From: Charlie Glenn
“The king wrote to his whole kingdom that all should be one people, and that each should give up his customs” (1 Maccabees 1:41f).
We do not often have readings from the Apocrypha, writings from the third and second centuries BCE, which leaders of the Reformation concluded were not part of the authoritative Word of God found in what we call the Old and New Testaments. We are reminded in the introduction to the lectionary in Not By Bread Alone that “these readings are set by the Anglican Church in North America in keeping with the classic Anglican principle that ‘the Church doth read [these books] for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine’ (Article VI of the Thirty-Nine Articles)” of 1563.
By God’s providence, today’s reading is in fact relevant to our present situation and an encouragement to faithfulness of Christian living, individually and in association, in the face of a culture that shows it less and less respect.
King Antiochus Epiphanes was unusual among the rulers of Antiquity in seeking to impose uniformity of belief and practice, with no room for the cultural pluralism that the Jewish people had taken advantage of under the rule of Egypt, Babylon, or Persia. The latter had been authoritarian; his rule intended to be totalitarian.
Contemporary American opinion celebrates diversity in many forms, while increasingly intolerant of behavior based upon strongly-held religious convictions. Society has accommodated language differences, tastes in clothing and food, and a myriad of sexual identities, while suspicious of decisions reflecting an understanding of God’s loving intentions for his creatures. Faith-based associations are under siege in many states.
The appropriate Christian response is not to seek to impose our beliefs upon others, but to witness faithfully as a confessing minority—like the Jews in 1 Maccabees—to our understanding of the true nature of human flourishing. Like the churches to whom St. Paul wrote, we can expect to be misunderstood, misrepresented, and perhaps even to suffer for our convictions; so be it!
Not that we should do so passively. It is entirely appropriate that we stand up, legally and politically, for the right to live out our convictions. The demand of Antiochus Epiphanes, that living as one people requires surrendering any faith-based alternative way of life, is totalitarian, and unworthy of a free society.
Though retired, I remain active in religious freedom controversies in the US and Europe. Glad to provide examples.