Let’s start with an obvious question: What exactly is religious liberty? Well, religious liberty grants Americans the freedom to worship as we please and gives us the right to peaceably assemble as a religious group without interference from the government. It also grants us the right to speak freely about our religion and to persuade and proselytize others.
The First Amendment to the United States Bill of Rights, which was passed by Congress in September 1789 and ratified in December 1791, states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
The Bill of Rights was ratified less than a decade after the American Revolution ended. The thirteen American colonies rejected and overthrew British rule, and thus adopted a governing document known as the Constitution of the United States of America. In the Constitution we find the Bill of Rights, written in order to ensure protection of individual liberties and to list specific prohibitions on governmental power.
Influenced by Thomas Jefferson, James Madison penned this first amendment to prohibit a national church. Great Britain’s national church, The Church of England, denied religious liberty at the time; therefore, the founders of the United States passed an amendment that prohibited the establishment of a national church. In addition to this, the first amendment also guarantees individuals the right to worship, freedom of speech, the freedom of the press, the right to peaceably assemble, and the right to make complaint/seek the assistance of the government without fear of punishment. While much could be said about the first amendment, I want to focus on religious liberty.
Russell Moore, the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, points out that religious freedom does not mean freedom from being mocked or ridiculed. Nor does it mean freedom from being offended, but it does give us freedom to worship as we choose.
Is this always a good thing? Should Christians defend religious freedom for others with whom we disagree? Should we defend the rights of Muslims to freely worship, even though they deny Jesus as being equal to God? Should believers fight for the rights of Atheists to gather and speak freely when they deny the very existence of our Creator? Should Christians defend the rights of Satanists to worship as they choose, knowing that they bow down to the adversary of our Sovereign King?
I realize that these can be difficult questions to answer, particularly if we believe that these groups are fighting against us and stand in direct opposition to our faith. It would seem as if we are advocating blasphemy against the Holy God. Well, here is some food for thought:
Jesus preached in the Sermon on the Mount, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12). In this text we see Jesus call us to treat others in the same way that we want to be treated. Now, I realize this is an extremely difficult command, especially when the other person does not always treat you well in return. But if you’ll notice, in Matthew 7, Jesus doesn’t add any conditions. He doesn’t say, “Do unto them as you want them to do to you, as long as they treat you how you want to be treated.” Essentially He is saying, “Do unto them as you would have them to do unto you, regardless of what they do unto you.” If someone treats you with disrespect, Jesus calls you to treat that person with respect anyways.
So, one might ask, “How does this apply to religious liberty for all?” Well, let’s look at it this way: If I desire religious freedom for myself then I should desire religious freedom for others as well, even those with whom I strongly disagree. How could we possibly expect religious freedom for ourselves and, in turn, deny the same freedom to others? Russell Moore, in his book Onward, uses Muslims as an example as he paints a clear picture of this idea for us. He writes, “Christians should fight for the liberty of Muslims to be Muslims, to worship in Mosques, and to freely seek to persuade others that the Koran is the true revelation of God.” He says these things, not because he affirms Islamic claims, but because he affirms the power of God. You see, like Moore, I believe in advocating and defending the rights of any religious group to freely worship, to freely proselytize, and to peaceably gather, but I am by no means affirming their doctrines. I am simply confident in Christ’s Gospel and am persuaded that His truth will prevail. After all, the Gospel is the power of God for salvation to all who believe (Romans 1:16).
The Christian faith does not depend upon law and governmental force in order to advance the kingdom of God. Suppressing other religious groups is not God’s means for advancing His kingdom. He doesn’t need other religions to be suppressed in order for His truth to shine brightly. It is the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ alone that advances the kingdom throughout pagan lands. In Onward, Moore points out, “A religion that needs state power to enforce obedience to its beliefs is a religion that has lost confidence in the power of its Deity.”
Therefore, we have to ask ourselves: Are we living out of fear? Have we lost confidence in the power of God? Are we scared of diversity and disagreement? Do we think that the Gospel is unable to withstand other religions?
If we are united with Christ, we have a promise that God has not given us a spirit of fear, but one of power and love and self-control (2 Timothy 1:7). Christians need not fear other religious groups or other ideas, even if those ideas lead to violence. Jesus told His disciples in Matthew 10:28, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”
Rather than retreat, we should rejoice in times such as these. Isn’t it wonderful that while Matthew 28:19 calls us to go make disciples of all the nations, we are currently watching as all the nations come to us? Yes, there are tensions, and yes, there are potential dangers, but we should praise God as we see Him plopping the nations right into our laps, here in the United States.
One reason for this mass flood of people into our country is Amendment One to the Bill of Rights. It is the freedom of worship and freedom of speech that lead many to this nation. You see, individuals don’t typically flee to countries like the Islamic Republic of Iran for religious freedom, which is why 98% of the population is Muslim, but many freedom-seekers do come to the United States.
My call for the Christian is to stop living in fear and to see the amazing opportunity that is right before our eyes, as God brings the mission field to us. I live in the outskirts of Houston, Texas, which is actually becoming one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world. Last time I checked, there are somewhere between 350 to 400 different ethnic groups in the Houston area. As we observe this incredible influx of people, we have to remember that Muslims are not our enemies, Hindus are not our opponents, Buddhists are not our competitors, Atheists are not our adversaries, and Satanic groups are not our nemeses. We are all created in the image of God; therefore, let us talk with our Muslim neighbor, let us befriend our Hindu co-worker, and let us share the Gospel with our Atheistic family member. Jesus is the only hope for any of us!
And as for the Christian, let us thank God for religious liberty, and let us defend the rights of others to worship as they choose, not because we affirm their convictions, but because we believe the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is the power of God for salvation to all who believe.