The threat appears regularly in the comments on our social media pages. The first time you learn that passing your faith on to your children is considered a form of child abuse, you’re taken aback. But then the allegation is repeated over and over and over again. The first time you see talk of “stamping out the virus of religion,” you wonder what that means. But then you learn what it means for some when another commenter nonchalantly recommends going into the churches, slitting the priests’ throats, and finally getting on with the evolution of society.
Such anti-religious (typically, anti-Christian) attitudes as are now spreading like wildfire through social media. Similar sentiments played out horrifically in the French Revolution, the Marxist purges in Eastern Europe and China, the Cristero War in Mexico, the killing fields of Cambodia, and the ongoing slaughter of Christians in the Middle East and Africa. Is it unreasonable to wonder if and how the virulent, anti-Christian attitudes of today will be unleashed in America?
The question hit home for me yesterday at the annual Minnesota Prayer Breakfast when Governor Dayton opened his remarks by stating:
“You know the theme of today’s prayer breakfast: unity around Jesus versus the disunity that takes place around religion has been a central issue, not only in our time, but throughout the course of history. Jesus preached love, acceptance, and forgiveness, and ever since his death too many of his followers have preached hatred, discrimination – even war – all in his name.”
How much have things changed that a sitting governor would open his remarks to a room filled with 1,000 Christians – gathered in good faith under the motto “Unity in Jesus” to pray for the governor and the state – by insulting them?
How much have things changed that the governor would then shift from simply insulting the Christians gathered to a not-so-veiled threat about the need to submit to the power of the state? If you think that’s a stretch, consider his words in full:
“Religious dogmatism is another common cause of social discord. Some people insist that their rights to their religious convictions supersede their responsibilities as citizens in a lawful society. They forget Jesus’ teaching to ‘Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and render unto God the things that are God’s.’
You probably recall the biblical story recounted in three of the four gospels in which the Pharisees tried to trap Jesus by asking him whether Jews should have to pay the taxes imposed by the ruling Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. They thought Jesus would oppose paying those taxes upon which they could hand him over to Pilate to accuse him of sedition.
But Jesus divined their evil intent. He requested a Roman coin that could be used to pay the taxes, and then asked the Pharisees, ‘Whose image is on it?’ When they replied, ‘Caesar,’ Jesus said, ‘Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.’
The first amendment to our U.S. constitution makes half of that distinction by protecting religions from government interferences. It says that ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.’
In an 1802 letter Thomas Jefferson expanded the scope of the first amendment to ‘building a wall of separation between church and state.’ The U.S. Supreme Court has since cited Jefferson’s metaphor to opine that our Constitution intends a reciprocal separation of church and state from each other. Our country’s founders well understood the dangers of allowing government interference with religion. But they also recognized the potential dangers from religion’s intrusions into the responsibilities of government. They saw the cruelties and oppressions inflicted by intolerant theocracy. They realized that wall of separation between the dictates of religion and the laws of government is often misunderstood or ignored by some people. They claim a right to substitute their religious convictions for their legal obligations. Disunity and strife often follow.” (Full video available here. Start at 1:28.)
Cherry-picking Jesus’ words is popular these days, more often Christians are criticized for it. Ultimately, though, it makes the person doing it look foolish. If you’re going to quote Jesus to justify your position, you need to take into account the whole message of Christ. When discussing Jesus, love, forgiveness, and unity, we may want to consider his words in Matthew 10:34-38:
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s foes will be those of his own household. He who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”
The motto of the Minnesota Prayer Breakfast was “Unity in Jesus”. That motto is exactly what the verses above point to and exactly what the governor seems to misunderstand. There is much talk by secularists and progressives about Jesus being loving and the religion of Christianity being hateful. Christians are incessantly reminded to love their neighbor by those who advocate growing the welfare state and making Christians accept what they have traditionally considered immoral actions. Yet Christ gave us two commands in Mark 12:30-31, not one:
“…[Y]ou shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
And what does Christ mean by loving God, and therefore also him? Keeping his commandments.
“He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me; and he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” (John 14:21)
In the Christian tradition, Jesus is not tolerant. You are either with him or against him, unified in him or not. Yes, he loves us, but we also must change our ways and live differently – “go and sin no more” as Jesus told the adulterous woman. The Christian duty is to grow in holiness by avoiding sin and seeking his forgiveness when we fail. If not, then we are condemned as Jesus said in Mark, “to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.”
And that brings us back to Governor Dayton’s position about “rendering unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s,” and the very real threat against religious freedom that Christians and other religious individuals face today.
The reason for the difficulty for Christians is that their religious beliefs are central to who they are and what they do. They cannot separate Jesus from the religion of Christianity. They cannot disobey their God, whom they are to love by keeping his commandments, at work or in the public square and then obey him at home or in a church. A Christian is to obey God at all times, in all things.
That is why so many Christians have been martyred over the last 2,000 years, many by Caesar. Christianity allows for much to be rendered unto Caesar, but there are some things that cannot be surrendered to the state. That is not acceptable to today’s elite, and it certainly seems it is not acceptable to Governor Dayton. Fealty to the will of Caesar must be total.
I and other Christians in Minnesota have been given notice by our Governor. The culture war has become a total war here and, unless attitudes change, no quarter will be given to us. You will be forced to pick a side. I have made my choice and planted my flag in the sand, come what may.
Devin Foley is the founder of Intellectual Takeout (ITO), a non-partisan, educational 501(c)(3) institution based in Minnesota. ITO’s mission is to change the very culture of the country by feeding minds, fostering discussion, and inspiring action based on the principles and virtues necessary for human flourishing.