Dear Friends in Christ,
According to the notes penned by Dr. James McHenry, one of Maryland’s delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1787, when Benjamin Franklin emerged from the closing session “A lady asked Dr. Franklin Well Doctor what have we got, a republic or a monarchy? A republic, replied Franklin, if you can keep it!”
Last week before our national election, both in my eCare and my sermon I suggested that, as important as voting is, our going to the ballot box was not the last thing for us to do by way of civic duty but only one of many things we must do. I suggested that, regardless of the election’s outcome, we must preserve, protect, promote and proclaim liberty at all times and in all places and at all cost as Job Number One for the citizen of the United States of America.
This must be our continual agenda because Franklin was correct; Freedom is a slippery thing and will be easy for us to lose if we are not diligent to preserve, protect, promote and proclaim it. Says Dr. Richard Beeman, professor of history and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania, The brevity of that (Franklin’s) response should not cause us to under-value its essential meaning: democratic republics are not merely founded upon the consent of the people, they are also absolutely dependent upon the active and informed involvement of the people for their continued good health.” Regardless of who is in the White House, which is not to suggest that it is insignificant who occupies the Oval Office, there is work to do.
What might that work be? The news reports vary. For some, the outcome of the election filled them with dread and with fear and so, by their own testimonies, that are locked up emotionally and, if only temporarily, unable to function. Others find their most significant work to be recovering from the shock of this past week by making use of post-election therapies offered by their universities – making exams optional (Yale), coloring and Play-Doh sessions, stress-relieving play with puppies (University of Kansas – my sister’s former employer – nice going, Barb!).
Still others are pursuing the political route. In California there is now a move to secede from the United States and become its own country. “Cal-Exit” may just make it easy for the bevy of celebrities who promised to leave the United States if Donald Trump won to “exit in place” as we used to say in the PCUSA, and eliminate the need to clean out and box up their garages on their way to Canada. Of course, it won’t help Cher who, in one of her Tweets, expressed her desire to move to Jupiter – a big ball of hydrogen and helium gas that may suit her quite well!
And then there are the protestors in New York, LA and other major metropolitan and media-rich areas, some of whose kneejerk reactions to anything with which they disagree is to take to the streets. Many, it appears, are unwilling or unable to articulate why they are protesting. ‘Seems like, in this day of Facebook, a demonstration of emotion is what matters most – the “that” of disappointment and anger not the “why.”
So, what work is there for us to do? Here, I think we can take a good word from Hillary Clinton who, in speaking of the work ahead of us in her concession speech yesterday said Fighting for what is right is worth it. And I absolutely agree. I also think that for many of us fighting for what is right is a daunting task – where do we begin?!
I suggest that we start with something small yet tremendously profound and significant. I think we should start our work by committing ourselves to the power of words and to the accuracy of what we and others, particularly our leaders, say. In that regard I take issue with Mrs. Clinton when she said, yesterday: One of the things we cherish in America is the freedom of worship. I don’t disagree that freedom to worship is something to cherish. What I take issue with is the implication that freedom of worship is the same thing as freedom of religion which is cherished by us and guaranteed by the 1st and 14th Amendments of the United States Constitution.
In a 2012 article in Commonweal, the country’s oldest and largest lay-Catholic publication, Paul Moses depreciates the difference between the two, suggesting that in substituting freedom of worship for freedom of religion President Obama, Hillary Clinton and others on various sides of the political spectrum are simply following the lead of Frankin Roosevelt in his Four Freedoms speech before Congress on January 6, 1941. In Moses’ view the two terms are absolutely interchangeable.
I strongly disagree. One of the things I have been trained to do and have spent most of my life doing is exegeting the Scriptures; interpreting the meaning of what God says in His Word. One of the key components to good exegesis is taking into consideration the context in which something is said. That being the case I have to consider the context, the historical/cultural context, in which individuals use the phrase freedom of worship.
And what is that historical/cultural context? It is one of ardent secularism in our country through which there are the constant attempts to drive all semblance of religion and its attending calls to faith, objective truth and the integration of faith and life, out of the marketplace and into a box, the sanctuary of worship, where secularists will not need to deal with it at all, where it will be out of sight and out of mind.
The phrase freedom of worship refers to me, as a Christian, being free to say or do what my religion dictates, as long as it stays in church – freedom of worship. But the freedom to practice my faith stops when I exit the church building. Applying biblical truth to issues of public concern, speaking about spiritual things in schools, utilizing empty public buildings by faith organizations and celebrating religions holidays are, under the guise of freedom of worship, summarily banned.
Freedom of worship is not freedom of religion. Not only is the use of the phrase inaccurate from the standpoint of what the framers of the constitution had in mind, it is dangerous. It’s dangerous because freedom of worship and its removal of faith-based character and virtue from the public square threatens our liberty because it, of necessity, requires more top-down law and fosters the decline of personal and therefore, corporate/national morality. And with less virtue, less character, less morality comes less liberty.
So, that’s where I want to begin the work; to affirm that words have meaning and words have power and we simply don’t have the right or the luxury to change their meaning just because we want to or because it fits our “narrative” (are you as tired of that word as I am?)! A man saying (self-identifying) he is a woman doesn’t make him a woman; saying that freedom of worship is freedom of religion doesn’t make it freedom of religion – anymore than calling an orange a Desoto makes the fruit an automobile.
We’ve got a republic….if we can keep it. But, man-o-man, have we got work to do!
Faithfully in Christ,