Friday, January 18, 2013

Wall of Misconception?

Liberty Magazine has been arguing for full religious freedom for any and all—and for the right to change your belief or to have none at all—for 106 years now. From the beginning its editors have argued for the separation of church and state: a constitutional mandate designed to protect religious freedom. But some even in America would want us to rethink this separation. Lincoln Steed, current editor of Liberty magazine, writes in a recent editorial (click here to read in its entirety) that he recently received a copy of a book entitled Wall of Misconception. It is a rethink of the separation of church and state, and a redux of the godly state. More and more voices like its author are crying, “If we just morally cleansed our nation—our world—then God would stay His hand.” There is a half-truth here: God wants willing obedience and will bless it—but I, like Lincoln Steed, cannot imagine any mandated worship being pleasing or effective.

Why? Because God loves you like crazy! And because He is love (1 John 4:7-8), He is not willing to coerce or force anyone to follow Him (though current leaders in Egypt who this week gave 15-year prison sentences to a woman and her seven children for converting to Christianity apparently don't feel the same way). But even in America, this kind of sincere but dangerous thinking is alive and well. In the same Liberty issue quoted above, another article details how a devout Christian named Michael Salman was fined more than $12,000 and sentenced to 60 days in jail for the “crime” of holding a weekly Bible study in his Phoenix, Arizona home. If you think armed police raids of his property, repeated warnings against holding any form of Bible study at his home, and a court-ordered probation banning him from having any gatherings of more than 12 people at his home sounds more like Egypt than Arizona, think again.

Yes, life is (usually) (for many of us in America at least) good. And even when its not (as Jesus predicted in Matthew 24:8,14), God is still good. And can bring good from evil (cf. Genesis 50:20; Romans 8:28). But Bergman had it right: God was not in the flagellant revivals, He was not in the witch hunts, He was not in the edicts of clergy or ruler—as always, He is found in the heart and the conscience of free individuals. And it is this freedom to love the God back who first loved us that we will be highlighting MAR 23 @ 11am and 2pm at Toledo First Church. Come meet Lincoln Steed and hear him share more fascinating stories of religious liberty concern from around the world.

Adapted from Lincoln Steed's editorial "Earth and Sky" found in the NOV/DEC 2012 edition of Liberty Magazine

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