FIRST-PERSON: A quarterback, an R&B singer & a society's split response
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (BP) -- I work with a group of Christian attorneys in a full-time ministry devoted to defending religious freedom in America. We don't lack for work. Strangely, in a country founded first and foremost on the principle of religious liberty, we find a growing hostility throughout the legal system and the culture at large toward people of faith.
That hostility comes in all kinds of ways: as an often fierce, unreasoning anger toward everything from crosses planted along roadsides or in military cemeteries to children singing or dancing to Christian songs in afterschool talent shows...
… from the renaming of Christmas holidays as "winter vacations" to the prosecution of those handing out flyers or Bibles on public sidewalks
… from the persecution of medical professionals who, out of conscience, decline to participate in non-emergency abortions to the firing of educators and eviction of students who so much as raise an ethical question or share a religious viewpoint in class discussions
… from the redistricting of city zones to ban churches to the refusal to grant Christian groups the use of public buildings to which every other organization enjoys ready access.
These are not just questions of faith vs. secularism. They go to the very heart of civil liberties in a democratic republic. The Christians our alliance represents are not looking for special legal privileges or indulgences, but for the most basic freedoms protected by the U.S. Constitution. To speak one's mind and honor one's conscience … to worship freely and gather with people of like mind and faith … to stand on a public sidewalk and make reasonable use of public meeting rooms -- these are the hallmarks of personal liberty, and the essence of the Bill of Rights.
Why, then, are Christians so often singled out for the blurring or suspension of these rights -- in many cases, with the permission of courts designed to protect our freedoms? Why is the so-called "separation of church and state" such a one-way street -- with churches barred from influencing government, but government freed to run increasingly roughshod over the church?
A primary reason for that hostility, in what has traditionally been recognized and acclaimed as a "Christian nation," is personified, perhaps, in the contrast between two current pop culture sensations: one, a pro football quarterback, the other an acclaimed R&B singer.
The latter is already regarded, at the tender age of 23, as one of the best-selling recording artists of all time. Her latest album, which in its first two weeks went platinum in the UK, features this quote in the liner notes:
"Lord, you have always been so good to me! Thank You for your LOVE, guidance, protection, the blessings that You continue to bestow upon me, and the people around me! I will always keep my eyes on You Lord."
That's as outspoken a statement of faith as you're likely to find on any CD not recorded by the Gaithers. Unfortunately, most of the songs on the album itself involve vivid celebrations of promiscuous sex in language too explicit for this website.
The quarterback, on the other hand, while just as outspoken about his faith, seems to make a point of living it out clearly, even boldly, in every setting -- whether that's kneeling in prayer in the end zone, encouraging his fellow players in practice, or avowing his virginity and mission work to reporters in a press conference.
The singer enjoys critical acclaim and a shelf full of music awards, while the quarterback remains a figure of considerable debate, controversy, and ridicule among fellow players, fans and sportswriters.
The difference? The singer's odes to Divinity in no way inhibit her exhibitionist embrace of a licentious culture, while the quarterback seems determined to follow a game plan for his life that deliberately sets him apart from our sex-saturated society.
The singer's mix of words and lifestyle suggest that being in good with God doesn't have to mean living any differently from people who despise Him. You can have your angel food cake and feast on devil's food, too.
The quarterback's actions, meanwhile, assert that to be Christian is not only to acknowledge God, but to take Him seriously -- including His directives for our moral choices and personal behavior.
That difference is the scrimmage line of our cultural struggle between people of faith and those who abhor any hint of religion in public life. The singer's example suggests that the God to whom so many tip their hat is naught but a glorified Santa Claus -- no less sweet, no more real. But if the quarterback is right, God not only exists, but is holy, omniscient, omnipotent and the One "to Whom we all must give account" (Hebrews 4:13).
That places a fearsome responsibility on a fearfully irresponsible age. And that is why Christians must be proven wrong. That is why they must be sidelined, satirized, silenced. And that is why, more and more, their civil liberties are up for grabs.
Alan Sears is a former federal prosecutor who held various posts in the departments of Justice and Interior during the Reagan administration. He is president and CEO of the Alliance Defense Fund (www.telladf.org), a legal alliance employing a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage and the family.