(Church in Vilnius, Lithuania. My photo. August 2017)
(No. And why its not even important.)
Close the gates! Circle the wagons! The barbarians are coming!
It seems Christians are feeling the pressure. They’re called names; demonised and ostracised on social media; and are living with the repeal of laws and customs that saw Christianity sitting comfortably at the centre of public life for so long. Their beliefs are ridiculed, leaders discredited, traditions trashed, and for good measure, it seems as if the very ground they stand on is being eroded.
I haven’t done any formal opinion surveys but I don’t think I’m too wide of the mark. I am one of them after all.
Many of us have felt intimidated by the in-your-face, raised-middle-finger atheism of Richard Dawkins and his disciples. We’ve recoiled in disgust at the craven responses of our leaders to sexual abuse scandals. Changes to traditional marriage have seen spouses replaced by partners. The concept that life is a sacred gift, once widely held, has largely disappeared from statutes and from public discourse. The transcendental has given way to the utilitarian; the sacred to the profane; self denial to self indulgence, or so it seems.
I could go on ( . . . and on). I really only wanted to illustrate why many Christians might be feeling a little on the outer these days. After a millenium and a half of cosying up to government and the establishment, the Church finds itself, in the space of a couple of generations, no longer listened to, and subject to challenges that would until recently have been unthinkable. The changes are huge, especially for a Church and its people grown fat and comfortable thinking Christianity was synonymous with social conservatism. It was, and is, nothing of the sort of course. The Christian message is deeply subversive and revolutionary.
So ‘Is Religious Freedom Necessary?’
It depends on where you’re coming from. So maybe I can cut to the chase by just say in plain words what I think most Christians mean when they talk about it?
I think they mean ‘leave us alone in peace to continue as we’ve always done’.
I have a problem with this. I think it is lazy and misconceived. It may be attractive to people, like me, who have grown used to a comfortable religious observance that doesn’t challenge the status quo, mainly because it has arisen from within that status quo! Comfortable and secure it may have been, but it is no longer reality for western Christians, and has never been reality for our sisters and brothers in non western countries.
Crying out for legal protection in the current circumstances is pathetic. It is born of a sense of entitlement and betrays a perverted view of Christian faith; one that is domesticated, diluted, and stunted. One that has ceded its authority and is willing to live on the coat tails of the secular state’s benevolence, because it has forgotten its real reason for being.
I don’t think Christians should be asking for religious freedom. Still less should they be asking for it on the terms the secular authorities are willing to grant it. We answer to a higher authority and do not need secular permission to be who we are. We are called to be salt and light in the world, not to conform ourselves to the world.
Just do it.
Christians managed to change the world and turn it on its head very effectively in the early years of the Church by remaining outside the status quo, on the fringes of society. The early church had no privileges extended to it and certainly did not rely on the state for its existence. Why does it think it needs these things today?
Early Christians just went out and did it, sucessfully, in the face of violent and cruel repression. They would laugh at what we think are our problems.
Christian agitation for religious freedom laws is, in my opinion, a reaction to having had the lolly jar taken away. We have grown fat and comfortable in a privileged position for so long. We are Christ followers. As we go about our Lord’s work, we do not need anyone’s permission, or laws drafted to protect our status. Secular laws and privileges are a distraction. They are not and never will be the main game for Christians. It’s time we remembered that.
Is there an Alternative?
We could decide to try being seriously radical and live what we say we believe.
We could try being living examples of Christian love in the world, rather than crying for special laws in a vain attempt to protect the unearned privileges we have become all too accustomed to.
Wouldn’t that be good news to our sisters and brothers who live without hope and love?
(Hill of Crosses, Lithuania. My photo. August 2017)