By Chris Lee
I recently ran across an article reporting that a man had intentionally run over a Ten Commandments monument with his vehicle. The three-ton statue had been installed for less than a day on the grounds of the Arkansas state capital.
This being 2017, the perpetrator, Michael Tate Reed, posted a video of his act of destruction on Facebook. This wasn’t Reed’s first time. He also rammed his car into a Ten Commandments monument on the Oklahoma capital grounds in 2014. Sometime after that incident he posted the following on his Facebook page:
“I’m a firm believer that for our salvation we not only have faith in Jesus Christ, but we also obey the commands of God and that we confess Jesus as Lord, but one thing I do not support is the violation of our constitutional right to have the freedom that’s guaranteed to us, that guarantees us the separation of church and state, because no one religion should the government represent.”
According to the article, Mr. Reed has been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, so I won’t spend too much time dissecting his views. However, it does bring up interesting questions as to how we as former Adventists should parse these types of controversies that seem to spring up periodically.
As Adventists, many of us strongly embraced a particular interpretation of the first amendment, an interpretation not so different from Mr. Reed’s. We essentially opposed any acknowledgement of faith or religion in the public realm, divided the world into the sacred and the secular, and fought to keep that divide. We felt threatened by any apparent public acknowledgement of faith because it fed into our fears that Sunday laws were just around the corner, and soon we Sabbath-keepers would have to flee to the wilderness to escape prison and death. I have strong memories of taking Signs of the Times magazines around to my neighbors as a child. These magazines were full of cautions against religion in public life and citations of examples that the editors believed would usher in the end times.
I no longer fear that “Sunday-keepers”, led by the Pope and his evil Catholic minions, are coming to kill me. In fact, the idea seems patently ridiculous to my adult, post-Adventist self. My views have also evolved on the intent of the first amendment. It’s not my purpose here to get into a deep discussion of constitutional interpretation, but suffice it to say, I seriously doubt if the drafters of the first amendment could have conceived of the secular society we live in today. It is doubtful that they were trying to block any reference to God or religion in public spaces. It is more likely that their intent was to prevent the government from establishing a state religion and to prevent the government from prohibiting the free exercise of religion.
So, I’m not really a fan of attempts to get rid of all references to God in public places, or running over religious monuments with a car, and I don’t think most other Christians are either. But I do find myself differing with many other Christians on one crucial point: should we really be agitating to install the Ten Commandments in schools, courthouses, and capitals? What message are we sending if we fight for the Ten Commandments with little to no mention of the Gospel?
A lot of Proclamation! writers, myself included, have spilled a lot of ink talking about the New Covenant Christian’s relationship to the Old Covenant Law (of which the Ten Commandments were a part). I’ve written a comparison of the two covenants according to II Corinthians chapter 3 and 4 as well as written on the differences between the Old Covenant Law and the Law of Christ. It may be helpful to take a look at these studies to see where I’m coming from on this. But in a nutshell, to point people back to the tablets of stone is really the wrong focus. As New Covenant Christians, we should be pointing people to the Cross of Christ.
The Law could only condemn and bring death. The New Covenant brings life, is more glorious, and remains after the old fades away. When one reads the Law there is a veil in place. The veil is only removed in Christ. The Law of Christ gives us Liberty in the Spirit, while elevating the standard of holiness to a whole new level. It is better in every way. So as Christians, we really need to be asking ourselves if we want to point people to tablets of stone that were only a shadow of what was to come, or if we want to point people to the substance and reality of the shadow, our living Savior. Do we point people back to death or to life and liberty in the Spirit?
It’s interesting that Mr. Reed yelled, “Freedom” as his car barreled into the Ten Commandments. I don’t condone or cheer Mr. Reed’s actions in knocking over monuments to the Law, but for very different reasons, I just might share a tad bit of his frustration. Jesus set us free. Why would we ever go back?
“It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1, NASB).