This is the time to test our convictions.
On October 7 the Supreme Court heard the case Holt v. Hobbs. It is not a case that will receive much media attention. But it deserves the focus of anyone who is concerned about religious liberty. It is an opportunity to raise our voices and witness to some of the most treasured tenets of principled pluralism. Why is it so important?
Well, Gregory Holt would like to grow a beard. To be precise, Mr. Holt would like to grow a ½ inch long beard, for religious reasons. He is not allowed to do so. So far, this seems easy to rally behind. As Christians who love public justice we can get the protest signs ready, support the legal fund, and make phone calls to Washington. After all, this case comes on the heels of the court’s enormous Hobby Lobby decision, which gained so much praise from people of faith. Many articles on this site and in CPJ’s Capital Commentary give strong support to religious freedom – defending the rights of corporations and university organizations among others. So this should be a straightforward cause to get behind. But there’s more.
Gregory Holt is a devout Muslim. He is also in the Arkansas prison system. He will be in that system for his entire life because he broke into his ex-girlfriend’s house and slit her throat. His prison record is not blameless, either. Still eager to start a #growthebeard campaign?
You should be.
This is an immense opportunity. Our culture’s views of Christian activism are predominately negative. And much of that comes from the perceived self-centeredness and entitlement that Christians demonstrate in the public square. This is not an entirely fair critique. But it is what the world sees. And here is a chance to be consistent in our ethic and remove the charge of self-centeredness. For the guidelines of the Center for Public Justice do not say anything about protecting only the special interests of Christians in the public sphere. Instead, the guideline on religious freedom opens with the embracing affirmation that humans are created in the image of God.
What this means is that we can be free from the distraction of the other details in this case. Because, for those of us committed to principled pluralism, neither Mr. Holt’s religious affiliation, nor his prior record, nor his current character affect our conclusions. What matters is that he is created in the image of God and therefore should be allowed the freedom to live out his faith by growing a beard.
Situations like these are where our witness rises or falls. I do not think this is an exaggeration. People can hear and see the gospel in our words and in our vision for justice or all their negative stereotypes of Christian isolationism can be confirmed. We have missed many other opportunities. Will we seize this one? And the next one? One thing is clear – for our Christian vision of a just society to flourish, it must support and celebrate, even fight, on behalf of those who are not Christian. One of the core commitments we share is the desire for the law to be applied consistently. So let’s see it done.
Obviously we are not going to affect the outcome of this decision. The arguments have been made; the judges are working on their votes. For now, the purpose is a missional one. Can we raise our voices enough for our convictions to be heard, understood, and embraced? For cases in the future I hope we will find Christians at the forefront of these kinds of movements. That we will be seen as those who can be relied on to grant liberty to those with whom we disagree.
-Dan Carter is a husband, father, neighbor, reader, runner, and Senior Pastor of Calvary on 8th St. located in Holland, MI. www.calvaryreformedholland.org