What we call fellowship others call feloniousMarch 2, 2015
I walk into the coffee shop on the corner of Main Street and there is almost always someone reading a Bible, devotional or the latest Christian best-selling book. This week its the Benham brothers, next week I’m betting it will be Chelsen Vicari. The point is that we talk about religion freely, openly, and honestly because we live in a nation where freedom of religion is real and realized. We pray over meals in public, we attend our churches without fear of being arrested, we invite others to join us in studying the Bible and we share our faith freely.
But what we call fellowship others in the world call felonious.
The stories coming out of Iran and other despotic regimes should drive us to our knees in prayer for our Christian brothers and sisters. The “offenses” with which they are charged, tried, convicted and imprisoned (for up to six years) include:
- attending a house church
- spreading Christianity
- having contact with foreign ministries
- propaganda against the regime and
- disrupting national security.
Consider that list.
These are not people who are proselytizing in the streets or forcing their religious convictions upon others. These are people gathering in homes. Accepting the gifts of tracks and CDs and MP3’s that well-meaning Western ministries send to them.
Christians who fellowship with one another and communicate with other Christians outside of Iran are considered threats to national security and they are sent away as felons to do hard time.
At issue is what we casually refer to as the freedom of religion or religious liberty. It is precious and it is serious under threat.
In America, we have a model of religious liberty that takes a positive view of public and private religious practice. That means that we not only protect the right of individuals and groups to practice their religion in private settings – like home and church – but also to live out their religion in public, engaging their faith with the world.
Because we are like fish who have been living in the water of this kind of religious liberty for so long that we can’t even imagine what life is like in another environment, Americans often fail to appreciate just how unique a brand of religious liberty we enjoy.
In just one month (February 2015) The Heritage Foundation “Religion and Civil Society” page identified a litany of religious liberty related stories:
- Obama Helps Spark a Religious Freedom Debate in India
- State Says 70-Year-Old Flower Shop Owner Discriminated Against Gay Couple. Here’s How She Responded.
- Former Fire Chief Sues Atlanta, Mayor for Firing Him ‘Solely’ Because of His Beliefs About Marriage
- Republicans in Congress Demand Answers About Military Chaplain Disciplined for Referencing the Bible
- Appeals Court Rules Against Geneva College in Obamacare Abortion Drug Case
- Bakers Who Declined Service to Same-Sex Couple Found to Violate Anti-Discrimination Law
- ‘It’s a Two-Way Street’: What Americans Think About Same-Sex Marriage and Religious Liberty
- Charlie Hebdo, Intolerance, and the Problem of Double Standards
- California Supreme Court Attempts to Ban State Judges From Volunteering with Boy Scouts
This is both the tip of the iceberg and the tip of the spear. These stories rise to the level of public awareness but simmering just beneath the surface of our desire driven secularism are a mountain of threats to the everyday religious expression of countless Americans. Those are the stories we don’t read but they are being lived out everyday in classrooms and cubicles and court rooms – places where people of convictional faith are told to shut up and keep their religion to themselves. And then the very Constitution that guarantees the right of free speech to both the bully and the bullied is used to browbeat the religious person into the closet because of the mis-application of the so-called “separation of church and state.”
This is a fight for which every person of convictional faith must be equipped lest we find our own fellowship felonized in the future.