Of RFRA and the Resurrection

Last week, I was on vacation with my family, away from our hometown of Indianapolis. From hundreds of miles away, I watched with consternation as the media ripped our state lawmakers to shreds over Indiana’s new Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Not many bills in the Indiana statehouse warrant a Wikipedia page, but Senate Bill 101 did after all of the publicity. The attempt to protect ours as a culture of pluralism became more complex by the “fix” our lawmakers and governor added in response to the media frenzy and outcry from public figures and corporations. Little remains to be said that has not already been said, so I will simply add one thought.

No one I saw or heard in the public square connected Easter with the RFRA. Easter weekend followed the bulk of the RFRA controversy. Both were on the front of our society’s mind. Yet, virtually no one publicly connect the resurrection of Christ with the right and obligation to obey the living God.

In the book of Acts, the resurrection of Jesus was the defining feature of the apostles’ life and proclamation. The Council in Jerusalem sought to silence Jesus’ disciples for speaking of the resurrection, “But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20).

One chapter later, the local leaders hauled the disciples in again. And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, saying, ‘We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.’ But Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.’ When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them” (Acts 5:27-33).

The disciples could not engage in the public square without asserting the resurrection and its implications. Certainly, the specifics of the accounts in Acts and the Indiana RFRA debate are different in many, many ways and Christians will differ on how the truth should be applied. Many even question the wisdom of the original bill.

The point is that the resurrection changes everything and Christians must always interpret culture through its lens. Our lives and words are governed by this great reality. A man who claimed to be God was murdered and rose from the dead 2000 years ago vindicating his perfect life and the efficacy of his sacrificial death for sin. He is the King of kings and Lord of lords. He ascended to the right hand of God the Father on high. In his divinity and humanity, he still reigns. Our culture speaks much of his resurrection and celebrates it. Would that we would believe it to the extent that we would ask “What does Jesus think?” The disciples could not stop talking about the resurrection when discoursing in the public square. The omission in the discussion last week was striking, especially at the time of the annual cultural remembrance of the resurrection.

Fascinatingly, immediately after the disciples’ words in Acts 5, a member of the council, Gamaliel, offered up his own version of an RFRA which was implemented. Perhaps those opposed to Christ in our culture have read the rest of the story and understand the risk.

The problem – and solution – for those opposed to Christ, however, is that the rest of the story also shows that the resurrected Jesus will make his name and dominion known where freedom is granted by civil rulers and where it is not. Even Saul, Gamaliel’s most famous student who opposed Jesus and persecuted Christians, was knocked to the ground by Jesus. Jesus asked him why he was still kicking against the goads (Acts 26). Paul had sought to justify his own sin and rebellion by seeking the approval of others and by oppressing those living their lives on truth. He found true freedom only from the very one he sought to persecute.

Even as Christians today stand trial for the resurrection, may those who stand opposed to Jesus in our land find freedom from sin in the One they are seeking to silence.