Four years ago this month, during a two week ecclesiastical visit in Africa, I departed and locked my hotel room one evening, only to discover that my traveling companion's room next door was being secretly searched by what I could only assume was an official from the country's hardline Islamic national government.
We two pastors were there visiting Presbyterian schools that for years had been supported by congregations in our presbytery. Our visit was largely unscathed, and the room tossing was relatively innocuous in the scheme of pressures, but our visit proved to be another reminder to us of what remarkable religious liberties we followers of Jesus in America often take for granted. "Listen," I once said to a Presbyterian congregation at the start of our worship. "Hear that?" Silence. "No one is coming to stop us." Many of the planet's Christians cannot take the sound of that silence as a given.
Whatever the many shortcomings of our American-style democracy, a Christ-follower from the United States only needs a brief taste of another, more repressive political context in order to appreciate what it means to come and go in this gospel unhindered and unsuppressed. And to the extent those religious liberties have been preserved and protected by those who have served in our nation's military forces over the years, I believe as Chrsitian disciples we owe American veterans our deep gratitude. Freedom to be free in Christ, and freely to share his light and love — it is not free.
Given that this year Veterans Day officially falls on a Sunday, as an act of Christian discipleship — if not also as an act of American citizenship — let us give thanks to God in prayer for those who have served to keep religious freedoms free. At the top of my list is my own father, who served in the Army during the Korean conflict; along with him, countless other veterans I have known and loved in the congregations I have served. Heartfelt thanks to those in our Northminster ranks who have served.
Who's on your hallowed list? For what aspect of religious liberty are you most grateful? What will you do for the Good News this week with the freedom we enjoy?