The Battle of the Public Square

One of the things that I do on a regular basis is read.  I read books, news articles, op-ed pieces among others.  I do this so as to stay informed about what is happening in the world and what people are thinking in an attempt to understand the culture around me.  It is my position that this is very important for not only a Christian leader to do, but all Christians.  I read from sources which are conservative and those which are liberal and some from the middle in order to gain a whole understanding.  

I hold this view because I believe it is crucial for a follower of Jesus to have, what I call, one foot in the Word and one foot in the World.  One foot in the Word means that I understand God’s truth, his gospel, his character and desires while one foot in the World means that I understand the people, culture and times around me in order to best connect the Word with the World.  If I have two feet in the Word, but not one in the World, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to actually answer questions people are truly asking.  This approach has as a natural outcome people not truly seeing the relevance of God’s truth in their lives.  If I have two feet in the World, but not one in the Word, then I am really adrift with no foundation or anchor to guide how I respond to different situations and circumstances and people.  I have no foundation in hope which is something that all people crave.  I believe the Apostle Paul utilized the one foot – one foot method.  Read Acts 17 for an example.

Through news articles, I have been following a lawsuit involving a nativity scene and the city of Santa Monica, CA.  Here is the link for the latest article I found:  Personally, I have no problem with the city not allowing any displays, whether Christian, Jewish, some other religion, or atheist.  Two things stood out to me as I read the piece.  First was the quote from William Becker, the attorney for the Christian group.  Becker said, “The next step will be for them to stop any religious speech at all in a public park — whether it’s singing hymns or merely handing out leaflets or merely discussing religion. One day it will all be banned.”  To equate the erecting of a display on public property to engaging people in civil discourse about spiritual and religious matters on the same ground is a big leap.  If a church decides to hold a worship service might a permit to do so be required?  Sure, but I have to believe that an atheistic group would also need to have a permit in order to hold a formal gathering in the same place.  To think that the disallowing of a nativity display is the start down the road to speech and thought police seeking out anyone having a conversation of a spiritual or religious nature with someone so as to stop them from doing so in places like this I find absurd.

The second thing that came to my mind is why do those who have been erecting this display for so many years find it important to have it displayed?  Do they somehow believe that by looking at something with which a person is very familiar  that person will  consider the message of the gospel?  For them, is it a type of evangelism, albeit the “hit-and-run” variety?  I have been coming face-to-face lately with the reality that the things that are considered “essential” to getting the message of hope in Jesus Christ out are not essential.  If these types of displays and the like were essential to the spread of the message of Jesus Christ, how in the world did the church survive in the first 3 centuries when it was illegal to be a Christian and persecution abounded?  Effective evangelism is a life full of the hope, love, grace, mercy and forgiveness of God displayed and proclaimed.  It is a life which proclaims and displays the character, heart and desires of a God who sent his Son to earth because he loved, and still loves, us.

I have no idea how much this group has spent on legal fees because of this case.  I must wonder, though, how else could this money have been spent?  Instead of spending it this way, how about spending it on a cause that truly brings about real hope for those suffering some type of injustice?  The issue of human trafficking is near and dear to my heart.  The issue of the church proclaiming and working to bring about justice for those oppressed is right next to the issue of human trafficking.  The issue of people, and many children, going to be hungry because they do not have the resources to put food in their stomachs forms the Triad of Issues in my heart.  

These are the issues that are truly important, not whether or not a Christian group is allowed to erect and display a nativity scene on publicly owned property.  Jesus did not enter this world so a group could fight to have a nativity scene displayed in a city-owned park; he came, as he said, to “announce the gospel to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and give recovery of sight to the blind and to release those who are oppressed.”

I agree with Jim Martin, a vice-president with International Justice Mission and author of The Just Church, when he writes, “The call to the work of justice is not God sending his church out to a place where God cannot be found.  Rather, God is inviting us into the place where he is already at work.  It is here, among the world’s most vulnerable, that the Good News of God turns out to be very good indeed.  In the work of justice, our good God is offering us what we so deeply desire in our churches.  In the work of justice, God is beckoning us to experience his profound love for us and for the vulnerable of this world.  The call to fight against injustice is therefore the call to intimacy with God and to deep discipleship.”



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