Religion in public life

Justin Kollmeyer's picture

On the subject of the importance of religion in America it seems we have the proverbial “good news and bad news.” I read a most interesting article recently that is an adaptation of a speech given by R.R. Reno, editor of “First Things,” a journal of religion in public life. Sit with me in the lecture hall. This is quite shortened and slightly edited.

First, the bad news. Reno states, “Data suggests a growing divide between the irreligious and religious. A recent Pew study confirms that Nones, citizens who check ‘religious affiliation’ as ‘none,’ are the single most ideologically committed cohort of white Americans. They overwhelmingly support abortion and gay marriage.

“This presents the deepest threat to religious liberty today. It’s not good when the most numerous and powerful constituency has no time for religion. This is all the more true when its ideology has the effect of encouraging the rest to view religion, especially Christianity, as the enemy; and when law professors provide reasons why the Constitution doesn’t protect religious people.”

Here is Reno’s call to action. “What can be done to prevent them (the forces against religion) from succeeding?

“First and most obvious, defend religious liberty in the courts. Although I have depicted deep cultural pressures that work against religious liberty, we live in a society governed by the rule of law. Precedent matters, and good lawyering can make a substantive difference.

“Second, fight against the emerging legal theories that threaten to undermine religious liberty. This is a battle to be carried out in the law schools and among political theorists. Defenders of religious liberty need to push back.

“Third, fight the cultural battle. Legal theory flexes and bends in accord with the dominant consensus.

“We must meet the challenge by showing that religion is indeed special. Religious people are the most likely Americans to be involved in civic life, and the most generous in their charitable contributions. This needs to be highlighted again and again.

“There is another, deeper argument that must be made in defense of religion: It is the most secure guarantee of freedom. America’s founders, some of them Christian and others not, agreed as a matter of principle that the law of God trumps the law of men. This has obvious political implications: The Declaration of Independence appeals to the unalienable rights given by our Creator that cannot be overridden or taken away. In this sense, religion is especially beneficial. Religion gives us a place to stand outside politics, and without it we’re vulnerable to a system in which the state defines everything, which is the essence of tyranny. This is why gay marriage, which is sold as an expansion of freedom, is in fact a profound threat to liberty.

“Finally, we must not accept a mentality of those against religion. The church, synagogue, and mosque have a tremendous solidity born of a communion of wills fused together in obedience to God. This gives people of faith the ability to fight with white fury for what they perceive to be a divine cause, which is of course a great force for righteousness — but also a dangerous threat to social peace, as early modern Europe knew only too well.”

And, yes, Reno concludes with the good news. “In conclusion, I want to focus not on fury but on the remarkable capacity for communities of faith to endure. My wife’s ancestors lived for generations in the contested borderlands of Poland and Russia. As Jews they were tremendously vulnerable, and yet through their children and their children’s children they endured in spite of discrimination, violence, and attempted genocide. Where now, I ask, are the Russian and Polish aristocrats who dominated them for centuries? Where now is the Thousand Year Reich? Where now is the Soviet worker’s paradise? They have gone to dust. The Torah is still read in the synagogue.

The same holds for Christianity. The Church did not need constitutional protections in order to take root in a hostile pagan culture two thousand years ago.

“Right now the Nones seem to have the upper hand in America. But what seems powerful is not always so. Over the long haul, religious faith has proven itself the most powerful and enduring force in human history.”

Now, neither you nor I must agree with everything Reno says, but I believe he has a valuable insight, and I definitely affirm his positive outcome for people of faith. And I would add to his call for action that we are called to pray, confessing our sins and commending our lives into the almighty hands of God. And we are called to reach out in the love of Christ to the “Nones” so that they too can share in the peace and blessing of knowing and serving God. Amen.

[Kollmeyer is senior pastor of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, located between Lowe’s and The Pavilion on Ga. Hwy. 314 in Fayetteville. Worship is at 9:15 (Contemporary) and 11:15 (Traditional). June through August an outdoor service is held each first and third Sundays of the month in the beautiful outdoor chapel on the property.]