I am slowly coming to an opinion about the relationship between Christianity and culture. Specifically, should Christians stand up for their rights? What about prayer in schools or putting up the Ten Commandments in a public institution? For instance, in the case of Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe (2000), the Supreme Court decided that student-led prayer at a public high school football game violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. This, and other cases involving religion, stir emotions on both sides of the argument. As a Christian public educator, I have been asked what I think about these issues. These are some of my thoughts.
Jesus did not stand up for his rights. If anyone had the right to stand up for himself, you would think it would be Jesus. Yet, I see the exact opposite in the Bible. Jesus, who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage (Phillipians 2:6). According to this passage, even though Jesus is 100% God, he gave up his rights as God when he came to earth as a man. During Jesus’ life, the Jews thought the Messiah would overthrow the Roman government. But Jesus had other plans. He even told his followers to pay their taxes! And think about Jesus’ trial and execution. Not once did he defend himself. Jesus was only interested in spreading his Kingdom by loving people and meeting their physical needs, not through some political agenda.
Jesus told his disciples what to do when they were persecuted. In his sermon, Jesus told his followers that they should be happy (blessed) when they are persecuted, because that’s what happens to people who follow God (Matthew 5:11-12). Later, Jesus told his disciples that when they are persecuted in one town, they should flee to another town (Matthew 10:22-23). So Jesus warned his followers they would face persecution, be happy about it, and go somewhere else to spread the Kingdom when confronted with it. Not once did Jesus tell his followers to try to change the laws or persuade the government when faced with persecution.
The New Testament Christians used persecution to spread Jesus’ Kingdom. One especially compelling passage is Acts 5:17-42. The apostles were imprisoned for speaking in the name of Jesus. An angel broke them out of jail and told them to keep preaching. When discussing this, Peter said, “We must obey God rather than men!” The apostles kept preaching, people were saved, and the religious/political officials had them flogged. The Scriptures say that the apostles rejoiced because they had been counted worthy to suffer for Jesus’ name. They continued preaching every day! But guess what they didn’t do? They didn’t try to overturn the religious/political officials. They didn’t get upset that their rights had been violated. They didn’t revolt in any political sense. They just preached Jesus.
Our focus needs to change. There are many reasons why, but Christians in America are very preoccupied with making sure that the United States is a Christian nation. I hate this idea, because I see no basis for it in Scripture. Changing laws, suing the government, and standing up for your rights is not how Jesus changed the world, and it’s not how we will change it, either. Our focus should be instead on showing God’s love in a real way and preaching the Word. To use politics and government to spread the Gospel has always been a bad idea and always will be.
How involved do you think Christians should be in standing up for their rights? Should we be involved in politics at all?