In a recent FB conversation I found myself once again trying to explain that our Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the added amendments since do not guarantee the free exercise of one brand of Christianity. They never have and hopefully never will. This document as a whole guarantees the free exercise of all religion so long as one person’s practice does not threaten the individual rights of others. But, many in the Church want government to strike down the First Amendment and obliterate much of the Constitution’s framework. They want the United States to become a theocracy rather than a democracy all the while proclaiming that the liberals are trying to rewrite* the Constitution.
After the Sandy Hook shootings the religious right seemed to have a lot to say. Sadly, most of it painted a picture of God I could hardly recognize. On his December 17 program of Family Talk with James Dobson, Dobson stated:
Our country really does seem in complete disarray… something has gone wrong in America and we have turned our back on God…millions of people have decided that God doesn’t exist, or he’s irrelevant…we have killed fifty-four million babies and the institution of marriage is right on the verge of a complete redefinition. Believe me, that is going to have consequences…I think we have turned our back on the Scripture and on God Almighty and I think He has allowed judgment to fall upon us. I think that’s what’s going on.
On the day of the shooting Mike Huckabee said on his Fox News program, “We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools… Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?” While Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association reasoned that, “ We have spent fifty years telling God to get lost…telling God we don’t want you in our schools…And I think God would say to us ‘Hey I would be glad to protect your children but you have to invite me into your world first. I am not going to go where I am not wanted. I am a gentleman.’”
A gentleman? Really? What sort of gentleman would stand by and watch while children are murdered if He could have stopped it? What kind of loving God lifts His hand of protection, thus allowing innocent children to be slaughtered in order to prove a point? How would such behavior cause any reasonable person to believe in Him let alone worship Him? Is it any wonder so many of those who do not know our God reject Him when so many of His self-appointed mouth pieces make Him out to be such a monster?
These spokesmen aren’t concerned about preserving the Constitution. They are trying to rewrite it. They don’t advocate freedom. They want to dictate religious morality through the State. They don’t embrace love and grace. They want to put into law what they have been unable to coerce their own followers to obey let alone the secular world. And, they are more than willing to stir up an attitude of fear of God and anger toward “non-believers” in order to accomplish their goals.
The Bible uses the word fear in two ways. When it refers to “the fear of the Lord” it actually describes God’s awe producing qualities. When it refers to casting out fear it means to become unafraid. Never does it combine the two and suggest we should be afraid of God. And, while His character is never changing (AKA He always has and always will love His creation. He is constantly reaching out to us and He wants relationship with us.) His methods for establishing that relationship have changed. But, like the Pharisees in Jesus’ day people like Dobson, Huckabee, and Fischer are stuck in their legalism and refuse to see the difference the Messiah made in how God relates to His creation.
Our free will stops God from intervening in our lives, not some pseudo-gentleman characteristic that can’t be distinguished from cowardice and hatred. And whether people like Dobson and Huckabee and Fischer will ever realize it or not, God was at Sandy Hook. He was with the teacher who put herself in between her students and the shooter. He was in the mouths of those who tried to comfort frightened children and teachers and parents. He was with the police and rescue workers who rushed to the scene. And, He’s continued to be present in that situation. He’s been with the parents who have spoken out against violence only to be ridiculed by gun lobbyists. He’s been with the mourning and the frightened and the confused—the people left behind. He has been anywhere His followers have been willing to take Him because that is how a God who gave His people free will chose to relate to the rest of His creation.
Granted, passing a law that forces children to say a rote prayer every morning would be an easy way to pretend we have “put God back in our public schools”. But, the reality is God is everywhere God’s people bring Him. When my son stood up for a boy who was being bullied because he was gay God was in school. When my daughter asked that she be allowed to use the Bible as extra reading God was in school. When a friend’s son reached down and helped his opponent up off the mat God was in school. God is seen in every gesture of kindness and every word of encouragement whether overt or subtle. We are cowards and insincere followers when we expect the State to do the relational work of the Church. The function of the State is to protect the people from the bullies who cannot be defeated by one-on-one relationships.
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* In all honesty, the Constitution never has been a static document. The legitimate method for changing the document is incorporated into the document. And, thus far the changes which have been made have clarified and extended our freedoms to include more and more people groups. Obviously some change is still needed.