Fear Not … but Count the Cost
I got an email the other day – one of those “raising awareness” types that get forwarded around a lot. It originated with the American Family Association (AFA), and it showed a map of the US with little iconic symbols noting more than 200 groups across the country that the AFA identified as displaying open bigotry toward the Christian faith.
Groups were categorized as being atheist, anti-Christian, humanist, or activists for the homosexual agenda. You could click on a link to go to AFA’s website and see which ones were active in your state. The four national organizations identified there were, the Human Rights Campaign, GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network) (both homosexual activist groups) the Freedom From Religion Foundation (atheist activists), and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which is broadly anti-Christian in emphasis, but not necessarily associated with any one interest.
The friend who forwarded the email added only one comment. She typed it in large font: “Scary stuff.”
None of the information was new to me. In fact, I’ve written articles on all four of the organizations AFA listed, so I’m quite familiar with them. I usually ignore emails like this, but I did something different with this one. I asked her one question: “Honest question: Why do you say this is scary stuff?”
I got a reply a few hours later that said this: “Another honest question. Why don’t you think it is?”
Hmm … I was a little taken aback at that. Now, sometimes answering a question with a question moves a discussion along. I do it on occasion to get a better idea of where somebody is coming from. But this wasn’t one of those occasions. It actually took the discussion backwards, so to speak. The only way I could think of to explain why I’m not afraid of these organizations is to try and imagine why someone would be afraid of them, and then explain why I don’t share that fear. That requires me to speculate about potential answers to the very question I’d asked her – basically, to try to get inside her head.
But since I don’t know any other way to answer the question, and since I don’t like to leave a question from a friend unanswered, here goes.
Anti-Christian Activists (ACAs)
For the sake of discussion, I’m going to call the referenced groups anti-Christian activists (ACAs). I realize there are people who profess Christian values among them, but it’s clear that these organizations share common cause in opposition to the three foundational truth claims of Christianity: that there is a self-existing Creator God to whom we must give account, that there are objective moral laws we’ve failed to live up to, and that only by surrendering our self-will in repentance can we be reconciled to him. And there’s no question that they’re political activists. So “anti-Christian activists” captures it fairly well for my purpose here.
So the next question becomes, Why might I find the presence of ACAs scary? I can think of two reasons: One, I might be afraid that they’re right and I’m wrong. What would that do to me? To my identity as a believer in Christianity? I might feel threatened existentially. Or two, I might be afraid they’ll harm me personally. I may feel threatened physically or materially in some way.
The Existential Threat
Let’s consider the first possibility. Could the atheists be right and I be wrong? I think the fear, here, is that they may say something that makes me feel uncomfortable. Once, an honest Christian confessed to me that that was the reason he was afraid to hear what his atheist friend had to say about atheism – because he feared that something might shake his own faith. At least he was honest about it.
The reason I don’t fear this kind of encounter is because I’ve already faced that fear down. The atheist position, intellectually, is pitifully unpersuasive. See here, here, here, here, and here. And there are more. These are just a few examples I have readily written up. The point that needs to be made here is that, when we’ve placed our faith in something that is true, we need not fear contradictory truth claims. The truth always stands up to scrutiny.
The Personal Threat
The other reason I might be afraid is that I might fear harm, personally. Now, that’s a different fear. Since ancient times, people have lost their lives for taking a stand for truth. And in parts of the world today, people do get murdered merely for being Christian. (I won’t link you to anything, but if you want to verify my facts, Google ‘ISIS’ or ‘Boko Haram’.)
But in America, we are still a nation of civilized people with enforceable laws governing murder. It’s not likely a Christian will be mown down merely for identifying as Christian. It is true, however, that churches are subject to harassment. See here, here, and here. And good people are seeing their livelihoods threatened for holding to the traditional view of marriage. See here, here, here, and here. And there are more. So to a certain extent there are valid reasons for trepidation.
The Politics of Personal Destruction
At the very least, there is a growing climate of hostility. Here’s a personal example. Last week, in the wake of the Indiana Senate’s approval of a bill that would support business owners’ freedom to operate according to their religious convictions, a facebook friend posted the following:
“If for some outrageous reason this passes…I DARE a business to deny service to a same sex couple. If you do, and I hear about it, I will make it a priority to single handedly destroy you and your business reputation on multiple social media accounts and you will be out of business in less than a year and shunned for the rest of your existence. *long fierce glare* Try me. #irked #warning #Indiana”
These are what you might call, fightin’ words. Notice, there is no appeal to reason, no appeal to his opponents to consider his course of action because it might be the right one. There is no hint of good will. No, “I will make it a priority to single handedly destroy you …” Ironically, this is a young man I met in church.
I decided to poke this thing a little bit, to see if there was a real hornet’s nest behind it, or if it was just hyperbole. I asked if he really meant he would ‘destroy’ the person. He said, yes. I asked if he would like to clarify what he meant. Here’s what he said:
“… by destroy I mean that I would go out of my way to shame said person via social media who would deny service to a same sex couple so much so that it would feel like their personal privacy was taken because they would be bombarded by people, they had never met who had heard from me what they had done, in hopes that it would cause personal strife, possibly destroying their relationships, trust, image with those in the community, family, friends, colleagues and themselves. The destruction of personal/professional image would hopefully culminate and then in time dissipate to a place where they would have to do some inner soul searching, reasoning and make sure that the act of denying someone service, due to a personal or religious belief …”
He went on to spell out “said person”’s belief, but I don’t think it’s an accurate characterization of the other side at all. Not even close. But he didn’t indicate any willingness to reexamine his assumption. So, in accordance with the principle of tolerance, I let it be.
It was an interesting #warning, though, considering it was issued in support of an agenda that flies under the banner of ‘love.’ And ‘tolerance.’ I looked up the definition of cyber-bullying. I’m hard-pressed to find a difference between that and what my facebook friend threatened in his #warning. Then I looked up the definition of bigotry. I’m hard-pressed to find much difference here, too, between that and the tone of my friend’s #warning.
Now, I’m not advocating that any speech be suppressed. Jesus said that out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. An open market for speech is illuminating. The point I want to make here is that there is a cost for holding a moral opinion about traditional marriage, or at least for stating it in public. And it can range from public excoriation to tangible material loss.
But I’m still not going to look at it as “scary.” When it comes to the atheists, I find them kind of invigorating. I love a good challenging discussion over the existence of God. Sadly, most atheists withdraw from it way too soon.
Which leads me to a deeper reaction, which I find rising within me – both to the atheists and to the sexual anarchists. I find it all very sad. Jesus wept over Jerusalem because the people there did not recognize their Messiah when he came to them. They killed him.
But before he allowed them to do that, he made it clear that those who would follow him shouldn’t expect any better treatment. But also, that no matter what happened to them in the time being, they would be alright in the end. “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul,” he said. “Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”
I don’t fear anti-Christian activists because I have a greater fear – reverence, actually, and love – for the one who went before me and took the sting out of all threats, existential, material, and even physical. “In this world you will have trouble,” Christ said. “But take heart! I have overcome the world.”