Anaheim SDA Church
Mid-week Pastor’s Update
July 6th, 2022
“If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” John 8:36
Well, we are just a couple of days after the 4th of July holiday, I hope it was a great one for you and your family. I love that we pause to take a break and reflect on our forefathers’ (and mothers’) break from tyranny to establish this country with its inherent freedoms we enjoy.
People I was with at a party were remembering the bicentennial back in 1976, and I was doing a little math in my head, and realized that we are just 4 years shy of a quarter-millennium as a country! That will be quite a symbolic achievement and a significant marker!
But let’s remember that our freedoms never actually come from the government, they come from God and are merely recognized by the government. The country’s founding documents recognize this, the preamble to the declaration of independence stating: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
You’re likely aware that there’s been lots of controversy lately over whether what the supreme court has been doing is right or wrong. Abortion, prayer in schools, and gun rights have all been in deliberations and rulings again recently, and people are up in arms. In many cases, the debate seems to hinge around the idea that either the secular public or the religious public claim to be at risk of oppression and persecution by the other.
“Puruse Justice” is a Biblical mandate (Isaiah 58, Micah 6:8, Amos 5:24, etc. ), but, justice for who, and how? Very sincere people can be pushing against each-other in ethical gray areas (for example: justice for women vs. justice for the unborn).
I remember, when I was teaching Senior Bible classes for several years, in the 3rd quarter we would hold student group debates over controversial societal issues (just as I had done when a Senior in academy myself, and remembered fondly). We covered numerous issues, such as same-sex marriage (which at the time wasn’t federally recognized), legalization of prostitution, abortion, marijuana, harder drugs, etc. The students would get into teams of 3 and debate, and it was always dynamic and engaging. At the end of the period the class would ‘vote’ on which side made the better case for their side. Teachers from the later class periods even told me the debates often informally followed into the next period!
Over time, what I realized so many of these debates hinged on was: is it better for society to condemn something that’s harmful and make it illegal (and spend money & resources fighting it), or is it better for the society to allow it, but regulate, monitor, and tax it? Everyone knows that people will get abortions and do hard drugs whether or not it’s legal, but is it better to push those into dark and dangerous corners, or to bring them out into the open to remove the most dangerous and oppressive aspects of them, but also inevitably imply a perceived ‘respectability’ about them?
And the reason so many of these things have recently been legalized (and I’m kind of in favor of it, even while disliking the things themselves is) you can’t legislate morality. People will do what people will do, and the government might get outward, surface level compliance by passing a law, but the heart being turned aright is something that cannot be forced from outside. It must, rather, be a personal choice, being made by conviction, and seeing the wisdom and rightness of a good path.
Some are saying that, with the recent decisions and rulings, that the Supreme Court is breaking down the barrier between church and state. Are they really? Or is this kind of crying that the sky is falling? I’m not sure. You may be aware: Seventh-day Adventists have long been proponents of separation between church and state, partly because we know that, should religious legislation go far enough, we will be outside the bounds of ‘orthodoxy’ and be among the oppressed minority.
But hopefully self-interest is not our only (or even our primary) motive: Jesus’ “Golden Rule” states “In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12). So, if I were in a country where I was a member of a minority religion, would I want my freedoms respected to worship as I please? Absolutely! So it’s the least we can do to extend that to others.
I guess you could say that all of this is part of the great “experiment” of American democracy. We debate issues in the public square, and “majority rules” while there’s assurance of “minority rights”. This was a mantra I remember hearing frequently in my academy government class, and indeed, it is crucially important!
As the government and courts continue to do what they will, I pray that we will all be about the business of drawing people to goodness, to thoughtful consideration of justice, and ultimately to God. Remember: we can’t fundamentally push, but rather let Jesus pull. As He said “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” John 12:32
May God bless you and your families this week and beyond.
Pr. Mark Tatum