Recently, WorldNetDaily published an editorial by Scott Lively where he scolds American Christians for allowing religious pluralism to become accepted. Religious pluralism, Lively argues, violates the First Commandment which states, “Thou shall have no other gods before Me.”
In his article, entitled “The Deadly ‘Religious Liberty’ Trap,” Lively argues that the “wall of separation of church and state” metaphor had been wrongfully used as a “as a justification for declaring all religions to be equal with Christianity in America, and equally subservient to secular humanist authority.”
Lively’s solution to this situation “is to stop arguing for ‘religious liberty’ and resume our proclamation of the superiority of Christ and His Word over all opposing faiths (along with tolerance for people of other faiths – that’s how it worked before [Everson v Board of Education (1947)]. Its goal must be nothing less than an official reaffirmation of the Bible as our legal and cultural foundation, which would require overturning Everson and its juridical progeny.”
The idea of incorporating Christianity into secular law is gaining traction in response to what many in the religious right view as a threat to the essence of Christianity itself, same-sex marriage, and the conservative triumph of the last election.
Also last week, in response to a federal judge’s anticipated ruling on Mississippi’s ban on same-sex marriage, a group call the Magnolia State Heritage Campaign began collecting signatures for a ballot initiative in favor of a constitutional amendment that would make Christianity the official religion of Mississippi. The proposed amendment states:
“The State of Mississippi hereby acknowledges the fact of her identity as a principally Christian and quintessentially Southern state, in terms of the majority of her population, character, culture, history, and heritage, from 1817 to the present; accordingly, the Holy Bible is acknowledged as a foremost source of her founding principles, inspiration, and virtues; and, accordingly, prayer is acknowledged as a respected, meaningful, and valuable custom of her citizens. The acknowledgments hereby secured shall not be construed to transgress either the national or the state Constitution’s Bill of Rights.”
Since the proposed amendment claims a cultural heritage going back to 1817, one does not have to think too hard to contemplate the type of “Christianity” that justified the culture of slavery that prevailed in Mississippi until the Civil War and the racial prejudice that held sway for over a century thereafter.
Religion, with its promise of eternal reward or punishment, is a very powerful force that can be used for both good and evil. The constant crisis in the Middle East is evidence of the power of religion to bring people to the point of suicide in order to kill non-believers.
Certainly there are degrees of religious fervor, and so far few are suggesting that making Christianity the dominant religion in America would bring in a new era of Christian jihad, but that danger always lurks beneath the surface as evidenced by the Inquisition and the Reformation-era religious wars. Just as the promise of an Arab Spring brought about ISIS, the promise of Christian dominion could bring about its own unintended consequences.
The Apostle Peter, who himself was eventually crucified because his faith ran contrary to the will of the dominant religion of the empire, never sought to gain power over the secular world and engage in earthly conflict which would have drained the resources and energy of the early church, making it a political force rather than a spiritual influence, but Peter instead urged the early church to live in humble peace because he recognized that society would be transformed by love, not by force.
“Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires,which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.”
1 Peter 2:11-17 (NIV)
Today, in the United States, we have the kind of religious liberty that Peter could only dream about. We don’t have to worry about religious leaders asking the government to imprison or kill those with whom they disagree. We don’t have to worry about charged with the crime of blasphemy or facing multiple infringements on how we live our lives. How we practice our faith is between us and God and nobody has the right to interfere with that relationship.
Let us continue to work to keep the marketplace of ideas open and support religious liberty wherever possible. For the sake of preserving faith, keep church and state separate.