On a beautiful New Mexico evening, with clear blue skies, we celebrated America’s freedoms at a Block Party hosted by our church. Like many others Sunday night, we gathered to have fun, to watch fireworks and, like good Baptists, to eat lots of food! Grilled hot dogs, fresh popcorn, ice-cold lemonade and tea were served, free of charge, to anyone who stopped by. Children expended much energy in our bounce house, much to their parents’ delight. Some members of the Alamogordo Mustang Club joined us for the festivities, bringing their cars, new and old, for all to admire (and for some like me, to drool over). With our friends and neighbors, we watched as the magnificent display of fireworks lit up the cloudless sky above the New Mexico Museum of Space History. By all accounts, fun was had by all.
I don’t have a final count of how many attended our 4th of July Block Party, but one person we did not see was the official from the New Mexico Department of the Environment who advised us that we would have to get a government issued permit to hold a Block Party on our own property. After submitting our application to serve food as a “Temporary Food Establishment” and, after answering additional questions about our “food service” set-up, the Department issued our “free” permit late Friday afternoon. Now, for those familiar with churches in general, and Baptist churches in particular, one could argue that eating is an official doctrine of our faith. And we eat a lot. However, one would be hard pressed to make the case that churches are “food service establishments” that are subject to a permitting process. Nevertheless, we complied and posted our permit for the entire world to see.
We were told the permit wouldn’t cost us anything. We were assured that all of these new procedures were for our own good. If that were true, then why even be concerned about such seemingly insignificant matters? Why not just jump through all the hoops and quietly comply with each and every governmental directive, all without questioning? Because the cost of silent submission not only erodes our freedoms, but weakens our resolve, opening the door for potential and real abuses of power that will not be easily thwarted.
When we encounter any abuse of power, no matter how inconsequential, we can either choose to do nothing, thus assuring that the abuses continue unabated. Or, we can choose to exercise our spirit of resistance, always questioning the reasons – and the reasoning – behind the elite’s decisions and directives. Many leaders in government, politics, and even in churches and religious organizations, including the Southern Baptist Convention, will strenuously oppose any grassroots movement of people when these same leaders operate out of a sense of fear, having forgotten that they derive” their just powers from the consent of the governed.” There will continue to be consequences – personally and professionally – when the grassroots citizens of this country and the grassroots pastors and laypeople within the Southern Baptist Convention speak up, speak out, and take a stand. But, speak and stand we must!