As is my custom on the Sunday before Independence Day, I preached a sermon about religious liberty. This year, after reflecting on Jesus’ instruction that we “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s,” I offered three lists pertaining to religious liberty.
Here they are.
List #1–Reasons that religious liberty should be emphasized at church:
1. It is one of the freedoms that have made this country great.
2. It has established a “free market” for religions that has produced a remarkable and perhaps unprecedented religious vitality.
3. It is the legacy of our Baptist forebears who, as a religious minority, were persecuted by the established churches of colonial America.
4. Unless everybody is free, nobody is free; therefore, all people, regardless of their religious commitments, must be free to exercise them without governmental interference.
5. Christian grace and love require that we care about the freedoms of those who are of different faiths than we are.
6. Who else is going to do so?
List #2–Problems with the maintenance and furthering of religious liberty:
1. There are radical secularists who want religion completely expunged from public discourse.
2. There are Christian fundamentalists who want government to embrace Christianity in inappropriate ways. There are even some Christian Reconstructionists who seriously want to turn America into a theocracy.
3. There are Christian moderates who seem to think that if they just turn their heads everything will be OK.
4. There are untold numbers of professing Christians who fail to take advantage of our guaranteed freedom to worship by actually doing so on a consistent basis.
5. There are also untold numbers of professing Christians who get all upset about posting the Ten Commandments but who don’t fret too much about whether or not they are following the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount, which offers the greatest summary of the ethics of the Christian life.
List #3–Possibilities for the future of religious liberty:
1. It is possible that Christians will press for the potentially idolatrous use of the Bible and prayer in public venues such as courthouses and schools; such use reduces the Bible and prayer to at best cultural icons and at worst good luck charms. Such trivializes Christian faith.
2. It is possible that improper entanglement will be avoided so that the possibility will be increased that people’s religious expressions will be lived out in integrity and not hypocrisy.
3. It is possible that Christians will work to influence our government leaders to promote such universally helpful biblical principles as peace, liberty, and justice for all rather than to seek the government’s help in doing the work that is proper to the church and not the government, such as our work of evangelism.
4. It is possible that Christians will get out into our communities, as we have the freedom to do, and spread the word of our Lord through deed and speech, as we have the freedom to do.
5. Finally, it is just possible that you will exercise your God-given freedom to accept Christ as your Savior today!
Michael Ruffin is curriculum editor with Smyth & Helwys Publishing in Macon, Georgia.