Friday, April 4, 2014

The Cycle of Silence

Last night I had the privilege of attending a panel discussion at my school entitled "Faith and Freedom in the Public Square." This event featured keynote speakers Eric Metaxas
Eric Mataxas
and Dennis Prager. Mataxas is a renowned author and Christian speaker who showed genuine outrage on the quietness of the Christian church in the face of anti-religous sentiment in the public square. Dennis Prager is a conservative radio talk-show host that also has great convictions about the suppression of religion in the public square. As a Jew, he recognizes the danger of what can befall a nation that rejects the notion of God. The panel discussion was led by Dr. John Jackson - the president of William Jessup University.

Dennis Prager
For the most part, the discussion surrounded the common arguments about public suppression of faith - "happy holidays" and "Merry Christmas" made their way into the discussion, per usual Christian gatherings on the subject (Although I did enjoy Prager's bias toward "Merry Christmas" despite his Jewish faith). One of the conversations that did draw my interest, however, was one brought up by Mataxas - he referred to a "cycle of silence" which grows stronger every time people avoid talking about a subject. If there is free discussion on a subject, then there are good ideas discussed - but if discussing opposing views on a subject is considered taboo, it becomes increasingly hard to present alternative viewpoints as time goes by. He argued that Christians have allowed themselves to succumb to a cycle of silence when it comes to religious beliefs in the public square - rather than openly opposing contrary viewpoints, they allow Christian "love" to cause them to allow the secular world to expand without any opposition.

If you doubt the legitimacy of this, just consider the subject of homosexuality. Traditionally, the Christian church views homosexuality as sin - much as adultery, fornication, or any other sexual deviance outside of marriage would be considered a sin. However, rather than holding to this line and offering help to those struggling with their sexuality, Christians have accepted the logic of the world and now argue over how they can be more loving to homosexuals. Should they be welcomed into churches? Should they be counseled away from homosexuality? These questions are all well and good, and it makes sense for Christians to struggle with such things - but it has become taboo to declare it sinful, now. It doesn't matter if you view it as a "lesser sin" like anger, gossip, etc, even. If you call it sin, you're hateful and homophobic.

There are countless other examples of this cycle of silence. Usually the logic used is the logic of "separation of church and state" which means (according to the mainstream consensus) that those of a religious persuasion must not intersect their religious beliefs into the public square - that the state must be totally secular. This is absurd. Rather than having open discussion on "marriage," religious imagery in courthouses, religious expression in schools, even individuals presenting their personal faith in a public place -- people of faith find themselves suppressing their own faith!

Why on earth have Christians allowed this to happen? 

Anyone who knows me personally, is aware of how passionate I am about American politics and the values of liberty, justice, and religious freedom. These are the cornerstones of our Republic - if we willingly hand them over in the interest of "not causing a fuss" or "showing love" we are guilty of destroying these values far more than anyone of another value system. While I understand and appreciate the Christian focus on loving their neighbors, this does not mean that Christians must roll over when their liberty is being challenged - the nice thing about America is that it was founded to allow the free exchange of ideas - not to suppress them. If we lived on a dictatorship, I would almost be more in favor of Christians being quiet, because that government is not designed to accommodate differing values. For example, the common response that I hear from many Christians, when urged to participate in politics is a citation of Romans 13:1a, "let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which is established by God." This is absurd. Yes - Christians ought to be law abiding citizens. Yes, we should respect the government and the authority it yields. But this does not mean that in a representative democracy that we must refrain from offering alternative solutions/perspectives. This nation is not a "Christian nation" in the sense that it is a nation of Christians. But it is a Christian nation in the sense that it was founded on Christian values, and Christians ought not to be ashamed of their beliefs in a nation that prides itself on freedom of expression. Instead, we should boldly proclaim our faith and our values in the public square and allow the free debate of ideas to determine the development of law and order. Remember - there's a difference between being respectful and loving and being a doormat.

The fascinating thing is that for people of other religious faiths - it is still a problem. If we accept the logic that religious faith has no place in the public square, it suppresses Christian values, but it suppresses the values of other cultural perspectives as well. Every individual in this world has a worldview shaped by their own religious or a-religious beliefs. If we restrict the subject of public discourse to secular arguments based on nonreligious values, we reduce freedom of expression to atheists and agnostics - is this really the nation that we live in?

One final note on the subject of Christian "love"...
Before I conclude, let me spend a few minutes addressing the concept of "love" for many contemporary Christians. If there is one thing that I believe has been fundamentally destroyed in the Christian community, I think it is the concept of love. Love is the basis for virtually everything in the Christian faith - it is God's love that caused him to offer his son as an atonement for sin, it is our love that is supposed to dictate our passion for preaching the gospel to a world desperately in need of a savior and desperately in need of true love.

But we have screwed up this task- massively. 
American Christians now have reduced love to "acceptance" or respect for another person's opinion. Excuse me? So if I believe that a certain behavior pattern is sinful and in direct defiance of God's will - I'm just supposed to tolerate my neighbor's actions in order to "love" them better? How is condemning your neighbor to life of disobedience and separation from God's perfect will "loving," exactly?

 Now let me be very clear - I am not saying that Christians ought to be constantly preaching fire and brimstone - because I think that is a distortion of the gospel as well. Our faith is not well served if we have no compassion for the struggles of our neighbors. And let us be quick to recognize that every man, woman, and child on this earth has sinned against God. It is not our place to judge a nonbeliever for their failures - but neither should we turn a blind eye when they are hurting themselves. Think of it like this - if you have a child (or an adult) who doesn't know the damage that can be caused by fire - would you stand by as the kid tries to touch a hot stove, or would you intervene in their own interest? Isn't the latter the most "loving" course of action? In the same way, if we see people practicing destructive patterns of any kind - promescuity, unwise financial decisions, abuse of friends and family - is not the most loving course of action to confront them (at least on some occasions)?

Christians have allowed our entire understanding of love and forgiveness to be destroyed. Forgiveness means that someone recognizes the severity of the wrong but chooses to overlook it. That's RADICAL love - and that's the kind of love that Christ demonstrates to sinners. Shouldn't we seek to imitate the God we claim to serve?

I'll close with this short video of a non-believer's perspective on the treatment of many Christians in this country. It is food for thought, at the very least.

~Evan Gillespie

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