Last week, one of the big items in the news, at least if you’re a Christian or church person, was the story of Houston Mayor Annise Parker’s office issuing subpoenas to city church pastors regarding the content of the sermons preached at their churches related to Houston’s controversial Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO). This is a seeming violation of our First Amendment constitutional rights regarding freedom of religious expression. As is often the case, the actual talking points surrounding this action are a mix of truth and hyperbole, but they stirred a hornet’s nest of a response nonetheless.
It’s impossible, if you have Christian friends or follow Christian writers or thinkers, to go online and NOT read about it. This is not unexpected, as it’s an issue that potentially has far-reaching implications for Christians, pastors, and churches everywhere in this nation.
Now, don’t get me wrong. We should certainly value our American rights. Many have given their lives to defend them- hard-fought and hard-won. They are one of the privileges that have made this nation great. But that's not the problem. The problem is the level and timbre of emotion that often seems to be behind our Christian response: that something is being taken from us and we need to stand up and defend the church; that this is the beginning of the end, the beginning of the police state, the beginning of the apocalypse, that we are being persecuted.
Here’s the thing that really struck me: In our Christian concerns about our American freedoms, we often ironically enslave ourselves to the destroyer of all freedom: fear. Fear comes when we believe we possess something that can be taken from us by someone or something.
Our challenge is that it’s easy to get off on a well-intentioned and morally-justified rabbit trail. The First Amendment is not the Gospel. We were never guaranteed rights, at least the American kind,anywhere in the Gospel. Instead, Jesus said some troubling things that would run very much counter to the idea of us and our rights. Things such as this: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” (Matthew 16:24-25) And this: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
All around us in this world, even in our own nation, there are those who have much to actually fear, down to their very lives. They have no rights, no voice. They are not the rich and powerful, they are the poor, the downcast, the marginalized. They do not have Twitter followers or appear on blogs, podcasts, or news shows. They are not seen in our Christian pulpits or heard on our radio stations. No one quotes them or retweets them.
If you are a Christian and your concern for your "rights" or the rights of your church here in America exceed the demonstrated level of action for the rights of those who have no such voice here or elsewhere, you've got it all backwards. And perhaps fear is in your driver’s seat.
Because the church’s greatest voice isn't our sermons. Our greatest prophetic voice is how we respond to adversity, how we handle persecution, how we serve those who can offer us nothing, how we sacrifice ourselves for others. Unfortunately, we do not often fight for this platform with nearly the same vigor that we fight for our right to be heard, And our right to feel safe. And that’s the real issue.
Fear drives us inward toward ourselves, our own interests- our safety, protecting our rights. Love propels us outward, far less concerned with protecting our own voice, far more concerned with being the voice of those who have none. God’s kind of love- selfless, perfect love- is what we give to those who can offer us nothing in return.
Fear- for ourselves, for what we believe is ours to protect, for what we think we can lose- will drive us away from this kind of love. But love- received from God, and given to others, is the one and only thing that will drive our fears away.
And it’s no mistake that we find this in the Bible: “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18)
In the iconic words of Gary Haugen, president of International Justice Mission, Jesus didn’t come to make us safe, he came to make us brave.
May our love compel us to be brave- to give ourselves away for Jesus’ sake, because in so doing, we gain something we can never lose, and that no politician can ever take away.