Civil Liberty and True Religion

This is part two of my reflection on the following prompt from Writing in the Margins…

Galatians 5:1 speaks to our freedom in Christ.  Take your Bible to a place where you can engage the news of the word…Write a prayer for freedom for those in particular places in our world where violence and oppression reign.

In my previous post, I prayed as Lisa Nichols Hickman instructed.  As I reflected on areas of the world with violence and oppression, God laid something on my heart:  an important way to honor the persecuted church is to deeply and fully appreciate the religious freedom we enjoy.  Far too often we squander it, sleeping in on Sundays and letting our Bibles collect dust.  It’s a privilege and a blessing to worship in freedom; to own and read (and even doodle) in the Bible.  It’s a blessing to explore our religion in depth and nourish our spirits.  There are people in the world who can’t practice their religion without risking arrest.  As I read about Christian persecution around the world, two main causes came up again and again:  dictatorial paranoia and religious extremism.  In America, we owe such a debt of gratitude to the framers of the constitution for protecting us from overreaching politics and religion run amuck.

I keep thinking of a sermon titled “The Dominion of Providence over the Passions of Men” (May 17, 1776) delivered by Rev. John Witherspoon, a Presbyterian minister and leading influence in the educational and intellectual life of colonial America.  He signed the declaration of independence and nine of his Princeton students went to the Constitutional Convention in 1787, including James Madison, father of the Constitution.  In the sermon, Rev. Witherspoon advocated the duty to resist tyranny and proclaimed a sure faith that God would ultimately bring good out of evil.  He taught that praising human nature leads humans in the wrong direction, but recognizing our lost state kindles the desire for grace and a longing for peace and righteousness.  His vision for the young country was one of liberty, justice, and humanity brought about by civil liberty and true religion.  He ended his sermon with a prayer that any unjust attempt to destroy liberty or true religion, would in the end lead to the support and establishment of both.  I somehow know that Rev. John Witherspoon is in heaven and still praying for this country.  I join my voice with his in offering this prayer for America:

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For Witherspoon, the essence of true religion was simply “responding to providence with suitable inward temper and outward conduct.”  I can’t help but think if Witherspoon had a Bible verses to share with Americans today, it might be Galatians 5:13-15.

For you were called to freedom, brothers.  Only do not use your freedom as on opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.  For the whole law is fulfillied in on word:  “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.

As Americans, our calling is freedom.  And our responsibility, regardless of creed or faith tradition, is simply to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.  God bless America.

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