Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Christian Courage in the Face of Death

The Christian Legal Society fights to protect and defend religious freedom.  Since the mid-1970s, we have been engaged in the struggle in courtrooms and state or federal legislative bodies.  And although the fight continues daily, a recent story again reminded me of its importance. 

Last week, a Sudanese woman was sentenced to death for marrying a Christian man:
"Dr Meriam Yahya Ibrahim [Ishag] was condemned to hang for allegedly leaving Islam and marrying a Christian man.

The court said that by doing so, she had abandoned her religious faith and was guilty of apostasy, which carries the ultimate penalty under Islamic law in the country."      
- BBC News, May 15, 2014
The court gave her three days to recant her faith.  She refused.  She bravely affirmed her Christian faith.  What makes the choice in my mind even more difficult is that she is eight months pregnant. The judge reportedly will allow her to give birth to the child before hanging her.
"We gave you three days to recant but you insist on not returning to Islam. I sentence you to be hanged to death," the judge told the woman, AFP reports. . . .The judge also sentenced the woman to 100 lashes after convicting her of adultery - because her marriage to a Christian man was not valid under Islamic law.
This will reportedly be carried out when she has recovered from giving birth."
- BBC News, May 15, 2014

Dr. Ishag's courage is incredible. The fact that she will not live to raise her own child will not deter her from declaring her belief in Jesus Christ. Her bravery should cause all Christians to reflect. Thankfully, Christians in America are not losing our lives for our faith, but we are facing increased persecution from society, the media, and even our friends and family. Some have even lost their businesses because of their faith in Jesus Christ. But we must decide, will we continue to have courage, even the courage of Dr. Ishag, when any level of persecution is leveled against us?

I recently heard a quote, floating around Internet attributed to both John F. Kennedy and/or Mack Stiles, "Most of the world fears the raised fist while we in America fear the raised eyebrow." Although most American Christians face neither death or the loss of income, many are afraid to be "disliked" or thought of in a negative manner for our faith.  Would we have her courage if we faced the same noose?  

As I pray for Dr. Ishag (and her appeal), her family, and her child, I also pray for myself and my children.  I pray that if (and some say it is really a matter of "when" in America) the time comes, we will have the same courage and say "I am a Christian," no matter what the cost.

Monday, May 5, 2014

To Pray Or Not To Pray?

The Supreme Court in the Town of Greece v. Galloway case held on Monday that municipal prayers do not violate the Establishment Clause. It was a win in a culture where the efforts to remove all aspects of "religion" from the public square seem to be gaining the upper hand. The recognition that faith and religion matter to people outside of the place where they worship is a step in the right direction.

However, many reading the decision or hearing the news may not realize that there are thoughtful Christians and religious liberty advocates on both sides of this debate. So although many of our friends and allies are celebrating the decision, others think this decision is harmful.

In recap, the Town of Greece allowed community members representing various faith groups to offer prayer before its town council meetings, but two citizens challenged the practice. The Second Circuit held the practice unconstitutional, but was overruled by the High Court.

In writing for a conservative majority, Justice Kennedy said, "The inclusion of a brief, ceremonial prayer as part of a larger exercise in civic recognition suggests that its purpose and effect are to acknowledge religious leaders and the institutions they represent, rather than to exclude or coerce nonbelievers."

Our friends on the other side of this argument, including Professor Carl Esbeck, believe that governmental prayer is harmful. He asks, in this Christianity Today article, whether we have "rendered unto Caesar a franchise to pray, otherwise thought to be a privilege of conversing with God that we ascribe to his followers?" He also goes on to warn us that "what shouldn't be done is to harness the government to do the job of the church."

It is good to have a difference in opinion, but Kennedy is right in my humble opinion. The right to believe and act on the belief in a higher power should be protected. It is just as harmful to force someone to pray, who doesn't believe in God, as it is to deny a believer the opportunity to pray to their God.

Thankfully, not only do we have the Free Exercise Clause in the First Amendment, we also have a Free Speech provision. Our founders understood that the right to speak is more important than the right to only hear what we want to hear, which is the principle underlying the dissent.