On a cold November morning in 1620, one hundred and one British and Dutch Separatists dropped anchor in the hook of Cape Cod just off the coast of what is now Massachusetts. They had braved the dangerous trip from England spending sixty-six days on a ship called the Mayflower. They were adventurers, explorers, and tradesmen who fled the bitter religious persecution of King James IV to make their way in a new world. Their names are forever remembered, not just on the pages of history books, but in the hearts and minds of every freedom-loving patriot.
Their leader, William Bradford, would become their first governor. Captain Miles Standish, the dashing British military officer would become the first commander of the Plymouth militia. William Brewster served as the colony’s religious leader and became Governor Bradford’s closest advisor. These three along with thirty-eight other leaders all signed what is known as the Mayflower Compact. Before John Alden became the first Pilgrim to set foot on Plymouth Rock the leaders wrote and signed this marvelous document which became their first covenant of government.
As we read the opening words there can be no doubt as to the purpose of their voyage. “In the name of God, Amen. We, whose names are underwritten, the loyal subject of our dread Sovereign Lord King James, by the grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, King, defender of the Faith, etc. Having undertaken, for the glory of God, and the advancements of the Christian faith and honor of our King and Country, a voyage to plant a colony in the northern parts of Virginia….”
They came seeking religious freedom. They came for the glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith. Over half of them died that first brutal winter but the survivors sowed the seeds of liberty in a land that would grow into a country that embraced their love of God and respected their right to express that love as they saw fit.
From Plymouth Rock to Bunker Hill to Yorktown, religious freedom has always been one of our most cherished rights and one of our most staunchly defended principles. But today there is a new wind of secularism blowing that threatens to chill the passion Americans have for religious freedom.
This week in Phoenix, Arizona Michael Salman began serving a sixty-day jail sentence for refusing to stop hosting a Bible study in his home. According to Todd Starnes of Fox News Salman is accused of running a church without the required permits. He was at home with his family in the summer of 2009 when close to a dozen police officers and city inspectors descended on his home, confining Salman and his family to the living room while they executed a search warrant allegedly finding 67 code violations. Salman was fined over twelve thousand dollars and sentenced to sixty days in jail.
How could this happen in a country that began with people who were willing to die rather than endure religious persecution?
In this weeks edition of The Weekly Standard Thomas F. Farr, Director of the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center, has a column titled, “Religious Freedom Under the Gun.” In it Farr writes, “We are today in the midst of a global crisis in religious liberty. In two exhaustive studies, the Pew Research Center recently concluded that 70 percent of the world’s population lives in countries where religious freedom is severely restricted, by either governments or private actors.”
Farr goes on to reveal that of all the religious groups being persecuted, “Christians came out on top.” And the religious persecution is by no means confined to Arab states where Christianity is outlawed. Farr points out that, “Social hostility in the United kingdom has increased so much that that country now stands with Iran and Saudi Arabia in the category of high social hostility to religion. French government restrictions have increased, too, moving it ahead of Cuba in that category.”
Imagine…. England, the land of William Wilberforce and Charles Spurgeon is now operating with the same hostility toward Christianity that you would expect to find in radical parts of the Arab world. France, once our partner in securing liberty and originator of the Statue of Liberty that stands in New York harbor now has to look up to Cuba as an example of religious freedom.
Since 2005 when Canada officially adopted gay marriage there have been “between 200 and 300 proceedings launched against defenders of marriage in courts, human rights commissions, and employment boards.” Farr notes that here at home both President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have started using the phrase “freedom of worship” instead of “freedom of religion.” This shift in terminology may appear to be subtle but in truth is it sinister. It implies walling off religious points of view from the larger culture, confining religious expressions to the church house and banning them from the marketplace of ideas.
In other words, Christians are welcome to believe what they will but they are warned not to will what they believe in the political arena. Especially when it comes to the defense of heterosexual marriage and the condemnation of homosexual pseudo marriage.
The rise of the LGBT agenda and its acceptance in mainstream culture will not be fully achieved until the Church is either compromised or silenced. How ironic it would be if that happened in a country that began “for the glory of God and the advancement of the Christian religion.”