Idaho Strong Press Conference Comments
My name is Toby Sumpter. I’m a pastor at Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho.
Thanks very much for the invitation to speak to you all today. Thanks to Gabe for organizing this, and thanks to the Lt. Governor and the others participating.
I want to speak to you very briefly about freedom and courage. Freedom and courage go together. In fact you cannot keep freedom very long without courage. It takes courage to defend freedom, but it also takes courage to actually live free. This is because freedom assumes risks. Freedom, rightly understood, is using your strength and resources for the good of those entrusted to you. Freedom is responsibility. It takes courage to take responsibility. It’s easier to say that’s not my problem. I’m not my brother’s keeper. And what we’ve done over the last hundred years or so is make Government our keeper. Government has become Big Brother because we refused to be our brother’s keeper — families, churches and neighbors would not take responsibility for those nearest to us and in many ways we’ve insisted the state do our job. And now here we are with government taking responsibility for our health and safety and almost everything about our lives. We need courage to take back those responsibilities. Those responsibilities are our freedom.
But courage is somewhat mysterious. Throughout history people have stood against devastating odds. Sometimes they have lost in battle – think of the Alamo and sometimes they have won, think of the War for Independence. But throughout the Bible, the key is never numbers, the key is the blessing of God. Remember Gideon and his 300 men against thousands. With God’s blessing, “five of you shall chase an hundred, and an hundred of you shall put ten thousand to flight” (Lev. 26:8). But without His blessing: “How should one chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight, except their Rock had sold them, and the LORD had shut them up?” (Dt. 32:30)
Over the last number of decades, so many Americans have lost their nerve, lost their courage, and while many still fight for freedom, many seem to fight now in pure desperation. It often feels like we’re being chased, but when we look back, we’re being chased by one guy or maybe two and turns out they’re both wearing dresses.
But the message I have today is that courage is actually born out of thanksgiving and praise.
There’s an old hymn called For All the Saints, and in one verse it says:
“And when the fight is fierce, the warfare long,
steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
and hearts are brave again, and arms are strong.
Notice what the hymn writer says. What makes the hearts brave again? What makes their arms strong? It’s the sound of the distant triumph song. What is that triumph song? Alleluia! It’s a song of praise to God.
We celebrate thanksgiving this week and every year, not merely for what we have, but we also give thanks for what God has promised to give.
Remember the first thanksgiving— less than half of the pilgrims had survived their first winter in America. They gave thanks that they were still there, but they also gave thanks in faith believing in what God would still give. Their thanksgiving was their courage.
Many of us are already leaning into Christmas, putting up lights and trees, beginning to shop for gifts. Remember the first Christmas a young pregnant woman and her husband in Bethlehem and the birth of Jesus. And the angel sang to the shepherds in the fields at night: Glory to God in the Highest and on earth, peace and goodwill toward men. While Jesus was still a baby, the angels were already singing praise about what He would do.
And about 30 years later, Jesus was in the upper room with his disciples and he took bread and wine and gave thanks. He said it was His body broken for us, His blood shed for the forgiveness of sins. He was giving thanks for what God would do, for what God was about to do. He was about to accomplish the salvation of the world, and that salvation includes every form of freedom: economic freedom, political freedom, religious freedom, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of the press, freedom to protest, freedom to run our businesses unhindered, freedom to protect ourselves and our loved ones as we see fit.
In other words, the kind of freedom we have enjoyed in this country and in the great state of Idaho is no generic freedom. It is Christian freedom. Don’t believe me? Just check the preamble to the Idaho Constitution. It clearly gives thanks to Almighty God for our freedom. Our freedom is a Christian freedom. But you cannot have Christian freedom without Christ.
We believe in the separation of church and state, but we do not believe in the separation of God and state. How could we? God gave us our freedom. For too long we have let secularists shove their religion down our throats in the name of neutrality, but it turns out there was never anything neutral about it. How did a relatively conservative state like Idaho declare churches “non-essential” earlier this year?
There is no other kind of freedom except Christian freedom, and there is no Christian freedom apart from Christ. But Christ died and rose again to set men free from sin, death, the devil, and every form of slavery and tyranny. This is what we give thanks for this week and every week. This is what we celebrate at Christmas. This our triumph song. And that song is what makes hearts brave and arms strong. Our thanksgiving is our courage, and our courage is what will keep us free.