Michael Salman, a Phoenix pastor, is serving a 60-day jail sentence. According to Salman and his supporters, he is behind bars for holding a Bible study in his home. According to the local authorities, however, he held weekly gatherings of up to 80 people in a structure that did not comply with applicable zoning codes and safety regulations.
Regardless of the merits of this individual case, it is clear that the once pro-Christian culture in America has changed. “Blue laws” governing Sunday activities are ancient history. Christmas Nativity scenes are now generally banned from publicly owned spaces. In New York City, a move is under way that would prohibit public schools from being used by churches. In our own city, a group has protested the mayor’s practice of conducting prayer breakfasts.
For many Christians, these and similar actions signal a rising tide of anti-Christian sentiment which would have been unthinkable just a short time ago.
The hard truth, however, is that the public affirmation of religion in all its forms is now considered unacceptable in American culture. The official government support that Christians have historically enjoyed has been almost completely eroded, and like it or not, this is the “new normal.”
But rather than railing against this loss of public approval, Christians need to contend for our faith the old-fashioned way: by proclaiming and living out the simple truth of the Gospel, without looking to Caesar for help in doing so.
The earliest followers of Christ knew the true meaning of persecution, as do countless thousands today in places like China, the Middle East, Sudan and Nigeria. Yet the message of salvation and servanthood through Christ not only survives, but flourishes under such conditions.
Perhaps this new reality will humble us to seek the approval, not of Caesar, but of Christ.
THE REV. ED REES IS THE PASTOR OF ST. ANDREW PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH IN AUGUSTA.