Lawrence M. Schall, president of Oglethorpe University, recently received a citation of honor at the Georgia Capitol. He explained, “Our newly elected state representative with the help of one of his interns had gone out of his way to make arrangements for more than a dozen students to join me at the Capitol to witness our state government at work and to receive our citation.”
Following his experience at the Capitol Schall, who describes himself as having been raised in the Jewish faith, wrote an opinion editorial in the Atlanta Journal Constitution expressing his dismay at the message of the chaplain of the day who addressed the Georgia House of Representatives. In referring to the message of the chaplain, a Baptist pastor from south Georgia, Schall claimed that he was “humiliated by the spectacle we witnessed”.
Then he added, “I cannot, however, accept what I heard today nor can I allow it to go unchallenged.” The Oglethorpe president wrote that his concern pertained to a 15-minute sermon in which, according to Schall, the pastor said, “If you do not accept Christ as your Savior, then you cannot lead a life of significance. All good things come from accepting that there is only one way to live one’s life and that is as a Christian.”
Then Schall wrote: “What I was subject to on Monday – the outright and public damnation of those who have not accepted Christ as their Savior – was personally horrific, clearly intended to advance one faith over every other, and a clear violation of my constitutional right to freely and openly practice a faith of my choosing.
“It was designed to be aggressive and coercive and it was exactly that. Is this what our state legislators intend when they are voting in favor of “religious freedom” laws?
First of all, the “religious freedom law”, or “Free Exercise Protection Act” to which Dr. Schall refers, would give his religion the same freedom of expression that it would give to Christians, Muslims, Mormons, Hindus, or anyone else. Jewish Rabbis should be given the same freedom and treated with respect when invited to be the chaplain of the day at the Georgia Capitol.
Incidentally, the legislation recently passed by the Senate and House and awaiting the governor’s signature simply reinforces the First Amendment’s “free exercise” clause as well as the “establishment” clause. There are significant court decisions to verify that the “free exercise of religion” clause protects religiously-motivated conduct as well as belief.
Second, I would say to Dr. Schall that I cherish the Judeo-Christian heritage of the United States. Politics is about moving forward common values, not common theology. There are Jews, Christians, Catholics, and perhaps others with whom I have worked in advocating public policies. We have irreconcilable differences in terms of theology, but when it comes to policy we are in perfect harmony.
Third, I think religious leaders – whether Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Mormon, etc. – should be true to their beliefs whatever the situation and proclaim truth as they understand it to whatever audience they are invited to address. Don’t pretend to be something you are not; and do not accommodate your message to coddle or pacify your audience. Be real! Be genuine!
Fourth, Christians who do not believe in the exclusivity of the Gospel are not Christians at all. The Apostle Paul said, “Now, if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His” (Romans 8:9). Authentic Christians believe that Jesus is not only the way to “lead a life of significance,” but He is the only way to eternal life and to heaven itself. Jesus himself said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14: 6).
Christian apologist William Lane Craig stated, “The conviction of the New Testament writers was that there is no salvation apart from Jesus. This orthodox doctrine is widely rejected today because God’s condemnation of persons in other world religions seems incompatible with various attributes of God.
“I truly wish that universalism were true, but it is not. My compassion toward those in other world religions is therefore expressed, not in pretending that they are not lost and dying without Christ, but by my supporting and making every effort myself to communicate to them the life-giving message of salvation through Christ.”
If I believed in the exclusivity of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and I do, and if I believed that people were going to end up in an everlasting place of torment apart from Him being their Savior, and I do, I would be a wicked person not to tell everyone I could of God’s redeeming grace in Jesus Christ.
To be silent when there is a message that could change someone eternal destiny would be like a physician refusing to offer life-saving medicine to a man on his deathbed. It would be like a mother not snatching her baby out of a playground infested with poisonous snakes. It would be like a firefighter refusing to enter a smoking building to rescue a special needs individual who had no means of escape.
Dr. Schall, don’t be afraid to tell your message of faith; and don’t be afraid to hear the message of faith others have to share and be thankful that someone cared enough for your soul to offer you a lifeline to safety and salvation.