On September 2, Prison Fellowship chairman Charles Colson faced a situation that mirrors what the church as a whole faces. People of several faiths, many of whom were attending the Parliament of the World’s Religions, gathered at Rockefeller Chapel on the campus of the University of Chicago to hear an address on religious liberty. What do evangelicals have to say in a pluralistic setting? How do we talk about the cultural role of religion with those who worship other gods? As the winner of the 1993 Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, Mr. Colson had earned the right to stand on the platform. What follows is a condensed and adapted version of what he said when he got there.
I speak as one transformed by Jesus Christ, the living God. He is the way, the truth, and the life. He has lived in me for 20 years. His presence is the sole explanation for whatever is praiseworthy in my work. That is more than a statement about myself. It is a claim to truth. It is a claim that may contradict your own.
Yet on this, at least, we must agree: The right to do what I’ve just done—to state my faith without fear—is the first human right and the essence of human dignity. It is a sad fact that religious oppression is often practiced by religious groups. Sad—and inexcusable. A believer may risk prison for his own beliefs, but he may never build prisons for those of other beliefs.
It is our obligation to renew the passion for religious liberty. It is our duty to create a cultural environment where conscience can flourish. The beliefs that divide us should not be minimized, but neither should the aspirations most religions share: for truth, justice, and compassion.
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