Lifeway research indicates that 43% of Americans strongly agree that employers should provide contraceptives for their employees, even if it goes against their religious beliefs.
In many arenas, it seems that the trend is heading toward less protection of religious freedom.
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship has especially felt this in their campus ministries. In 2010 the Supreme Court restricted campus ministries from being able to choose leaders based on religious criteria.
As a result, more and more colleges and universities have been kicking them off campus.
Greg Jao of InterVarsity says, “I think the Supreme Court, like much of American society, is trying to figure out what is the role of religion in public life right now.”
Cases are piling up regarding the ability to deny services for beliefs, whether all marriages should be equal, etc. The country is undergoing a fundamental reassessment on how religion relates to…everyone.
Jao says this is all part of a larger question that the country is facing. He says the question is: “What role and what freedoms do religious believers have–whether Christian or not–to pursue their work in a way that reflects their beliefs?”
In trying to answer this question, Jao says they are running into another problem. The U.S. culture has become increasingly removed from an understanding of what religious belief is.
When Jao meets with college admins to discuss any conflict about their leadership requirements, they ask him why they can’t select leaders based on knowledge.
Jao tells them, “Religions imply belief. Actually, the fundamental issue for Christians, for example, is if you believe in your heart and confess with your mouth, you are a Christian, and belief is inseparable from what we do.
“And you could tell as I spoke to them, some of them just had a blank look, thinking, ‘Religion doesn’t work that way. It’s just a knowledge issue.’ So there’s a worldview difference there.”
Along with the worldview differentiations comes a shift from “religion as truth” to “religion as a personal preference.” People on both sides of different religions are tending more and more to view religion as a private preference that shouldn’t affect one’s decisions.
Jao references Lesslie Newbigin, a missionologist who was concerned about religion moving from an issue of truth to an issue of values.
Jao says, “I think when we reduce our beliefs to mere preferences, we’re denying the truth of our faith. Christianity is not built on a set of preferences about what we would like to believe. Christianity is built on a historical event. A man, Jesus Christ, lived and died in such a way that inescapably we’ve come to believe that He was God in the flesh.”
Jao compares a religion that is a preference to ordering a pepperoni pizza. If it’s just a preference, then it really doesn’t matter that you believe anything. To take that metaphor further, what’s to stop you from switching back and forth between toppings every once in a while?
“When religion is reduced to a private preference, it becomes a private set of beliefs that have no practical implications.” Jao explains that private preferences are irrelevant and easily dismissed.
With this in mind, Jao reminds us that on the other side of things, we need to be gracious in how we present truth to people. The way to do this, he says, is through our testimonies.
InterVarsity teaches college students how to be effective and loving in the high education community. Jao says, “There are private personal implications to your faith in terms of what you believe, what you long for, and who you hope to become. But there are practical outworkings of that that should affect everything you do. It should affect the excellence with which you study. It should affect the ethics in the ways that you relate to people. It should change the way you buy things, because you’re concerned not just about what’s cheapest but what’s also just. It should change the ways that you relate to your government in your neighborhood.”
Because of the work of InterVarsity, many students are actively living out their faith. They are changing majors to become more effective in the world.
It’s too easy as Christians to look at a group of people opposing our beliefs and get angry at them. As the culture shifts to be less friendly to Christians, we shouldn’t get mad at the culture. It is entirely ineffective, and even counterproductive.
After a university derecognizes InterVarsity as a campus club, Jao says he reminds the students that the administration of those schools are not the enemies: they are the mission field.
“Good missionaries don’t hate the mission field, nor are they surprised that the mission field isn’t more Christian,” he says.
In a similar way, Jao says that if Hobby Lobby didn’t win the case, it would only serve as a reminder that we need to be a positive, united community that influences people in a loving and effective way.
And Jao doesn’t believe that Hobby Lobby’s win was a one-time thing. He believes that the Supreme Court will continue to be protective about issues regarding the internal workings of the Church or religious body.
However, Jao says, “I do think the Supreme Court will continue to be uncomfortably vague in the ways they interpret ‘what are the implications of someone’s religious belief in the external world.'”
He continues saying, “We’re as frequently disappointed by [the Supreme Court’s] decisions as we’re encouraged by it.”
And regardless of what their decisions prove to be, Christians have a responsibility.
“I think we need to be clearer on why we believe what we believe, and the implications of that.”
Jao adds, “Our hope and our salvation doesn’t come from a unanimous Supreme Court; it really comes from the Maker of heaven and earth.”
InterVarsity is already doing this through their campus ministry, and they are hopeful about the long-term vision that is being formed now.
“The college students that we’re working with today will be on the Supreme Court in 30 years. They will be in Congress in 20 years. They’ll be leading the businesses and churches that we participate in or visit in 10 years,” Jao says.
InterVarsity is redoubling their commitment to teaching students how to study Scripture for themselves. More students are involved in Bible study with InterVarsity than at any other time in their history. They’ve also seen the number of Christian converts double in the last 10 years.
They are training students not only to think critically about their faith, but to present the Gospel clearly to unbelievers. They’re reminding them that their faith isn’t reduced to worship on Sundays, but that it occupies the rest of the week.
InterVarsity is not changing the culture by getting angry. They’re changing it by fostering a generation of Christians who are sincere about their faith.
And with the tightening of reigns on Christian practices in the United States, InterVarsity is urging students not to sacrifice their faith in light of what the government is demanding.
“In the end, integrity matters. Choosing what God desires you to do now will set you up for a lifetime of being able to do that in the future,” Jao says.
This is how InterVarsity is dealing with the shifting culture of America while the country grapples with the question of religion.
How are you dealing with it? Are you getting angry and complaining without any action? Or are you working to influence the culture in a positive and healthy way?
Here’s one option you might consider: get involved with college ministry. No, you don’t have to quit your job.
It’s as easy as spending time as a church to pray for high schoolers who are about to enter college. Or, you could gather college students during the summer to have an honest conversation about the temptations and difficulties that occur in the workforce or everyday life.
It is even as simple as praying every time you drive past a college campus. Jao says we don’t need more Christian colleges: we need more vibrant Christians working to redeem campus colleges.
Jao says we need to hold the future leaders to a higher standard, not fight the culture.