The PJ Tatler

Religious Freedom Thought of the Day: Aliens and Strangers

Reacting to this Ron Fournier piece on the demise of Arizona’s SB 1062, a piece typical of someone whose politics have not yet left the 1960s, Bill Hobbs writes on Facebook:

Fournier uses an interesting phrase: “the right to worship freely.” The Left often couches the First Amendment’s freedom of religion as “freedom of worship” and it is intentional – “worship” is that thing that people do in a church building on Sunday morning for an hour or two. The Left is fine with Christians keeping their Christianity inside that box. Freedom of religion is a much broader thing – it’s the freedom to live one’s life as one sees fit based on one’s faith, 24/7/365, at home, at work, and in public as well as private. Fournier gives away the game at the end when he writes “In this great and diverse country, we are capable of protecting people’s right to worship freely without tramping others’ rights to LIVE freely.” He sees Christianity through the Left’s preferred lens: It’s an activity that people DO in a church building on Sunday, and not something people LIVE daily.

For nearly as long as I’ve been attending evangelical churches, which is all of my life, I’ve heard pastors and leaders teach that Christians are not to be Christians merely whenever we are inside the church building. As an occasional (and poor) teacher I’ve taught the same thing. God “wants more than Sundays and Wednesday nights,” Keith Green sang in the 1980s, meaning, being a Christian is not about going to church. It’s about living. None of us ever gets it perfectly. But Christian culture is infused with instruction to be more than just a Sunday morning Christian. Christian pastors, teachers and singers didn’t just make that up out of nothing.

Being a Christian has never been about conforming to the world’s views or going along with them; it has always been about so much more, and it often puts one in direct conflict with the mores and beliefs that dominate society at large. It often puts us in conflict with people we respect and love. It’s a relationship that is full of tension. If it’s not, you’re probably doing it wrong. Too many Christians forget that, not just in our time, but throughout time. We’re not called to be popular or endorse the world’s ways. We’re in conflict with those ways when they conflict with what God wants. We answer to Him, not the latest Gallup poll or focus group.

That direct conflict was part of the deal all along. Christians engaging the culture have always been aware of it, or should’ve been. Reaching back to 1980s evangelical Christian culture once again, since that’s the culture I grew up in, Petra sang that “Jesus told us men would hate us, but we must be of good cheer.” The song “Not Of This World” paraphrases Matthew 10. Based on that text, it accurately describes Christians as “aliens and strangers” to the culture around us. Christians would be hated because of Christ. I keep referring to old Christian music to point out that for those of us who grew up evangelical, being not of this cultural world is not a new thing. It is not novel. It is no surprise. It is also not an occasion for surrender. The culture of the New Testament era was, if anything, far worse and more dangerous than today’s culture. Slavery was rampant. Pagan practices included ritual sacrifice and sex. Christians faced violently hostile governments with unlimited power, that demanded public worship of the current honcho in charge. The threat of persecution, imprisonment and even execution was real and always imminent. Should the early Christians have given in?

So the current conflict is not unexpected. It has always been there. The freedom to worship in America has not been limited yet, though the freedom to teach what the Bible actually says about sin (and grace) may soon be. Pastors in Canada have run into problems. Churches are likely to be sued over participation in same-sex weddings, leading in my opinion to evangelical churches leaving weddings altogether in order to avoid costly and time-wasting litigation. That will represent a small but significant retreat from the culture.

The freedom to be a Christian outside the church walls in American society — and to freely reject religion — has had a good, long run. Christians are taught — commanded — to be Christians outside the church, in our daily lives, in our businesses, in our neighborhoods, to not be conformed to the world but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, so that we may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. Even Paul admitted that he never met that standard. No one does. Being a Christian is also about being a failure and recognizing that we are not sufficient by ourselves. Yet that does not mean we should not strive to reach the ideal. When we examine the standard for marriage, Genesis and Christ taught that it should be one man, one woman, until death. The OT is full of examples of polygamy, which many cite in order to attack Jews and Christians, but those situations tend also to be full of violence, jealousy and diabolical outcomes. So they do not represent the ideal; they are object lessons in the failure to live up to the ideal. The New Testament even forbids churches from electing deacons who have been married, divorced, and married again. It’s a very tough standard. It often seems unfair. It puts churches in direct conflict with much of what goes on in our no-fault divorce world. That’s not an accident.

In all of the recent fight over the Arizona bill, this may be the saddest and most revealing moment.


The dishonest attacks leveled against the Arizona bill have killed it. There may now be a move against state laws already on the books that protect the rights that the Arizona bill sought to protect. Christian business owners now face courtroom and media assault on two fronts — over same-sex marriage, and over the government’s abortifacient mandate. Kirsten Powers, a Christian for eight years now, used her influential position in media and her Christianity to launch some of those dishonest attacks against the bill. Facing blowback, she hinted about leaving the church. To my knowledge, she has never publicly hinted that anything has caused her to consider leaving the Democratic Party. Not its extreme position on abortion. Not its base’s unrelenting assault on Christians. Not the president’s strange fascination with the Muslim Brotherhood, which launches pogroms against Christians around the Islamic world. Not his administration’s lies about Obamacare or Benghazi or anything else.

Christians are commanded to remain Christians beyond worship, outside the walls of church buildings. The left and media, as represented by Fournier and Powers, publicly oppose that. They want Christians to stay in a limited box, to be tamed. Christians don’t answer to Fournier or Powers or to the culture at large, and we simply cannot stay in the box they would like to lock us in.