Christians asked to compromise beliefs

Farm Forum

I began my college career as a theater major. By the end of my freshman year, I had worked in various capacities on more than a dozen shows and completed more than half the classes required for the major.

But a funny thing happened to me on my way to a life in the theater. Just before the start of my sophomore year of college, I responded to an altar call and promised to make Jesus my Lord.

Trying to serve Christ meant changed priorities. I dropped out of SMUT (the Stanford Marching Unit Thinkers), the group that planned the band’s raunchy half-time shows — not a particularly tough choice. But what was I going to do with my drama major?

Stanford shows were extraordinarily well done, and having even a minor part was a great learning experience. But many of the shows required at least a tiny compromise of Christian principle: a small bit of blasphemy, a mocking of Christian morality, language a Christian shouldn’t use. Could I in good conscience work on shows like Fernando Arabel’s “The Architect and the Emperor of Assyria,” a play that featured nudity, simulated cannibalism, sadomasochistic priests, pregnant nuns and the filthiest language imaginable?

Fortunately for me, I could decide on a show-by-show basis. Our department didn’t require participation in any particular show, and I didn’t have to work on any of the shows I found objectionable. I could finish the major with no real crisis of conscience.

For the Christians of Imperial Rome, there was no such easy out. Roman authorities insisted that they participate in the imperial cult, making an appropriate sacrifice and swearing an oath of allegiance to the emperor as a god.

Romans of an earlier period would have scoffed at such gestures as servile nonsense. But as republican traditions were left behind and Romans at every level of society accepted the transition from citizen to subject, universal subservience to authority became the norm. What the government asked was trivial: How unreasonable of Christians to refuse! Want to participate in Roman society? Want to buy and sell? Then take the mark of the Roman beast, recognizing the supremacy of government authority over all other allegiances.

Modern nations have often followed the path of Imperial Rome, looking for government solutions to all their problems. But to create the kind of secular utopia people want — to remake political, social, economic conditions and to transform human nature itself — government can’t countenance any challenge to its authority. And, invariably, such a government will insist that you take its mark or you will no longer be allowed to buy or sell.

And it’s now coming to a country near you. The Affordable Health Care Act gets some of its most enthusiastic support from those who who want Christians to have to compromise on deeply held beliefs. There are plenty of other such issues on the horizon, and the curtain is about to rise on one of the great conflicts of American history. Action! Suspense! Drama! Who needs the theater?

Art Marmorstein, Aberdeen, is a professor of history at Northern State University. He can be reached at The views are his and do not represent NSU.