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Religious Freedom Lessons from the Quakers

What a 17th-century woman leader taught me about fighting for freedom—for all

I’ve spent some time thinking about Margaret and what I can learn from her today. These are some of the things that have been running through my mind:

I should not take religious freedom for granted.

Margaret was willing to give up her own freedom in order to gain religious freedom for others. As Christian leaders today, the temptation as things heat up in our society is to circle the wagons and create a society that only includes those who are like us. We want to maintain our freedoms as we restrict the freedoms of those who believe differently from us. As our society continues to change, we have to allow those who follow different religions the freedom we so crave ourselves. If we don’t do that, it spells doom for the religious freedom of those who come after us. Whatever religious group is dominant will give their own favor and restrict the freedoms of everyone else, and we can’t count on Christians being in charge in our society.

That means as church leaders we must help our congregants understand that advancing Christian freedom means we advance the freedom of Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists, Jews, and so on. After all, England was a “Christian” nation when the Quakers were being horribly persecuted. That doesn’t mean we water down what we believe or affirm what others believe, but we must fight for everyone’s right to believe whatever their consciences confirm. We will only have freedom if everyone has freedom. And the only chance we have of persuading them that Christ is the way, the truth, and the life, is if they see we are on their side.

I need to stand for truth, even if it costs me.

As our society becomes more pluralistic, we will become more and more odd to those around us. I’m sure the fellow gentry of England thought Margaret had become strange and radical. And she had!

I want the people in my church to realize we can’t go on as our American ancestors did. We do not live in a society that comprehends us, and we most likely never will again. Standing for Christ will not mean we simply demand our rights; it will mean we sacrificially demonstrate what it means to be Christ-like. That will cost me something—it may cost me a great deal.

July18, 2016 at 8:00 AM

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