The Satanic Temple wants to erect a monument in Oklahoma “as an homage to the historic/literary Satan,” right next to the Ten Commandments.
And frankly, Christians asked for this to happen. Do I think the Satanists should be allowed to have it put up? Given the climate created by a sect of Christians who find it of utmost importance to erect and maintain religious symbols in government — yes.
Do I want them to put it up? Absolutely not — for a bunch of reasons. But this is the corner we’ve backed ourselves into.
This is what happens when we spend our resources fighting for things that have no true impact on the world. We can choose to believe that those heathen liberals are trying to take God out of government, take prayer out of schools, and take Christ out of Christmas, but at the end of the day, it’s not about that.
It’s not about removing God from government (as if we could relegate God from one place to another) — it’s about creating a level playing field where true freedom of religion exists and allows for a more genuine living and sharing of faith.
This satanic proposal, though, is what happens when we become so concerned with dressing up every aspect of the external that we neglect the more important issues of the internal. I believe Jesus said it like this:
“ You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. (Matthew 23:27-28, NIV)
My observation on issues like this is that some Christians become so preoccupied with “taking back” and “restoring” the superficial and putting a Christian label on the physical, that they neglect the truly important missional directives of the Gospel – unconditional love, sacrificial service and freedom from sin, self and selfishness.
I happen to believe that one way this selfishness is manifested is through an idolatrous commitment to our own individual brand(s) of Western Christianity, wherever we happen to fall amongst the approximately 41,000 Christian denominations, instead of committing ourselves to the cause of Christ and discipleship.
We can get so concerned with dressing up the externals to visually display to the world who we are, who we worship, and who we follow — that we take up time that would be better spent allowing that God to transform our internal being into people who make an impact on the world around us in real, tangible ways that do exponentially more good than a monument on a public lawn or a Christian prayer forced upon non-Christians at a public meeting.
There’s somehow this misconception that building a monument of the Ten Commandments or of a cross or a statue of Jesus is somehow going to make us this loved-and-preferred-by-God, theocratic Christian nation, or that it’s going to be the thing that non-Christians see and think, “Wow, look at that! I should be a Christian!”
I’m sorry, but it just doesn’t work like that.
These controversial actions and idols, if we’re being honest, just spark dissent and make us less like the Jesus we claim to follow.
Jesus traveled, He taught, He allowed people to be transformed by their contact with Him, with God, with His Gospel message. He made no efforts to get His government to recognize and submit to His authority or the authority of Yahweh. In fact, He made the distinction between church and state, advising the people to give to Caesar (government) that which belongs to him, and give to God that which belongs to God (Matthew 22:15-21).
Yes, this was specifically about paying taxes, but some principles are there that I don’t think are much of a stretch: Don’t withhold from the government what belongs to the government, and don’t give to the government what belongs to God.
The government is supposed to be a representation of the people — all people — so don’t withhold that. Don’t rob the government of its ability to equally represent its citizens.
The church, prayer, sacraments, celebrations of faith all belong to God — don’t try to force those things upon the government and upon a people who have not willfully, joyfully chosen them.
Jesus reserved his harshest language for the religious hypocrites, was a humble servant, and relegated Himself to the lowest task of washing people’s feet. He loved humanity so much that He was willing to die for that extravagant, selfless love and commitment to supporting the outcast that He proclaimed as a way of life — a part of the narrow road, by which He said few would travel.
If your goal is conversion, it’s certainly not working. (And I might also ask, “Conversion to what?”) I don’t think there’s any dispute over that; please correct me if I’m wrong. Show me the throngs of people who fall in love with Jesus at the sight of a Christian monument in front of a statehouse. My God is much more relational than that.
How are these monuments and public, forced prayers loving and serving our Muslim, Hindu and Pagan neighbors? Could we not just as effectively gather our Christian brothers and sisters — those who want to pray to Christ — together just before the meeting and pray before entering?
How do non-Christians find out that we are Christians?
Is it by our love (John 13:35),
or do they find out when we bitch-slap them
with our Bibles?
Perhaps, upon realization that our methods are achieving a “zero percent” effectiveness rating, and are in fact achieving the opposite effect from what we were hoping, we may want to consider altering those methods of sharing the Gospel.
You see, as a Christian, my spirituality, my closeness to God, my effectiveness as a disciple of the living Christ — meaning my ability to be “salt and light” (Matthew 5:13-16) to the world, embodying the unconditional and extravagant love of the Christ, is not measured by how valiantly and effectively I fight to keep the visible name of my God etched on a wall or attributed to an organization run by a body that is supposed to be representative and inclusive of people from many diverse faith groups.
An additional problem that adds fuel to the fire, no pun intended (and you’ll see why), is that many evangelical Christians believe that it is up to them to, at any cost, try to rescue their unsaved friends and family from the very literal hell that they will be condemned to endure — where their flesh will be continuously, agonizingly burned from their bones for all eternity — if they do not accept Jesus into their hearts before they die.
Who wants to see their friends go through that? Of course you would want to help your loved ones avoid being tortured in hell if you could. I understand that’s where the passion for these things comes from — it starts (I believe) with a pure desire to help people — but unfortunately, somewhere along the way, the passion gets misdirected into inconsequential activities.
So if your methods are not achieving the desired results, it’s time to reevaluate your methods. You cannot force-feed God and Jesus to people. Love — and that’s what it’s all about — does not work that way.
A small, loose analogy…
Let’s say you have two friends, both single, and you think they’re perfect for each other. One option you have is to mention it to one or both of them.
“Hey Joe, I’ve got this friend, Mary, that I’d really like you to meet. No pressure or anything, but I think she’d really rock your socks off.”
That might segue into a normal, smooth, even organic introduction.
You wouldn’t bring Joe to Mary’s workplace, march him over to her desk and say, “Mary, this is Joe. You’re perfect for each other. I demand that you spend time with him every day, and at the end of the week I expect you to be married. I’ve already hired a priest to officiate the wedding.”
It doesn’t make any sense. And even if they were perfect for each other, they’re probably going to be so weirded out by your behavior out that they won’t even want to look at one another.
We’re talking about love here. Sometimes it’s love at first sight, sometimes it takes an introduction and time. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. In Joe and Mary’s case, you are not responsible for how they respond to one another.
In the case of the heaven and hell evangelism dilemma, you cannot allow your own personal guilt (and sometimes pride) issues to cloud your judgment on what constitutes a legitimate sharing of the love of God.
Instead of petitioning for that monument, how about you pick up a shovel and take care of your neighbor’s snowy driveway before they have to leave for work?
Simple acts of service can go a long way to show love and reflect the image of God.
My question to those Christians who still feel the need to fight for Ten Commandments monuments and Christian prayer in schools and Christian prayers at public meetings with elected and other governmental officials is this –
What would your reaction be if at every Town Hall or City Council meeting, where people of all faiths are represented, a prayer to Allah was offered?
How would your devout Christian household handle it if your child was forced to bow his or her head in prayer to a pagan god at the start of each school day?
Wouldn’t it be much more efficient, organic and life-giving if those conversations of faith happened naturally, amongst friends and families, over dinner, a cup of coffee or a bundle of raked leaves? No one likes being forced into anything, especially when it comes to a topic as sensitive and deeply-held as religion.
By all means, share your faith. Freely, openly, lovingly. Let the love of Jesus flow out of your words and thoughts and acts of service in ways that people can recognize as God-sourced. Let the world know your are a Christian by the love you show for one another. Take the advice Paul gave to the church of the Thessalonians:
“…make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders…