What does it take to stand against your own government? Our Declaration of Independence describes the inalienable, God-given rights entrusted to every person, including “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” and asserts that: “… to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Whenever their government “becomes destructive of these ends,” the Declaration says, the people are within their rights to challenge it. Challenging governments, though, never comes easily.
This week marks the shared birthday of two individuals whose willingness to challenge their government’s abuse of their God-given freedoms has made them an example that all of us can look to and share with our children and grandchildren, as a reminder of the price that must be paid if we’re to preserve a nation that cherishes liberty.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born on February 4, 1906, into a prominent, respected, well-educated and well-to-do family in what is now Wroclaw, Poland. Across his crowded 39 years, he became one of the most profound and controversial theologians of his day, taking an increasingly lonely stand for religious freedom in the face of the National Socialist movement that seduced his native land.
While churches throughout Germany buckled to the directives of the Third Reich, and pastors nationwide added their voices to those praising Adolph Hitler as a godlike visionary, Bonhoeffer boldly, eloquently called on Christians to resist the brutal political and cultural tides that were engulfing their society. He paid for his courage and convictions with his life.
Seven years to the day after Bonhoeffer’s birth, Rosa Parks came into a very different world from the one he knew. Raised in an era when education and economic opportunities were often bluntly denied to people of color – and in a culture far more oppressive than the one he first experienced – Parks, like Bonhoeffer, began early on to involve herself with those working for change and freedom.
Her determination climaxed in her refusal one day, after years of acquiescence, to give up her seat to white riders on a city bus. That moment of civil disobedience cost Parks a night in jail, but turned her overnight into a living symbol of human dignity and freedom – a position she represented with grace, dignity, and quiet, uncompromising courage for the next 50 years. (I witnessed this firsthand during a day I spent with her in Nashville, Tennessee, in the 1990s.)
The Hahn Family
Freedom is unpredictable in whom it chooses to call into the spotlight. Right now, Alliance Defending Freedom is representing a family from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the Hahns, who themselves will stand one day as a symbol of the ongoing fight for religious freedom. Like Bonhoeffer and Parks, this family is confronted with the awesome power of a government bent on denying their God-given right to live according to their faith.
The owners of Conestoga Wood Specialties, the Hahns are a practicing and believing Mennonite family, asking nothing more than the freedom to run their company in a way that reflects their sincerely held religious beliefs– including their conviction that life is sacred from conception. That puts them at odds with the Obama administration, whose abortion pill mandate forces employers, regardless of their religious or moral convictions, to provide coverage for abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraception. Businesses that do not comply with the mandate face crippling financial penalties from the Department of Health and Human Services.
Their case will be heard soon by the U.S. Supreme Court (March 25), whose ruling will have profound, far-reaching implications for Christian freedom in our country, as well as deeply personal concerns for the Hahns themselves. They are a patriotic family who want only to live peacefully with their neighbors and their government, and to humbly follow their God. Taking on a presidential administration doesn’t come easily for them.
Please be in prayer for the Hahns, for our attorneys representing them, and for the Green family (whose similar lawsuit on behalf of their own family-owned company, Hobby Lobby, will be presented at the same court session), during these weeks leading up to the hearing at the high court. Ask God to give them – indeed, to give all of us – the courage and wisdom to know how to speak out boldly and persuasively for the freedoms we cherish, and to walk thoughtfully in the steps of those, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Rosa Parks, who have so bravely shown us the way.