise, declared that he will definitely carry Ms. Silver’s case forward, rejecting any insinuation that the school was right to pretend that a display of Bible verses and a prayer box was a breach of the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.

Christians who believe that the Constitution protects the free exercise of faith and who likewise believe that the LGBT agenda is a moral affront to society must make US culture a matter of sincere and fervent prayer. Not only is the school displaying real hostility to the Christian faith, but it is also displaying preference for a moral position that is hostile to the Christian faith. No Christian would advocate hostility toward individuals enslaved by the misconceptions that lead people to believe that they are homosexual, but no Christian would advocate that such individuals should be told that this attitude is normal.

Christians are not hostile to people who think they are homosexual and cannot change, because most people enslaved by sin believe that they cannot change. In fact, most slaves of sin believe that they do not want to change. They want to believe that their way of life is not only just fine, but also probably superior to the lifestyle of boring and ordinary people. Christians are hostile, however, to advocacy for attitudes and behaviors that degrade human beings. Homosexual behavior falls into that category. Murder, theft, and lies fall into that category. Christians reject the behaviors and they reject advocacy for such behavior, but they do not reject the people deluded by the advocacy. People who have bought into the lie that homosexuality is normal are to be pitied just as the person who believes the used car dealer who says, “Have I got a deal for you!” and then foists off a junker that will barely make it out of the dealer’s lot.

It is important for Christians in the USA to be assertive about our rights to speak and live our faith and to do such things in the sight and hearing of others. Christians who want to be able to speak and act must have the personal discipline to be gracious toward people who espouse views in opposition. Christians must never be the ones who attempt to keep other people from expressing their views. Rather, with love and commitment to Christ, Christians must simply ask for what the Constitution guarantees: the right to speak of faith and to live by the principles of faith.

The attitude expressed both by the actions of the school administration and the decision of the judge sound more in keeping with some central Asian “secular” government than with the US Constitution. In Tajikistan, for example, children under 18 may not even be taught about any religion. The government forbids it. Christian parents must be very wise in their choice of words around their own children, lest the children pick up and speak any words that the government forbids. If Christian parents in Tajikistan speak of Christian teachings to children, they can be arrested and jailed. Certainly, in Tajikistan, a teacher who spoke publicly of Christian faith in a classroom would be reprimanded, if not actually arrested. The USA is not Tajikistan, nor do Americans with any wisdom want to be like Tajikistan. Yet the behavior of the Cheektowaga Central School District of the state of New York sounds much more like Tajikistan than like the USA.

The United States has for 238 years been a unique nation. It does not have a state religion, and it prohibits the suppression of any religion. This is the power of the US Constitution. It is not convenient or delightful for Joelle Silver to go to court over her right to display post-it notes with Bible verses on them or to place a prayer box on her desk or her right to mention that she is a Christian with specific beliefs. Lawsuits are not fun. Yet, like the work of police and soldiers to defend what is good from aggression by the forces of evil, Joelle Silver’s lawsuit becomes part of the defense of all that is right and good. When evil attacks good, if nobody defends good, evil wins.

Pray that God will use Joelle Silver’s lawsuit in his work to protect the rights and responsibilities of Christians to be salt and light in a dark world.