Putting First Things First with Freedom

Putting First Things First with Freedom

January 17, 2018

Religious liberty isn’t found in political proclamations, but in the policies they inspire. In the last administration, the challenge wasn’t getting leaders to acknowledge Religious Freedom Day — it was getting them to practice it the other 364. That’s finally changed under Donald Trump, who wasted no time in beginning the process of repairing the foundation his predecessor destroyed.

One of the first things President Trump did last year was to put on his hard hat and start digging out the First Amendment from the wreckage of the last eight years. He dusted off a Constitution that had been buried under two terms of health care mandates, bathroom orders, same-sex marriage, and faith-based targeting and started the long, hard road of rebuilding America’s credibility. Now, almost a year into the White House’s salvage efforts, the fruit of the president’s efforts are paying off.

Voters have been rewarded for their confidence in Trump with everything from a public campaign against the Johnson Amendment to an executive order on religious liberty. After eight years of using the government against men and women of faith, this administration started fighting for them. Family businesses like the Phillipses’ and Vander Boons’ watched the White House come to their defense, instead of joining the attack. Health care workers celebrated the new rules protecting their conscience rights. Damaged churches in Houston and Florida saw the FEMA aid roll in, when an old policy would have blocked it. Even “Merry Christmas” made a comeback.

But as far as we’ve come, there’s still a long way to go. President Obama may be gone, but his spirit of religious hostility is alive and well in the Democratic Party. Just yesterday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) made it clear that she’s not interested in the First Freedom that built America. On social media, she blasted the president for his proclamation, telling him to stop “giving lip service” to religious liberty. (Of course, it’s not lip service the Left is worried about. It’s Trump’s policy.) The ACLU piled on, tweeting that if the president cared about freedom, he’d relax his immigration rules. Funny, I thought Religious Freedom Day was about letting the people who are already here practice their faith. Either way, we’ve come a long way from 1993, when President Bill Clinton first set the day apart. Now, the same party can’t even bring itself to celebrate the spirit of the freedom that made us all Americans in the first place.

Last night, during our “Washington Watch” special report, Senator James Lankford (R-Okla.) talked about how threatened liberals feel by religion. “In our country… it shouldn’t scare someone that I live my faith out, and someone who has a different faith is right next to me. As a government, we protect all of those individuals to be able to live out the tenants of their faith. The government shouldn’t be partial in choosing one or the other – but neither should we restrict someone. And if you’re confident in your faith, why would it intimidate you that the person next to you [holds] a different one? Live out the principles of your faith and let it make a difference.”

In a culture increasingly willing to separate public and private faith, Lankford said he can sympathize with a lot of Christians under pressure.

“I’ve had folks poke me and say, ‘You were 22 years in ministry before, but now you’re an elected official, so you need to set that aside.’ And I’ve smiled at them and said, ‘Not only does Article VI of the Constitution mean I don’t have to do that, which is specifically written for elected officials protecting their living of faith, but the First Amendment clearly does that. But quite frankly, it’s one of our great frustrations with people — that when they’re elected, they become something different. If I was a person of faith at home, I should still be a person of faith here as well. Otherwise, I become something that I’m not.”

Former Congressman Frank Wolf, who was the original author of the International Religious Freedom Act, helped our audience zoom out and look at religious liberty on the world stage. Unfortunately, he says, the crisis has only gotten worse. Despite President Trump’s determination to make America a global leader on the issue, Wolf thinks it’s the churches’ responsibility to act.

“[O]verall, the church has fundamentally failed,” he said soberly. “Most churches used to have a Religious Freedom Sunday where they would bring in somebody from Sudan and China. And now, they are almost all gone… Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”… I don’t see the church speaking and I don’t see the church acting.” When I asked him if he thought religious liberty was “better protected” today than 50 years ago, the former Virginia congressman replied simply: “No.” “We have 5.5 billion people living in repressive nations,” he explained. And “we don’t have the leaders we used to… We need some men like Martin Luther King.”

Lankford agreed. “We lose track of how different the American experiment still is about allowing people to have a faith and to live it even in greater diversity. Most countries of the world are not like that. We’re at our best when we’re promoting that… We need to set the example for that in America, and then help other nations push that in their countries.” He’s right. But that spark has to come from the pulpits and pews. Now that the president has opened the door, it’s up to Christians to walk through. That starts with prayer. The one constant I heard from the persecuted people in Egypt and Jordan was, “Pray for us!” Maybe your church could consider adopting a country or person and commit to intercede regularly for them. Then, if you feel led, find ways to partner with groups like Open Doors USA or Voice of the Martyrs. Or host a Religious Freedom Sunday or another event to raise awareness for our brothers and sisters overseas. Whatever you do, do something.

“Freedom,” Ronald Reagan warned, “is never more than one generation away from extinction.” The world needs a spiritual awakening — and that awakening starts with us.