October 4, 2012 by cbbeard
Humbly and respectfully submitted for your consideration…CB
There is nation-wide discussion going on, and it was all started by cheerleaders. Kountze, Texas, which is about ten miles from my house, became the focus of a debate over free speech, freedom of religion, and how faith should be expressed when the cheerleaders of the local high school started putting Bible verses on banners used at football games instead of the proverbial “Go, Fight, Win!” (Read the Wall Street Journal article about the controversy HERE.)
Not only is the story gaining attention throughout the world, but there is quite a buzz in the community. Being a “Bible Belt” type of area, it seems the response has generally been in favor of the cheerleaders, with rallies, t-shirts, and messages of support written on storefronts and car windows. Since I am a Christian and a Lead Minister, then surely I am wearing the t-shirts and sporting the message of support on my windows, right? Actually no. That doesn’t mean I am anti-cheerleader in this debate, and it certainly doesn’t mean that I believe we shouldn’t proclaim God’s Word to the world. What it means is that I think that this debate is complex and layered rather than a cut-and-dry, right-or-wrong issue. My purpose for this post is not to convince or condemn, but rather to identify some of the complex issues that we as Christians living in America should thoughtfully consider.
Freedom of Speech/Freedom of Religion?
Of course the primary focus of the debate is whether the cheerleaders had a right to make signs with Scripture on them and hold them up at the football game. Detractors would say that because it is an official school function, it is inappropriate and unlawful to have the school seemingly “endorse” a particular religion by allowing New Testament Scripture to be displayed. Proponents would say that the cheerleaders have freedom of speech and expression and therefore are allowed to create these signs as they see fit.
I’m not a constitutional scholar, so I will refrain from an in-depth commentary about the arguments for and against constitutionality. But I have to wonder; what if cheerleaders at another small southeast Texas town decided to put ambiguous passages about victory from the Qur’an on their banners this week? Would we be as quick to support their freedom of speech? I’m reminded of a line from the movie The American President that stuck with me. The “president” of the movie (played by Michael Douglas) said:
“America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, ’cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say “You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.”
The freedoms I have that are offered by this great nation most certainly mean that someone who is a complete opposite of me philosophically and theologically has the very same freedoms. I am thankful for that because if one person’s freedoms are stifled, who’s to say that I won’t be the next one stifled?
An Expression of Faith?
One of the common responses I’ve seen and heard from Christians is that they are proud of those cheerleaders expressing and standing up for their faith. Quite frankly, I’m very torn on this one. As a former youth minister and current father, it does warm my heart to see young believers express their faith in an overt fashion. But I struggle with this particular expression in the grand scheme of things. Is this an appropriate expression to go to battle over?
I’m reminded of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the Old Testament. The Israelites were carried off into Babylonian captivity and these four young Hebrew boys were drafted into special service for their captors. Daniel 1 tells us that the young men were to be immersed in the culture of the Babylonians, a pagan culture very much unlike their own. When the boys were faced with defiling themselves with unclean food, they didn’t protest, they respectfully asked for permission to abstain and let the results of obeying God speak for themselves. We later see that these four boys prospered in the Babylonian empire, all the while being obedient to God. This means that not only were they obeying God, they were doing it in such a way that they still found favor amongst the pagan government of their captors!
Of course, eventually Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego drew the line in the sand and refused to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s statue. Daniel refused to pray to Darius. For years they coexisted with their captors while still obeying God, but they finally came to an impasse when they were being forced to worship a false god. And so I ask again; would the current situation be the kind of thing that Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, and Daniel would draw the line in the sand for? I’m not so sure.
And make no mistake about it; if we are truly bold in our faith as God has called us to be, we don’t need school or government approval to express it in a mighty way! Regardless of the end result of this debate, I pray that the cheerleaders involved boldly proclaim Christ not just on a football field, but each and every day of their lives.
What Does this Communicate About Jesus?
This is my biggest issue with this discussion and debate; if you are someone who does not yet have faith in Christ, what do you learn about Christians and Christ? Does this make you curious and thirsty for God or does it have the opposite effect? I can’t answer this question in a finitely accurate way, but it is no secret that “the world” sometimes looks upon Christians and the church in a condescending way, and that’s partially our own fault. Christians are often considered to be ignorant, judgmental, and hypocritical; to put it bluntly, we are often considered a bunch of jerks!
I could be wrong, but I am afraid that when people from outside of the church see this debate, they don’t get a very accurate picture of Jesus. I could be wrong, but I don’t think that when they see the “Christian” side of this debate that they say “I want to be a part of that.” I could be wrong, but I don’t think it meshes well with the principle found in the instructions Jesus gave his disciples in Matthew 10:16 before sending them out, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”
So, you might be wondering, do I support the cheerleaders? Yes, for the most part. I don’t have a problem with putting Bible verses on signs (even though the verses about victory and strength they used have nothing to do with football). And as I mentioned earlier, I pray that these signs are only a tiny part of the expression of faith in these young ladies lives as they live in and for the Kingdom of God.
However, I believe what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:23 applies here, “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is constructive.” I think these Bible verse signs are permissible, but not necessarily beneficial for the Kingdom of God as a whole. Therefore I will not be putting on a t-shirt or writing messages of support on my car windows. And I am not a fan of the legal and political battle this is causing, because I believe God has called us to make disciples of all nations, even at the cost of our own “rights.” I believe that God and his mission will not be hindered by government regulations or school rules, but it might be slowed by a church that doesn’t make people thirsty for God. I believe that Jesus came to seek and save the lost, and we are called to do the same. And I believe what Jesus said is true, that people won’t know we are Christians by what we stand up for, but by our love.
We don’t need banners or a favorable government to bring glory to God and grow his Kingdom; we simply need disciples of Jesus that reflect Jesus, love like Jesus, and share the good news of the Kingdom…just like Jesus.
What do you think? Do you agree or disagree? How can this debate cause problems for the church? How can it present opportunities?