With the coming of the first week of July and a holiday week, it seemed appropriate to take a patriotic breather in the midst of our discussion about the essentials of our faith. We have discussed two foundational truths of our Christian faith: a personal, creative God and the authoritative words of that God in the form of Scripture. Next week we will continue the journey by looking at the place that man holds in God’s overall plans and purposes.
On the night of July 4th, we were finishing a day of relaxation and family celebration by watching some television. Our day had included hour in the sun by the swimming pool and cooking a typical summer meal on the grill. We began flipping through channels and many of the celebrations were to include fireworks, but the music and celebrations were performed by popular artists singing their songs, not particularly patriotic in nature.
We settled upon the celebration in the nation’s capital covered by the local PBS affiliate. While not everything was patriotic, host John Stamos said, “You really can’t get more patriotic than this! I am excited to carry on this July 4 TV tradition for the American people.” While the music was more “The Muppets” than John Philip Sousa, the National Symphony Orchestra provided a backdrop of patriotic musical selections for pyrotechnic explosions across waters of the Washington Monument.
Is there a way that a person of faith can be patriotic today? Across our country, people of the United States are encouraged to show their patriotism – their love for their country and the freedom that it represents – on this special time of the year, but is there a place for my faith to fit it to the celebrations?
The question has a new feel today as the issues and attitude of the government and the culture today are less connected to Christianity, or to religion at all. The George Barna Research Group recently produced a report, “Faith Leadership in a Divided Culture,” that was the culmination of four years of research among the general population and among faith leaders in the United States. Some of the findings were both intriguing and revealing.
When it comes to defining terms of religious freedom today, the vast majority of people agree upon a definition of religious freedom within the government. The overwhelming majority prefer a definition that says “Religious freedom is the freedom to practice religion without interference from the government.” Such a definition mirrors the language of the First Amendment of the Constitution.
Among all clergy in the United States, over 82 percent agreed upon this definition. Ninety percent of Catholic clergy followed this belief, while 88 percent of Protestant non-mainline (charismatic, Pentecostal, Southern Baptist, Wesleyan and non-denominational churches) supported the opinion. Only 75 percent of Protestant mainline (American Baptist, Evangelical Lutheran, Episcopal, United Churches of Christ, Presbyterian Church USA, and United Methodist churches) agreed.
Minority churches tend to be less convinced that the foundation of religious freedom is non-interference from the government. African-American clergy supported the idea at a 69 percent rate, while non-Christian clergy the number was down to 58 percent.
When it comes to the general public, the majority of Americans affirm the belief of this definition. “True religious freedom means that all citizens must have freedom of conscience, which means being able to believe and practice the core commitments and values of your faith.” A slight majority of 55 percent held to this opinion. This definition is down from almost 70 percent in a similar survey in 2012. It appears that while most still agree, Americans are feeling less certain about the definition.
We are not sure about what faith means in our culture. We are even less sure of how to live that faith each day. Perhaps it is because we are not doing as clear a job teaching our faith, handing the mantel to the next generation.
What should a person of faith do? Foremost the person of faith should not be silent. Tom Minnery, in his book, “Why You Can’t Stay Silent: A Biblical Mandate to Shape Our Culture,” writes, “Being salt and light in this age means contending responsibly for godly standards. There is no escaping the mixture of religion and politics, because nearly every law is the result of somebody’s judgment about what is good and what is bad.”
Famous evangelist Billy Graham’s son Franklin writes on his father’s website, “While followers of the Lord Jesus Christ should never resort to violence, we must do all we can to resist evil. As Mr. Pence has said, we are not to remain silent when moral anarchists are attempting to extinguish any influence of Biblical morality in our government, schools and businesses.”
Richard Bernard Eheart was born in 1913 in the small town of Vincennes, Indiana. Eheart appeared in burlesque, vaudeville, films, nightclubs and casinos, but is best known for his work on radio and television under the professional name of Red Skelton. Over the holiday, I stumbled upon a clip of his television show’s broadcast from Jan. 14, 1969. Perhaps you have seen or heard the presentation.
Skelton offered his television audience his reminiscence of an incident from his school days in Vincennes. His teacher, Mr. Lasswell, felt the students had come to regard the Pledge of Allegiance as daily drudgery. As Skelton told the story, he delivered a stirring explanation of the Pledge, word for word.
Skelton, who ended every program with the words, “Good night, and may God bless,” added a commentary to the words of his teacher. “Since I was a small boy, two states have been added to our country, and two words have been added to the Pledge of Allegiance: ‘under God.’ Wouldn’t it be a pity if someone said that is a prayer, and that would be eliminated from schools too?”
Wouldn’t it be a pity if it happened while people of faith remained silent?
— Tom May is a freelance writer. Reach him at email@example.com.