3 Simple Ways to Stand for Religious Liberty without Falling for a Political Agenda


In my previous post, I sought to show why it is important for Christians to fight for religious liberty. What are some simple ways Christians can do this without selling out to a political agenda? I thought of 3 simple ways to get the conversation going:

  1. Religious Freedom in America

    Wikimedia Commons

    Learn. Disciples are learners. Primarily, this learning must be focused on learning obedience to Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:18-20). But Christians have an obligation to be good citizens as well (Romans 13; 1 Timothy 2:2, etc). We must learn first what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God in order then to obey Christ’s command to render unto Caesar that which is his (Matthew 22:21).

    1. One good way to learn is by studying Baptist history. For all our faults, the one truth we Baptists have supported well is religious liberty. Baptists such as the Danbury Baptist Association, John Leland, and Roger Williams, significantly shaped America.
    2. A simple way to learn about religious liberty is to pay attention to the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, now headed by Russell Moore. Dr. Moore is gifted and persuasive, and the ERLC is very good at keeping churches and Christians informed about issues of importance. For example, here is a helpful brochure.
  2. Engage. Speak to your friends, family members, and colleagues about the issues which you are studying. Do not be combative or arrogant. Be genuinely concerned and seek the most Christ-exalting, truth-honoring, love-producing position available on issues which the rest of the world invariably must strangle into a political ideology. Denny Burk provides us with this example concerning how to love your trans-gender neighbor.
  3. Bear Witness. Bearing gospel witness is more than throwing out a tract and calling for repentance. Gospel witness is never less than speaking the truth of the gospel for the good of those to hear, but the biblical vision of gospel witness is even more.
    1. According to the Bible, all of life is witness. Jesus, in giving instruction for His followers to become the world’s disciple-makers, told them first, “You are witnesses…” (Luke 24:48).  The same is true of Christ’s followers being “salt” and “light.” This is what we are as much as it is what we do. So we must bear witness by always walking in a manner worthy of the gospel, in truth and love.
    2. Collectively, the church can then become a witness, too. John says that the world will know that we are Christ’s followers by the way we love one another. Be a faithful church member. Share Christ in fellowship with one another as a gospel community. Invite others into that community. Share Christ with those you meet who are trapped by sin’s delusion and bondage. Others do not represent our political enemy. They represent all of us who once were thieves, fornicators, adulterers, drunkards, or homosexuals, but we were washed with the water of the Word (1 Cor 6).
    3. See this moving testimony for a way to witness to the “outside” world of unbelievers.

In other words, now is not the time to retreat from society into our Christian enclaves. This is also not the time for Christians to disengage from issues because of not wanting to be owned by a political party. As laudable as it may be to avoid political trappings, such a decision to disengage on controversial issues may simply be nothing more than cowardice, hoping to avoid controversy and persecution by remaining silent where the battle rages. It’s not as though the Bible is silent on issues of sexual morality. We may need a little shot of Jesus to awaken us from our wishful slumber: Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels (Luke 9).

Or, we might be encouraged by this quote, typically assigned to Martin Luther:[1]

“If I profess, with the loudest voice and the clearest exposition, every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christianity. Where the battle rages the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle-field besides is mere flight and disgrace to him if he flinches at that one point.”

May the Lord grant that we Christians in the USA will not fail to uphold justice and liberty. Our greatest desire may well be that the world would know Christ, the ultimate truth who sets us free, but we should also not forget that as Christians we live in a nation that prides itself on liberty and justice for all. Let us hold our neighbors accountable to God and each other by promoting liberty.

Religious Liberty Important for All Americans

Why Christians Should fight for Religious Liberty

Should Pastors Preach Political Messages?

 

[1] Quote usually ascribed to Luther. But the exact quote is not found in his original writings. The quote, perhaps, originates from a 19th century novel. See this article for more.

Religious Freedom: A Clash of Categories


The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has released its annual report,  detailing the 16 countries which are of particular concern because of their stringent opposition to freedom in matters of religion.  The countries of particular concern this year are Burma, North Korea, Egypt, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, China, Saudi Arabia, Sudan (North), Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam.

Nina Shea, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and the director of the Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, has a helpful critique of the latest report, particularly noting the absence of Afghanistan from the countries of particular concern (CPC) list.

The work done by the USCIRF is good and surely is to be applauded. With a bloated federal government overflowing with agencies, secretaries, and czars of various sorts, it is good to know that there is at least one commission paying attention to the most basic human liberties.  The work done by the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom is even better than the USCIRF work because it is able to explain religious liberty from a single, coherent perspective.  But beyond these two entities, Christians have a steeper challenge when it comes to religious liberty.

Religious liberty, as a category, is not a biblical category; it is a political category.  This is not a criticism of religious liberty; it is a basic fact of clarification.  Talk of religious liberty is political talk.  Though Christians certainly should be on the forefront of engaging in the battle for religious liberty, Christians cannot stop there.  As a Baptist, for instance, I can boast that we Baptists have been champions of religious liberty in America. The reason, of course, is that our denomination was birthed from the pangs of religious intolerance.  Baptists were persecuted in 17th Century England and in 18th Century America (hence, Roger Miller in Rhode Island).  Danbury Baptists, of course, carried on the conversation with Thomas Jefferson which has infamously (and erroneously) led to the notion of a separation of church and state. I could go on, but the point is plain that Baptists support staunchly the concept of religious liberty.

Still, religious liberty is, technically, a political category, and Christians must keep paring down political ideals until they arrive at biblical ones.  Pushing the political square peg into its biblical round hole leads the Christian to the biblical category of persecution. Persecution is the category biblical writers use when speaking of ill treatment on account of following Jesus. Jesus speaks much about persecution.  The gospels, Paul’s letters, Peter’s writings, John’s Revelation—the New Testament is filled with instructions about and explanations of persecution, thus enabling Christians to understand it and respond to it in a manner worthy of the gospel.

To her credit, Nina Shea, in her critique of the USCIRF report, instinctively jumps to the category of persecution. In so doing, she makes this important observation:

“Christians are far from the only religious group persecuted in these countries. But, Christians are the only group persecuted in each and every one of them. This pattern has been found by sources as diverse as the Vatican, Open Doors, Pew Research Center, Newsweek, and The Economist, all of which recently reported that an overwhelming majority of the religiously persecuted around the world are Christians. Globally, this persecution is experienced by all Christian faith traditions from Pentecostal and evangelical to Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox.”

Her comments lead us to an undeniable fact concerning Christian persecution: It happens everywhere. Granted, the report only lists 16 countries on its CPC list and another 9 countries on its watch list; nevertheless, Christians are persecuted in every country which appears on any list. The reason is explained by the biblical instructions on Christian persecution.

Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:12 what Jesus had already explained in John 15:18-25.  Anyone who is a follower of Christ will be persecuted because Christ is present with him. Even as the world hated (and thus executed) Christ when he walked among us, so, too, does the world still hate (and persecute) Christ.  There is still animus against God’s messiah. And so, there is still Christian persecution everywhere.

The USCIRF report is helpful in pointing out for us where the persecution is presently most intense, but it cannot specifically say that Christians are persecuted in all countries and in all places on account of Christ. We need the Bible to remind us of that fact.  All Christians will be persecuted on account of Christ. The USCIRF report reminds us that the persecution will sometimes be particularly intense in some places. Persecution differs from country to country in degrees of intensity but not in type of suffering. Christians suffer persecution everywhere they exist.