Religious Freedom and Kenyan Christians

These last several weeks we’ve had a lot of news related to religious freedom. Indiana and Arkansas are among the states most recently to sign into law protections for religious freedom. They are attempting to strike a balance between people who have strong opinions about and against LGBT persons while protecting the rights of LGBT persons. The public relations efforts have been remarkable. No one wants to be seen as discriminatory, and one of the arguments now being used in that of religious freedom.

One of the better explanations of the issue came from the Baptist Joint Committee. Here is Brent Walker’s approach to the matter. He argues for better conversation and more consideration when seeking to affirm religious liberty while avoiding discrimination. Ultimately, this comes down to how we treat each other as individuals. I appreciate Walker’s reaction to RFLA and especially these words:

“We need to tone down our hyperbolic rhetoric and understand that our supposed “enemies” are really our neighbors and fellow citizens. For our conservative Christian friends, try loving your LGBT neighbors unconditionally and understand that providing them goods and services in the marketplace is an act of Christian hospitality, not an indication of approval of their nuptial decisions. To our LGBT friends, try extending grace to others who have religiously informed objections to same-sex marriage and not ask them, in their eyes, to participate in your marital ceremony. Give that privilege to businesses who will celebrate your marriage along with you.”

Baptists have always been a champion for religious liberty. This is one of our historic values and we have John Leland and a few others of our Baptist forefathers for that being included in the Constitution.

My emotions have been stirred upon hearing of the tragic deaths in Kenya at Garissa University College. It is located approximately 90 miles from Somalia. Militants charged the gates of the school at killed 157 people. The death toll is still rising. The killings began with a Christian prayer service. The militants went throughout the school, separating Muslims and non-Muslims, and brutally executing the latter group. Essentially, if you were a Christian who happened to be there at that terribly unfortunate time, you would be killed.

I’m getting ready to preach for Easter Sunday. It will be about the resurrection of Jesus Christ and how that eternal truth makes a difference for us in the here and now. While it’s a great privilege to bring this good news, it is also a great challenge to present news which transformed the direction of human history. History rotates on the axis of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Either you believe it or you don’t. My hope is that our church family will once again be stirred by the news that “Christ is risen” and they will respond “Christ is risen indeed!”

I won’t have to worry about terrorists keeping me from attending worship on Sunday morning. It won’t be in the back of my mind that I might be killed for telling people about Jesus from the pulpit. The same holds true when I talk about the Lord on the street corner, on the campus, or at other places I might go. Living in this country offers a great privilege to worship and express my faith in any number of ways.

Christians have been persecuted and even killed for the faith throughout the centuries. The adage “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church” still holds up. Even now I marvel at how Christ can instill boldness and peace in people to the point that they would not deny him even when it meant their deaths. How few times we American Christians are called upon to make that kind of sacrifice?

While recognizing the political and religious issues relating to recent local and national events, I cannot bring them to the same level as those Kenyan students who were killed simply because they were Christians. They were praying, minding their own business, and that turned out to the be last act of service to the Lord they performed. These students were executed because of Jesus. Their act of sacrifice in the midst of what must have been sheer terror should be shared among us who claim the name of Christ.

May God help us to realize how much we’ve been given and to keep things in perspective. Life goes on here in America, and this Easter is a time to embrace the words of the angel at the empty tomb, “He is risen, just as He said!” The resurrection is a validation of everything Jesus did and said while he was living with us. My hope is that more of us Christians would take time to re-discover all the things that Jesus said and find ways to implement them as a way of life.

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