10 But Paul said [to Porcius Festus]: “I am standing at Caesar’s tribunal, where I ought to be tried. I have done no wrong to the Jews, as even you can see very well. 11 If then I am doing wrong, or have done anything deserving of death, I do not refuse to die, but if there is nothing to what these men accuse me of, no one can give me up to them. I appeal to Caesar!” 12 After Festus conferred with his council, he replied, “You have appealed to Caesar; to Caesar you will go!” (Acts 25:10-12, HCSB)
Paul knows all-too-well that if the Jewish leaders can get him out of the civil courts, he is doomed. The reason? Public opinion was not in Paul’s favor. So appealing to Caesar because of his Roman citizenship remains his plan of defense and eventually leads to his transfer to Rome.
The church may need to come to similar defense strategies. Hobby Lobby, a for-profit business built on biblical principles, remains embroiled in the Supreme Court related to government required health care mandates they feel to be immoral. I read today that the largest denomination in the country has conceded defeat in the “culture war” related to gay marriage. In other words, public opinion is not with the church, but against it. The question is whether the church will stick to scriptural morals despite the waves of public opinion crashing against her.
But I’m not so sure we should concede defeat just yet. Like Paul, before we “give up” we should appeal to Caesar…or in our case the Constitution of the United States.
This issue relates to a government mandating things you and I might find objectionable. In the Bill of Rights, the First Amendment to our Constitution prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion or impeding the free exercise of religion. Requiring a person of conscience to pay for abortifacients (drugs that induce abortion) is unconscionable and in direct opposition to our first amendment rights. So is forcing a Christian business-person to provide services for a morally objectionable ceremony. Perhaps someday soon forcing a church or pastor to perform this objectionable ceremony.
In 2009, several Judeo-Christian thinkers released a statement called the “Manhattan Declaration: A Call to Christian Conscience.” Truth be told, it’s not very radical, like the media outlets would have us believe. But it does put into words well what many Evangelicals believe. Let me quote two significant passages:
“Because the sanctity of human life, the dignity of marriage as a union of husband and wife and the freedom of conscience and religion are foundational principles of justice and the common good, we are compelled by our Christian faith to speak and act in their defense. In this declaration we affirm: 1) the profound, inherent, and equal dignity of every human being as a creature fashioned in the very image of God, possessing inherent rights of equal dignity and life; 2) marriage as a conjugal union of man and woman, ordained by God from the creation, and historically understood by believers and non-believers alike, to be the most basic institution in society and; 3) religious liberty, which is grounded in the character of God, the example of Christ, and the inherent freedom and dignity of human beings created in the divine image.
Because we honor justice and the common good, we will not comply with any edict that purports to compel our institutions to participate in abortions, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide and euthanasia, or any other anti-life act; nor will we bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriages or the equivalent, or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality and immorality and marriage and the family. We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. But under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is God’s.”
I wholeheartedly endorse this declaration and have signed it. I believe it is the duty of both individual citizens and churches to “submit to the governing authorities that have been established by God (see Romans 13:1-7).” However, when those governing authorities ask (or compel) God-fearing citizens to violate Scriptures and our Spirit-enabled consciences, I will not. We must not. I will not begrudge Caesar what is his, but I will hold dearly to, and fight for, what is God’s…no matter the price. I believe this is a cost all American Christians must begin to weigh and pray about.