Monday, September 21, 2015

"Know Your Rights"

The Bible tells us to stand firm for our faith. For different people, this means different things. For Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego it meant refusing to bow down to an idol of gold, and being willing to give their lives for it.[i] For Peter and John it meant refusing to bow to the mandate of the court that insisted they cease teaching in the name of Jesus—whatever the consequences.[ii] For the apostle Paul, it meant continuing to preach the Gospel even when it got him into trouble, and going to Jerusalem even when the Holy Spirit warned him against it numerous times. Yes, standing firm for Jesus can sometimes be done with the best of intentions, but in the wrong ways. But even the worst of situations can turn out for good. Arrested and tried, Paul used his trial to point to Jesus rather than to himself.

If you’re going to stand for Jesus, it’s important to know your rights. In Jerusalem, Paul was sentenced to be scourged, but he knew his rights as a Roman citizen, which prevented scourging.[iii] Knowing his rights literally saved his skin. In a later trial before Festus, the Roman governor wanted to transfer him from Casearea to stand trial in Jerusalem. But Paul knew he would not get a fair trial there.

But Paul said, “I am standing before Caesar’s tribunal, where I ought to be tried. I have done no wrong to the Jews, as you also very well know. If, then, I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything worthy of death, I do not refuse to die; but if none of those things is true of which these men accuse me, no one can hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar.” Then when Festus had conferred with his council, he answered, “You have appealed to Caesar, to Caesar you shall go (Acts 25:10-12).”

Paul knew his rights, and insisted on them. Hopefully, you won’t have to stand on your rights just to remain faithful to Jesus. But if you do, you should know what they are. At school, you should know your rights. For example, when she was young, my wife was sent to the principal’s office just for carrying a Bible. That was actually religious harassment that violated her rights, and she knew it, so she stood firm. At work, you should know whether your company’s policies give you the right to put up a cross in your cubicle—but if they prevent it you need to seriously ask yourself if this is a right worth fighting for. Is it unfaithful to Jesus to not display a cross? Is this a hill to die on? These are things that only you can decide.

Many Christians believe that they need to stand on their rights, no matter what. They insist on the free exercise of their faith, even if that means violating other people’s rights. The street preacher screams “discrimination” when the police officer asks him to move out of a public place where he’s causing a near-violent disturbance. The baseball coach requires all players to pray before the game, and says that he’s being “persecuted” when he’s told he can’t do that. I question the motivations of people like this, whether their goal is really to exercise their faith, or whether it’s to force their religion on other people.

In recent news, the clerk of the court in Rowan County, Kentucky, refused to issue marriage licenses to gay couples, because it violated her faith. Whether you agree with her stance on homosexuality or not, you’ve got to admit that there were two possible ways that she could exercise her rights. First, she had the right to resign rather than violate her conscience. If not, she had the right to remain silent, and the right to an attorney. She made her choice, and was jailed because she insisted on her rights. Some call her a villain and others a hero. In reality, the free exercise of our faith needs to end when we begin to deny people the free exercise of theirs.

Historically, my own Baptist family has been in support of the separation of church and state. In the early eighteenth century, Virginia Baptists were persecuted severely by their Anglican neighbors. So it came naturally that they supported the Virginia Declaration of Rights, which was adopted in June, 1776 and became the basis for the first amendment for the US Constitution.[iv] Baptists also supported the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom in 1777, which became state law in 1786. That statute said, “That our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions any more than our opinions in physics or geometry,” and: 

“That to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous fallacy which at once destroys all religious liberty because he being of course judge of that tendency will make his opinions the rule of judgment and approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they shall square with or differ from his own.” 

For the whole of Baptist history, we have defended religious freedom, and the freedom from religion—so much that we included a section on religious freedom in our faith statement, The Baptist Faith and Message.

In Luke 12:11-12 (NASB), Jesus says, “When they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not worry about how or what you are to speak in your defense, or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” There are times in life when Christians are called to give an account for their faith, and for their actions that come as a result of their faith. Jesus says that when this happens, we shouldn’t cry “persecution” and “discrimination”. Don’t give a defense based on your own agenda. Listen to the Holy Spirit instead of your own opinions. Let God tell you what to say and what not to say. Remember, the right to remain silent isn’t just a Miranda law. It’s also the example of Christ on trial.

In the early seventeen hundreds, a family of Anabaptists (ancestors of Baptists) fled persecution in Switzerland by escaping down the Rhine. Hans Lehman and his wife died in Germany before reaching their goal, but three of their sons came to America in search of religious freedom in 1727. One of these sons, Johannes (John ) Lehman, got off the ship in Philadelphia and settled in Frederick County, Maryland That same year, he and his wife had a son named George, who grew up to fight against the British in the Revolutionary War. He then moved to Augusta Co., Virginia, so the Lemon clad has been in Virginia since about 1787. My seventh-great-grandfather, Hans Lehman, and his wife, died fleeing religious persecution. My sixth-great-grandfather fought to defend it. So today I hold that gift of religious freedom in high regard. As Christians we need to know our rights. We need to protect our rights, and the rights of others. This is not just the American way, but the Way of the Creator, who gave us inalienable rights to worship, or not worship, according to conscience.

[i] Daniel 3
[ii] Acts 4:20
[iii] Acts 22:22-29

No comments: