Thinking About Fear and Religious Liberty
By Monte Sahlin, December 8, 2015: Throughout my life it has been difficult for me to see how the crisis envisioned in the classic Adventist interpretation of Revelation 13 could possibly be connected with contemporary realities. I would listen to wild statements by those who saw such possibilities in all kinds of headlines and even obscure, “secret” rumors, look at myself in the mirror and say, “It is not rational.” I would give a quick read to books on “the Sunday law” and find them filled with historical and factual errors that made their central arguments unsustainable.
I understood why Ellen White wrote The Great Controversy near the turn of the 20th century. After all, at that moment in history there were possibilities of passing laws declaring America a “Christian” (meaning Protestant) nation and many states, especially in the old Confederacy, used local sheriffs to actually enforce blue laws without intervention from the courts. But as a Baby Boomer coming to adulthood in the 1960s, that was long ago and far away.
Things have changed in what seems like a few days. The leading candidate for President of the United States is openly advocating religious discrimination in the issuing of visas. About a third of the party that currently controls the U.S. Congress and most of the state legislatures seem to agree with this position.
Mainstream journalists and other leaders in the same political party have openly likened this to Nazi race laws of the 1930s and labeled it “Facism,” yet large numbers of Americans (although not a majority) support the idea of religious discrimination. Many of these are evidently Evangelical Christians, people who respect the Bible as do Adventists.
For the first time in my adult life it now seems possible that America might ignore or set aside the First Amendment protections of religious liberty. Most amazing to me is the people who vociferously defend a very broad interpretation of the Second Amendment and are at the same time willing to greatly narrow their view of the First Amendment. Is the gun more important than the “still small voice” of conscience?
I never thought I would see the day. Americans so filled with fear that they can be manipulated into giving up constitutional rights. Although, just a decade before I was born the American government put Japanese Americans, including native-born citizens, into concentration camps in a fit of the same irrational level of fear. The U.S. Congress has since officially gone on record recognizing the fundamental error of this occurrence, but the memory of many “conservative” Americans seems to be so faulty that they cannot recall things in relatively recent times. And it has come to light that President Eisenhower of my childhood did something similar with Mexican Americans, including native-born citizens.
The idea of terrorists hiding among average people can be frightening. I get that. More fearful to me are average people willing to let their fear and stupidity lead them to become part of a mob, to support policies that override constitutional rights. Adventists have long believed that tendency to be more dangerous than any terrorists. I confess to being skeptical over the years. The America of the 1950s and 1960s in which I grew up seemed incapable of such things. In my old age, I no longer feel that way. It is now more plausible.
Fear of terrorists. Fear of idiots running for president. Fear is fear. No one makes good decisions based on fear. That is why Jesus promises to drive out all fear. I need to hold onto that statement by our Lord and Savior. And so do you!
Monte Sahlin is the executive director of the Adventist Today Foundation, publisher of Adventist Today. He spent 44 years as an ordained minister employed by the Adventist denomination before he retired last year, including service at all levels of the organization. He is also a regular columnist and the author of 24 books and more than 120 research monographs.