Although it has been nearly thirty years since I was a student at Royster Middle School, I clearly remember the Sallman print of Jesus that hung on wall at the end of the hallway on the second floor next to the science lab at Royster Middle School in Chanute. If you pay attention to the news, you know the Freedom from Religion Foundation recently requested that this picture be taken down on the grounds that it was a violation of the First Amendment. You likewise know legal counsel for the school confirmed the group’s concern had some potential legitimacy. The print has now been taken down.
This episode raises interesting questions about the role of the Christian faith in the public square. There are those who want any values promoted by government to be completely free of religious bias. Whether one is talking about Christianity or any other religion, the idea that government should be non-religious is pervasive. When the government endorses religious values, it is believed, it unfairly discriminates against those who hold to different religious values. It is for this reason some atheists, free-thinkers, skeptics, humanists, and others, promote religion-free values in government.
Ironically, in advocating government free from religious values, proponents of this viewpoint do the very thing they profess to despise. By seeking to abolish religious thought in the realm of government, these individuals discriminate, not only against those who hold to different faith traditions, but against those of any faith traditions in which adherents believe their values have bearing on civil government. Rather than eliminating discrimination against the viewpoints of certain people, these individuals promote discrimination by discriminating against religious thought in favor of non-religious thought.
What is the answer to this dilemma? In many ways, we’re seeing the answer that comes in a fallen, sin-cursed world. Unfortunately, the way it usually works is we just fight it out to see who wins. Religions fight against one other. Atheists fight with the religious. Democrats fight with Republicans. In the end, unless the two sides can reach some sort of compromise, the side that wins gets to decide the outcome. When the freethinkers win, religious paintings come down.
The Bible gratefully gives us another answer—a substantively better answer—an answer that doesn’t leave us continually fighting. There is a curse upon this world that affects us all. The curse leads us to love our own opinions and to strive to implement our opinions over the opinions of others. It leads us to fight for what we believe are our rights. This is a problem within our hearts. Fundamentally, it is the reason human conflict exists.
It is likewise the reason human-divine conflict exists. The curse that is upon us leads us not only to exalt our opinions over the opinions of others, but also to exalt our opinions over the very truth that God has revealed in his word. It leads us to want to change the Bible or to explain away the Bible or to outright reject the Bible.
But the glorious news of the gospel is that Jesus has come to bring an end to the curse. Jesus has come to overcome my love for my own opinions and to give me a love for him. Because of God’s love for us in Christ, we can have an otherworldly unity with those who are part of the local church of which we are a part. Although conflict will still arise at times, even in Bible-believing churches, the battle is decidedly won. Through Christ, God changes our hearts so that we begin to overcome human conflict—so that we don’t always continue to strive against others and seek to enact our own opinions over the opinions of others. We instead come to seek God’s truth in community with others and experience an unprecedented unity that is ultimately a foretaste of the unity we will one day know in full. Biblically, this is what local churches are all about.
Victory for the Christian does not hinge on the hanging of a Jesus print at Royster Middle School. Victory for the Christian hinges upon Jesus hanging upon the cross two thousand years ago and taking upon himself the curse that was upon us in order that we might be rescued from the curse and walk in newness of life.
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’” (Galatians 3:13, ESV).