Friday, April 3, 2015

It's a New Day in America

With the recent passage of religious discrimination laws in Indiana and Arkansas, the religious landscape in the United States has been dramatically and perhaps permanently changed. The law specifies that businesses catering to the general public cannot withhold services on religious grounds. In effect, a person's religious convictions no longer have federal protection. While the law is intended to protect homosexuals specifically from discrimination, it allows for reverse discrimination against Christians for their beliefs regardless of their practice. Only churches and nonprofit organizations are exempt.

Consider several ramifications of this law.

First, if a person can be charged with a crime for their religious convictions - which is in fact the case - then the Bill of Rights is crumbling before our eyes. Freedom of conscience (soul liberty in religious terms) is fundamental to all other rights. But now we have codified in state law that a person can be forced to act against their conscience on penalty of law.

Second, if churches are exempt from the law, it means that one's religion can be practiced only within the confines of church property. This has been the goal of leftists all along and the reason why they describe religious liberty as "freedom of worship" rather than "freedom of religion." "Freedom of worship" means we can worship anytime we please so long as it doesn't leave the building. "Freedom of religion" is what we had, which is the freedom to practice our faith anywhere. So-called freedom of worship is the kind of freedom given in Russia, China, and similar dictatorships. It is the state's way of controlling the growth of religion so as to discourage a challenge to governmental authority. Welcome to totalitarianism.

Third, if individual Christians can be driven out of business because they are Christians and wish to hold onto their convictions, say goodbye to traditional "mom and pop" businesses, or any free enterprise operated by individual owners. Christians are going to be forced into a much larger and safer work environment such as one finds in larger corporations. The head office can make corporate decisions. It's safer that way. Another obvious alternative is to develop business models that do not engage the general public, such as subcontractors. A Christian who wishes to operate a bakery may do so if he subcontracts as a supplier to another business and avoids the public entirely. Christians are going to have to become creative in order to survive.

Given the current state of affairs, one can reasonably assume that the next assault will come against churches directly in the form of laws against "proselytizing" or "soul winning" as most evangelicals know it. The logic will be that seeking to convert someone from their lifestyle is a form of discrimination, and of course if it's bad for business, it's bad for everything else including churches.

If churches and Christians generally are forced indoors, how then can we engage the public and survive in a hostile environment? The answer is not that complicated because Chinese Christians have been surviving and flourishing in this environment for years. They do it by staying low key, forming relationships, and engaging people on an individual basis. It works. Chinese Christians do not conceive of a Christianity that is without evangelism. They automatically assume it is a message to be taken to others.

Persecution - and that's what we have here - has a way of sharpening our senses. As a result, Christians must become sharper and more dedicated at doing what we should be doing anyway. Making contact with people, forming friendships, and using those opportunities to share the gospel in one-on-one situations. Friends don't turn on friends. Our methods will have to change and adapt to this new life in a country that is still home of the brave but no longer the land of the free.

If the Chinese Christian population can explode under such conditions (and it is), then American Christians can take heart. If ever we needed to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves, it is now. But the gospel still works and so must we as well.  Like the Chinese, we must take for granted that the message is to be shared with others. Like the Chinese, we must be willing to assume the risks that go with sharing that truth. There will be a risk and a price will be paid, but it is worth the cost. It is time we stood with the rest of Christianity around the world that is paying that price every day.