This morning’s headlines include former Vice President Mike Pence’s discovery of classified documents in his Indiana home; House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s decision to block two Democrats from serving on the Intelligence Committee; the firing of several Ukrainian officials in an anti-corruption purge; the Justice Department’s lawsuit against Google; another mass shooting in California; and storms that inflicted extensive damage to communities near Houston.
Since none of these stories directly affects me in Dallas, Texas, I read the first four with interest and the last two with sorrow, but none of them with existential concern.
Will FCA clubs be barred?
By contrast, these stories feel very different to me:
- A UK army veteran was fined for praying silently near an abortion facility.
- A Christian charity worker in Malta could face jail time after stating publicly that his faith enabled him to turn from a homosexual lifestyle he no longer wanted.
- A group of pro-abortion and freedom-from-religion activists demonstrated at the home of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh on Sunday evening to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Roe v. Wade.
- A Michigan state law is threatening a Christian medical nonprofit for operating according to its Christian beliefs.
- A federal appeals court will decide whether Fellowship of Christian Athletes groups should be barred from high school campuses in San Jose, California, since the club does not permit LGBTQ students to serve as club leaders.
Do these stories feel more personal to you as well?
One reason we responded as we did is that attacks on another person’s Christian faith could obviously become attacks on ours as well. A rising tide raises—or damages—all boats.
Another is that we are members of the global body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27). A hand or foot in pain is obviously felt by the entire body. It is—or should be—the same with the body of Christ.
But there’s a third dimension to these stories and the rising tide of anti-Christian animosity they illustrate, one that is foundational to the others and a factor that tempts Christians as much as it tempts our opponents.
“Don’t hide behind religion”
Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov chose not to wear a rainbow jersey during warmups for the team’s recent Pride Night. He cited his religious beliefs as the reason: “I respect everybody, and I respect everybody’s choices. My choice is to stay true to myself and my religion.” He also said that he is Russian Orthodox.
Interestingly, his jerseys sold out online in the days following.
Nonetheless, one sports pundit called on the National Hockey League to fine the Flyers $1 million over Provorov’s “insulting” comments. Another said the Russian-born player should go back to his homeland and join the war against Ukraine. A third called the player out for previously participating in the Flyers’ military appreciation event: “Ivan Provorov is more than happy to play pregame dress-up when it does align with his belief system.” A fourth warned him, “Don’t hide behind religion.”
Their reaction makes my point: our culture is convinced that religion is so private, personal, and subjective that it should have no bearing on our public lives or society. This conclusion has become conventional wisdom in Western society, whether in the UK, Malta, or the US.
“In Israel, Judaism is the prevailing culture”
By contrast, the Jerusalem Post notes that “in Israel, Judaism is more than a building or a property. In Israel, Judaism is more than prayer. In Israel, Judaism is even more than God. In Israel, Judaism is the pervading culture.”
Having led more than thirty trips to the Holy Land, I can attest that this is true. From Shabbat laws that restrict working (and even pushing elevator buttons) on the Sabbath to kosher dietary restrictions in restaurants across the nation, Judaism dominates every dimension of Israeli life.
I have traveled widely in Muslim and Asian countries and can tell you that the same is true there. From the five pillars of Islam to the Four Noble Truths and Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism, religion is not separate from the “real world”—it forms and frames it.
In our culture, by contrast, religion is to be kept separate from public life. It is viewed as a personal hobby, nothing more. As such, it is to be given no more weight or warrant in public life than any other hobby.
I like watching car auctions on television and listening to classical music, but I obviously have no right to make you watch or listen to what I prefer or tell you that your personal tastes are wrong. In the same way, our culture thinks, a Christian should not pray in front of an abortion clinic, discuss in public the impact of his faith on his sexuality, or seek to live by his faith convictions as an attorney, physician, or high school athlete.
When we make faith a hobby
My purpose today is less to critique secular society for treating our faith like a hobby than it is to warn Christians that we must not follow suit.
Jesus taught us: “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). If Jesus is not Lord of every dimension of our lives, he cannot bless, redeem, and use every dimension of our lives. A painter cannot paint a room she is not permitted to enter.
When we make faith a hobby, we lose all an all-loving, all-knowing, all-powerful Father can do for his children.
Will you bear “much fruit” today?