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Losing the Upper Hand

I am a Christian and I live in the United States, which rightly or wrongly has long been perceived by many as a Christian nation.

The Constitution, especially the Bill of Rights, is based largely on natural law principles which are highly compatible with Biblical principles. Our Declaration of Independence even acknowledges our God when it says “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

For most of the United States' brief history as a nation, the laws have generally reflected Christian values and most people were very familiar with the Bible, attended church regularly, and at least externally adhered to accepted Christian practices. People prayed and read the Bible in public schools. The people who originally moved here from other European countries were motivated by a search for religious freedom.

In other words, Christianity had the upper hand.

I've been following the trend away from this for the majority of my life. I was born the year Roe vs. Wade was handed down, making abortion legal all across the country. I remember hearing about how Madeleine Murray O'Hare singlehandedly got prayer out of the schools (I actually have no idea of the actual facts, but this is what I was told more than once as an impressionable elementary student at the Christian school I was attending). In public high school I offered to pray with my dance teacher who had injured her back and learned that while she could (and did) accept my offer, she was not allowed to initiate any sort of prayer with her students. In college I had to pass by the big basket of condoms every time I visited the student health center.

More recently I have learned of how some Christian adoption agencies have been shut down because the state in which they operated now allows for gay marriage but the adoption agency was unwilling to place children with gay couples. A Catholic organization that assisted victims of child trafficking recently had to close its doors because the Federal government would not renew its funding on the grounds that being Catholic it would not provide contraception or abortion services to the often minor victims.1) It didn't seem to matter that in the case of child trafficking, contraception and abortion are actually a bad idea (and often what the traffickers themselves procure for their victims). It also didn't seem to matter that this organization was considered by several independent evaluators to be the most effective at rescuing children from trafficking operations. It also didn't seem to matter that the three organizations that did get the funding were brand new and hadn't even filled all their positions and weren't ready to take over all the clients. Yesterday I learned that a hospital director in New Jersey told a number of nurses that they had to take training to assist in performing abortions or lose their jobs.2) It is currently illegal to do this as medical personnel are protected by the right of conscience, but there seems to be a push to remove that protection. There is talk of all institutions receiving Federal funds to be required to provide abortion and contraceptive services even if providing those things is against their religion.

Christianity is losing the upper hand in American law and society.

I used to listen to Focus on the Family and similar programming and I would hear all about how we need to reclaim our nation and that sure sounded good to me. Lately a number of Christian lobbyists and politicians have supported some interesting pieces of legislation and said a bunch of angry sounding things in the name of reclaiming our nation's Christian heritage. I usually hear about it through my non Christian (and generally non Republican) friends on Facebook who will decry those people for their hatred or for waging an all out war against whatever good thing is perceived to be under attack, or simply for their presumption that we must all live in a Christian nation.

I honestly believe that a lot of what is perceived as hatred is actually fear, panic even, and I believe the fear probably stems from Christianity losing the upper hand. We Christians have gotten so used to the status we have enjoyed in this country (including the perks and our place at the Federal trough) that the thought of losing it is truly frightening. And the transition is admittedly rocky. When you feel like you are losing something you have long taken for granted the first thought you have is to take it back as quickly as possible and using whatever means necessary to win. This of course leads to even more opposition from the other side, polarization between the opposing forces that makes actual communication and consensus impossible, and a lot of decidedly unChristian behavior all around.

This raises the question: Should Christians consider having the upper hand in society a God given unalienable right? Related to that, should we be fighting for this status when it's threatened?

My considered opinion is that the answer to both these questions is no. It is not our fundamental right as Christians to hold power in secular society. It is not something we should automatically fight for when we don't have it.

When Jesus came to earth as the Messiah, His people had been studying the prophecies about Him for centuries. And yet so many missed Him because they were expecting someone who would free them from Roman rule–save them from their earthly oppressors. When Jesus was brought as an accused prisoner before Pontius Pilate, he told Pilate that His kingdom was not of this world. Jesus was killed later that day in a manner that could not have looked like anything other than total defeat.

He rose from the dead three days later and several months after that His disciples became filled with the Holy Spirit and began to preach Jesus' message all over Jerusalem. Meanwhile, Rome continued to rule over Israel. Not only that, it didn't take long for these early Christians to encounter opposition which quickly degenerated into violent persecution. The emerging religion was opposed and oppressed for the first three hundred years of its existence. Many Christians were tortured and violently killed. And the faith spread far and wide.

The Roman emperor Constantine signed the Edict of Milan in 313 AD which made Christianity the state religion and the Church enjoyed being on the top of the world with all the political game playing and intrigue that involves until the Reformation and Enlightenment displaced it.

Today Christians in the United States have enjoyed freedom of religion and political power for a long time. However, in many other countries such as Iran, China, North Korea and many African nations, Christians are violently persecuted.

I don't think it is automatically wrong for Christians to enjoy times of political power. However I do believe it is wrong for Christians to feel entitled to that power. Jesus' words to Pilate “My Kingdom is not of this world” ring true today. We are commanded to live in the world but not of the world. We are commanded to faithfully serve God in whatever earthly circumstances we find ourselves in. For some of us, it's power; for many more of us, it's violent persecution, and various states in between the two. Either way, we serve the same God.

A number of people, especially those privileged to fellowship with Christians under persecution, have said that the Christians who are persecuted are amazing, loving, faithful and fervent believers. Their faith has cost them much suffering and loss and they know they could pay the ultimate price for it. To them Jesus literally means everything and they take following Him seriously. In comparison, the Christians in America are soft, weak and distracted. We tend to equate following Jesus with feeling good and being happy and at the first sign that our faith might cost us something we balk. Or we fight. Or we get angry. Or we simply lose interest. The freedom and power we enjoy has come at a price to our character.

I do not desire persecution by any means. Societies that persecute Christians tend to be awful places for everyone. However, I can see why God might not consider us having power to be nearly as important as we do. In any case, we need to let go of our attachment to it. If we have temporal power, it is a gift and with it comes a huge responsibility. If we face persecution, that too can be a gift. Either way, we need to keep our focus on Jesus and not on our temporal circumstances. Jesus continues to call us forward. Will we follow?

Society


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