If America is known for anything at all – characteristically as a nation both here and abroad, it is freedom. We are known traditionally as the, “Land of the Free.”
We love our freedom. In a speech to the English Parliament in late-1774, England’s King George had denounced the “daring spirit of resistance and disobedience to the law” of the American rebels which seemed to be spreading like wildfire across the continent in response to Britain’s economic pressures on the colonies. Amid those mounting tensions – in another time of civil and social unrest, the Second Virginia Convention convened to discuss their strategy in negotiating with the Crown.
George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were both there, as were five of the six other Virginians who would later sign the Declaration of Independence. Prominent among those statesmen was Patrick Henry, an avowed Christian and a well-respected lawyer.
It was then and there in the midst of a debate over whether or not to engage in an eventual war of independence from the U.K., that Henry according to the historical account, held his wrists together as though they were chained and raised them toward the heavens, grabbed an ivory letter opener mimicking a knife blow to the heart and shouted, “Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty— or give me death!”
That quote helped energize the fight for freedom and to preserve it – arguably one of the most fundamental of human rights, which would become among the most cherished of common values of the United States. As a result, for Christians looking to cast a vote for the Presidency of this country on the first Tuesday of November, freedom – religious liberty as guaranteed by this nation’s first amendment to its constitution’s Bill of Rights, has emerged front and center as an election issue to be seriously considered by the evangelical voter.
I argue in fact that religious freedom is one of the three most critical issues that disciples of Jesus Christ should prioritize in comparing the candidates and platforms of the two political parties vying for the White House: Life, Liberty and the Love of Neighbor.
Some may find it surprising that so many Christian leaders and Christ followers are concerned right now about preserving this constitutional right to the freedom of speech and the free exercise of one’s religious beliefs in light of the historic commitment to this right that has transcended political party lines for so long.
For instance, in 1998, Democratic President Bill Clinton said, “The right to worship according to one’s own conscience is essential to our dignity as human beings.” Republican President George W. Bush agreed in 2008 and in 2012, President Barack Obama declared that religious liberty was a “universal human right.” Just last year, the incumbent President Donald Trump added, “The right to religious freedom is innate to the dignity of every human person and is foundational to the pursuit of truth.”
However, those words have seemingly lost their impact since the sexual revolution began to take place in our nation more than a generation ago and has continued to roll on (LGTBQ) ever since, having rendered such presidential comments as archaic, referring to a time long, long ago in light of more recent news and events on everything from Coronavirus regulations to sexuality:
- Discriminatory COVID-19 government orders and mitigation regulations on both local and state levels have unfairly targeted houses of worship who are banned from congregating in states like California and Nevada, forcing churches to ‘forsake the assembling of themselves’ while allowing freer access for gambling casinos, liquor stores, marijuana dispensaries and city street protests of every kind.
- The state of New York told the Syracuse-based Christian adoption agency, New Hope Family Services, it had to place children with same-sex couples or not place them at all. But a federal court stepped in last week, ruling the agency could continue to operate according to its Biblical beliefs, for now.
- Former local Kentucky clerk Kim Davis spent five days in jail in 2015 for declining to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples due to her Christian beliefs. The couples ultimately received their licenses but sued Davis anyway for unspecified damages. A federal appeals court just ruled the lawsuit could move forward, and the Supreme Court on Monday rejected Davis’ appeal.
What do cases like this and others that have threatened the religious liberty of other citizens of faith in America (i.e. wedding bakers, photographers, bed and breakfast owners and florists) have in common? One, their religious convictions and livelihoods have been held hostage by non-elected judicial ‘legislators’ and two, sexual freedom looks to have usurped religious freedom. How did this happen?
Two Supreme Court decisions within the last fifty years really redefined the American concept of liberty, prioritizing the freedoms of sexuality over the right for one to not only hold to their religious convictions but to also live in accordance with those convictions.
In 1973’s infamous Roe v. Wade decision, the right to abortion – a procedure usually performed to justify sexual irresponsibility, became the new law of the land in creating an unprecedented freedom to do away with the freedom and right to life of another vulnerable and innocent human being. The Obergefell decision of 2015, created a new and unprecedented version of marriage, legalizing and thus legitimizing in the eyes of the law, same-sex marriage, an abomination before God.
Little wonder why the current Supreme Court nomination hearings of Amy Comey Barrett now taking place in Washington have taken on such weight. The threat is real enough to have lead current Supreme Court justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito to publish a statement arguing that the Obergefell case’s mandate that all states recognize same-sex marriage, is “found nowhere in the text” of the Constitution and threatens “the religious liberty of the many Americans who believe that marriage is a sacred institution between one man and one woman.”
Despite assurances from the political left that religious freedom would be maintained in American life in the wake of Obergefell, Judge Thomas countered that Obergefell is highly flawed and marginalizes those who do not believe in same-sex marriage.
Even to the extent that in reference to the decision rejecting the appeal of marriage license clerk, Kim Davis, Thomas said Obergefell forced Davis to choose “between her religious beliefs and her job.”
Religious Freedom Matters
The battle lines have been drawn between both sides of this constitutional and gospel issue. Former Vice-President and Presidential candidate Joe Biden supports a Democratic Party platform which on the one hand claims to be, “an advocate for religious freedom throughout the world,” while on the other hand, opposes “broad religious exemptions to allow businesses, medical providers, social service agencies, and others to discriminate.”
In other words, the Democratic party platform’s position on religious liberty “opposes” religious conscious organizations and institutions from actually being Christian in belief and practice, because they will not follow in lock-step allegiance to the moral and sexual revolution. Yes, the classic and biblical Christian doctrine of sexuality and sin is branded as “discrimination” by this particular party.
Whereas, the Republican Party platform paralleling President Trump’s policy positions, “Supports the right of America’s religious leaders to preach, and Americans to speak freely, according to their faith.” Among other party planks on the religious freedom question, the GOP platform:
Supports the First Amendment Defense Act, that would bar government discrimination against individuals and businesses for acting on the belief that marriage is the union of one man and one woman: “This Act would protect the non-profit tax status of faith-based adoption agencies, the accreditation of religious educational institutions, the grants and contracts of faith-based charities and small businesses, and the licensing of religious professions..”
Though religious liberty is not explicitly referred to in the scriptures, the principal is implicitly found throughout the Bible, seen in the use of persuasion rather than coercion as the means of drawing followers to Christ (Lu. 18:18-25) and illustrated by the apostle Paul’s appeal before Agrippa in Rome, when the Jews persecuted him for his unpopular gospel preaching (Acts 26:1-11).
The key application of the above is that religious liberty allows for Christians to not only worship God as he wills corporately and freely, but to preach the life-saving truth of the gospel freely and to live, work and play freely- according to the Christian’s Bible-informed conscience.
So without being politically partisan or biased- Christians should be neither per se, born-again believers I believe, have been given the privilege and responsibility to vote as a wise steward of that vote that God has allowed in this country, which may enable his gospel and kingdom to flourish and permeate society as salt and light is meant to do (Matt. 5:13-16).
A vote for religious liberty therefore, is a vote for the kingdom and cause of Jesus Christ to be expressed and proclaimed, including on all of the issues most clear and dear to the Lord our God. Next week’s post: Election 2020 Primer: Looking at the Platforms- Love of Neighbor.