Last week the United States Supreme Court handed down a decision in the case of the Town of Greece, New York v. Galloway, that affirmed that opening a legislative meeting in prayer does not violate the U.S. Constitution. One of the remarkable things that came out of this decision was a statement by Justice Elena Kagan who opposed the decision. She wrote, When citizens of this country approach their government, they do so only as Americans, not as members of one faith or another.
As Christians we should find that line of reasoning both shocking and offensive. If I understand Justice Kagan correctly, she believes that there are times when we are to be guided by our faith and times when we should not be. That there are times when something, in this case our relationship to our government, holds a higher priority than our relationship to God. That there are times to be a Christian and then there are times not to be a Christian (or at the very least not to act and think like one).
Before we engage in a group bashing of Justice Kagan we need to do a little self-inspection. It has been my observation that Christians already do exactly what she has suggested. It may not be our government that we put in a place of priority over God but we often put something in that place.
How many times have we put our desires over God’s will in our lives? How many times have we put our goals, our plans, and our decisions first? Before God? In His place? Let’s not feign shock when someone says what is already apparent. Perhaps if Christians in our culture really did put God first she would not have made such an assertion. Maybe she was just stating the obvious.
I wonder if Justice Kagan in her life has been exposed to Christians who lived the convenient Christian life? I wonder if she thinks that Christians don’t really take their faith too seriously so it shouldn’t be a problem for them to set their faith aside whenever they deal with their government. Maybe there’s more to this story than we know. Instead of simply shaking our heads and passing over her statement maybe we need to ask why she would have come to this conclusion.
But moving beyond Justice Kagan maybe it’s time to ask ourselves the question: When are you a Christian? Really, when should you act like a Christian and when is it OK not to act like a Christian? When should we slavishly follow the teachings of the Bible and when can we ignore them? Let’s be honest – we do it quite often and we do it well.
I know the answer to the question and so do you. But knowing the answer and living the answer are completely different things. And it’s the way we live that really provides the answer. If we find it easy to set aside our faith whenever it interrupts our lives or becomes too difficult then we have agreed in principle with Justice Kagan and done exactly what she has suggested we should do.
It is only when Christians, in every area of life, refuse to give up living their faith regardless of the circumstances that we have the right to be offended by such thinking. It’s when the words of Christ are played out in our lives on a daily basis that we can claim that we are Christians first: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind (Matthew 22:37).
Stay in the Word