“Lend me your ears!” Mark Anthony implored his fellow Romans as he began the speech over Ceasar’s body that changed an empire. Back when I was in grade school there were teachers who did not hesitate to yank on student ears to get their attention. In fact I well remember the very special pain as an older teacher attempted to detach my ear while yelling about my reticence to give out the required information. “You’ll have a career as a secret agent!“ he bellowed.
I have often thought about that moment since 9/11. Since then it is very common to see banner advertisements along airport walkways advertising a career in “clandestine services.” So far I have not applied—it seems so at odds with the religious liberty challenge since 9/11.
Religious conflict is the Musak/white noise of our world today. As I write this, today’s newspaper is in front of me on the desk. On the front cover three stories that relate to religious conflict: Islamic terrorist killed 68 people in an attack on an upscale Nairobi shopping mall; suicide bomber killed more than 70 worshippers at Christian church in Pakistan; and in a clearly paranoid move, a Swiss Canton has voted to ban the Burqua, a full length, all-covering dress worn by conservative Muslim women.
And do not think this bubbling religious threat has passed Adventists by: in Togo an Adventist church leader and two laymen have spent over two years in jail so far, on bizarre charges that led to media vilification of the church. In Pakistan an Adventist layman charged with blasphemy, and in jail for years as the trial groaned on, has been fortunate enough to receive the lesser sentence of life imprisonment. He will remain in jail for at least two years while appealing— and if released will need to leave the country to avoid mob action.
Dear fellow Seventh-Day Adventists: Lend me your ears! Religious liberty is a most precious liberty, and central to us sharing the liberating Gospel of Jesus to a world rushing headlong into the conflicts and chaos of the very last days. We cannot be indifferent to the situation. This is no time to be secret agents.
Speaking of the religious liberty journal of her day, Ellen White wrote that “we should scorn concealment,” because “the world has a right to know what we believe.”
For us in North America there is not yet the hazard to our life that others already experience. For us there is not yet the prospect of prison as we obey our conscience. For us there are still legal guarantees for living the Christian life. Your church is still able to defend you in court if an employer refuses to respect your principled observance of the Sabbath. But we do not live in a vacuum and there are global consequences to our actions.
This year for our 2014 Religious Liberty Campaign we are sharing the experience of Dr. John Sproad. John and his wife Arlene have lived lives of service even beyond their professional success in the medical field. They have been missionaries to Korea and have continued volunteer service in Cuba, Vietnam, and Laos. They exemplify the model of service we are called to as disciples of Jesus Christ, who told us to go into all the world.
John’s life of service had an antecedent. Struggling to raise money for his education and ultimate medical degree, he worked long hours harvesting peas and other crops. There was no guarantee of employment. In fact every Friday night at sundown he lost his job, only to get it back again Saturday night when others failed to show.
John credits that early, defining experience with honoring the Sabbath at certain financial risk as setting him on the way to a lifetime of committed service. I know he is right. And I see the pattern repeated all over the world: understanding religious liberty is an essential dynamic to presenting Christ to the world.
There is nothing clandestine about religious liberty: help us make a big loud cry for Liberty even in a world riven by religious turmoil. Oh, one last comment about “secret agents.” A few days ago I attended a very unique community outreach using religious liberty as a draw-card for non-Adventists. I soon found myself listening to the life story of one of the organizers. “I am a Seventh-day Adventist Christian because of Liberty Magazine,” he told me proudly. Although sure that Liberty has done just that many times, I was still a little dubious that it was that simple. “Oh yes,” he said.
“It was Liberty.” He then told me how he was a hard-bitten political operative, with years of service in the CIA and finally in local government. “I was a tough guy,” he said. “Then I saw copy of Liberty Magazine, and determined that I wanted to know more about the people that printed it and why they were advancing the Sabbath.” The secret was soon out and he has been a faithful Adventist for many years.
“Trust and Obey” is the Liberty way.
Author: Lincoln E. Steed
Lincoln E. Steed is the editor of Liberty magazine, a 200,000 circulation religious liberty journal which is distributed to political leaders, judiciary, lawyers and other thought leaders in North America. He is additionally the host of the weekly 3ABN television show "The Liberty Insider," and the radio program "Lifequest Liberty."