Religious Freedom: “Us” Against “Them”?
We hear many words of equality, healing and unity, yet we see very little in the way of tangible results. Instead of coming together, our nation is drifting into a deeper divide. Not only are we dividing socially, racially and educationally, we are becoming a people of “us against them” spiritually.
National Religious Freedom Day is an annual celebration that takes place on January 16th. Its purpose is to commemorate the Virginia General Assembly’s adoption of Thomas Jefferson’s landmark Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom on January 16th, 1786.
President Barack Obama recognized National Religious Freedom Day by releasing a statement which said in part,
“Foremost among the rights Americans hold sacred is the freedom to worship as we choose. Because of the protections guaranteed by our Constitution, each of us has the right to practice our faith openly and as we choose. As a free country, our story has been shaped by every language and enriched by every culture.”
There is a huge difference between the freedom to believe and practice the religion of our choice and being “shaped by every language and enriched by every culture.” There are many languages and cultures which do not believe or practice freedom of religion. They have the potential to reshape us into a secular nation with their growing influence.
Since our founding days as a nation, religious freedom has been a defining characteristic of what it means to be American. In fact, freedom of religion has served to identify us in many ways. However, we are developing an identity crisis as to what freedom of religion actually means; a path that has led to further stifling religious freedom on the basis of separation of church and state. In the presence of an identity crisis, there is always the risk of developing a new identity.
The new identity currently taking shape tends to view freedom of religion as an infringement on the rights of the non-religious. In order to protect their rights, the non-religious infringe upon the rights of those who practice religion, going to court when and where necessary. The end result is the ruling of the courts frequently denies the practice of religious freedom.
David Kinnaman of the Barna Group, spoke of the changing identity of the religious landscape with these words,
“These social changes create increasing tension about how something everyone essentially agrees on – freedom of religion – ought to work itself out in the real world where people find themselves disagreeing on important matters.”
According to a Barna research study, 57% of Americans believe
“religious freedom has become more restricted in the U.S. because some groups have actively tried to move society away from traditional Christian values.”
While we who practice religious freedom tend to look at the world around us and place the blame on “them”, could it be our greater issue lies within “us”? It is easy to point out and criticize what “they” are doing to “us”, but do we take the time to ask, “What are we doing to ourselves?”
Today, Jeremy Myers wrote a post entitled The Worldwide Threat of Christian Moderates in which he said,
I believe that many of us Christians needlessly endanger the lives of other people simply by the way we live.
Look at Jonah as an example. Jonah knew that God was out to discipline him, and by going down into the boat headed for Tarshish and falling asleep, he needlessly endangered the lives of the sailors on board and almost took all of them down with him.
Christians can do this in a variety of ways today. The most blatant of all is simply not caring for the well-being of our neighbors and co-workers, or the future of our country.
There are many Christians who go through life caring only about attending the next Bible study, going to the next church service, and reading the next Christian best seller. They have no clue that their neighbor just lost his job, that their coworker just got diagnosed with cancer, or that the decisions their local and national leaders are making will ravage future generations. Instead, they have gone down into their local church, down into the books and Bible studies, and have fallen asleep. They don’t care that people all around are throwing cargo overboard, and hoping against hope that they will live to see another day.
Myers went on to write,
The threat is not from those who see what is wrong with the world and try to do something about it. The threat is from those who do not care to know what is going on the world. It is apathy, not activism, which threatens nations and destroys lives, because when we haven’t a care in the world we tend not to care for those in the world either.