God Bless America: A Response to Secularism in France

I expected France to more like America than it is. Both are Western countries, both have democratic governments and both are committed to religious freedom. So, I assumed that the manifestation of my faith here in France would be more-or-less identical to the expression of my faith in America. As it turns out my presuppositions were wrong.

Is Religious Expression…Illegal?
We have slowly learned that the “separation between Church in State” in France does not mean what I am used to it meaning. In the States the government seeks to remains “neutral” while allowing all adherents to practice their religion freely. Interference from the government comes in only when there is violence or other violations of the rights of others. In contrast, here in France the government forbids what it calls the “ostentatious” expression of religion in public places. According to what I have been told, it is “ostentatious,” and thus illegal, for me to wear a cross and walk down the street. It would also be illegal for my North-African Muslim neighbors to wear head coverings and go to the supermarket. It is illegal for our church to go out in groups and evangelize people on the streets. My children cannot wear Christian t-shirts to school and, come to think of it, I have not seen any religious bumper stickers. Further, not only is the government seeking to keep religion off the streets, but its strong arm is also sweeping its way into religious meetings. There was recently an announcement at our church that there is a law in the works which would make it illegal to preach against abortion from the pulpit.
As an American, I would expect there to be an outrage against these types of laws. Is it truly religious freedom to be told how and when I can express my religion? I had thought that secularism was the way in which each religion could have a voice without the government taking sides. What I am finding here is that secularism is the process by which the government silences the voice of religion. To my surprise, there does not seem to be controversy surrounding these laws. This is secularism as the French know it and it appears to be accepted without (much) question. It is in situations like these that I realize how American I really am.
Be American and Be Loud
Although there are many things I appreciate about France even over my own culture, I cannot help but to appreciate the freedom (at least in contrast to the rest of the world) that we as Christians are given in America. Our freedom is truly unique. The US is a nation in which Christian sports celebrities write “John 3:16” on their faces. There are billboards that promote the Biblical perspective that unborn children are living and valuable. We can find a box, stand on it and preach the Gospel. We can go down to Santa Monica Boulevard in Southern California and talk to people for hours about Christ. We can get into universities and loudly preach on the forgiveness of sin that is promised to those who repent and believe. One time Dave was kindly trying to convince a woman to not have an abortion when someone called the police on him. When the police came Dave explained that he was just speaking his convictions in a public place. The officers said he was well within his rights to do just that. So Dave opened the Bible and continued to read it on the street with two officers standing behind him. There are innumerable ways that we can express our allegiance to Jesus and spread his Word in the states.

I know the US has its problems and there are times where I am not proud to be an American. And there are challenges to these freedoms in the news everyday. Yet I think I speak on behalf of my brothers and sisters who are overseas (especially those who are in countries where Christianity is illegal) when I say that we should be genuinely thankful for the freedoms that we do have. We are able to do things in America that are absolutely unthinkable for many people the world today. And, to adapt a well-known adage: with great freedom comes great responsibility. My challenge for my Christian friends in America today is this: be thankful for your freedoms and steward them well. I have heard many people say that we can fulfill the Great Commission right at home by evangelizing our neighbors, so by all means let us follow through. Let us have backyard Bible clubs for the kids in the neighborhood, let us not scoff at the car with 23 Christian bumper stickers on the back of it, let us open our mouths to speak on behalf of the unborn, let us pray for our neighbors and fellow parents at our kids schools, let us be ambitious to take advantage of every single freedom that we have been given. Let us not squander this gift of freedom, let us thank the Lord and use our freedoms to expand his Kingdom in the States.

Author: Stacey Hare

Stacey is a servant of Jesus Christ as well as a wife, mom, linguist, and Bible translator among the Kwakum people of Cameroon.