Reclaiming our Freedom of Speech

I couldn’t say I was totally surprised, but my pulse rate quickened. How dare they suspend my account without even telling me why? I had been working part time for an on-demand delivery company. Using their handy app, I would sign in whenever it fit into my schedule and would peddle all over New York City delivering food, drinks, and groceries.

One day I decided to try something new. I took along a supply of tracts and would leave one inside each of the parcels I was delivering. I prayed that God would use the seeds of truth in the hearts of these well-to-do New Yorkers.

A few days later, my delivery account was suspended, no explanation offered. The only way to discuss the suspension was by visiting their administrative office in downtown Brooklyn. I was not impressed. In fact, I was a tad bit angry.

This is as close as I have come to experiencing religious discrimination. Besides ruffling my feathers, it only incurred long-term financial gain, as I found a better-paying, on-demand app in its place. Standing for truth hasn’t cost me very much when compared with the price that Jack Phillips has paid.

Freedom of Speech on Trial

It was in 2012 when Charlie Craig and David Mullins walked into Masterpiece Cakeshop and asked Phillips to design a cake for their same-sex union. He, declined their request, explaining it went against his Christian beliefs. He offered to sell them any product on display in his shop, but reasoned that he would not design anything specifically for their union.

Jack Phillips’ decision resulted in great financial loss. The State ordered him to stop selling all wedding cakes, which constituted 40% of his business. Since then, he let go six of his ten employees.1

On December 5 of last year, the Supreme Court heard his case. A decision will be released within the next few months, which will impact many other small Christian businesses. In my heart, I cheer for Phillips and anticipate a positive ruling from the Supreme Court. I value the religious freedom on which our country was founded and admire the cakebaker for his unwavering convictions.

Anabaptists Would Not be Silent

Five hundred years ago, many Anabaptists also went to court because of their convictions. Their religious beliefs led to various levels of punishment, many resulting in death. Although Menno Simons never went to court, he spent most of his Christian life fleeing from authorities, all the while preaching, teaching, and leading the early Anabaptist church. He was never caught, but constantly lived with the expectation of being captured and executed for “heresy.” Death warrants could not silence his commitment to proclaiming truth.

During the Reformation, Anabaptists were known for their boldness in evangelism, no matter the cost. They did not base their “freedom of speech” on the laws of the land. Instead, they sought to follow the Bible in every area of their life, even if the state considered their actions illegal. Their allegiance belonged to Christ.

Housewives would share their faith in the markets. Men would share their faith on the job. Pastors would preach in open fields under the cover of darkness. Baptist professor Paige Patterson goes as far to say that, “The earliest discovery of evangelistic and missionary fervor belongs to the detested Anabaptists of the Reformation”.2 Anabaptism can hardly claim such characteristics today.

Harold Bender, an influential Mennonite leader of the twentieth century, offers a historical perspective on how Anabaptists went from fervent evangelists to the “Stillen im Lande” (the quiet in the land).

“The Anabaptists were originally intensely evangelistic. Their only hope of expansion was by this method. Since they controlled no political units as the Reformers did, they had to win others…. Gradually, however, the persecutors won the upper hand. By countless imprisonments and executions the Anabaptist movement was throttled, and in many regions extinguished; the evangelistic fires died down. Those who were once flaming evangels and courageous missioners now became the Stillen im Lande, happy to be permitted merely to exist.”3

You Shall be My Witnesses

Before ascending into heaven, Jesus commanded His disciples, “you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”4 Over the past 2,000 years, countless Christians have given their lives in order to proclaim Christ. Many could have saved their lives by simply being quiet and holding their peace. Nik Ripken, missionary and expert on the persecuted church, boldly states, ‘the easiest way to avoid persecution is to be silent with our faith, but that is not a choice that we can make without denying Jesus’ hold on our lives”.5

The apostles would not be silent, and all but one died a martyr’s death. The founding fathers of Anabaptism would not be silent, and it led to the death of many. Neither should we be silent. Becoming known as the “silent in the land” is more of an indictment than a complement.

What If?

So what happens if the Supreme Court rules in favor of Masterpiece Cakeshop? I will rejoice that the highest court in the United States is granting legal freedom to Mr. Phillips to live out his convictions. I will be grateful that many other Christian businesses across our nation will have the same legal freedom.

But what if the court doesn’t rule in his favor?

We might assume this court decision won’t affect our lives. We might avoid opening custom cake shops or offering any other form of wedding services. Perhaps then, we would insulate ourselves from the legal repercussions. However, as Christians, we must not allow fear to pressure us into silence. Following Jesus demands the opposite. Now is not the time to be “the quiet in the land.”

I am deeply grateful for the religious freedoms that our country offers and am saddened, even angered, when those rights are threatened. But I ask myself, and you the reader, how are we using our freedoms today? Are we boldly proclaiming Christ in the workplace? Are we unashamedly standing for Biblical values that the culture disdains? Our freedom is of little value if we don’t use it.

Ian Ian Miller lives in Harrisburg, PA with his wife Marci, where they are involved in a Spanish church plant. Ian volunteers for a non-profit organization while working on his BA in English through College Plus. He is passionate about urban, cross-cultural church planting, and verbal, personal evangelism.

Sources used:

  1. Stonestreet, John, and David Carlson. “Get the Facts about Jack (Phillips, That Is).” Break Point, 9 Nov. 2017, http://www.breakpoint.org/2017/11/breakpoint-get-facts-jack-phillips/.
  2. Patterson, Paige. “The Reformation’s Legacy of Personal Evangelism.” 9Marks, 26 Sept. 2017, http://www.9marks.org/article/the-reformations-legacy-of-personal-evangelism/.
  3. Bender, Harold S. and Myron S. Augsburger. “Evangelism.” Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. Web. 24 Feb 2018.
  4. New King James Version, Acts 1:8b. Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999.
  5. Ripken, Nik, and Barry Stricker. The Insanity of Obedience. B & H Publishing Group, 2014.

6 thoughts on “Reclaiming our Freedom of Speech

  1. Fine article.

    However, I would guess if the Supreme Court rules in favor of Craig and Mullins, this will expose a serious divide among Anabaptists – some say they should have baked the cake and others say “no way!” I always figured plain people would be unified on this issue but learned this to not be the case. Some have said the most severe persecution comes from those that are almost like us.

    Like

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