The familiar passage from the Scriptures says: “And he gave him the name Jesus.” (Matt. 1:25). This name-giving was done in the confines of the stable in Bethlehem, of course. Naming the name of Jesus in that sheltered place would presumably have been permitted under the new guidance for “freedom of worship.”
Freedom of worship is the term coming increasingly into use, replacing the older American ideal of freedom of religion. Freedom of worship is cropping up in State Department usage, especially when discussing international religious freedom (or, as is so often the case, the lack thereof).
Freedom of religion means you can name the name of Jesus out of doors. You are not confined to the four walls of your home, your church, your para-church ministry, or your stable.
There was a remarkable incident at the Pentagon that illustrates this point. Less than a month after the attacks of 9/11, Defense Department military personnel, civilian staff members, and their families gathered outside, near the still-smoldering ruins where the hijacked jet, American Airlines Flight 77, had plowed into the E-ring, killing all on board and scores in the building.
Four military chaplains prayed — Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and Muslim. Each one offered up his comforting words to the Almighty. None of them named the name of Jesus. When Admiral Barry Black, the Chief of Navy Chaplains, came to the microphone, he read from the book of Romans:
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. [Romans 8:38-39]
At this naming of the name of Jesus, a great shout of exultation went up from the crowd.
More typical of military observances of 9/11, however, was the memorial service at the U.S. Naval Academy Chapel in Annapolis that grim autumn. There, again, Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish chaplains prayed, joined by a Muslim Midshipman. They each read from their scriptures, but no one named the name of Jesus. Perhaps no one thought it was necessary, since there is a twelve-foot-high Tiffany stained-glass portrait of Jesus walking on the waters above the altar at the USNA Chapel.
Or, was it more likely that naming the name of Jesus in “mixed” company is a sin against inclusiveness and diversity?
There is a point to be made here, of course. Jews, non-believers, adherents of minority religions are not guests in the U.S. military. There has been no religious test for the Navy or any service since the Continental Navy and Army were formed. We can be proud of our American legal tradition of religious freedom. It is, as Madison said, “the lustre of our country.”
Still, no one would question the right of a Jewish chaplain to read from the Torah, or the right of a Muslim chaplain to quote from the Koran. For Christians, Jesus is the word made flesh.
To discourage if not explicitly forbid the public naming of the name of Jesus is to uniquely disfavor Christianity. This, in an all-volunteer military that continues to draw its members disproportionately from Christian communities.
How can we justly resolve this matter? How can we protect the right of Christians to pray on public occasions in the name of Jesus without suggesting, or even seeming to suggest, that Christians are imposing their beliefs on others?