Christian Activism in the Public Square and the Constitution

The debate over Christian activism in the public square continues to rage as radical liberals, atheists, agnostics, secular humanists, and moral relativists join forces to eliminate all traces of Christianity in American society. A typical example of how the anti-Christian crowd has been in eliminating Judeo-Christian values from everyday life in America was the Craig James case that occurred last year.  James, a former NFL standout, was asked to host a Saturday night television show broadcast by Fox Sports, which he did and the show went well.  Just one week later he was summarily fired.  His crime?  James committed the unpardonable sin of asserting that marriage is between a man and a woman and he made it clear that his definition of marriage is informed by his Christian faith and the Bible. In making this assertion, James was simply exercising his First Amendment rights as an American citizen.

Fearing a backlash from the usual suspects, and anxious to be politically correct, Fox Sports fired James.  But here is the rub.  James made his comment about homosexual unions not on his Fox Sports program but while running for the U.S. Senate in Texas.  The comment was made well before he accepted the broadcasting position at Fox Sports.  James has filed a wrongful termination lawsuit using religious-liberty as the basis.  That was the right response, but the fact that he had to file a law suit makes an important point: In America today a Christian can enjoy his First Amendment rights only if he is able to withstand the rigors of a long, drawn out, expensive lawsuit.

The focus of this column is not the Craig James case per se.  Rather, the focus is the importance of Christians doing exactly what James did in his run for the U.S. Senate: pick up the cross and carry it with them in the public square; something Christians have a Constitutional right to do. Christians who stand up for the religious liberty clause of the First Amendment can expect to be harassed by the usual suspects, but it is not these suspects—liberals, atheists, and secular humanists—who concern me.  Unfortunately, they have always been with us and probably always will.  I know what they want and what they are willing to do to get it.  Further, I know they are not likely to change their views or their methods.  Hence, their nefarious shenanigans are predictable.  Rather, my concern is church-going Americans who out of laziness or even conviction avoid participating in the political process.  While many professing Christians take a hands-off attitude toward politics, the enemies of Christianity are working hard to eliminate any semblance of religious liberty in America.

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Opposition to Christianity in the public square is hardly a new phenomenon.  It has existed throughout the history of the world.  Take the case of William Wilberforce and his epic 20 year battle to eliminate the slave-trading industry in Great Britain.  When Wilberforce argued that if God is compassionate to the weak and oppressed, certainly his fellow members of Parliament should follow His example, those supporting the slave trade were aghast and incensed.  How dare Wilberforce introduce morality into what they saw as a business issue.  The Earl of Abingdon claimed that “humanity is a private feeling, not a public principle to be acted on.”  Lord Melborne went even further stating with exasperation that “Things have come to a pretty pass when religion is allowed to invade public life.”

I always thought Wilberforce missed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reveal the hypocrisy of the keep-religion-out-of-the public-square crowd.  He could have pulled a pistol from his coat pocket, aimed it at Lord Melborne and calmly said, “Let us test the honorable gentleman’s theory.  We are now in the public square.  Lord Melborne, do you believe in the Sixth Commandment?”  Admittedly this approach would have been a tad dramatic, but it would certainly have revealed the fundamental weakness in the honorable gentleman’s argument against Christian beliefs in the public square.

As any good historian can tell you, Wilberforce endured the most venomous attacks from his opponents and was driven to his sick bed and expected to die during the long course of events surrounding his anti-slavery crusade.  But the point of this column is that Wilberforce persevered, never wavering from his Christian convictions and never shying away from professing them in the public square.  He knew that every aspect of life—including business—has a moral element.  This is what he had to say about Christianity in the public square: “I must confess equally boldly that my own solid hopes for the well-being of my country depend, not so much on her navies and armies, nor on the wisdom of her rulers, nor on the spirit of her people, as on the persuasion that she still contains many who love and obey the Gospel of Christ.  I believe that their prayers may yet prevail.”  Thank you William Wilberforce.  You were right in your day and you are still right today.  God’s truth is a powerful forth, sometimes slow to act, but when it does act it acts in a powerful way.  Like William Wilberforce I, too, believe that the prayers of Christians will yet prevail.

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