JIM DENISON, PHD
A Georgia police officer named Jacob Kersey made this post to his personal Facebook account earlier this month: “God designed marriage. Marriage refers to Christ and the church. That’s why there is no such thing as homosexual marriage.” The next day, his supervisor informed him that someone had complained about the post and instructed him to take it down.
When Kersey refused, the supervisor warned him that failure to delete the Facebook post could result in his termination. He was placed on paid administrative leave for a week, then told he could not share personal opinions on social media that someone might find offensive.
Next, Kersey received a letter explaining that “if any post on any of your social media platforms, or any other statement or action, renders you unable to perform, and to be seen as [unable] to perform, your job in a fair and equitable manner, you could be terminated.” By this logic, any statement made by any person on any subject that another person deems not to be “fair and equitable” is grounds for dismissal.
Realizing that he could continue his career with the department only if “I compromise my values, morals, and deeply held religious beliefs,” Kersey resigned his position.
“The core of who I am”
You and I cannot control what secular authorities do about our biblical beliefs. But we can control how we respond to what they do.
One option is to pay any price to serve Christ as our Lord. After he chose this approach, Jacob Kersey explained his response: “I am grateful for the opportunity that I was given to be a police officer. I do not take that honor and responsibility lightly. However, my integrity and Christian beliefs are at the core of who I am, and I will not abandon them.”
The other option is to succumb to cultural pressure to privatize our faith, treating Jesus less as our Lord and more as a means to our ends.
This temptation is more subtle and attractive than we may think.
“Honest but reluctant taxpayers”
C. S. Lewis likened Christians who engage in religious activities to “honest but reluctant taxpayers. We approve of an income tax in principle. We make our returns truthfully. But we dread a rise in the tax. We are very careful to pay no more than is necessary. And we hope—we very ardently hope—that after we have paid it there will still be enough left to live on.”
His analogy seems especially appropriate these days as tax preparation companies inundate the airwaves with ads seeking our business. However, I think an even better analogy for religious engagement in our culture is paying for insurance.
We buy a policy to obtain the benefits we wish to receive. We make our payments each month to keep these benefits available to us. We then draw on them as needed—medical bills, house expenses, etc.
But few people have a personal relationship with their insurance providers. I have no idea the names of those who insure our family, for example. We pay what is required (and hopefully no more) to receive the benefits we seek.
“Only pay for what you need”
I have written often over the years about this transactional religion so common to our culture. From the ancient Greeks and Romans to today, our society thinks we can give God (or the gods) what they want (going to church on Sunday, praying, reading the Bible, donating money, and so on) so that God (or the gods) will give us in turn what we want.
But I think there’s something even more foundational behind our impulse to treat God like an insurer whose benefits we procure by our religious “payments.”
You may have seen the insurance commercials on television these days with the pitch, “Only pay for what you need.” This is a tempting way to relate to God in that it limits his activity in our lives to what we want him to do in our lives. When we need forgiveness for our sins or direction for our decisions, he’s waiting on the other side of our prayers, or so we think. But if he wants to point out sins we don’t want to stop committing or lead us in directions we don’t want to go, that’s another matter.
Here’s the problem: God knows our needs far better than we do. Limiting his benevolence to our ignorance is unwise for us and grieves our Father.
“The deepest desires of your heart will be fulfilled”
To return to our insurance analogy, imagine that your insurers know the future better than you know the present. Consequently, they know about the storms that will damage your roof next spring, the leaking water heater that will flood your garage next fall, and the broken water pipes that will ruin your carpet the following winter. They therefore offer you insurance you don’t know you need.
Now, to extend the analogy further, suppose that they are willing to pay the premiums themselves. All you need to do is to ask for their best and trust their answers.
Would you make that decision?
If so, I invite you to make Henri Nouwen’s prayer your own:
I so much want to be in control.
I want to be the master of my own destiny.
Still I know that you are saying:
“Let me take you by the hand and lead you.
Accept my love
and trust that where I will bring you,
the deepest desires of your heart will be fulfilled.”
Lord, open my hands to receive your gift of love.