A nativity scene was removed from the public square after an objection was raised that it was unconstitutional. In local coffeeshops, churches, newspapers and blogs a lot of detritus was stirred up. This following post is just my trying to think this through as clearly as possible. It is written in a format of an open letter to fellow believers in Jesus Christ, but is not really intended as a public document, just a way for me to get hold of what my priorities are.
Could one of my fellow Christians tell me how the name of Jesus is advanced by the way many of us (I’m embarrassed to have to admit I’m part of the us) have responded to the nativity scene situation?
As a visitor among you from another land I will be as polite as I can but I have this habit of asking hard questions that don’t come off as nice. This is what I see from within my view of what following Jesus entails:
A set of religiously symbolic objects was removed from state property because someone pointed out they were “a clear violation of the constitutional principle of church-state separation.”
An outcry resulted. Nasty comments either attacking the objector, or in defense of the necessity of these Christian symbols being in the public square, or doing both, were posted. Many implied they were from Christians or clearly stated it.
To my ears and eyes, the hue and cry was disturbing on several levels, but primarily because people who carry the name of Christ in their religious professions were besmirching that name by ignoble behaviour, ironically in the naive belief they were defending that name. That is very very sad-making for me. In watching people fighting to keep Christ in Christmas (which is in itself debatable: what we have made the birthday into is far from what Christ was all about in my view, but then I might be a bit of a Scrooge by nature). I saw little evidence Christ was living in the majority of contentious objectors. Again, sad. Which of course raises questions, one of which is “What has the Way or movement Jesus founded by his humble birth, bold teaching and call back to God, suffering, torture, death and resurrection followed by the release of the Holy Spirit become? It appears to be a gospel-empty civil religion? If so, again this is sad. Sensible voices speaking for the Christ I know were not rising to my awareness in the hubbub.
Here is what I do know:
Our Christian Bible tells us to obey the state.
Our Christian Bible tells us as body of Christ not to try to become the state.
Our Christian Bible, read through Protestant glasses particularly — but not only — warns against the dangers of religious symbols becoming a replacement for God (instead of a means of connecting with God).
The Bible and history give us many examples of the dangers of the State and the Church being “in bed” together. Or a cattle stall or manger for that matter.
So, fellow bearers of the label Christian, lets work to keep Christ operating in our hearts and through our lives, including our words. Let’s not make a scene about a nativity scene in the public square the equivalent of a hill to die on. Please! For His sake. We will win many more to him by that than by knee-jerk words or antics.
One’s religion (the practices by which one’s spirituality is lived out) also shape one’s values. One’s values shape what is said and done in the public square, and in even in public service in the government.