“Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary, use words” – St. Francis of Assisi
Has mainstream society had enough of religion? Are we on the verge of religious intolerance on a scale that would make anything other than organized worship in a church building a thing of the past? Or has religion simply reached the apex of cultural acceptance?
The thought crossed my mind this past week as I ran across the headline “The Seventh-Day Adventist church has filed a lawsuit against the city of Alabaster, Alabama”. Apparently a member of the church’s Summer Student Missionary Program was ticketed for selling books door-to-door without a city permit. The lawsuit states “The City of Alabaster has enacted two sweeping ordinances that unconstitutionally restrict the exchange of beliefs and religious principles within the Alabaster city limits”.
The key phrase that jumped out at me here was “exchange of beliefs”. Since when has any Jehovah’s Witness, Mormon, Hari Krishna or other door to door evangelist been interested in the “exchange of beliefs”? I’ve had multiple conversations with these individuals and I’ve never met one who is open to me persuading them to my beliefs.
A similar case happened recently in Arizona where a pastor was arrested for holding church small group bible studies at this house. And again in New Jersey where a group who met for weekly Bible studies in a local McDonalds were told they can no longer meet.
At first glance the stories are very scary for religious individuals. But as I looked into the facts more closely the fears of underground churches and secret police raids of of small groups eased. The student was selling books door to door, not handing out free religious material sharing their faith. I would think having a permit to sell door to door is only reasonable. The pastor in Arizona wasn’t just holding Bible studies, but trying to organize and build a church building on his property after being denied the permits and zoning to do so.
In each of these cases I don’t see a sudden intolerance for religion, but a final “enough is enough” from people tired of religious people ignoring common respect for others. The pastor in Arizona had ignored the requests of his neighbors and the group in New Jersey was taking up dining space so other McDonald’s patrons couldn’t sit. It seems like many Christian’s forget Jesus telling them “Render unto Caesar” (Mk 12:17) and Paul telling them to “Submit to the authorities” (Rom. 13:1-5). Should a Christian’s obligation to share the gospel supercede following and respecting the laws and policies of the community in which they live?
Religious freedom to many faithful seems to be the freedom to confront and preach to anyone, anywhere without invitation (or provocation). As if Jesus’ final command to “Go into all the world and make disciples” (Matt. 28.19) included “no matter how annoying it may be to those around you”. How would Christians feel if Muslims started having prayer sessions in the mall? Or if Atheists started standing on soap boxes confronting passersby? Christian Evangelicals feel it is their right to present their beliefs to others despite how inconsiderate and inconvenient it may be.
I’m a Christian, but believe the gospel should be shared in the manner of Francis of Assisi, not Bill O’Reilly. That’s not the message I want to portray of my faith. My saying I’m a Christian shouldn’t immediately kill a conversation. Yes, Jesus was controversial, but people were drawn to him. If he wasn’t welcome he moved on. How would Jesus feel to see his followers today using the gospel as a crux for doing their own will?