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Religious Freedom

I’ve been saving this op-ed from The Economist for a few weeks for various reasons. I probably should have included it as additional material in my recent post regarding an Ayaan Hirsi Ali article on a similar subject, but in retrospect repetition is a valuable tool in learning, and this is particularly true for unpleasant topics.

We need to take our Lord seriously when He promises something, and He promised persecution and trouble. It doesn’t help when our own human nature invites it, but that doesn’t mean that persecution is any less real. The Economist article discusses how Christianity is not only thriving but expanding rapidly among people in Africa and actually across the world of Islam, and those converts are paying the price in blood that Jesus paid.

The article also hints at the decline in Christianity’s influence in the West, but argues that supporting Christianity around the world supports religious freedom, and even that leaders should be even-handed and consistent in its support for all faiths, including those beyond Christianity. In short, religious freedom must be for all.

I agree with this. Whenever a faith gets political backing, it has a tendency to use the government’s power of coercion to restrict the freedoms of other faiths. This is inconsistent with the spirit of the freedom of religion and Christian teaching. Christianity was always meant to be a viral faith of conscience and conviction, not conscription. Any conversion at gunpoint is inconsistent with the doctrine of repentance leading to salvation.

Thus I would rather have heated debates with a Wiccan living to my left, an atheist to my right, a Muslim across the street and so on, while freely praying for them in worship in a publicly free church on the town square than to have them all “Christian in name only,” (CHINO) and living in hypocrisy and trying to merge aspects of their true worldview with the imposed one, corrupting the purity of the Gospel. Ideally, we would have friendly banter over halal BBQ, engaging each other in discussions of ideas in between keeping the kids in line as they ran around the yard together. To me, that is the better context for ministry.

In our hallowed ivory towers, we have a bloodless religious war raging, but it is no less real or intense for the lack of guns and bullets. The TINO’s (tolerant in name only) have a façade of welcoming diversity for those they feel are exotic, and not trying to make a political statement. But for those who are too much like them, but insist on believing in a faith they view as culturally dead, there is disdain and enmity.

The best solution for both of these fronts is prayer. Folks outside the battlezones must pray for those in them and those on one front must not neglect praying for those in the other. It is also important to realize that one is in a spiritual war zone, then pray for wisdom and courage to deal with it. If we choose to ignore the war around us, we lose, because they are fighting for dominance, not freedom.

A final thought:  if we are truly going to champion religious freedom, we need to pick our battles carefully. Things like prayer in schools are great rallying cries, but we need to ask ourselves if we want a blanket insistence on that freedom. Like it or not, our nation is more spiritually diverse than it was 50 years ago. Forcing everyone into a Christian mode publicly may not be the most winsome solution. I think changing the public discourse from nationwide policy to local freedom of communities to work it out is a better angle. What’s good for New York City may not be good for Smallville. The American federal model was designed specifically to allow local communities and states to be civic laboratories. The national referenda we should fight for are those to restore such freedoms, not to replace secular totalitarianism with a “Christian” form.


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