December 30, 2015

3 reasons Christians should back religious freedom for all (COMMENTARY)

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Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, flanked by Republic presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, left, Attorney Mathew Staver, second right, and her husband Joe Davis, right, celebrates her release from the Carter County Detention center in Grayson, Kentucky on September 8, 2015. U.S. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Chris Tilley
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-MARSHALL-COLUMN, originally transmitted on September 10, 2015, or with RNS-STETZER-COLUMN, originally transmitted on Dec. 30, 2015, or with RNS-GUSHEE-COLUMN, originally transmitted on Jan. 6, 2016.

Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, flanked by Republic presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, left, Attorney Mathew Staver, second right, and her husband Joe Davis, right, celebrates her release from the Carter County Detention center in Grayson, Kentucky on September 8, 2015. U.S. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Chris Tilley *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-MARSHALL-COLUMN, originally transmitted on September 10, 2015, or with RNS-STETZER-COLUMN, originally transmitted on Dec. 30, 2015, or with RNS-GUSHEE-COLUMN, originally transmitted on Jan. 6, 2016.

(RNS) Americans are overwhelmingly concerned about religious liberty — that’s good. What’s troubling, but perhaps not surprising, is that they are less enthusiastic about those liberties for some religions.

According to a recent poll by The Associated Press and the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center, 82 percent said religious liberty protections were important for Christians, compared with around 60 percent who said the same for Muslims and the religiously unaffiliated.

Yet, religious freedom is not merely an important issue — it is our “first freedom.” What Americans, especially Christian Americans, must understand is this: Religious freedom for some is not religious freedom for long.

LifeWay Research data might help explain the lower enthusiasm for the religious freedom of Muslims. About 40 percent of Americans believe Muslims are a threat to religious liberty. However, that does not explain why Mormons, who are not seen as a threat to religious liberty, get lower favorable responses in polls.

Partly, it may be that religious freedom means different things to different people. Another reason may be that these faiths are smaller and less mainstream.

Yet, we must be clear about religious freedom, its definition and value to our nation. Regardless of people’s faith, or lack thereof, it is important for Christians, Hindus, atheists, Muslims and everyone in between to work for religious freedom for all.

So, what do we mean when we talk about religious liberty?


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Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, flanked by Republic presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, left, Attorney Mathew Staver, second right, and her husband Joe Davis, right, celebrates her release from the Carter County Detention center in Grayson, Kentucky on September 8, 2015. U.S. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Chris Tilley *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-MARSHALL-COLUMN, originally transmitted on September 10, 2015, or with RNS-STETZER-COLUMN, originally transmitted on Dec. 30, 2015.

Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, flanked by Republic presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, left, Attorney Mathew Staver, second from right, and her husband, Joe Davis, right, celebrates her release from the Carter County Detention Center in Grayson, Ky., on Sept. 8, 2015. U.S. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Chris Tilley
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-MARSHALL-COLUMN, originally transmitted on Sept. 10, 2015, or with RNS-STETZER-COLUMN, originally transmitted on Dec. 30, 2015.

For some, it brings to mind a Kentucky clerk not signing a same-sex marriage certificate or Hobby Lobby not providing certain contraceptives.

Many may believe the religious freedoms of Jews and Christians are beneficial to the “Judeo-Christian” nation but think granting those same freedoms to others would endanger our safety. I get it: Working for the religious freedom of someone else may appear to be endorsing their beliefs.

This is a faulty line of thinking. We must pursue religious freedom for all. Here’s why:

1. The First Amendment does not protect certain faiths, but all faiths, and people of no faith.

It’s a dangerous idea to let majorities and government decide whose religious freedom is worth protecting. Historically, U.S. Christians have recognized this. A well-known agitator pushing for what would become the First Amendment was a preacher named John Leland. He made it clear: “All should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians.” And, for what it’s worth, Turks were Muslims.

2. Minority faiths, like minority viewpoints, are the ones that need most protection.

Those in the majority rarely see their liberties curtailed legally and culturally. Minority faiths, often misunderstood by others, need additional protection from the inherent power of the majority.

We see a similar reality with freedom of speech. Popular opinions do not need protection. This is why freedom of the press and freedom of religion are both mentioned in the First Amendment.

3. When those of us who identify as Christians allow the government to pick whose freedoms are recognized, we undermine our own religious liberties.

As an evangelical, whose beliefs are increasingly out of touch with the majority culture, I defend religious freedom now, because I may need those protections later.

The majority of Americans and Protestant pastors believe religious liberty is on the decline in our nation. We should recognize that we can prevent those erosions by standing for the religious freedom of others.

As a Christian confident in my faith, I want freedom of religion because I believe the gospel will advance in a free and open market of religious ideas. I want all to hear the gospel, even those who think I should not share it. But as an evangelical, I believe all are made in the image of God and, as such, all must have the freedom to choose their faith, or to change their faith.


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Ed Stetzer photo courtesy of LifeWay Christian Resources.

Ed Stetzer is executive director of LifeWay Research. Photo courtesy of LifeWay Christian Resources

Yes, religion has been — and is — used to promote and condone violence, and we would be naïve not to see the link between Islam and Islamist radicalism. But we can address such issues in any faith, without undermining the general founding principles of our nation. The actions of a minority of Muslims do not mean the entirety of that faith should forfeit religious freedom. Most Americans see that.

Around the world, nations often deny religious freedom. So, let’s show the world a better way — one our Founding Fathers laid forth.

When Christians demand religious freedom for ourselves and do not speak up for others’, we miss the teaching of Jesus, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12).

(Ed Stetzer is executive director of LifeWay Research)

 

  • George Nixon Shuler

    Anyone who thinks the Kim Davis case, or Baronelle Sutton, sweet Cakes by Melissa, or whomever, is a “religious freedom” case is either lying or grossly misinformed. To serve in an elected office is not an exercise of religion. To operate a business is not an act of religious faith. Nobody said any of these mean people had to start being nice; it was just determined through due process that they have a duty to treat all the same and failed to do so, hence the legal sanctions against them.

  • I may have found my new favorite theist. (Rabbi Boteach is unlikely to be heartbroken at the news.)

    There’s nothing I disagree with in this article, and not for lack of trying. But I’ma read it a few more times just to make sure.

    Very well said, my friend…

  • “it is important for Christians, Hindus, atheists, Muslims and everyone in between to work for religious freedom for all.”

    YES, YES, YES, YES, YES!!!

    I think all religions are disgusting. They are a nuisance to civilization.
    But one has the right to religion. Just as they have the right to drink and smoke too much on their own property.

    Keep it out of my laws, my kid’s schools and my home and I’m fine with it.
    And I shall disparage it (along with public drunkeness) as much as I need to.

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  • G Key

    It all boils down to how people treat each other.
    And their boundaries.
    And their beliefs.
    And their belongings.
    And their bedrooms.
    And their business.
    Not to mention their rights.
    And their freedoms — especially of choice.
    And yes, even their equality.

    Everybody cherishes their own spiritual/existential beliefs. Insulting other people’s beliefs is not only wrong; it’s profane. And it speaks volumes about the disparager’s mean-spirited (and nosy) character.

    Seems to me the Golden Rule applies here, even to atheists like me.

  • ace

    But those “sinners” wont go to hell, no matter what their real actions in the real world, as long as they ask for forgiveness and accept Jesus as their lord and savior.

    Only rejection of Jesus gets you to hell. You know, eternal torture for thought crime.Great system of justice you’ve got there.

    no thanks, I’ll stick with reality.

  • Re: “As a Christian confident in my faith, I want freedom of religion because I believe the gospel will advance in a free and open market of religious ideas.”

    Unfortunately many American Christianists believe the opposite of this. They think their religion can’t endure competition, because Satan rules “the World” which means their faith is at an inherent disadvantage. They think it needs to be supported and promoted above and beyond any other. To do any less than that, they think, will cause it to die out … because the world’s current Master, Satan, is trying to kill it off (and them, too).

    This belief system is real. I have spoken with Christians who actually think this way. They’re genuinely convinced Christianity will be gone, in the US at least, in a couple decades. That’s why they demand preference and deference, and will settle for nothing else. They’re angry, and they won’t tolerate any less than that.

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  • George Nixon Shuler

    It appears your comment is based on the a priori notion that persons who do not say the magic words that they are “Christians” are bound for Hell. I do not believe that and these days that is hardly believed by most Christians. If it were true, which I do not believe it is, it would provide proof that “god” is an evil being unworthy of worship, and therefore all persons of good character would find such a “hell” to be their desired destination. .

  • It’s obvious that the writer is shy of some important brain cells and has been receiving one sided guidance from some quarters.

    Freedom of religious practice is what it’s all about. This has been fine with tolerant, sensitive, intelligence people for centuries.

    However, we are now confronted with a so-called religion that is intolerant in its dogma and practices and follows a dogma that intends to subjugate or destroy all other religions. And this ignorant writer says that we should respect these practitioners who crucify Christian children in Syria, block the doors of churches and burn them down in Africa, and much more.

    I respect the few Moslems who actually seek a relationship with the almighty God, but have zero respect for those who are compliant with the principles of sharia which instructs its adherents to hate and to murder others.

  • Fran

    George,

    There is no place of fiery torment forever, as espoused by false religion today. Thankfully, there is only the “grave” where the dead, whether good or bad persons during their lives, are “sleeping” in death, not aware of anything (Ecclesiastes 9:5,6,10). It’s a shame that people, through religion, would consider God, who is exemplified by love (1 John 4:8) to be a torturous God of his own creation as exemplified by hellfire. Even Jesus himself was in the grave and unconscious for three days, and not in a place of torment, after which God brought him back to life.

  • A few reasons we should back freedom from religion for all. http://thelastwhy.ca/poems/2013/1/25/religion.html

  • Bob

    Fran, the whole Jesus story that you keep trying to promote here is a huge steaming, stinking pile of bull manure. How is it again that your omnipotent being couldn’t do his saving bit without the whole silly Jesus hoopla? And how was Jesus’ death a “sacrifice”, when an omnipotent being could just pop up a replacement son any time with less than a snap of his fingers? Not only that, but an omnipotent “god” would have known that Jesus wouldn’t really stay dead. That is no sacrifice at all.

    It’s also worth asking why such a claimed benevolent, wonderfully kind, “god” has to put us through thousands of years of anxious waiting before “saving” us from a flawed life that he supposedly created. The Christian beliefs are just plain ridiculous.

    Ask the questions. Break the chains.
    Join the movement. Be free of Christianity and other superstitions.
    http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/

  • brandofman

    The outcome of of life’s trials are not decided by some cosmic kid with a giant magnifYing glass. The outcome is a matter of choice. One we are free to make.

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  • ben in oakland

    “However, we are now confronted with a so-called religion that is intolerant in its dogma and practices and follows a dogma that intends to subjugate or destroy all other religions.”

    Sounds like kim davis loving, no true Christian insisting, biblical sharia exalting fundamentalism to me.

  • “I respect the few Moslems who..seek a relationship with the almighty God…”

    Relationship with a God is that of a slave to a master.
    Since “Slay the infidel” (Surah 9.5) is the command I doubt you will respect that relationship.

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  • George Nixon Shuler

    well, right here in the U.S. right now we have Christians who murder African-Americans while in police uniforms, we have assassins who murder doctors who are informed of their motives by what they perceive as their faith; we have bombers of clinics being consulted by Republican presidential hopefuls seeking endorsements. So don’t pretend Muslims are the only ones who act badly out of religion. We have a 500 year head start but in our genocide of Native Americans and African-Americans and Muslim society hoping to match our record of atrocities has a haaaaared row to hoe.

  • Jack

    Good column, Mr. Stetzer. My sentiments entirely.

  • Jack

    I am an evangelical (for want of a better word) who agrees completely with Stetzer, and I suspect that you are underestimating how many other evangelicals believe the same thing. As Stetzer rightly notes, his views are because of, not in spite of, his evangelical convictions.

  • Jack

    Jim, you could not be more mistaken. Freedom of religion means freedom of religion. It is for all or it is not at all. Muslims are just like everyone else. They’re free to practice their religious freedom rights, so long as such practice doesn’t involve imposing their views by force on others. Just because some (or even a critical mass of) Muslims favor such imposition, doesn’t mean we should ban Islam or its practice.

    This is an excellent article, a classic summary of religious freedom.

  • Jack

    Jim Horn does not speak for me, Ben. My view, along with that of millions of other evangelicals, is that of Stetzer. It is the classic definition of religious freedom.

    The way to crush radical Islamism is not by banning Islam. It is….by beating it in the marketplace of ideas and by obliterating it in battle.

    Promote religious freedom everywhere and wipe ISIS off the face of the earth. Both goals are not mutually exclusive.

  • Jack

    Fran, you mean to say that your interpretation of Scripture is that there is no eternal hell. All I can say is I hope more than anything else in the world that you are right, but that’s not what I read.

  • Jack

    Bob, you can philosophize or moralize all you’d like, but if the Gospel is factually correct, you’re beating your head against the wall.

    If it’s true, and I believe the overwhelming evidence suggests it is, then there are two facts that need to penetrate your head:

    (1) There is a God.

    (2) You’re not He.

    You don’t make the rules. He does. You didn’t speak the universe into existence. He did. You didn’t make yourself. He made you.

  • Jack

    Stetzer’s views are evangelical theology followed to its logical conclusions. Evangelicals who are on the opposite side of the fence are smuggling in beliefs and biases that are not evangelical.

    Evangelicalism leads to religious freedom, because the heart of evangelicalism is the Gospel of salvation, and true salvation depends on a personal faith that is not coerced in any way, shape, or form. And there is no other climate that allows such faith to take shape that that of religious freedom.

    I have no doubt in my mind that if atheists like Max were instrumental in founding our country and drafting our Bill of Rights, there would be no religious freedom of any kind. They piggyback on religious freedom when it suits themselves — since religious freedom includes the right not to believe as well as to believe. But if they could shut down religious expression, I have no doubt in my mind that many would do so in a heartbeat.

  • Jack

    Wrong Max. Religion at its best asserts the equality of all people under God, and rule of law over rule of man. It means that everyone has rights that no government, regime, or dictator can snatch away and still remain legitimate.

    It means when one of your atheist friends for the umpteenth time shoots his way into power and tries to set up a totalitarian dictatorship making himself the ultimate law, we know God is on our side when we stand up to such a monster. God supports rebellion against such a lawless tyrant, and supports atheists as well as theists who stand up to such a fiend.

  • I don’t speak about evangelical Christianity out of ignorance. I speak about it from the vantage point of someone who once was an evangelical Christian. I have, in fact, heard the very language I described in my comment. I still hear it today (even though I’m no longer a believer). It’s great that you and Stetzer and maybe a few others aren’t bothered by the notion of “real” religious freedom, but a lot of your fellow evangelicals are. And they use their own evangelical theology to rationalize why their religion must be granted preference and deference, lest it (and them) be WIPED OUT by the Forces of Darkness, or “secular progressives,” or Barack HUSSEIN Obama, or the Muslim Brotherhood, or ISIS/ISIL/IS, or whatever bogeyman they happen to obsess over at the moment.

    They genuinely believe they, and their religion, are at the edge of oblivion. If you’re an evangelical Christian, then you already know this better than I do, so denying it is nonsensical.

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