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Jul 17, 2011

Freedom of Religion Has to Be Freedom for Everyone

On Sunday, I record all the talk shows and watch them later in the day. One of the best interviewers (second only to Candy Crowley) is Chris Wallace. This week he asked Herman Cain an important question in light of Cain's early comments about Muslims in appointed office.

His comments concern me as I see other Christians with similar ideas. My concern is simple: what you "use" on Muslims now will probably be "used" on Christians later.

Fox News reported on the exchange:

Presidential candidate Herman Cain on Sunday defended his opposition to a new mosque in Tennessee, expressing concern about Shariah law and declaring Americans "have the right" to ban mosques in their communities...

Speaking on "Fox News Sunday," Cain said he came out against the Tennessee mosque after talking to members of that community. He said the site is "hallowed ground" to Murfreesboro residents and that they're concerned about "the intentions of trying to get Shariah law" -- the code governing conduct in Islamic societies.

"It's not just a mosque for religious purposes. This is what the people are objecting to," he said.

Asked whether any community should be able to prohibit a mosque, Cain said they should.

"They have the right to do that. That's not discriminating ... against that particular religion. That is an aspect of them building that mosque that doesn't get talked about," he said.

I have great concerns when people start deciding what "is" and "is not" a real religion and if other religions can build places of worship. Be aware that the standard that Christians advocate here may very well be used on Christians in the future.

As the views of evangelicals become increasingly distasteful to many in prevailing culture, some may use these same arguments when they ban your building. How you treat our Muslim minority may very well point to how the majority culture will treat Christians one day.

I can hear the arguments in a decade about Christians, particularly evangelicals:

- "It's not their religion, but their judgmental view of morality."

- "Their views are the problem-- and how they impose them on others."

- "They are dangerous because of how they treat others."

I recently wrote a cover article for Christianity Today suggesting some ways forward in our multi-faith world. I gave four theses, which I won't list here, but the last one relates to the topic at hand and the last part (bolded) is key to my concern.

Grant Each Person Freedom

This brings us to my final proposal: We must grant each person the freedom to make his or her own faith decisions.

I grew up on Long Island in an Irish Catholic home. Actually, that is not true--the Catholic Church was the church we did not go to when we stayed home every week. Later, God worked in my heart through his Holy Spirit regarding Jesus' death on the cross, for my sin, in my place. When I repented of my sin and trusted in Christ by grace through faith, I was given new life in him. I had the religious liberty to respond without restraint.

Earlier I wrote that all religions are not the same. But it does seem to me that most religions have two things in common. First, every major faith teaches its followers not to force others into the faith. Second, some followers in every religion ignore that injunction.

The Qur'an, sura 2 ayat 256, says plainly, "Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error: whoever rejects Taghut (evil) and believes in Allah hath grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold that never breaks. And Allah heareth and knoweth all things."

In his book All about Hinduism, Sri Swami Sivananda, a well-known proponent of yoga and Vedanta, writes, "Hinduism is a religion of freedom. It allows the widest freedom in matters of faith and worship. It allows absolute freedom to the human reason and heart with regard to questions such as the nature of God, soul, creation, form of worship, and goal of life. It does not force anybody to accept particular dogmas or forms of worship."

No matter where we live or what religion we follow, we should not demand for ourselves that which we are unwilling to grant others--freedom from compulsion and from discrimination on the basis of creed.

Earlier we saw that Emperor Ashoka was a great force in the early Buddhist missionary movement. He built large pillars inscribed with the core values of his faith. Among the inscriptions, we find the following: "One must not exalt one's creed discrediting all others, nor must one degrade these others without legitimate reasons. One must, on the contrary, render to other creeds the honor befitting them."

Jesus' closest followers had trouble understanding that force was forbidden in religion. One day he was walking toward Jerusalem and entered a Samaritan village. The people of Samaria did not respect the faith of the Jews. Jesus sent two of his closest followers, James and John, to go ahead of him and prepare for them to stay.

When the Samaritans refused to receive Jesus, James and John responded angrily, asking Jesus to call down fire from heaven to punish them. But Jesus said that the use of force was out of place for his message, and he rebuked them for making such a suggestion (Luke 9:54-55). Whenever Christians have tried to use force to advance the gospel, they have acted against the wishes of Jesus.

Tragically, while a lack of compulsion is the ideal in each of these religions, it has not always been the reality. Not long ago, in Bangladesh, eight Christians were kidnapped by Buddhist extremists, who brought the group into their temple. The Christians had their heads shaved, were forced to wear Buddhist robes, were made to clean out the temple, and were forced to bow down to an idol. During their captivity, they were threatened with severe punishment. Their wives were forced to bow before an idol each day before being allowed to give the captives food.

Muslims in the United States have received threats by so-called followers of Christ. In central Nigeria, rivalry between Muslim and Christian villagers has frequently resulted in deadly attacks--Muslim against Christian, Christian against Muslim--over the past decade.

In the spirit of mutual respect and tolerance, Muslims should be free to build a masjid where they live, and Christians should defend their religious freedom to do so. At the same time, Christians should be free to plant churches in places like Bhutan, the Maldives, Brunei, and Saudi Arabia. No matter where we live or what religion we follow, we should not demand for ourselves that which we are unwilling to grant others--freedom from compulsion, freedom from discrimination on the basis of creed, and freedom of conscience.

Herman Cain has always appeared to me to be a man of integrity, great leadership, and Christian commitment. He is the only candidate (to my recollection) that I have ever mentioned in a tweet. Normally, I attempt to steer clear of dealing directly with candidates in public statements-- I don't do politics here. Yet, this is a bigger issue than politics. In this case, it seems a place where believers should carefully consider our position on a cultural issue that will influence how we do ministry in the future.

These are complex issues, indeed, with many nuances. For example, religious freedom should be advocated everywhere (hence my references in the Christianity Today article). However, I would encourage all Christian to be careful. Zoning laws will be one of the tools that the government uses to restrict worship expression. They will say, "You are free to believe what you want... but building a place of worship is different."

In other words, what you "use" on Muslims now will be "used" on you later. Or, perhaps put another way, "Whatever you want others to do for you, do also the same for them--this is the Law and the Prophets" (Matthew 7:12, HCSB).

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Posted:July 17, 2011 at 12:00 am


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Freedom of Religion Has to Be Freedom for Everyone