Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Baptists and Religious Liberty (2)

The concepts of religious liberty and separation of church & state are frequently on the minds of Americans. I often find myself confused, trying to juggle all the religious, political and social implications of religious liberty. At great risk of being found wrong, and against my better judgment (if I have any), I am postponing my intended religious liberty blog for today in order to insert this one that addresses three specific issues. This is what I believe today. Beliefs are subject to change without notice.

For the American Christian, there are two considerations -- the legal/constitutional and the Biblical. These do not always agree. For the Christian, the Biblical must always eventually trump the legal/constitutional. Consider these issues:

[1] A constitutional amendment for school prayer -- This may not be quite as much in the forefront here as it once was. As a citizen, I am opposed to a school prayer amendment. It violates the spirit of the 1st Amendment of the U. S. Constitution and gets the government into the business of religion. The 1st Amendment, properly understood, already guarantees any person's right to pray anywhere under any circumstances. As a Christian, I believe Christians "ought always to pray, and not to faint". That is everywhere, including schools, homes and pastures -- even churches! We need no law to authorize us to do so, because it is authorized by God. Should some one ban us from doing so, we must obey God rather than men.

[2] A legislative body employing a chaplain to lead religious exercises -- As a citizen, I am not opposed to prayer before a legislative body meets, a chaplain speaking to a legislative body, etc., but to employ such a person with American taxpayer funding would be a violation. Also for the body to limit the prayers, speeches, etc. to members of a particular religious persuasion would be a violation. How would you as a Christian like it if your legislative body were opened with a prayer and offering of incense by a Hindu priest (or whatever name they call them)? If you're in favor of some religious rite or exercise in a publicly sponsored arena, ask yourself how you would feel if it were Islam, Buddhism, or Shintoism. If that would change your opinion, you probably aren't thinking consistently.

[3] A student-initiated prayer at public school (e.g., before its football games) -- I've never really understood praying for football games. In fact, I have some issues with mandatory public education. But I'll try to be fair. Students are not agents of the government just because they attend public school, and they don't surrender their 1st Amendment rights when they enter the schoolhouse. IF the prayers are TRULY student-initiated and student-led, and IF there is liberty for ALL who might want to pray, AND no coercion of those who don't, then I don't suppose there is a violation. When the prayers have a definitely set aside place in the program, one might wonder if they are truly student-initiated. Do you favor prayer at public school events? Would you object if a student of another religion (such as Islam) led the prayer? If that would change your opinion, you probably aren't thinking consistently. If a prayer were led by a Satanist student, I expect someone in authority would see that there were no more student-initiated and student-led prayers before ballgames or at graduations!

At one end of the spectrum, some would enforce Christianity by legal and coercive means, and, if allowed, would make being Christian and American one and the same. At the other end, there are a number of radicals using the cloak of "separation of church & state" to try to drive Christianity into the caves and closets, and out of the public arena in our nation. May we by God's grace avoid both extremes.

And then there is the downright silliness - like the fellows who are so emotionally distraught because a city named Las Cruces (Spanish for THE CROSSES) would have three crosses in their city logo; or the flap over calling a "Christmas tree" a "Christmas" tree (hey, regardless of our beliefs we all know what holiday it's associated with, and it's not Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Ramadan or Happy New Year) . Give me a break. Some people are like the red wasps that live behind my window sills. In August they're so hot and bothered they're just looking for someone to sting!

Stay tuned. More tomorrow.


Anonymous said...

it is true. So many things have become downright silly. The constitution never promised that someone would not be offended. Where do you draw the line? all of these sports teams and franchises under pressure to change their nicknames.(redskins,braves,seminoles,etc) What about Cowboys as well? weren't they the enemies of Native Americans at one time? lol. Now there is even a movement to do away with certain words all together that are deemed offensive.

RSR said...

I can't find anything to disagree with in your comments, Robert. Coercion or even sanction by the state is no lawful part of Christianity, and it is often sad to see Christians try to make the state their ally in spiritual matters. The state is not a spiritual institution and cannot be made so.

I enjoyed your comment on student-initiated prayer at football games; I don't think folks have really thought through all the implications and many probably would recoil if they were carried out. (BTW: Our HS football team desperately needed prayer — I think it won 10 games in six years — but no one seemed willing to ask God publicly for an offensive line.)