Smoke alarms are annoying–really annoying. As some of you know, my wife and I welcomed a new addition to our family about seven weeks ago. He’s a bundle of joy, but he’s not a big fan of sleeping. So, about 5:40 am yesterday (when both he and my wife had just fallen asleep after a long night), I decided to cook up some breakfast before heading to the gym (part of the regular routine). Well, my apparently caveman-like culinary skills produced some smoke that set off the smoke alarm. That’s right. I set off the smoke alarm at 5:40 a.m. right after the baby finally went to sleep. Some of the mothers and grandmothers reading this post probably think that a life sentence to a Soviet Gulag is not a harsh enough sentence for my crimes, and I’m pretty sure that that diabolical screeching sound cost me the “husband of the year” award. So, yes, smoke alarms are annoying–really annoying.

That said, I must note that smoke alarms are also useful. They warn us of smoke and, therefore, of danger or of the potential of danger. 

As you have probably noticed, a cultural smoke alarm has been blaring over the last week. And, this alarm is a strident reminder that elections and judicial nominations have not changed the culture and that religious freedom is still under deep scrutiny and even attack.

A pastor recently remarked to me that, after the Masterpiece Cakeshop case and the appointment of numerous, more conservative judges and justices (approximately 85; that number changes often), there is little reason to be concerned about religious liberty. I understand the sentiment. Though I knew (like, I am sure, the readers of this article knew) that this moment of perceived calm was probably just a quick breather before the contest starts up again in earnest, that breather was certainly welcome.

Well, that calm was shattered over the last week by three particular issues/events. These events are not breaking news, and you are probably aware of most of the details. Why do I mention them? Because they are a critical reminder that (1) the challenges to religious liberty and the common good, though latent at times, are ever-present present and very powerful and (2) that they require our attention. Here are those three issues:

  1. Karen Pence. The Vice President’s wife was pilloried for working at a private Christian school that is, get this, Christian and requires its teachers and students to ascribe to and abide by the orthodox Christian view of human sexuality. This was a significant development because Karen was attempting to live out her faith in the “sacred sphere”–a private religious school. This was supposed to be the culturally appropriate, safe space to do so. I guess that is no longer true.
  2. Covington Catholic. The Covington Catholic controversy was primarily sparked by the controversial red MAGA hat. I am not sure that this encounter would have gone viral without it. But, it is important to note that the very first line of one of the leading New York Times pieces about this incident, titled “Viral Video Shows Boys in ‘Make America Great Again’ Hats Surrounding Native Elder” reads, “They were Catholic high school students who came to Washington on a field trip to rally at the March for Life.” Don’t miss the insinuation of this article (and much of the media coverage of this controversy). They were religious students in Washington, D.C. for an overtly religious event. What, then, is circumstantial evidence of latent racism and bigotry? The temerity to be religious and to actually act on religious principles. Note that the article could have led off with the fact that the boys were from the south or that they were white. But, it didn’t. Rather, the article led off with the fact that the boys were religious. This is clearly part of the cultural narrative now. Religion=cover for hatred or bigotry.
  3. Chilling Cheers. By now, you have probably watched the video of supporters of the Reproductive Health Act in New York state cheering its passage. The law removes abortion form the New York State criminal code and allows abortion up to birth if a medical professional believes the abortion “…is necessary to protect the woman’s life or health.” If you have followed Bold Church Initiative for long, you know that I am an advocate of civility, of seeking the common good and of trying to understand ideological opponents. But, this is evil. This law (I encourage you to read it) speaks repeatedly of a woman’s health, privacy and equality. However, it is completely silent about the dignity and rights of the human being (many times a future woman) right inside of the mother–as if passing through the birth canal magically confers humanity upon an apparent blob of flesh. Then, Governor Cuomo, ordered several famous public landmarks to be lit up in pink in celebration. As I mentioned on the podcast this week, abortion is the great moral issue of our times. I probably don’t have to say this, but the appointment of conservative U.S. Supreme Court justices will not fulfill our moral obligation to the unborn.

In summary, these events serve as a blaring reminder that the struggle for the heart and soul of our nation continues on and that silence is not a winning strategy. These events remind us that we are on a battlefield. No, wait, strike that. These events remind us that we are on a mission field; and, our mission is to proclaim and live out the Gospel in a distracted, complex and, at times, hostile post-Christian culture. So, as annoying as they are, I am thankful for smoke alarms and cultural alarms that remind us to stay vigilant and to engage our culture with the Gospel.