In Rhode Island, Jessica Ahlquist has been the front for a lawsuit against her school district. The result of the lawsuit is that the school must remove the School Prayer
from their walls. It is also reported that threats have been made against the girl and she has been the target of verbal abuse. A photo of the prayer pulled from the linked article is shown at right.
I understand the anger at and frustration with a court system which is increasingly opposed to Christianity. I understand how difficult it is to see a militant minority run roughshod over what has been the foundation of our culture for over 200 years. So I get the anger and the desire to lash out.
I feel the need to remind myself and others of a few things in response to this.
- James reminds us that we are to be “slow to anger” because “the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” (James 1:19-20) Nothing of eternal value will result in responding in anger.
- Matthew 22:39 tells us that the second great command is to love our neighbor. Jesus used the story of the Good Samaritan to illustrate who our neighbor is. This girl in Rhode Island is our neighbor and we are commanded to love her.
- Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:1 that apart from Christ we are spiritually dead. We should not be surprised when spiritually dead people make spiritually dead choices.
Certainly threats and abuse toward Jessica are the wrong response on both a practical and a moral level. They accomplish nothing of temporal or eternal value.
The response of the Apostle Paul when he encountered the paganism of the Athenians is instructive here. Luke records in Acts 17:16 that Paul was provoked by the city full of idols. He was not provoked into anger, but provoked to respond with a defense of Christianity and a presentation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
God changes people from the inside. It is of little use for us to force change from the outside. So to do legal battle over a prayer on the wall seems like a futile effort.
We should, however, take events like this as a wakeup call. Parts of the church have engaged with the culture to the extent that their form of Christianity is almost indistinguishable from the society around it. Other parts of the church have so disengaged from the culture making themselves doctrinally pure, but irrelevant. Neither extreme puts the church in position to be effective in making disciples, the mission given to the church by Jesus.
If we live out the two great commands to love God and our neighbors, if we do this well, then we can trust that God will change us and he will use us to change our culture. Jessica needs God’s love and she needs our love, not our anger. She has plenty of that already.