Public Square & Theology 101

Thanksgiving, Religious Liberty, & Our Calling as Pilgrims

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Businessman Andrew Thorburn took over as chief executive officer of the Essendon Football Club last month. While it’s not the NFL, Essendon football is a big deal in Australia.

Thorburn seemed to be the right man for the job. Not only is he a well-respected businessman, he had recently served as CEO of the National Australia Bank. Yet, as soon as Thorburn was announced as Essendon’s new CEO, controversy erupted. Unbelievably, the uproar was over his membership in an evangelical Anglican church called City on a Hill. Thorburn was listed as the church’s board chair.

The Premier of Victoria, Daniel Andrews, referred to the Melbourne-based church and its views by saying:  

Those views are absolutely appalling. I don’t support those views, that kind of intolerance, that kind of hatred, bigotry. It is just wrong. 

The Premier, who leans toward the socialist left, was upset over the church’s teachings on the sanctity of human life and the sinfulness of same-sex behaviors, both taught in the Holy Scriptures. He made it clear that he wanted Thorburn gone, and Essendon’s new executive was history within hours. After he was forced to resign Thorburn said in a statement:

Today it became clear to me that my personal Christian faith is not tolerated or permitted in the public square, at least by some and perhaps by many… People should be able to hold different views on complex personal and moral matters, and be able to live and work together, even with those differences, and always with respect.

We see a story like this and might think, “That could never happen here in the United States! Our Constitution enshrines religious liberty and specifically mentions it in the First Amendment. We have a Supreme Court which recently has shown itself to be very supportive of religious liberty.” Don’t be so sure.

Gripped by Glory

Cancel culture is just as alive and well in the U.S. as in Australia, if perhaps a little more subtle. For example, a couple of years ago the American Bar Association rewrote its Rules of Professional Conduct potentially giving them the right to disbar members who belong to a group that holds views the ABA believes are discriminatory. As Rod Dreher writes:

So, let’s say that a lawyer in a state that adopts this new ABA guideline joins the Catholic Law Society. Given the Catholic Church’s official position on homosexuality, would she face professional sanction simply for joining such a group? The potential for oppression and persecution is enormous.

Dr. Irwyn Ince suggested what it will take for Christians to withstand this coming cultural intolerance in an article entitled, Gripped by Glory. Ince writes:

If we’re going to endure through the chaos of life as Christians, what has to be in view is how glorious Jesus is. No encouragement to keep the faith is going to have any power unless we are gripped by the incomparable glory of Jesus the Christ. Following Jesus is costly. Unless our hearts are beating to the rhythm of the grandeur of Jesus, we will never think that being a Christian is worth it.

The Pilgrim Heart

What does this have to do with Thanksgiving? Everything. 

We commonly think Thanksgiving is a time for giving thanks for all of God’s gracious blessings, and it is. But it is also a good time to reflect on our response to God’s generosity toward us. Are we willing to do what the Pilgrims did, put everything on the line, even their lives, to obey God’s call? Is our love for Jesus strong enough to take that type of leap of faith or just be willing to lose something because of our testimony?  

Andrée Seu Peterson, in an article for World Magazine, suggests a clue to this difference between many Christians today and the Pilgrims. It can be found in the name of the first baby boy born on the Mayflower, Peregrine White.

Peregrine was the second son of William and Susannah White (his older brother was named Resolved) and was born before the end of November 1620 while the Mayflower was anchored in Provincetown Harbor. The name “Peregrine” means pilgrim. Peterson writes: 

The difference, I think, is the ‘Peregrine White’ factor, the setting of hearts on pilgrimage, the Resolve of forceful men (Luke 16:16) who ‘acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth’ and made it clear ‘that they are seeking a homeland,’ that they ‘desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one’ (Hebrews 11:13-16).

The history books speak truer than they know to call them ‘Pilgrims.’ The pilgrim heart is known by the quality of thanksgiving. But when the Lord returns, will He yet find their like in the land?

Only we can answer that question. It says in the Book of Revelation, “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives until the death” (Rev 12:11 KJV).

If God’s ultimate blessing of his Son is at the center of our Thanksgiving, our testimony may cost us our job—or even more—but God may use it to change the world.

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