Privacy, please! Why Christianity Cannot be Secularized

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Today active secularism seeks to push religious practice indoors. I think of France where any public display of faith including a cross necklace or a hijab are illegal under the French law of laïcité. The notion of secularism is that religion is really better left a private affair. It may not be necessarily harmful but is an uncomfortable thing for society, the religious equivalent of going out in public in one’s underwear. The secular approach is to say that because it may be bad manners to discuss religion, being that it makes others uncomfortable, it should be legislated into a private place. “Thou shalt not discomfort thy neighbor”, so to speak.

In places like France the legislation for the privatizing of religion, upsetting as it might be to our American sensibilities, fits in the laws of France. In America, however, we have not only a constitutional right to freedom of religion but of free speech. There is (or should be, according to U.S. law) no rule against public profession and practice of faith, only the government establishment of a religious authority. The sometimes unwritten (and sometimes written) addendum to rules of secularism, not in France but in America, is that one is free to practice one’s religion as long as they do not attempt to proselytize others. But that is really not possible for the Christian. It is contradictory for us because an absolutely key component of practicing our religion is to proselytize. We believe it to be the thing Jesus commanded just before he departed. It is impossible for the Christian to have free expression and practice without proselytizing, but that creates a problem for workplaces, schools, and other institutions that desire a wholesale secular society, whether written or de facto.

I in no way advocate a quiet rollover in the face of curtailed freedom at the hands of country that forgets itself, but allow me to turn the flashlight on the Christian for a moment. Usually the talk about the First Amendment and the separation of church and state is aimed at the public sphere: government institutions to be precise. But the issue for the Christian cannot be one only of the public influence of the gospel without including its private efficacy. So many Christians in America are comfortable voting for someone who claims to be a Christian and makes sure to have cameras document their church attendance but of whom there is no evidence of a new life in Christ (in case you’re wondering I am not writing about anyone in particular). But these same voters would not consider voting for someone who claims to be of a faith different than Christianity, however devoted to family values that candidate may be. We must not call for the Christian faith to be at the forefront of our country’s public stage without concerning ourselves with what goes on behind the door.

The up-and-coming generation of young people has seen too many resignations, lost too many heroes, and ceased to believe in heroes at all, because too many of our leaders were more concerned with their public beliefs than their private beliefs. These young people have become cynical because they want to know if the person is the same person at home as they are on camera. They are asking the right question. May I humbly ask you if you use your right to freely proclaim the gospel? It does not matter if you have the right to share your faith if you do not do so anyway. Do you want to be able to proselytize or do you just want to know you still can? Those who would curtail the Christian from public practice, even proselytizing, do not allow the Christian to practice a most important command of his faith, but those Christians who will not obey the command to take the gospel to the ends of the earth need not take up issue with their country but with themselves.

Do you know what we call people who prefer a public profession and dominance of their religion without any care for the private and internal character? We call them Pharisees. It is time we searched our souls; time the church took back the kitchen table before we worry about the courts and schools, or we will have nothing to offer the country that it doesn’t have already.