Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Freedom of Worship

Is "freedom of worship" a synonym for freedom of religion or a booby trap?

The term first got attention when the Obama administration started using it, seemingly in lieu of "freedom of religion," after the Fort Hood shooting in late 2009. People complained, there was a bit of noise, and then the furor died down.

But it leapt back to the minds of many conservatives during the "Catholic contraception" flap.

"Freedom of worship" is different from the traditional term because of the popular definition of "worship." In general usage, worship is what you do at "church" (whether the religion is Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or something else entirely). Freedom of worship, then, would seem to mean your right to do "church" your way — be it liturgical or casual, with incense or without pianos.

Reading about the contraception rule, I saw many articles or comments with this idea: "What's the problem? We're not telling them they have to hand pills out in church?" That is the essence of the freedom of worship.

Freedom of religion, on the other hand, extends beyond what happens on Sunday. It's tithing and evangelism and caring for orphans. It's also pacifism, infant baptism, and opposing abortion (for, respectively, Quakers; Roman Catholics and some protestants; and a great many Christians, Jews, and Muslims).

If we only have a right to "freedom of worship," there is nothing to stop the government from conscripting Quakers or forcing evangelical churches to perform same-sex marriages. (I'm not saying either of those things is on the horizon, but there's nothing to stop it.)

But there is something. Read the entire text of the First Amendment:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The first freedom enumerated was the freedom of religion, and "free exercise" is explicitly stated. This nation was settled by people who were fleeing pressed military service or laws about baptism just as much as those who wanted the right to wear certain robes (or not) in church.

It's natural that non- and cultural-Christians should be opposed to our ideals. The world opposes us reflexively because of Christ. And our attempts to live up to a higher standard makes people feel bad about their lower standards. And the wisdom of this age is that personal liberty and a right to "privacy" (that is, doing whatever you want in private) trumps all other rights.

However, this being expected doesn't mean we should just sit back and watch it happen. We can and should watch our politicians like hawks and push back where we can.

Remember the words of the Master: "I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves."

Monday, February 13, 2012

Obama's Contraception Victory

I'd like to congratulate President Obama on a well-played maneuver in the Catholic contraceptive broo-ha-ha.

For those who've been off-planet for the past week, the Obama administration issued a rule that all employers must provide free birth control and morning-after pills. The only exception they allowed was to actual houses of worship — thus excluding religious charities and hospitals, among others.

The administration responded to loud protests and threats of civil disobedience with an adjustment to the previous rule: Insurers must provide these things at no cost to the employee or employer in these cases.

This is a win for the Obama administration. No one is dumb enough to believe insurers will provide these things at no cost to the employer; they will obviously roll this cost into their insurance premiums. It's nothing but an accounting trick.

But it hamstrings the religious community's response.

Obama was facing the prospect of hundreds of religious leaders taking a perp walk, willing to go to jail to protest this infringement of their freedom of religion. Alternatively, some of these religious non-profits might have closed their doors to give the public a picture of what their lives would be like if religious charities, schools, and hospitals were shut down by the ruinous fines threatened by the administration.

None of this is possible now. Faithful Roman Catholics — and others with similar beliefs — will be forced to provide something they believe is sinful, something their employees have always known was not an option while they worked there. These people's exercise of their religion has been quashed by the power of the state.

Well-played, Mr. Obama. May God have mercy on your soul.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Links on Doubt

Many — maybe most — Christians go through periods of doubting the faith. Whether they're wondering about the historical facts of the resurrection, the existence or goodness of God, or something else, people go through times of being unsure. Often this is a lonely time when they're afraid to say anything to anyone, and it can be a scary time when they don't know how to deal with the situation.

Here are three links I think will help anyone in that situation:

= Eight Points of Encouragement for Those Who Are Doubting Their Faith

"8. Realize that doubt is not a bad thing.
Often, doubt is the first sign of true or deep faith. It is only through doubt and an acknowledgement that we could be wrong that we come to true convictions about what we believe. God is not scared or angry about people’s doubts when they are truly searching for the truth. He challenges us over and over again in the Scriptures to be wise and stop being naive. If our faith is true, it can handle doubts and skepticism. I have been through many periods of doubt and every time my belief came out stronger. I believe that yours can to."
Click through for seven more important thoughts.

= Saved by an Atheist
A story of God using a most unlikely source to bring a wandering child home.

= Dealing With Doubt
The complete text of Gary Habermas' book online and free.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

First Person

I love the opening paragraph of Ephesians. It's great, deep, powerful stuff. And everything it says about "us" is totally true about you and me individually. You can legitimately read Ephesians 1:3-10 in the first person. And you should:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed me in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose me in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.

In love he predestined me to be adopted as his son through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will — to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given me in the One he loves. In him I have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on me with all wisdom and understanding.

And he made known to me the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment — to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.
Now let that sink in for a bit.