Statement on the Nativity Controversy.
1. Our county officials have followed our constitutional protections and legal precedent in affirming that the displays put up by Keep Athens Beautiful meet the standards of protected, secular speech and therefore are not a governmental support of religion. There has never been any realistic threat of removing the nativity from the courthouse lawn. Many people are spreading fear and misinformation and that must stop. Instead, we need to thank our elected officials for upholding the law. The County Judge, County Attorney and the County Commissioners are to be thanked for a job well done.
2. These constitutional protections were put into place because Baptist and other minority groups were persecuted, harassed, taxed, beaten, exiled and put to death for their beliefs. At the founding of our country we were a minority. The law protected our ability to teach that people should come to faith in Christ and be baptized as believers. We had to do this in the face of the opposition of the “majority.” Majority rule can be a terrible thing, that is why we have the Constitution and the legal system, to protect the rights of all people. We should not stand up because we have the majority and can intimidate others, but we should stand up because we believe every citizen has the right to freely express their opinion. We will need to defend our elected officials when they allow free speech to appear on the courthouse lawn especially, if it is a message with which we do not agree. The Freedom from Religion group says an Athens resident is ready to put up a sign reading, “At this season of the winter solstice, may reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”
3. In the days to come, unless revival breaks out in America, we will be in a minority position. Now is the time to affirm our freedoms. This will take grown-up mature people, individuals not threatened by messages with which they do not agree. Let the minority opinions come to the courthouse. Let people see the stark contrast between our hope, love and service in our community and judge for themselves which way brings life. We will need to affirm the rights of all people, so we will not lose our rights to speak the truth.
4. If you attend the rally, do so with peace in your heart and answers on your lips. I will be out of town with FBC Athens’ ski trip on Saturday, so let me coach you now. I am concerned that the media will turn this into a circus. I am concerned that people will be approached by the media and say things like, “this is our city and we should get to do what we want” or “they can just leave our city” or “this is a Christian Nation” or some angry response.
5. Ready answers:
a. We do not gather to intimidate, but to celebrate what we believe.
b. We gather because we have the right to gather and proclaim in love what we believe. We celebrate our American freedom and encourage others to use their rights also.
c. We did not gather because the nativity is threatened, but to tell people that we are followers of Christ.
d. Let everyone come and tell what they believe, we believe that the love of Jesus and the life of Jesus will touch more people’s lives than any other message.
6. The churches are trying to organize to put people on the lawn for a living nativity. Our day is Monday, Dec. 19. We need people to volunteer from 7am to 7pm. We will hand out bibles, tracts, cider and good will.
Be wise and gentle,