Reconsidering the “War on Religion”

Thanks in large part to the Republican primaries and the recent Health and Human Services contraception fiasco, we’ve been hearing a lot lately about a perceived “war on religion”.

Although religious freedoms are undeniably under attack in this country (consider, for example, the actions against Vanderbilt University student groups, or the contraception mandate mentioned above), it’s important that we keep things in perspective. Christians in countries like Somalia, Nigeria, and Indonesia are regularly beaten, beheaded, imprisoned, and intimidated with death threats and church bombings.

In the meantime, we act like we’re being persecuted whenever a nativity scene is removed from the lawn of a courthouse.

So although I think we should be gravely concerned about the increasing secularization of our culture, I’ve slowly come to the opinion that we might be approaching things the wrong way. By combating unfair treatment in the political arena, Christians sometimes adopt an “us vs. them” mentality that can gravely undermine our more important Message. Politicians mention the “war on religion” taking place in our culture, and our first response is to reach for the pitchforks.

Contrast this indignation with what we find in the book of James:

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. -James 1:2-3 (NKJV)

Should our top priority really be to fight for a safe and religion-friendly government? The early church thrived under Roman persecution, but frankly it stagnated when life became “safe” under Constantine.

Not long ago, I heard a fascinating story about a missionary in China. He was talking to members of their underground church, and mentioned that a lot of Americans are praying for them, and for an end to their government’s persecution. In response, he was told that many Chinese are actually praying that Americans would experience more persecution, so that we would see the kind of explosive spiritual growth that has been occurring in their country.

To clarify: just as Christians shouldn’t let these political issues totally consume us, I’m also not trying to suggest that we completely detach ourselves from them. Rather, I would like to see us cut back a little on the whining and instead adopt an attitude of, “this is where we stand – come what may”.

(This article also appears on The Political Consortium, a newly-formed site that I contribute to.)


22 thoughts on “Reconsidering the “War on Religion”

  1. I like the tone of your post very much, but I’m afraid I must express some qualified reservation. Consider, for instance, what you say here:
    “Should our top priority really be to fight for a safe and religion-friendly government? The early church thrived under Roman persecution, but frankly it stagnated when life became “safe” under Constantine.”

    While I’m not convinced that our ‘top priority’ should be to fight for a safe and religious friendly government, it seems to me that it is an inevitable and inescapable moral prerogative for the Christian community to do so without reservation. Furthermore, I’m not convinced that the Church stagnated (wholesale or even for the most part) after Constantine. Any quick survey of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers militates against such a common presumption.

    Those are my thoughts, as succinctly as I can put them. Cheers.

    • Thanks for the feedback!

      I do strongly agree that we have a moral prerogative to take a stand when it comes to a number of politically-charged issues (abortion immediately comes to mind, but this might also apply to the examples I gave above). My big issue – which I should have probably stated more clearly – is with the tendency some of us have to view these issues strictly as a battle to be won in the political arena. Given this attitude, it’s easy to view our political opponents as “enemy combatants” rather than lost souls in need of rescue.

      As far as the Constantine reference goes, it was based on a knowledge of history which is far from complete. I will certainly do some more reading on this…

  2. Very well stated.

    It’s very easy to lose courage sometimes as a Christian, and when that happens, it’s all too easy to figure that we serve a mighty God that makes and keeps us strong–not having us be cowering and scared. I’ve thought about this very thing, more than a few times so it’s encouraging that I’m not the only one who thinks this way. It would seem to me that if we spent more time worrying about what’s going on inside us rather than what’s around us, we’d be better off.

    When you take your attention away from Christ, you only drown.

  3. Well said! His Kingdom is not of this world. It seems strange to me how upset we get about these things: we worship a Lord who was crucified and who taught us to take up our own crosses!! I don’t think we can change people through politics; it’s a poor and failed substitute for living out the Christ-life…cross included! Otherwise, the Beatitudes make no sense at all. Thanks for a great post. I had a Christian pen-pal in Indonesia who disappeared off the map around this time 13 years ago…She lived in an area where violence and killing were erupting. Her last email to me asked for prayers for safety and strength to be faithful. Most of us don’t realize what persecution is like. Having said that, I think North America has little or no physical persecution, but a lot of mental and emotional persecution (some regions more than others). Perhaps our paranoia or hypersensitivity comes from several decades of secularist mind-games and the rapid transformation of society–technologically, culturally and politically. Anyway, great post!!

  4. Thanks, Matt! I appreciated your thoughts. I wrote an undergrad. thesis that addressed the “shift” after Constantine became favorable to Christianity. If only the (Western) Church saw things like it did before good ol’ Emperor Constantine.

  5. Thanks, Matt, for this post. Many Christians tend to be too reactive and too little proactive which leads to the “us versus them” attitude. If we were proactive and producing works of excellence for God’s glory in our culture (art, education, government, community service, etc.) we would not have to worry so much about fighting the culture war because our excellent works would speak for themselves. Even when conflict arises, Peter tells us that we defend our hope with attitudes of gentleness and reverence (I Peter 3:15).

  6. Thank you, Matt, for a good perspective shift. We still do have amazing freedom in this country despite the”war on religion” as compared with other countries.

  7. Matt,
    Amen. Good article. My sentiments exactly. We “cry” over such minor persecution here that we do our brothers and sisters around the world a huge injustice. I have a book coming out in May (Picking a President: or Any Other Elected Official) designed to bring some civility to the discussion of these type of issues. Let’s keep praying that Christians can find some balance to these things, for the glory of God and the joy of the nation.

  8. I like your perspective. Us vs. them mentality just turns into a battle of wills between Christianity and the secular nature of politics. I found the story of the missionary in China quite interesting. Sometimes it is helpful to step back and look at our current situation from a different point of view.

  9. Too many in the prosperity movement think poverty is a curse and real faith is believing for a Beemer, other teach if you really had faith you wouldn’t have to face persecution. Most of these teacher have not shed one drop of sweat much less blood for the Gospel’s sake. Paul told his listeners to live quite peaceful lives giving the pagan society that surrounded them no reason to find fault with them; do our religious leaders that are so caught up in the political debate do that or do they advocate to their followers to do that?

  10. God gave us a great nation. We need to be good stewards of it. Our nation is a place of safe haven for those persecuted for their faith in Christ-always has been. Let us not be found by God to be sitting back when the war on religion is slapping our brothers and sisters on the cheek. Though they may bear it and turn the other cheek, we are not to stand there and allow it. As one who does not celebrate the pagan holiday of Xmas, I’m hardly in tears over the nativity scenes being removed. I consider it God’s hand. He uses the least likely to do the most needed.

    On another note, I once was a missions board member and was surprised that there are missionaries from other countries in our own to spread the Gospel. I believe that is because we haven’t been doing our utmost against the “war on religion.” We weren’t awake and watching as we ought to have. But that goes back to the turn of the last century.

  11. I can agree with this sentiment, it’s one I’ve been relating to the religious people in my own life, such as my mom or my girlfriend.

    The situation in Seattle is terribly secular, especially a the UW.

    Yet the Catholic Newman center is thriving, and when I meet a Christian it’s exciting because they’re a rare find. More importantly, they’ve been tried by the fire of the harsh secular life in Seattle, the ones who still make it to church are pretty likely to be nearly fanatics. It’s inspiring and makes for a wonderfully close-knit community. As my girlfriend likes to say – “Trim the fat!”

  12. Your article and the comments are very interesting, and quite telling of the same attitude. We must put God first, no matter what country we live in. Our Founding Fathers did just that. Persecution comes in many ways; in other parts of the world people are beaten and killed for believing in Jesus Christ, and here in America, slowly but surely, the secularists are erasing our Constitutional Right to exercise our religion. When we sit back with the complacent attitude you commend – “come what may.” we lose! We lose our Right to go to the church of our choice, we lose our right to tell others about Jesus, we lose our right to give our money to the church charity of our choosing and we lose our freedom. When we lose all of that, then we become just like the countries where the beating and killing of Christians is the norm. For a couple of centuries, other nations have looked to America as an example of religious freedom. Is it really wise of us to look the other way while our religious freedom is erased? If we are not free to worship Jesus Christ, then whom shall we worship? Government? I think not. So, when they take away the public display of an innocent Nativity, how long will it be before they come into our homes and burn our Bibles?

  13. As a previous poster wrote (in part): “It would seem to me that if we spent more time worrying about what’s going on inside us rather than what’s around us, we’d be better off.”

    How very true. Live you life in the way our Creator would if He were human. Period. And if there are people that do not believe in God that is their choice. God doesn’t want anyone to be forced into believing in Him. My God is loving and doesn’t threaten or coerce me in any way – hence my total lack of faith in religion. Unfortunately many people put God and religion in the same box.

  14. I suppose persecution is relative to your situation. As you mentioned, some persecution keeps us on our toes and makes us honor God. After all, our relationship with God and others is the most important thing. Love is the mandate of God. So, despite our nation’s current tone, we need to love others and pray for our nation and our leaders. However, it does beg the question – at what point should we begin to turn the tide of persecution? When the Bible, and God, was removed from our schools we did nothing. If we never react, couldn’t that one day result in the complete criminalization of Christianity.

    Remember Germany under Hitler: “When they came for the disabled, I said nothing. When they came for the Jews, I said nothing. By the time they came for me, no one was left to say anything.”

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