Free to be Pagan, but not Christian? Turning the First Amendment on Its Head

I grew up in a rural community in the foothills of North Carolina called Pinnacle, just south of the town of Pilot Mountain and just north of the town of King. Many, many moons ago my mother and her brothers and sisters graduated from the now non-existent King High School. Recently King (somewhat of a bedroom community of Winston-Salem) made national headlines when the town council conceded to the demands of an atheist, backed by the ACLU, to remove a Christian flag and the statue of a soldier kneeling in prayer before a cross from a veteran’s memorial in the city park. For the memorial citizens from King and surrounding communities placed stone pavers in honor of area veterans. Two of those pavers honor Acy Hardin Wall, who served in the Army during World War 1, and Marcus Haden Wall, who served in Korea. The former is my grandfather; the later my father.

Christian flag

The majority of the citizens of King and Stokes County are incredibly disappointed; many are indeed quite angry that they have been forced (some would say bullied) to remove Christian symbols from the veterans memorial. I think it’s fair to say that many are shocked that something like that could happen in a largely unknown town in that neck of the woods where it’s quite easy to think that so many things just couldn’t happen there. In the dream/nightmare-like aftermath many may be wondering just that: “how could this happen here?” While it may seem like this came out of nowhere, I think this is just the logical conclusion to an idea that, like a seed, was planted at the founding of our country.

soldier praying

It’s quite common to hear some insist that the United States was founded as a “Christian nation”; but how true is that? Sure it is true that Puritan separatist from England came here to form a distinctly Christian society patterned after the Israel of the Old Testament and the early church of the New. It is also true that there were devout Christians that strongly influenced the ethos of what would eventually become the United States of America under our current constitution in 1789. Nevertheless, along with those Christian influences were also the ideals of what is called “The Enlightenment,” whose ideals were in many ways hostile to religion, especially religion based on the notion of special revelation. This hostility was most clearly evident in the French Revolution. America fared better because of the influences of Christianity and especially the concerns for religious liberty that were passed down to our founders from the Pilgrims of Plymouth, Baptists in Rhode Island, the Quakers of Pennsylvania, and others. The concern for religious liberty was so strong that it became the first right of individual citizens spelled out in the Bill of Rights in our constitution. One could call this the first stone in the foundation of the rights of citizens. The First Amendment itself, however, greatly qualifies the notion that America was founded as a Christian nation since it prohibits Congress from legislating a favored status for any particular religion. Upon its founding, nonetheless, I believe America was indeed a Christian nation, mainly because the overwhelming majority of its individual citizens were Christian – at least nominally so. Although there has been a pretty dramatic decrease to a little below 75%, as late as 1990 86% of the population self-identified as Christian. It was the faith and general ethos of its citizens strongly influenced by Christianity that made the United States a Christian nation, more so than its laws. The Christian ethos was strengthened no doubt by the very public expressions of Christianity as the Gospel was proclaimed from pulpits and in the highways and byways of ordinary public life, especially by Methodists and Baptists, who followed the new country’s westward expansion preaching and establishing churches that often doubled as public schools.

While the First Amendment keeps Congress from establishing any particular religion, it does not (contrary to the way it is often misconstrued today) bar any individual or local community from expressing particular religious sentiments in speech or symbolism, privately or publically. That’s what the second clause, which restrains congress from making any laws that prohibit the free exercise of religion, is all about. As a matter of fact, while many states did not have established religions initially, some did. The founders never intended to ban any expression, verbal or symbolic, from public life. The point of the First Amendment was to allow for the “free exercise” and public expression of religion of any variety according to the consciences of individual citizens and local communities, not to bar public expression in public spaces. It was never intended to confine religious convictions to private opinions or even only within places of worship. Neither were the firmly held religious convictions and expressions of those convictions, or lack thereof, ever intended to become a litmus test for whether someone could hold public office as Article 6 of the Constitution indicates. “The Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom” drafted by Thomas Jefferson in 1779 gives us even more clarity as to the intent of the First Amendment and Article 6. It prohibited compulsory religious adherence and support but also protected citizens’ right to hold and express religious opinions or beliefs without threat of suffering for those opinions or being limited or barred from civil capacities. Yet today there is an increasing number of citizens who have been threatened, fined, put out business, and fired for expressing and trying to live in harmony with their religious moral convictions regarding the sacredness of sex and the sanctity of heterosexual marriage (i.e. the recent firing of the Atlanta Fire Chief  & the fining of a Christian Florist in Washington state). However slight this may seem to those who tacitly or explicitly approve of such censure and intimidation, this is unconstitutional tyranny nonetheless.

Today it is also common for students to be told that they can’t even mention the name of Jesus in speeches during public school assemblies.  There is such as atmosphere of intimidation that one of my children’s Christian teachers said she was leery about even asking for prayer from her students or their parents for her husband who had cancer.  This is clearly out of sync with the original intent of the founders. A good indication is the fact that the day after passing the First Amendment Congress also passed a resolution calling for a national day of prayer and thanksgiving. A little over 70 years later President Abraham Lincoln would also issue a Thanksgiving Day proclamation that would invite citizens to turn in praise to the “Most High God” and to humbly repent for “national perverseness and disobedience” during the height of the Civil War, as hard as it might be to imagine today. This is not to mention the fact that part of the day of ceremonies on the inauguration of George Washington, included the new President and Congress worshipping together at St. Paul’s Chapel in New York where they asked for God’s blessing on the new country. A few years later our first President thought nothing of inviting a Methodist Bishop, Thomas Coke, to come and preach (yes, preach!) before Congress – on the evils of slavery no less! What is clear is that initially the federal government did encourage and support religion in general, which early on would have been almost entirely Christian; even though no one denomination was given a legal privileged status.

Something has drastically changed. Today there are constant battles over public expressions of Christianity as with the case in the little town of King near where I grew up, and in the little town of Dallas, NC near where I now live. This past Christmas the town of Dallas was forced to move a Nativity display from the town square. Why is this happening? I believe that much of this can be traced back to another religious worldview that was also very influential, especially among the intelligentsia, at the time of the founding.

In addition to the Christian influences at our founding, it is also well known that there was a prevailing Deism among some of our founders, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin being two of the most prominent. While not a monolith, generally Deism is the worldview that acknowledges a Creator but denies that the Creator takes an active interest in the ongoing governance of the world. The Creator, like a watchmaker, as many Deists imagined, set the world in motion but allows it to run its course by the natural laws and processes that were put in place. While it shares some characteristics with Christianity, Deism is decidedly inimical to the orthodox Christian worldview. The best example of this, perhaps, is what Thomas Jefferson did to the New Testament to make it more “reasonable”. He literally cut out all the parts that referred to miracles (i.e. divine intervention) or to the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth leaving only a universal ethics handbook of sorts. What Jefferson did with” reason” and a sharp knife, the Jesus seminar led by panentheists/pantheists like John Dominic Crossan, Marcus Borg, and John Shelby Spong over two centuries later did with “reason,” votes, and different colored beads.

Undoubtedly 18th century Deists like Jefferson and Franklin, who (as the term “The Enlightenment” would suggest) believed that humanity was evolving to a higher state of consciousness and awareness in a new Age of Reason, also believed that the Deistic view was a higher and more “reasonable” view than the traditional orthodox Christian view. That is to say, they would have seen the Deistic worldview as progress from a less “enlightened” view to a more “enlightened” view of God, humanity, and the world. Although Deism may have seemed then, and even to some now, to be a higher stage of progress in the history of religious thought in the world, it was from a Christian perspective a step back, a regression rather than a progression.

The Bible reveals God as a transcendent being who created the world and remains active and involved in it through the Holy Spirit, but God not to be identified with the world. The God of the Bible is also intimately personal. He communicates with and forms covenantal bonds with human beings so personal that marriage and parental imagery are used to describe them. The God of the Bible is one who walks with and talks with human beings, whether Enoch or Abraham, or two disciples on a road from Jerusalem to Emmaus after the crucifixion. The God of the Bible is so intimately involved in and with his creation entered into it in the incarnation; that is when the divine word became flesh in the historical human being called Jesus, Emmanuel, which means God with us.

To the “enlightened” elite of The Enlightenment all of this was simply not possible. In general, Deists rejected the notion of revelation in favor of religious views based on observation of nature through human reason. This wasn’t a new leap forward into something completely brand new, however. To the contrary, as Christian theologian and prominent Bible scholar N.T. Wright has shown (see especially “Surprised by Scripture”), Deism was more or less the Epicurean philosophy of ancient Greece in 18th and 19th century clothes and white wigs. The difference being that the Deists believed in a Creator whereas the Epicureans believed that the universe is self-existent and spontaneously, randomly, and cyclically generates, destroys, and regenerates order and life as we know it, which is the basic underlying presupposition for modern atheistic evolutionary theory. As a matter of fact, N.T. Wright says that the gist of Epicureanism was summed up nicely in a slogan put on the side of London buses a few years ago by the evangelistic atheist and evolutionary biologists, Richard Dawkins, and his associates: “There’s probably no god. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life” (cited in “Surprised by Scripture” p. 7 on Kindle). So, Deism was a step away from Christianity and a step into Epicureanism and, consequently, a step toward paganism. For some this is progress; to orthodox Christians it is regression and a travesty.

While Deism made room for one god who was distinct from the universe, the theological, philosophical, and practical political effect was to push this god out of the world – presumably to leave the world to be run by people like Jefferson and Franklin. Even still, Franklin, the son of devout Congregationalists, was somewhat uneasy with the implications of the extremities of this worldview. A letter he wrote to Thomas Paine (easy to find via Google) expressed concerns about Paine’s version of Deism that excluded the possibility of “particular Providence”, that is active, specific, and discriminate Divine guidance in the world, rather than a passive Providence through the general laws of nature. Franklin’s concerns were more practical than theoretical in that Paine’s ideas would seem to weaken the positive effects of traditional religion to influence common people toward the good. At any rate, as Franklin’s sentiments in this case would imply, even the founders who were more Deistic in their worldview saw traditional Christianity to be useful to form a moral citizenry. It was this type of citizenry that John Adams famously said: “Our Constitution was made for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” While the founders seemed to value the Christian faith, it seems that some may have only done so in a secondary sense. As long as it was considered useful there was a place for it; but what happens when there is a further shift in worldview among the country’s elite that would render traditional Christianity no longer “useful” but a hindrance to “progress”?

Deism is a step away from Christianity and a step toward a pagan (meaning non Judeo Christian) worldview. The New Testament’s revelation of the Trinity, for which there is really no worldly analogy, makes it abundantly clear that the Triune God of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is wholly other than the cosmos – holy, holy, and completely holy. The Trinity also reveals the limits of human reason and requires the very thing that humans need in order to be saved, humility. The Unitarianism/Arianism inherent within the Deistic worldview leaves humanity’s pride and false sense of control firmly in place. Deism is inherently Arian in its theology (its view of God) and Pelagian (the view that humans are basically good and with the right moral guidance are quite capable of choosing good over evil without special grace/divine intervention) in its anthropology (its view of humanity). Interestingly, in his book, “Heresy,” Alister McGrath points out that during the Arian controversy Emperor Constantine preferred the more “rational” (in terms of Greco Roman philosophy) Arian position probably because it provided a better analogy for the total authority of a single earthly ruler, like Constantine himself no doubt (p. 148 on Kindle). At any rate, Deism carried to its extreme logical conclusion has the effect of pushing God out the lives of individuals and society; from there it’s not a long step to pushing him out of existence altogether.

As a matter of fact many Christians labeled Deists as atheists. For Christians like John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, this was more in terms of what is called “practical atheism” than theoretical atheism. Wesley doubted that there were in reality very many of the later, but was quite confident that there were plenty of the former as he believed that to be the natural fallen state of humans in general because of original sin. By this Wesley meant those who do not know God through the intimate covenantal fellowship that the Bible describes (see Sermon 125 “On Living without God”). Practical atheists are those who acknowledge the existence of God, but live their daily lives as if God really doesn’t exist. As a matter of fact many church councils seem to operate this way, as “if it is to be, it is up to me”, as a song, which was (according to a friend of mine) sung at the last United Methodist general conference, says. This would describe the Deist fairly well, and in reality it’s not too far from practical atheism to actual atheism, but there’s another step or two in between.

Although Deism eventually fell into disfavor among the general population, as Franklin’s letter to Paine indicates, it still exerted a quiet influence among the elites in society and even in the Church. Wesley warned about “enlightened” thinkers and even “enlightened” clergy who down play the reliability and trustworthiness of Scripture, especially as it pertains to original sin (See Sermon 123 “On the Deceitfulness of the Human Heart”). In the “enlightened” Enlightenment mind there is an underestimation of God and an overestimation of humanity. Although Deism seemingly still holds to an intelligent creator, it’s hard to see how this was a view of a personal being since this god was not really very personable in a direct and active way with creatures. The Deist god practically speaking is quite impersonal. From there it’s not far to the pantheism that so marked the pagan world. In fact that’s where things have gravitated among many of today’s “enlightened” theologians and clergy, the widely popular liberal theologian Marcus Borg, who recently passed away, being a good case in point. (Although Borg considered himself a panentheist, it seems to me a distinction without much of a substantial difference.)

Pantheists believe that God is everything and everything is God. The universe itself and everything in it, gods and humans included, are part of the Divine. In this case there is no transcendent God who exists apart from the universe. There is a conflation of the material and the divine. John Oswalt , in his book, “The Bible Among the Myths,” does a great job of explaining the fundamental difference between the general pagan worldview and the Judeo Christian worldview. In it he argues that paganism in all its various manifestations is marked by what he calls “continuity thinking”, which makes no essential distinction between matter and the gods. In fact, the gods are derived from matter and are just as much subject to the larger impersonal forces of the universe as anyone else. The gods themselves are seen as more specific personified impersonal forces of nature. Life in general is seen as cyclical and therefore not really headed to another destination. Magic and rituals are thought to be helpful to align the forces of the cosmos, including the gods as they are appeased and pleased, in one’s favor. The point being here that there are principles and forces to which the gods are bound apart from their own nature and will. Oswalt argues that when one begins with the idea that the world is all there is to go on in terms of discerning the meaning of life and the nature of the world, “continuity thinking” is the result. And “continuity thinking” is marked by relativism with regards to ethics (i.e. perhaps the motive behind Pilate’s question to Jesus: “What is truth?” in John 18:38) and syncretism with regards to religion, and the devaluing of individual human life, particularly evident in the practices of child sacrifice and infanticide, among other things. The other things would also include unbridled sexuality for which God judged the Canaanites and regarding which things God commanded Israel not to practice them (Lev 18:24-30; Ex 23:24). These are the same kinds of pagan practices that first century Jews like Jesus and Jewish Christians like Peter and Paul repeatedly reiterated for God’s people to avoid as well (i.e. Mark 7:21-22; Romans 1; 1 Thess 4:3-8; Eph 5:3; Gal 5:19-21; 1 Peter 1; 2 Peter 2). Oswalt argues that the pagan worldview is the result of reasoning from the perspective that the world, as it is, is all we have to go on; the result is a conflation of God with the cosmos. As the apostle Paul put it, “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served the creation rather than the Creator” (Rom 1:25).

Paul goes on to explain that this is the reason for sexual immorality and other manifestations of wickedness among fallen humanity. To push the true God out of the world leaves a vacuum; as the Bible reveals that vacuum is soon filled with gods of violence, sex, and greed. Whether we personify them or build temples for them or not, we seek to gratify them and bow down to them nonetheless. I think, though, that our culture has personified them more than we realize. One goddess, modeled in part after the Roman goddess, Libertas, stands tall in a harbor in New York. How much and how many have been sacrificed in the name of a self-centered, narcissistic notion of liberty?

Statue of Liberty

At our country’s founding seeds of Deism were sown and now we are reaping an abundant harvest of paganism. The poisonous fruit is not only in the culture, but also in the churches that have not been able to resist the forbidden fruit of respectability in the eyes of the world. Countless have been the churchmen and women who have sought to line up the theology and ethos of the church with that of the dominant culture surrounding it. Arius in the fourth century sought to bring the theology of the church in harmony with the middle Platonism of the surrounding culture. Pelagius sought to lessen the scandal of grace by bringing Christian theology more in line with the Roman cultural way of thinking about “justice,” reward and punishment based on one’s good or bad behavior. Theologian Alister McGrath argues that heresy (false teaching in the church) often results from good intentions rather than sinister motives, namely the desire to make the Gospel “relevant” to the surrounding culture and to grow the church (see chapter 8 in “Heresy”). In trying to make Christianity relevant, however, you can easily just end up with a pagan worldview with Christian labels and symbols. In this case you just end up honoring God with the lips but not with the heart (Isaiah 29:13), and inevitably an inversion of morality will result. Good is labeled evil and evil is called good (Isaiah 5:20). Pagan ideas and practices have seeped into churches in more ways than one.

Some have used stories and passages of scripture to lend divine support to the unbiblical creed expressed in the poem “Invictus”: “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.” It goes along quite nicely with the sentiment that “if it is to be, it is up to me.” In this case the desire to make Christianity culturally relevant has turned much of cultural Christianity today into a glorified “self-help” program designed to help the believer achieve the American Dream. In the extreme, pagan practices of incantation have crept into the church within the “word of faith” teachings that come under the harmless sounding banner of “the power of positive thinking” or “the law of faith.” This is just a “Christianized” version of the doctrine of “the law of attraction” that is taught in Wiccan and New Age circles. I was steeped in a Christianized version of this that a nondenominational group I used to belong preferred to call “the law of believing;” so when a young man who was a practicing Wiccan wanted to explain “the law of attraction” to me I already knew what he was going to say. There’s nothing wrong with positive thinking until you think it puts you in control of the forces of the universe including God. If you’re going to be truly Christian you must submit to the one true God, who is the real Master of your fate and on the only truly competent captain of your soul.

Cultural compromise in the church has opened the door wide to paganism in many ways. It began with accommodation of Enlightenment ideals. Alister McGrath writes, “As rationalism began to gain cultural influence throughout much of western Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, there was growing pressure for Christianity to abandon what was seen as Trinitarian irrationality and return to a more reasonable notion of God, such as that advocated by Deism” (p. 184, “Heresy”). Deism would exert a tremendous influence in the churches that longed to be culturally respectable. Deism, however, probably succumbed to pressure from multiple fronts, one being resistance from orthodox Christians like Jonathan Edwards and John Wesley, another the gravitational pull of a purer form of Epicureanism more in tune with its original pagan foundations. That is to say, Deism in the church would eventually give way to pantheism which is quite prevalent in liberal Christian circles. According to John Oswalt, pagan pantheism is naturally syncretistic with regards to religion and relativistic with regards to ethics and morality. Claims that there is only one true God and a clear right way and wrong way to live, especially as it pertains to sex, are quite distasteful to pantheistic sensibilities. Pantheism also has a disdain for the notion of a personal God, especially one by whom we will be judged. In this case God becomes more of an impersonal force that pervades nature and history, but is not independent of nature and history. The orthodox Christian view is that although God is actively present within creation, He cannot be completely identified with creation because He exists apart from and independently of creation. In other words, God, who created the universe out of nothing because of love rather than necessity, is transcendent and personal. To many a “progressive” Christian this is backwards and best left to the backwoods and out of civil discourse.

I witnessed a great example of this syncretistic pantheistic version of Christianity a few weeks ago. A United Methodist mentor group for pastors going through the ordination process that I am a part of went to a conference on St. Simons Island, GA at a United Methodist retreat center called, “Epworth by the Sea.” The two speakers for the conference were Phyllis Tickle and Nadia Bolz-Weber. The former is an Episcopalian theologian; the later an Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) pastor. Tickle proclaims a theory that the church is “progressing” through a 500 year cycle that is currently headed toward an “Emergent” version of Christianity. Apparently, Bolz-Weber with her postmodern ELCA church in Denver is the poster child for what Tickle regards as the “relevant” future of the Church. As it turned out due to unforeseen circumstances, Tickle was unable to be at the conference, although a substitute with fairly similar views was found. Nevertheless, in the van on the way to the conference I read most of Nadia’s memoir, “Pastrix.” Between that and her talks I got a good idea of her worldview.

In her book she describes her encounters and experience with Wiccan, one her experience of going to a Wiccan lesbian wedding. She insists that the Wiccan goddess is just another way of looking at the same being that the Bible calls God. Interestingly, during one of her talks she said that she no longer likes the word “Emergent” to describe her version of Christianity because that word is also applied to Christians whose views she finds despicable. As a result she said that the word “Emergent” has been rendered meaningless. (Too bad she doesn’t see that her conflating the identity of the Wiccan goddess and the God of the Bible has the same effect. I guess she has never considered the possibility that the goddess might feel the same way about Yahweh as she feels about the now disgraced conservative “emergent” pastor, Mark Driscoll and vice versa, but I digress.) Anyway, Pastrix Bolz-Weber’s version of the Christian faith inspires her to an oxymoronic “holy irreverence,” she says. One example of this “holy irreverence” is how she used the baptismal font as a chocolate fountain during a party after a worship service. She also used that same font to bless the transitioning of a transgender woman named Mary who was attempting to become a man. She used the baptismal covenant to rename Mary, “Asher.” Bolz-Weber compared the significance of this event to the conversion of Saul to Paul and the conversion of Martin Luther as well. As Bolz-Weber, who once tried her hand at standup, frequently cussed like a sailor (including when she called Rev. Franklin Graham “bat sh&% crazy”) the audience made up of mostly older mainline protestants looked on in oblivious glee at what was more like an HBO standup comedy routine than Christian teaching. If this is where the “progressive Christian” train is headed, I think I’ll stay at the station!

While traditional orthodox Christianity finds itself very much at odds with an ever increasing hostile culture, the “progressive” version is a fairly handy handmaid to it. The former evangelical pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Michigan, Rob Bell, recently in an interview with Oprah Winfrey, a New Age guru in her own right, basically said that the church needs to catch up with the culture in terms of sexuality and gay marriage. As a matter of fact, as odd as it sounds, there are some pulpits in liberal churches occupied by atheist preachers. One of the most infamous was Jim Jones, who eventually became the cult leader of “The People’s Temple.” Before he started his own “church” and became a darling of political left in San Francisco and beyond, Jones was a student-pastor in the Methodist Church. In addition to being a communist, Jones was also an atheist, who after denying the existence of God became convinced that he himself was God. Jones sought to use the church to promote his social vision. There’s also the current Dean of the Washington National Cathedral, The Very Rev. Gary Hall, who describes himself as a “non-theistic” Christian – perhaps something between pantheism and atheism, or just a way to avoid using the more shocking term atheist. Hall apparently did tell Dr. Richard Dawkins, author of “The God Delusion” that he “doesn’t believe in the God that Dawkins doesn’t believe in either.” Of course, Hall’s theology (non-theology?) leads him to believe that it is just too repressive and cruel to prohibit sex outside of heterosexual marriage, and therefore thinks premarital sex is fine and homosexual marriage and full LGBT inclusion in the life of the church is a no-brainer (See Wahington Post Article here).

I’ve heard Dawkins himself talk about how he sometimes works with “progressive” Christians in trying to influence social policy. LGBT activist, Dan Savage, himself a homosexual, who believes that marriages, gay or otherwise, should be more monagamish (i.e. consensual adultery or “swinging”) than monogamous because the later is just not natural and no consensual sexual desire (he would say “need”) should go unfulfilled, also works and counsels in coordination with “progressive” Christians to further the LGBT agenda (See Huffpost Article here).

Secularists like Dawkins and “progressive” Christians like Hall and others share much in common. “Progressive” and “progressive” leaning pastors have personally told me that they have much more in common with many atheists than conservative Christians. Perhaps what Dawkins calls a blind watchmaker, the “progressive” Christian pantheist calls “God,” albeit an impersonal one. The other thing they share in common, perhaps, is what Oswalt calls “continuity thinking” and what Wright calls an Epicurean worldview. In other words, they are both much closer to a pagan worldview than a Judeo-Christian one.

The Pagan worldview with its syncretism and relativism is quite accommodating for just about anything and everything except the revelation of the one true God who makes specific moral demands to which every human being will be held to account. As the book of Revelation demonstrates, Christians in the first century found themselves at odds with a Greco-Roman culture that had very little tolerance for those who refused to bow down to the emperor and the rest of the Greco-Roman pantheon. They were free to worship the Christian God, but not God alone. As long as they worshiped the other gods too they were okay. But to not worship the one True God, the Living God (see 1 Thess 1), and Him alone, was not to worship Him at all. These Christians were also pressured to compromise their sexual purity as well, to go along with a culture whose sexual mores were not all that different from the culture we live in today. Some of the church leaders in fact did lead their people to believe that sexual immorality was okay (see Rev. 2:18-29). The same can be said for some in the church in Corinth to which Paul wrote (see 1 Cor 6:9-11). For the churches addressed in Revelation , refusal to compromise could have cost them their livelihoods, and, at certain points, even their lives. Yet Jesus called them to remain faithful no matter how grave the threat (see Rev. 1-3, & 12-14).

The sexual ethic being pushed by our culture today is in tune with the paganism of old, but very much discordant with the traditional Judeo-Christian worldview. The same can be said for the sexual ethic being pushed by progressive Christians. The “Reconciling Ministries Network,” an unofficial United Methodist group fully dedicated to the LGBTQetc. agenda, for All Saints’ Day, displayed a pictorial on their Facebook page of various biblical and historical saints paired together in homosexual relationships. This included Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Jesus kissing in a lesbian embrace. Along with these saints, Harvey Milk, the former San Francisco mayor and famed gay rights activist (who is known to have had multiple sexual relationships with teenage boys, one of whom committed suicide when Harvey broke up with him) was also prominently pictured, more so than any other, with a yellow glow behind his head. The famous Greek pagan emperor, Alexander the Great (who according to the custom of the ancient Greeks may himself have had sex with young boys) may have been proud, but it is impossible for me to imagine that Jesus would be. We shouldn’t be surprised to find a relationship between one’s theology and one’s view of what is sexually permissible, even if some still want to operate under the illusion that theology can be separated from ethics. Just take the atheist Richard Dawkins’ response in a debate with John Lennox:

“You could possibly persuade me that there was some kind of physical, mathematical genius who created the expanding universe, devised quantum theory, relativity and so on. But that is radically and fundamentally incompatible with the sort of God who cares about sin, the sort of God who cares about what one does with one’s genitals, the sort of God who is interested in one’s private thoughts and wickedness. Surely, you can see that a God who is grand enough to make the universe is not going to give a tuepenny cuss about one’s thoughts and sin.” (See Transcript for entire debate here)

In Dawkin’s case, it seems quite evident that for him theology is directly connected to a concern over who gets to determine what one does with one’s genitals, us or God. Theology can’t be separated any more from ethics than the first three commandments can be separated from last seven of the Ten Commandments without unraveling the bonds of the covenant relationship of which they were all a part. God made it quite clear through the prophets that morals and worship can’t really be separated. Just take a gander through Micah or Malachi. Neither should it be a surprise that now not only are Christian symbols being expelled from public spaces, but also Christians who hold and express the values of their faith, especially as it pertains to marriage and sex.

So how did we get to the point where there’s no longer room Christian symbolism and Christianity in public spaces? Perhaps the seed of Deism has grown into a great pantheistic tree that has a branch for virtually every kind of bird but one, those who believe in one true God who is Lord of Heaven and Earth.  The First Amendment has been turned on its head. Now, more or less by judicial fiat, or the overwhelming threat of a lawsuit, a semi-pagan secular humanism has become the de facto established religion of the land of the brave and home of the free (?); and the country is having a hard time finding room for those who, like Daniel in Babylon, refuse to go along with the program.

History is replete with examples of the attempt to push the one true God out of the world, to try live as if God doesn’t exist, and even to declare that God is dead. On a hill far away, just outside the city of Jerusalem, wayward Jews and Gentile sinners conspired together to once again attempt to push God in Christ out of this world on a Roman cross. Yet there where he was expelled from the city by those who hoped to rid him from the world, he prayed, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). The human heart in its natural state of original sin, has no room for the one who made it either; but through repentance and faith, Jesus Christ can turn a Godless stone monument of human pride into the humble abode of the Triune God. Jesus died for the ones who despised and rejected him, and on the third day God raised him from the dead. Our rejection of Him was His acceptance of us. Will you make room for him today? Will you raise the white flag of surrender and welcome him into your heart, into your family, and into your community? Our Lord was knocked down but he was never out; he was expelled but never left; he was declared dead but yet he lives. He will never leave us or forsake us! He has shown us the way! Take a stand for truth in love; and you too will overcome by the blood of the Lamb and the word of your testimony (Rev. 12:11).


11 thoughts on “Free to be Pagan, but not Christian? Turning the First Amendment on Its Head

  1. As a point of fact, I checked the Reconciling Ministries Network Facebook page and did not find the pictures referred to in the article. Did they take them down? Otherwise an excellent article! I share many of the same sentiments with you and would enjoy meeting you some day.

    Rev. Jim Govatos Aloma United Methodist Church 3045 Aloma Ave. Winter Park, FL 32792 407-671-2180 407-678-5070 (Fax) [cid:image002.png@01D04D30.9D380E90]

  2. Excellent article. I pray that Methodism may be caught with the fire of revival again. The Triune God that fired the heart of the Wesleys must now fire our hearts till Jesus returns.

  3. Thank you Cliff. I appreciate your study and your writing. The essence of [Christianity] is to give a clear witness for Jesus Christ (prophecy is the word in Rev. 19:10 NLT). You have given a clear witness. You show us what happens when we stray from the Book even just a little.

    Ism or I AM? I choose the latter.

  4. Pingback: Sexuality and the Church: The Liberal Litmus Test | umc holiness

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