Remember the “Just Say No” campaign? It was First Lady Nancy Reagan’s project in the 80s and 90s to “discourage children from engaging in illegal recreational drug use by offering various ways of saying no. Eventually, the scope of the campaign expanded to cover violence and premarital sex as well as drug use.”
Mrs. Reagan’s campaign encouraged children to say No. Twenty years later, the current situation begs a question: Can we still say No?
Here’s a corresponding question: Are we still free? Those two questions are closely related: the ability to say No marks the bounds of our liberty.
At the creation God made us free moral agents. That freedom meant the ability to say No, even to God! We were given the power, as imago Dei humans, to make real moral choices and, as a corollary, to take responsibility for those choices. Alas, our representative head in Eden invoked the ability and said No to God himself. And with that act, evil entered the world.
Of course in one sense we lost our freedom with that act of rebellion. In the fall, enslavement became our default. If we do not say No to our sinful impulses—lust, greed, hatred, revenge, pornography, drugs, idolatry—we become enslaved to those thoughts and behaviors. Only when we say No to our appetites are we free.
British statesman Edmund Burke (1729-1797) wisely said, “Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites …. Society cannot exist unless a controlling power be placed somewhere … . It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.”
We have written before on the importance of saying “No” to evil and the promotion of evil in civil society. We need to say No to our own personal vices, we need to say No to the culture, and sometimes we need to say No to a corrupt government. The Christian’s arsenal for engaging in cultures of corruption and injustice includes civil disobedience.
In these days there is a fierce attempt to eliminate our freedom to say No. And if we can no longer say No, we will no longer be free.
Author and political commentator Tony Katz, writing for the online forum Townhall, calls our attention to the movement in America to eliminate our freedom to say No. In his provocative piece on RFRA he writes:
“You cannot say “No” in America.
The act of saying, “No” – No, I can’t make that cake for you. It goes against my religious beliefs. No, I can’t take those photographs. I don’t feel comfortable doing that. No, I can’t provide you service X,Y, or Z because I disagree with it – is no longer allowed in America….
The ability to say “No” is the difference between a free person and a slave. Slavery offers no chance for choice, and no ability to make decisions. Being told what to think – under direct threat of violence – is slavery. Can there be any doubt?
If a person is unable to say “No,” how, then, are they free?”
May we be people who think independently! May we be people who say Yes to that which is good, true and beautiful. And may we be citizens who exercise our God-given freedom.
Let us say No to those things that enslave us personally and those things that enslave our culture. As the apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 12:2, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”
- Darrow Miller and Gary Brumbelow