I believe the government should preserve and protect an individual’s freedom of conscience and seek to never violate it.
I love that the U.S. does not force the Amish to pay for social security. We allow these people to continue a way of life separate from the rest of society. I don’t agree with the choices of the Amish, but I want them to be able to live according to the freedom of their conscience.
Conscience is a powerful thing. Who can forget the immortal words of Martin Luther, standing up against an oppressive church tribunal?
“My conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me.”
But limitations are slowly encroaching on an individual’s freedom of conscience today in various and complicated ways.
The Right to Refrain
A troubling decision by the Supreme Court in New Mexico last August indicated that an individual’s right of conscience to refrain from participating in a same-sex marriage ceremony must give way to the rights of the couple who asked for their services. “There is a price we all have to pay in our civic life,” said the judge. I disagree. I don’t want anyone to have to pay the price of violating their conscience.
Imagine this scenario. A lesbian couple own a small business that makes signs. One of the Westboro cult members comes in and tells them they will soon be protesting another military funeral. They ask for signs that demean American soldiers, plus a few that say “God hates fags” thrown in for good measure. The lesbian couple refuses. They cannot in good conscience create signs that go against their deeply held convictions.
If this were to happen, I’d side with the lesbian couple. Why? Freedom of conscience is a beautiful thing.
It’s not that the couple would be denying the Westboro folks service simply for being religious. (If they were to ask for a simple sign of “Happy birthday” for a granddaughter, for example, they would do it in a heartbeat.) It’s that the lesbian couple disagrees at a fundamental level with the message being communicated by the signs. I believe they should have the right to refrain.
I hope that same couple would stand up for the rights of the Christian photographer or baker who can’t in good conscience participate in a same-sex wedding ceremony, the photographer who disagrees at a fundamental level with the message that wedding communicates.
The HHS Mandate
It will be interesting to see what the Supreme Court does with the recent challenge regarding the HHS Mandate – that for-profit corporations must pay for employees’ birth control.
Should Catholic business owners who do not believe in the morality of birth control be forced to purchase a product they believe to be wrong? I say no. Why? Freedom of conscience is a beautiful thing.
Even though I do not have a moral problem with birth control and my conscience would not be affected, I would not want my Catholic neighbor’s conscience to be violated. I would stand up for freedom of conscience.
Should the owners of Hobby Lobby be forced to pay for their employees’ abortifacient drugs? I say no. Why? Freedom of conscience is a beautiful thing.
But don’t our taxes go to all sorts of things we disagree with? Drone strikes, Planned Parenthood, wasteful spending, etc. Yes, they do. But there is a difference between the government collecting taxes (“Render to Caesar”) and the government forcing a business owner to make a purchase of a product.
The question is not: Will employers pay taxes? The question here is, Will the government force employers to make a purchase of something that goes against their conscience?
Our Neighbor’s Conscience
Freedom of conscience is not inviolable or a trump card in every situation where a dispute arises. Still, one of the ways we navigate the complexity of living in a democratic republic is by limiting the use of governmental force whenever possible. It’s one thing to stand up for your own deep convictions. It’s an even better thing to stand up for the right of someone else’s deeply held convictions.
Freedom of conscience is a beautiful thing.
Trevin Wax serves the church by working at LifeWay Christian Resources as managing editor of The Gospel Project, a gospel-centered small group curriculum for all ages that focuses on the grand narrative of Scripture. Visit his blog, Kingdom People, and follow him on Twitter @TrevinWax.
Sometimes, evangelical Christians do more harm than good on Facebook.
Under the veil of “taking a stand” for our values, I fear we are letting loose all kinds of dishonoring, uncharitable speech. We need to stop.
The Cause of Frustration
I understand the frustration of conservative Christians who sense that the values we once shared with the dominant culture are slipping away. Things have changed. We’ve gone from being the moral majority to a minority – and sometimes we feel beleaguered. We come across examples of social ostracism or we hear about the legal challenges Christians face when they fail to compromise. It’s frustrating to watch the brokenness of Washington, D.C, as politicians in both parties seem more concerned about their prospects for reelection than the people they represent.
Evangelicals are having to learn how to be a distinct minority – people who must make a case for our values in the public square rather than simply assuming others share our views. We will soon be known for beliefs that are out of step with contemporary society. So be it. The Church has been in this situation many times before.
The question before us is this: Will we be known for honor?
Conduct Yourself with Honor
The Apostle Peter’s letter was written to “exiles,” believers facing persecution far greater than any of us Americans have ever seen. These Christians were living under a tyrannical government far worse than any bureaucrat in a D.C. office. Yet Peter instructed believers to live honorably among others (1 Peter 2:11-17). The “others” refer to those who are not “in Christ.”
The word “conduct” appears thirteen times in the Bible, and eight of those times are in Peter’s letters. It’s safe to say, Peter cared about how our conduct was viewed by outsiders.
Now, the fact that Peter says we should live honorably among others means we must indeed be among the lost. Some evangelicals, weary of partisan bickering and political posturing from their Christian friends, are ready to throw up their hands and avoid political engagement altogether. I understand that sentiment, but failing to be present or involved in any meaningful sense in a democratic republic would be to forfeit the stewardship we’ve been given. There is no retreat here.
The question is not if but how we will be involved. It’s a change of posture, not political persuasion.
I like the way John Piper puts it:
“Being exiles does not mean being cynical. It does not mean being indifferent or uninvolved. The salt of the earth does not mock rotting meat. Where it can, it saves and seasons. And where it can’t, it weeps. And the light of the world does not withdraw, saying “good riddance” to godless darkness. It labors to illuminate. But not dominate.”
Slander Shouldn’t Stick
We also ought to live and speak in such a way that slander is untrue and charges of hypocrisy don’t stick.
When people claim that pro-lifers are only concerned about the unborn, and not little children or hurting mothers, we ought to be able to say, “Not true” and have the care of thousands of Christians behind us to prove it. Our good works ought to silence the ignorance of people who would slander us in foolishness (1 Peter 2:15).
But here’s where it gets hard. We are to honor everyone, Peter said. Even the emperor (1 Peter 2:17). Yes, the bloodthirsty, sexual maniac on Caesar’s throne must receive honor from Christians suffering under the thumb of a dictatorship.
Please don’t tell me Obama is worse than Nero.
Paul backs Peter up, telling us to outdo one another in showing honor (Romans 12:10).
The Honor Filter
So, instead of just putting up internet filters so we can control what comes into our computers, perhaps we should put up an “honor filter” that will help us control what goes out of our computers. Consider what questions an “honor filter” we could ask of our Facebook and Twitter statuses.
- Is my point of view offered with respect to those who disagree?
- Do I assume the best of those who are my political opponents?
- Does it look like I am raging against injustice or against people made in God’s image?
- Am I showing honor when reviled or slandered?
For the Christian, it’s not about winning a culture war. We win through how we engage our neighbors. Our honor should be on full display… even on Facebook.
This trailer came out recently...
When I first heard that a movie based on the biblical story of Noah was being made, I figured it would be some low-budget film along the lines of the television travesties we’ve seen about the Great Flood. The trailer reveals that much more time and money has gone into this film than I would have expected.
Whenever Hollywood takes a biblical story as its basis for a movie, evangelicals tend to respond in one of two ways.
1. THE CRITICS
First, there is the group that is primarily concerned with biblical accuracy. Taking any sort of dramatic license is akin to tampering with the text, which can lead to the solidification of errors in the minds of the viewers.
This group gets on blogs or comment streams and points out all the flaws and errors in the director’s vision for the film.
- If it’s The Nativity Story, they point out that we don’t know the wise men were kings, or that there were three of them.
- If it’s The Prince of Egypt, they point out that it was Pharaoh’s daughter, not his wife, who discovered Moses in the river.
- If it’s The Ten Commandments, they remind us there is no biblical record of an Egyptian princess saying “Moossseeeess, Mooosseeeess!” so many times.
- If it’s the History Channel’s Bible series, they point out the Bible does not attribute ninja moves to the angels who helped Lot flee Sodom.
You get the gist. This group wants biblical accuracy, and all movies are judged based on their ability to get the details right.
2. THE CELEBRATORS
Second, there is the group that is flattered to see Hollywood pay any attention to the Bible at all. No matter what Hollywood does with the sacred stories, it’s “getting the word out,” or “making the Bible seem cool.”
This group hosts preview screenings as a witnessing tool for the Lord (and a marketing tool for the moviemakers, of course). They find the good in any semblance of spirituality coming from Hollywood.
- If it’s Bruce Almighty, they start a group discussion about how God may or may not be like Morgan Freeman.
- If it’s The Passion of the Christ, they invite their lost friends and neighbors over for dinner and a bloodbath.
- If it’s Spiderman 3, they do a sermon series on revenge and the spirituality of superhero movies.
No matter how bad the movie might be, it’s better than not engaging it at all. Make the best of a good Hollywood film!
What’s Right and Wrong in These Approaches?
I’ve deliberately caricatured the worst aspects of both these groups, but I don’t want us to miss the fact that there is something to be said for both reactions.
The critics are right to maintain a high view of the Bible and to judge everything by its standard. They’re also right about a movie’s ability to solidify mental pictures and details in our mind, whether they reflect the Bible well or not.
The celebrators are right to see an opportunity whenever Hollywood jumps on a biblical bandwagon. It’s easier to talk about spiritual things with your friends and neighbors when millions of people are flocking to spiritually themed films on the weekend.
Where these two groups go wrong is in they tend to overplay both panic and promise.
The critics overplay the danger of a biblically inaccurate film, tending to see all artistic license as sacrilegious.
The celebrators overplay the promise of a Hollywood blockbuster, expecting spiritual fruit to come, not from the Word, but from pixels on the big screen.
That brings us back to Noah. It looks like 2014 will be interesting for having an epic film based on a Bible story.
No matter what Hollywood does with Noah, we should recognize the backhanded compliment in having biblical source material as the basis for a film. The reason Bible stories are appealing is their built-in familiarity, plus their emotional resonance.
So, the jury is out on this film.
How will Noah be portrayed? As a righteous man or a pragmatic dealmaker?
How will God be portrayed? As a righteous judge purging the world of wickedness or a bloodthirsty tyrant who can’t wait to destroy the earth?
What kind of conversations will come from this film? Will we have the opportunity to talk with people about the nature and character of God? About the nature and character of righteous faith?
I recommend Christians watch this movie the way we watch any movie – with discernment and wisdom. We shouldn’t overhype the movie’s flaws and miss the bigger opportunity. Neither should we see the movie as the most promising method of evangelism to appear in recent days, as if the Word of God needs visual representation in order to maximize its power.
What about you? How will you respond to Noah the movie?
The world of social media was abuzz last week as John MacArthur hosted the Strange Fire Conference, a meeting designed to launch MacArthur’s new book written to equip Christians to evaluate the claims of the charismatic movement.
MacArthur has long held concerns about charismatic practices and the erroneous teachings of those in the Word of Faith movement. Today, it seems he is concerned that what was once the fringe has made its way to the mainstream, a sign that the continualist position (the belief that the miraculous gifts described in the New Testament continue to this day) necessarily reaps a harvest of aberration and false teaching.
Sometimes, a controversy can be revealing – not because of the issues directly involved in the controversy, but because of the way people engage in debate. There is a right way and a wrong way to engage in a controversy, and in the flutter of Twitter and blog activity last week, I saw signs of both.
The Right Way
If you believe in truth and error, facts and falsehood, right and wrong, then you recognize the need to seek truth as opposed to false teaching. This is the position of John MacArthur, and it should be the position of every evangelical Christian, including those who disagree with MacArthur’s cessationist views.
Here’s the fact of the matter – the continualist who believes MacArthur is wrong and the cessationist who believes MacArthur is right are closer to each other than the person who says this debate doesn’t matter or cannot be decided. Why? Because both the committed continualist and the committed cessationist believe God has revealed Himself on this issue and that we are accountable to live according to God’s revealed truth.
If MacArthur is wrong, he is in the frightening position of attributing the work of the Spirit to satanic deception. If MacArthur is right, charismatics should repent of false belief and practice. As you can see, the stakes are high.
If you agree with MacArthur, the best way to engage critics is not to defend him as if he were the pope, but to back up your claims by appealing to Scripture. If you disagree with MacArthur, the best way to engage the conference is not by railing against the man, but by showing specifically the ways you think he caricatured your position and by providing a calm, sober affirmation of continualist claims, backed up by Scripture.
The Wrong Way
Unfortunately, much of the controversy surrounding this conference seemed to me less like continualists and cessationists making the case for their respective positions and more like postmodern aversion to saying someone could be right or wrong. In fact, some of the criticism launched at MacArthur seemed to imply that MacArthur is wrong simply for being so sure he is right. As if certainty or confidence is at odds with humility.
As Dale Ahlquist writes:
“When the prevailing philosophy claims that truth is relative or basically unknowable or strictly personal or largely irrelevant, in other words, when our only certainty is our uncertainty, there is nothing more irritating than someone coming along and smashing such nonconclusive conclusions. There is nothing more unsettling than someone who has settled things.”
Regardless of your view of MacArthur or the wisdom of hosting this conference (and I’ve seen continualists and cessationists question his aims and criticize his handling of the issue), we must not surrender to the postmodern ethos of our time that would deny the possibility of discovering what is true and false, right and wrong. God has revealed Himself in His Word. We may disagree on how clearly He has revealed Himself on this issue, but we cannot surrender to the idea that truth and error do not exist, or think that both sides can be right. These positions are at odds with each other. They are different. Papering over the distinctions will not aid us in dialogue and debate, but only mask the issues at stake.
Good dialogue takes place when both parties recognize that there is a right answer to these questions and we are pilgrims who are seeking to study the Scriptures and arrive at those answers. Humility will inform our quest to discover truth, of course, and we ought to be open to changing our position if convinced by God’s Word. But humility does not mean refraining from taking a stand or making it known.
MacArthur’s conference should be judged on the merits of the case he and the other speakers made:
- Did the speakers make a solid, exegetical case from Scripture for cessationism?
- Were the speakers fair to charismatics who decry the excessive practices and theological errors of other charismatics?
- Would the continualists listening to these messages agree that their position was represented fairly and accurately (even if ultimately rejected)?
You may find MacArthur’s conference to be sorely lacking in these areas. That is fine, but let’s not judge the conference speakers as wrong simply for gathering together and taking a stand against doctrines they believe to be false. As Christians, we may be continualists or cessationists, but we are not relativists.
Chesterton was right:
“The aim of argument is differing in order to agree; the failure of argument is when you agree to differ.”