Where Should Christians Draw the Line on Religious Liberty?

on November 4, 2015

With the attacks on religious liberty in the United Sates increasing in frequency, Christians have found themselves on the defensive from charges that “religious freedom” is code for “we don’t have to obey the law.” A recent news item brings the question of religious liberty to the forefront. As reported by the Daily Beast,

Dale and Shannon Hickman, members of the Oregon-based Followers of Christ Church…decided not to take their premature newborn son David to a hospital, despite the fact that he weighed less than 4 pounds and was in “obvious distress,” according to doctors who later reviewed the couple’s home video footage. The Followers of Christ believe in faith healing and do not seek traditional forms of medical care… If the Hickmans had phoned 911 as soon as their son was born, one state doctor estimated that he “would have had a 99 percent chance of survival.” The Hickmans…did cite their religious beliefs to argue that, given the Oregon Constitution’s protections for freedom of religion, the state would have to prove that they “knowingly” harmed David in order to convict them. The court disagreed and allowed the state to try the couple for “criminal negligence” instead…In other words: Adult members of the Followers of Christ Church do not have to believe in medicine but they still have to take their dying children to the hospital. In Oregon, religious freedom has its limits.

This brings up a healthy topic for discussion: where should Christians draw the line on religious liberty?

As with every topic, the Christian must consult the scriptures. Unfortunately, the New Testament does not provide pointers on this matter. It speaks mostly to the Church rather than to a government. The New Testament says little regarding the role of the state beyond the fact that it is tasked with ensuring its citizens of a quiet, peaceable life through the administration of justice, which is defined as praising those who do right and punishing those who do wrong (I Tim 2:2, Rom. 13:3; 1 Pet. 2:14).

Does this mean that the government has the right to crackdown on every matter of right and wrong, including theological wrongs? How do we know?

The answer can only be found in the Old Testament, where God gave his most detailed opinion on church/state relations. All scripture (including the Old Testament Law) is God breathed and useful for instruction of righteousness (II Tim 3:16-17, Deut. 4:5-8).

Admittedly, one finds very little support for religious freedom when looking at Old Testament Israel. In fact, one could easily make the case that the Bible is against the idea. Beyond the fact that the first and second commandments forbade the worship of any god but Yahweh, witchcraft and false-prophecy were punishable by death (Lev. 20:27, Deut. 18:20). However, to understand the law of God we must understand it in light of His narrative and must contextualize it accordingly.

The Mosaic Law was given when the nation of Israel was God’s primary medium of communication to the world (Ex. 19:6, Deut. 4:6-8). Israel could not afford religious freedom; they could not be God’s messengers if they had other gods. However, with the inauguration of the New Covenant, a new entity is tasked with serving as God’s ambassador: the Church (Eph. 3:10). While one should be cautious in employing broad generalized formulas to translate the principles of the Mosaic Law into today’s society, one could make the case that since God no longer communicates through a state government, there is no longer any need for the state to administrate penalties for theological crimes. The punishment of heretics and doctrinal breaches now falls under the Church’s jurisdiction. If this formulation is correct, one can make the case for religious freedom from the scripture.

In fact, the United States government has drawn a similar line between beliefs and actions. In Reynolds v. United States, which held that Mormons could be arrested for polygamy despite their religious beliefs mandating the practice, the Court said:

Congress was deprived of all legislative power over mere opinion, but was left free to reach actions which were in violation of social duties or subversive of good order… Laws are made for the government of actions, and while they cannot interfere with mere religious belief and opinions, they may with practices. Suppose one believed that human sacrifices were a necessary part of religious worship; would it be seriously contended that the civil government under which he lived could not interfere to prevent a sacrifice?

It is important to note that the Court’s definition of “religion,” “social duties,” and “good order” were not arbitrary; they were defined by looking at the history of the First Amendment’s creation, as well as historical attitudes toward the practice in question. This is not a blessing for the government to crack down on the actions of Christians who refuse to accommodate things such as homosexuality.

The Court’s division between thought and action can be traced back to Roger Williams, who was arguably the father of American religious freedom. In his work Mr. Cotton’s Letter Lately Printed, Examined, and Answered Williams asserted, “The civil magistrate’s power extends only to the bodies and goods and outward state of men.”

However, the fact that the jurisdiction of religious issues has changed hands from the government to the church does not allow one to arbitrarily decide what falls into which category. In order to get a full answer regarding modern jurisdictional boundaries under the New Covenant, one must employ a careful line-by-line contextualized reading of God’s commands regarding church and state.

For now, it is safe to say that religious freedom should be limited by the boundaries of God’s standing laws on topics that do not fall into the jurisdiction of the Church. In other words, people should be free from state coercion provided that they do not act on religious teachings that conflict with what God wants policed by the state under the New Covenant. For example, the Hickmans let their child die, which is clearly contrary to the character of God, as it is murder. Murder remains in the jurisdiction of the civil government in the New Covenant and therefore it can be policed (Gen 9:6).

Under this formulation, that the civil government can only punish religious actions that violate God’s current laws, Christians can support the governmental crackdown on religious sanctioned murder and other vices and better contain an outbreak of unintended consequences that can harm their religious freedom and that of others.

  1. Comment by Kingdom Ambassador on November 6, 2015 at 1:44 pm

    Christians should draw the line by ceasing to equate Religious Freedom with Christian Liberty. They are NOT the same. They are in fact hostile to each other.

    Christian Liberty was sacrificed on the altar of Religious Freedom in 1789 when the First Commandment (found intact in some of the 17th-century Colonial Constitutions) was replaced with the First Amendment’s First Commandment-violating, polytheism-enabling Free Exercise Clause:

    “…Although the First Amendment does not allow for establishing one religion over another, by eliminating Christianity as the federal government’s religion of choice (achieved by Article 6’s interdiction against Christian test oaths), Amendment 1 authorized equality for all non-Christian and even antichristian religions. When the Constitution failed to recognize Christian monotheism, it allowed Amendment 1 to fill the void by authorizing pagan polytheism.

    “Amendment 1 did exactly what the framers proclaimed it could not do: it prohibited the exercise of monotheistic Christianity (except within the confines of its church buildings) and established polytheism in its place. This explains the government’s double standard regarding Christian and non-Christian religions. For example, court participants entering the United States District Court of Appeals for the Middle District of Alabama must walk by a statue of Themis, the Greek goddess of justice. And yet, on November 18, 2002, this very court ruled that Judge Roy Moore’s Ten
    Commandments Monument violated the First Amendment’s Establishment
    Clause. Despite many Christians’ protests against this hypocrisy, it was in keeping with the inevitable repercussions of the First Amendment.

    “…Christians hang their religious hat on Amendment 1, as if some great moral principle is carved therein. They have gotten so caught up in the battle over the misuse of the Establishment Clause – the freedom from religion – that they have overlooked the ungodliness intrinsic in the Free Exercise Clause – the freedom of religion….”

    For more, see online Chapter 11 “Amendment 1: Government-Sanctioned Polytheism” of “Bible Law vs. the United States Constitution: The Christian Perspective” at http://www.bibleversusconstitution.org/BlvcOnline/biblelaw-constitutionalism-pt11.html.

    Then find out how much you REALLY know about the Constitution as compared to the Bible. Take our 10-question Constitution Survey in the right-hand sidebar and receive a complimentary copy of a book that EXAMINES the Constitution by the Bible.

  2. Comment by Curt Day on November 10, 2015 at 8:02 am

    Couldn’t disagree with you more. How again did the 1sth amendment prevent Christians from practicing their faith, which I believe you called exercising Christianity?

  3. Comment by Kingdom Ambassador on November 10, 2015 at 9:04 am

    Hi Curt. Thanks for responding.

    Ask yourself: Is post-Constitution America merely 4-walled Christianity or is it Christendom, as in pre-Constitution America, particularly the early and mid-17th-century Colonial America?

    “…Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1835: ‘They [17th-century Colonials] exercised the rights of
    sovereignty; they named their magistrates, concluded peace or declared war, made police regulations, and enacted laws as if their allegiance was due only to God. Nothing can be more curious and, at the same time
    more instructive, than the legislation of that period; it is there that the solution of the great social problem which the United States now presents to the world is to be found [in perfect fulfillment of Deuteronomy 4:5-8].

    “Amongst these documents we shall notice, as especially characteristic, the code of laws promulgated
    by the little State of Connecticut in 1650. The legislators of Connecticut begin with the penal laws, and … they borrow their provisions from the text of Holy Writ. “Whosoever shall worship any other God than the Lord,” says the preamble of the Code, “shall surely be put to death.” This is followed by ten or twelve enactments of the same kind, copied verbatim from the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy. Blasphemy, sorcery, adultery, and rape were punished with death….’23

    “America was exalted in the eyes of the world because of her applied righteousness, embodied in Yahweh’s perfect law. Since 1788, when the United States of America, as a nation, stopped following Yahweh’s laws and began following the laws of WE THE PEOPLE, our legislation has ceased providing righteous instruction to others. Instead, the rest of the world now holds America
    in disdain. If America hopes to regain her favored status in the eyes of the world, she must return to her original Constitution.

    “McGuffey’s Eclectic Reader, America’s most popular school book in the 1800s, also testified to America’s early form of theocratic government:

    ‘Their form of government was as strictly theocratical insomuch that it would be difficult to say where there was any civil authority among them distinct from
    ecclesiastical jurisdiction. Whenever a few of them settled a town, they immediately gathered themselves into a church; and their elders were magistrates, and their code of laws was the Pentateuch…. God was their
    King; and they regarded him as truly and literally so….’24….”*

    Do you think what’s described above could be accomplished today in post-Constitution America?

    *For more, see Chapter 3 “The Preamble: WE THE PEOPLE vs. YAHWEH” at http://www.bibleversusconstitution.org/BlvcOnline/biblelaw-constitutionalism-pt3.html.

  4. Comment by Curt Day on November 10, 2015 at 9:23 am

    Kingdom Ambassador,
    The only valid appeals to righteousness I see in America are appeals to self-righteousness. And with that self-righteousness comes the freedom to judge and punish others in ways that contradict one’s claims of being righteous and even of being Christian.

    Plus, I don’t think the rest of the world ever agreed with your assessment of America

  5. Comment by Kingdom Ambassador on November 10, 2015 at 1:41 pm

    I’m not sure what assessment of America you’re referring.

    I quoted de Tocqueville and McGuffey who based their commentary on historical fact:

    For example:

    The Portsmouth, Rhode Island, Compact, 1638:
    We whose names are underwritten do hereby solemnly in the presence of Jehovah incorporate ourselves into a Bodie Politick and as He shall help, will submit our persons, lives and estates unto our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords, and to all those perfect and most absolute laws of His given in His Holy Word of truth, to be guided and judged thereby.

    Fundamental Agreement of the Colony of New Haven, Connecticut, 1639:
    Agreement; We all agree that the scriptures hold forth a perfect rule for the direction and government of all men in duties which they are to perform to God and to man, as well in families and commonwealth as in matters of the church; so likewise in all public officers which concern civil order, as choice of magistrates and officers, making and repealing laws, dividing allotments of
    inheritance, and all things of like nature, we will, all of us, be ordered by the rules which the scripture holds forth; and we agree that such persons may be entrusted with such matters of government as are described in Exodus 18:21 and Deuteronomy 1:13 with Deuteronomy 17:15
    and 1 Corinthians 6:1, 6 & 7….

  6. Comment by Curt Day on November 10, 2015 at 1:55 pm

    Mr. Ambassador,
    Tocqueville and McGuffey are not the only ones who based their commentary on America on historical fact. Native Americans who were killed or expelled from their lands or African & American slaves who lived through inequality after they lived through slavery would also have diffferent views of America. For example, read Frederick Douglas’s views on America’s Independence Day and you will get a view of America that is quite different from Tocqueville or McGuffey. And he based his statements on historical facts.

    Quite simply, when Christians do not distinguish church and society as Jesus and Paul did when they spoke on Church discipline, all of the flowery words about devotion to God are betrayed by how they treat those with different beliefs. Remember that the Puritans not only participated in the ethnic cleansing of the land, they persecuted and even martyred Quakers. You can even go farther back than that and look at what Martin Luther prescribed for the unbelieing Jews who lived in Germany.

    Certainly, some things carry over from the Old Testament. But neither America nor any other nation is what Israel was during Olt Testament times.

  7. Comment by Kingdom Ambassador on November 10, 2015 at 2:24 pm

    By the way, you can call me Ted.

    You’re missing the point. DeTocqueville and McGuffey based their “commentaries” on what was clearly found in some of the 17th-century Colonial Constitutions that formed governments of, by, and for God based upon His unchanging moral law rather than a humanistic government of, by, and for the people based upon capricious man-made Enlightenment and Masonic concepts.

    Did they do so perfectly? No, of course not. But that only proves the point of what comes from man straying even the slightest from Yahweh’s perfect law and altogether righteous judgments (Psalm 19:7-11).

  8. Comment by Curt Day on November 10, 2015 at 2:36 pm

    And Frederick Douglas and Chief Joseph based their commentaries on what they experienced and saw up front and in person. And you know, the writers of those God fear Constitutions didn’t seem to know what love one’s neighbor meant when their neighbor was of a different race and had what those writers wanted.

    Were those God fearing writers perfect? You answered yourself. But were they aiming to please God or were they putting on a show for either others, themselves or both? That is my guess from the available historical evidence. It’s simply our words that reveal our desires.

  9. Comment by Priscilla141 on November 6, 2015 at 5:58 pm

    The problem here is two fold. The first is neither of these sects belong to Biblical ( actual ) Christianity. The second is a difficulty of confusion. As believers we are under the New Covenant. The New Testament makes it clear that we obey the civil law of our country UNLESS it conflicts with Scripture. Then we of course obey the Bible, primarily the New Testament ( but also OT moral law. )

  10. Comment by Gregory Alan of Johnson on November 6, 2015 at 11:55 pm

    Christians should not contract with secular authority.
    The Bible is self-contained with a gov’t and commerce system.

  11. Comment by Curt Day on November 9, 2015 at 8:51 am

    One of the problems with the article above is the very last paragraph, in particular, the first sentence. That is because many subgroups of Christians will proclaim that they know, in practically an infallible sense, what God’s current laws are and who is violating them. If you don’t believe me then realize that there are conservative synods of the Lutheran Church that believe that their set of confessions are infallible. The Roman Church also claims infallibility for some of their church teachings

    Another problem this article has is that it doesn’t invite us to look at our actions based on religious liberty from the perspective of the recipients of those actions. So for the couple who denied medical care for their child because of their own religious beliefs, this couple refused to see the situation from their child’s position in life–obviously, they could not ask for the child’s opinion.

    The same goes for us regarding laws that control behaviors and practices in society. For example when many of us religiously conservative Christians opposed same-sex marriage in society, we failed to appreciate both what that meant as well as what the history of marginalization those from the LGBT community had to go through meant to those from that community. And since we are called to love our neighbor, such knowledge is important. And here, we should note that the state has the responsibility to protect the equality of its citizens.

    Thus, this second problem deals with the Conservative Church’s increasing insularity in a changing world. It isn’t that we have to conform to this changing world, but we are to love those in it. And we need to see how our exercising of our religious liberties affect others.

  12. Comment by Bob on November 13, 2015 at 9:24 am

    Hospitals and Doctors kill more people than guns
    WHY would anyone risk their child there
    unless the absolute last resort

    Then again, The Lord Giveth and Taketh Blessed be Yahweh’s holy Name.

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