Liberty Twice Removed

In reference to religious freedom President Obama once said: America embraces people of all faiths and of no faith. We are Christians and Jews, Muslims and Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs, atheists and agnostics … Our religious diversity enriches our cultural fabric and reminds us that what binds us as one is not the tenets of our faiths, the colors of our skin, or the origins of our names. What makes us American is our adherence to shared ideals – freedom, equality, justice, and our right as a people to set our own course.” It is unfortunate we live in a society where some people do not share these lofty ideals. It is even more unfortunate that some of these people who do not share these ideals are Christians.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church has long been at the forefront of religious liberty issues, fighting not just for the rights of Adventists but people of other faiths as well. When we focus on religious liberty, it is important to remember that religious liberty comes in two parts. The first is the practical element, which involves the protection of the rights of the individual to practice their faith. The second element is the prophetic element, which involves an understanding of the oppressive power of the state and a critique of the state when it oversteps its bounds in regulating its citizens. In the story of the 3 Hebrew boys we see both of these elements at work.

The story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego is one of the more famous in the Bible. Their refusal to bow to the golden image and miraculous rescue from the fiery furnace is a story that children learn at an early age. When we remember the story we tend to think of their faith and courageous stand against King Nebuchadnezzar when they say: “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (Dan 3 :16-18) This is an example of the practical element of religious liberty. Here the 3 Hebrew boys are standing up for their faith and their right to practice as they wish.

But we don’t spend as much time talking about the prophetic element of religious liberty, and rarely (if ever) do we take notice of the fact that the courageous stand of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego is bookended in Daniel 3 by two egregious violations of religious liberty that should give rise to a prophetic critique. Chapter 3 opens on what essentially is a religious service; where the King has called all the government officials to the plain of Dura and forced them to worship a golden image. It is this forced act of worship on the part of King Nebuchadnezzar that put the Hebrew boys in their life threatening predicament. Why anyone would think that forcing people to worship God would lead to good results is beyond me.

When we look at the end of the chapter, however, we see Nebuchadnezzar replacing worship of his false image with worship of the one true God. He commands: “that any people, nation or tongue that speaks anything offensive against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb and their houses reduced to a rubbish heap, inasmuch as there is no other god who is able to deliver in this way.” For Christians this seems like the high point in the story. Everyone in Babylon will realize that God is true and has been vindicated! But if we look closer we see that Nebuchadnezzar has not learned from his mistake. He is doing the same thing at the end of the chapter as he did at the beginning – forcing worship. Ellen G. White says in the book Prophets and Kings:

It was right for the king to make public confession, and to seek to exalt the God of Heaven above other gods; but in endeavoring to force his subjects to make a similar confession of faith and to show similar reverence, Nebuchadnezzar was exceeding his right as a temporal sovereign. He had no more right, either civil or moral, to threaten men with death for not worshipping God, then he had to make the decree consigning to the flames all who refused to worship the golden image. God never compels the obedience of man. He leaves all free to choose whom they will serve.[1]

There are many today who wish to force the people of this country to worship God, just like Nebuchadnezzar. Now, they certainly don’t want to make people bow to some image, but any Christian would agree that following the law of God is an act of worship. Worship is defined as: “reverent honor and homage paid to God or a sacred personage…” When we obey God’s law, who would argue that we aren’t paying reverence, honor, and homage to the God who established the law? This leads to a laundry list of questions to those Christians who would advocate for certain laws. What are we really doing when we want to stop civil gay marriage because of a “Christian” definition of marriage? What are we really doing when we deny services to some that we would freely give to others based on who they are or the choices they’ve made? What are we really doing when we use our powers as employers to dictate our employees’ medical choices to align with our religious beliefs? I would say that we are committing the same sin that Nebuchadnezzar committed in Babylon, the same sin that got the 3 Hebrew boys thrown into the furnace. We are committing the sin of forcing people to worship the God of freedom.

I have been asked many times in many churches why religious freedom is important. It is not only important from a political perspective and the difficulties of having a free pluralistic society. Religious liberty is just as important from a spiritual perspective as well.

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[1] Pgs. 510-11.

 

Jason Hines is a former attorney with a doctorate in Religion, Politics, and Society from the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University. He is also an assistant professor at AdventHealth University. He blogs about religious liberty and other issues at www.TheHinesight.Blogspot.com.

Previous Spectrum columns by Jason Hines can be found at: https://spectrummagazine.org/author/jason-hines 

Image Credit: Unsplash.com

 

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/11093
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Thank you, we have often defined (religious) freedom in a narrow manner.

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Thank you for your thoughts, Jason. The last part of your article raised a question for me. Some of our civil laws are congruent with the laws of God, for example, “Do not murder, do not steal.” Are civil authorities forcing us all to worship God in enforcing these laws?

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Laws are given for our good, to prevent evil, to preserve life. the state has rules to preserve order. The state canot force men to obey the moral principles of law and order. Neither can God. But there are consequences for violation, of both the states laws and God’s Laws. To violate the states laws bring confusion, death and disorder. but its laws are not nearly as expansive as God’s. You can not kill in human society yet defame, destroy man’s character, lie about each other with little consequences, presently widespread. But God takes “do not kill” to a deeper spiritual level where killing involves all the above and more. So NO to your ?

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The book of Daniel contains the two pillars of the US constitutional concept of religious freedom.

  1. The king “establishes” forced worship - twice
  2. Another king forbids worship -

The US constitution responds to these two assaults on freedom of religion through the no establishment clause and the free exercise clause.

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Jason, while you make good points, the details of Bible events should not be used glibly, especially as support for our arguments. We must pay attention to the details if we want to use Bible as an authority.

The statue on the Plain of Shinar was not an idol representing a god. It had apparently been designed as a curse-breaker-- to break the predictive power of the god that had been revealed in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, who limited his destiny to merely a period of history-- a head of gold. The shamed wise men had come up with a flattering ceremony to give Nebuchadnezzar what he was dreaming of before the other dream-- of being a ruler whose legacy would ‘live forever.’

This ceremony would all have been done in the name of the gods of Babylon-- something as significant as the re-aligning of destiny could only be accomplished by the power of more powerful gods. So to an extent it was inducing the collaboration of other gods in the human plan.

The three Hebrews who broke the carefully orchestrated spell-breaker were not 'Hebrew ‘boys.’ After the revealing of the dream and its portent, they had been already been appointed “over the affairs of the province of Babylon.” They were in the bowing crowd of satraps, prefects, governors, counsellors, treasurers, justices, magistrates, and officials of the provinces, because they were officials of one of the 127 provinces-- the province of Babylon. (Daniel was not there because he was not an official-- he was a member of the king’s court.)

Apparently cremation of non-compliers would have been necessary to meet the declared stringent condition of the spell-breaker-- that ‘all’ the officials (alive) needed to be present and bow simultaneously-- hence the trumpets-- for the destiny of Nebuchadnezzar to be realigned. With the lives of the dissenters preserved the ceremony was moot. All that preparation for nothing. So it seems, that in addition to Nebuchadnezzar’s praise of the devoutness of the three Hebrews, he would have been impressed that their god would not let the destiny he had set in place be realigned.

Nebuchadnezzar then went beyond the prescription of the gods (though the wise men) that all officials be involved in the spell-breaking, and proscribed all citizens from speaking against the god who controlled his destiny. Nebuchadnezzar did not replace “worship of his false image with worship of the one true God.” He did not “exalt the God of Heaven above other gods” or force his subjects to make a confession of faith to the god of the three dissenters. They were merely forbidden to blaspheme that god.

It is important to treat scriptural events with integrity. We cannot quote of devotional accounts like Prophets and Kings in establishing our considered arguments. As important as the principle is, the story of the events in the Plain of Shinar did not include “forcing people to worship the God of freedom.”

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The first four worship God. The next 6 have to do with how we treat our fellowman. Aside from that, there are civil laws, those which violate the rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” of other citizens of the U.S.

At the end of the penultimate paragraph the author poses three questions. The author makes a strong argument with the first two questions (“What are we really doing when we want to stop civil gay marriage because of a “Christian” definition of marriage? What are we really doing when we deny services to some that we would freely give to others based on who they are or the choices they’ve made?”), but the author significantly misconstrues what was happening in the way he posed his third question (“What are we really doing when we use our powers as employers to dictate our employees’ medical choices to align with our religious beliefs?”).
I assume the author was speaking of the Hobby Lobby case (Burwell v. Hobby Lobby) case. If so, accuracy demands recalling that the employer was not trying to “dictate” the medical choices of the employees. The employees were still free to make whatever medical choices they wished to make. The employer was simply saying that the company would not pay for certain choices, so if the employees wished to make those choices then the employees would need to use or separate funding other than employer funding.
Yes, it certainly is easier to make some choices if there is employer-provided insurance for them, but the actual facts of the case and the way the author phrased it are materially different. The author may be passionate about his cause, but it’s vital to be scrupulously accurate when stating one’s view in such cases. Failing to do so undermines the credibility of the argument, and could easily undermine the overall argument in places where the author was more careful to be accurate.

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I would also question the writer about another case. I totally agree we should not make a law forbidding homosexual marriage. That is forcing a religious law on everyone who does not hold the same belief. The second seems like a different matter. I assume it has to do with the baker of the cake for the LGBT couple. Let’s look at it a different way.
There were other cake makers available, and they weren’t forced to use this one. They wanted to make a statement that ended up causing the baker to lose his business and lots of money of which I’m sure he didn’t have to lose. Meanwhile the couple had nothing to lose. It was vindictive.
As for the bakers’ religious liberty, they were put in a position of going against their faith and thus denied their religious liberty to not participate in this wedding. Remember it was not just baking the cake but presenting it at the wedding.
. Now let’s suppose as a strict SDA you are asked to come into work to bake a cake on Sabbath for this couple or any couple. You are being forced to work on your Sabbath–right? Would you ask a GC lawyer to take your case? Would you fight it? Many Sabbath cases have been won. My question–how is this different?

I agree that there can be an overlap between our religious laws/beliefs and civil laws. So how do we tell them apart? I think if we should ask ourselves the question, “Are we required to use the bible to support the law”?

If I owned a bake shop and some one needed a last minute cake, I would gladly do it!!The CO case may very well have been a case of both sides wanting to ‘prove’ their point of view. Proving a point of view does little but point out the inconsistencies that are most naturally to come up. Neither side wins.

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It is different. Working on our Sabbath as opposed to doing our job which is either our business or being paid to do.

The baker position is more in line with refusing service to people of color. O hey, the baker refused service to a person due to the baker’s own bias whether religious bias or not.

If we don’t wish to do the job we need to look for other employment, or invest in a different type of business.

If our arguments were the least valid they would have been addressed in the bible as Rome during Christ’s time, and the Apostles was decadent to the extreme.

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I am not saying what they decided is right for me. I have no such beliefs against SS marriage. Quite the opposite. Concerning race–that is different as I understand it. There is nothing religious about refusing to serve persons because of race or religion.

But there are certain religions that sincerely believe any SS relationship is sin. They take every word in the Bible as inerrant and take it out of context and culture. Another example are Jehovah Witnesses and their belief about blood transfusions. As strange as this seems, the medical profession finds other alternatives not to go against their religious liberty.

The bakers did not hate the couple or refuse to do the cake (as I understand it); they just could not be involved in a wedding they considered a sin and against their belief. Many consider our Sabbath keeping in the same light; not as religious liberty but as an inconvenience to others.

Anyway this is how I think about it, but am not a lawyer and each has their own viewpoint. Respect for variety is important. I just feel sorry that the bakers lost their business and livelihood while the couple had other alternatives. It doesn’t seem fair.

I don’t know how old, or young, you are, but apparently you are quite unaware of the churches that stood at the front door making sure blacks went to the basement for their services.

You are also, apparently, quite unaware of the churches that “proved” from the bible that blacks were to be slaves of whites forever in order to enslave the black race. That is just referring to the black race and not abuse of other people of color.

The baker refused to make the cake for the wedding as they disapproved of the wedding.

So called Christians are getting out of control claiming persecution at the same time they are seeking control over their fellowman.

Other than that I do understand feeling for the baker. That they had been taken in by a false perception of living in Christ. Members are more about living by the church, than by the Spirit/God, which is a vast difference 99% of the time.

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It is my goal to reconcile not divide and to always be fair. First I see no evidence that Christians are trying to dominate the country. It is quite the opposite–they are bad-mouthed at every turn and fringe groups like Q are used by Satan to turn people against them. Actually Christians do most of the charity work worldwide and in the US, especially during the pandemic

Ugly things happened decades ago; I am well aware of them. Ours is a small percentage of the world where it doesn’t continue, and to prove it, people want to come here for freedom. My local church has many from Africa who are thankful to be here. We are diverse with more than half Black members and a Black woman pastor. I have relatives from the Caribbean
Maybe you know someone who has been treated this way. I don’t think those things currently happen or are rare. We cannot progress if we choose to live in the pass and will divide even more. Should we be prohibited from expressing opinions that seek to reconcile?. Never having lived in the south, I am sure there are pockets of hatred there, but there is no data to prove how widespread it it…

I am thrilled with increased exposure of Blacks on TV and mixed-race couples. We live in an area where there are many mixed families. Actually there is hardly a Black family that is not biracial, yet many are taught to hate who they are or deny it. Thus we divide ourselves when our biracial status is a symbol of reconciliation.

My friends come from many races and countries. They are my global family. It breaks my heart to see a percentage of our population attempting to bring back separation as if we still fight the civil war. Some of my ancestors, along with black and white, gave their lives fighting against the southern rebels and slavery. This seems to be lost in current history.

I don’t consider myself as conservative, but I am proud of all the Black professionals, teachers, and ordinary people who refuse to follow popular thought and who think for themselves. Stereotyping (us and them) has caused hatred, wars and bloodshed through history. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts in dialogue so me may understand different perspectives.

Wow! I guess we have either been hearing different sources, or perceiving what we hear quite differently! Or have a very different view of how Christians should be.

That is probably true. I often hear opposite news depending on the channel. I have come to trust one because they use the videos of news from their opposites and these can’t be lied about… So I understand how many only listen to one side and come to different conclusions. We need to hear what others are saying.
I don’t see examples in your post of how Christians are taking over the country… But I know there are individual hypocrites who bear false witness against Christ with crazy stories like rumors of a New World Order, Jesuits out to get us, etc. They don’t represent all Christians and only the vulnerable would stereotype them as has been done with most groups–Black persons, Jews, Muslims, Catholics,“until they come for us.” as a famous Protestant leader said in Germany in the 40s.

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