Recently I’ve noticed a lot of attention given to the claim “Christians are being forced out of the public square.” Whether it is an evaluation of Tony Dungy’s remarks, opinions on the Israel/Gaza conflict, gay marriage, Hobby Lobby, or any other issue; the claim is loud and widespread, and so it seems, Christians are not welcome here.
I think this is absolutely true. However, my concern is we as Christians will see this more as a threat to be afraid of than an opportunity. Yes, Christianity is not as ubiquitous as it once was. Yes, overt Christianity is not as prevalent as it used to be. Yes, there are people who want to shut down the voice of anyone who disagrees with them all in the name of “tolerance.” At the same time, I don’t think this is either all bad or all true.
First, through “persecution” and suffering we are refined (for the record, I do not think Christians in America are experiencing persecution and to claim so, I think, is a slap in the face to our brothers who are being persecuted). Our true beliefs, our true faith is revealed when our idols are exposed. For many years, what was claimed to be Christianity was a version of the prosperity gospel mingled with Christian ideas. To become disillusioned from these falsities – even if it means exposing a deeper lack of faith is a good process; without a clear understanding of where we as a society are we will not be able to see the contrast between Truth and falsehood.
Second, church growth is often spurred in trials. Early Christians faced death for converting and yet we see numerous examples of thousands of people committing their lives to Christ in one day. In a fully depraved society, the light and hope of the Gospel shines that much brighter in contrast. Believers must be equipped, prepared, and courageous to speak the truth in a winsome way to anyone who questions. Then we can rest knowing it is the Holy Spirit who moves people, not our eloquent words.
Third, much of the hostility towards Christians is a result of an inability to communicate clearly and truthfully the “why” behind our beliefs. Why do we, as a society, have laws against murder? Because we believe murder is wrong–>Why is murder wrong? Because it harms another person–>Why do we protect against harming another person–>1. It is good for society, 2. People have value. Why is it good for society? Because God established us to live in community – we thrive together. Why do people have value? Because we are created in the image of God an derive our worth from Him.
As Christians, we must be prepared to reason and articulate our beliefs – by finding common ground “Murder is bad” we can begin a dialogue about ideas of significance: not “are corporations people?”, but instead, (why) do we believe people have value?
Fourth, when faced with hostility we must respond in recognition of our status as aliens and sojourners. Our hope is not in this world. Our eyes are set on a future when all wrongs will be righted and all injustice will be made true. As representatives of Christ, we can expect the same treatment Jesus faced as he walked this Earth; including mockery, hostility, betrayal, and death while learning from his response speaking the truth, righteous anger, self-sacrifice. In the midst of great agony, Jesus displays greater compassion both through empathy with his torturers, “Forgive them Father, they know not what they do.” and ultimately through his willing death for rebels, murderers, betrayers, and liars. Like me.
Lastly, though our freedoms may come to an end, though we may be forced out of the public square, though we may experience persecution one day our hope is not in our voice, our freedom, or our our likeability, but in God who created our voice, who gives ultimate freedom from sin and death in Him, and who sees us both as we truly are and as we will be fully redeemed and loves us through it all.