Thoughts on Religious Freedom

My state of Indiana made national news yesterday when Governor Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The bill is being painted as a protection for the religious liberty of business owners by some and as aggressive discrimination (primarily towards the LGBT community) by others. I suspect that the real truth lies somewhere in the middle, though I am not qualified to speak to the true intent or implications of a bill such as this. I have no desire to argue with anyone about the merits of this bill, though I suspect as with most things it will do some good and cause some harm. What is for certain is that opinions on this topic are varied and intense, and this always fosters inappropriate dialogue and behavior from all sides. When it comes to my own personal feelings on these types of issues, my greatest concern is that Christians represent Christ well – regardless of our political, social, or theological opinions. Toward that end, I have some thoughts that should shape our speech and actions during controversial times such as these. Consider the following:

  • Religious freedom is a sociopolitical blessing and not a divine guarantee. I am thankful for the religious freedom we experience in our nation, but God never once promised that society would always make it easy or convenient to follow Him. Religious freedom is nice, but it is given to us by a human government and might one day be taken away by that same government.
  • Religious freedom must be shared equally. We cannot bemoan the religious liberty of those we disagree with and complain about ours being infringed upon at the same time. I do not have to see every belief as theologically or morally equal to stand up for that person’s right as an American citizen to have that belief.
  • Religious freedom is not the historic norm. Christians should expect to be disagreed with and even persecuted. Jesus predicted this (Matthew 10:22; 24:9; John 15:18-19) as did Paul in his writing to Timothy. Paul said that “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Tim 3:12).” Though we are blessed with religious freedom at the moment, it is not to be considered the norm by true believers. We should expect persecution, and when we receive it, we should respond with love and prayer and gentleness.
  • It is always right to obey God, whether it is legal or not. In Acts 5:29, Peter and the apostles told the government that they must obey God rather than man. When they made this statement, they were also willing to face whatever consequences that may have come with it, and we should as well.
  • We must distinguish between God’s law and our own personal beliefs and preferences. This is where there may be a great deal of difference in the determination of what violates God’s law. I opt to see this line drawn at sins that God Himself spells out for us. In context of the law we are discussing, I believe it would be a sin for me to participate in homosexual activity myself, but that it would not be sinful to provide business services for those who do.
  • We are called to be holy, not to force others (particularly an unbelieving society) to be holy. There is no scriptural obligation to force moral legislation on an unbelieving world. God wants changed hearts before he expects moral conduct anyway, so there is no spiritual benefit to forcing unsaved people to abide by our beliefs. The only purpose this serves is to make it more convenient for me to live as a believer in my society and convenience is never promised or even encouraged by God.
  • Theological or moral correctness are never a license to mistreat another person. This is probably the issue I am most concerned with in the Christian community. For some reason, the church seems to believe that as long as they are right then they can also be mean and hateful. This is unacceptable and dishonors the Lord. I am not saying that it is never ok to say that someone else is wrong or that someone’s behavior is wrong. I am saying that it must be done in a loving manner. There is no room for name calling or disrespectful, angry and out of control conversation.
  • God’s Kingdom is not of this world. Above all, we must remember that this world is not our true home. I am afraid that we get so caught up with every societal issue that we forget this is all temporary. True believers will set their affections on things above (Col 3:2). We will not be ensnared by the temporary things of this world (2 Cor 4:18). Practically speaking, this means that our priority should always be spiritual things. When it comes to a disagreement, the other person’s salvation should always concern me more than my rights or my correctness on a particular issue. Unfortunately, many Christians would rather see lost people burn in hell than violate their own earthly comfort or convenience.

I’m sure that there is more that could be said and I am certain that many will be offended by what I have written. Regardless, I assure you that my heart’s desire is to see God’s people rise up and show His love in a way that is so uncommon and so unexpected that it might just make a difference in this dark world in which we live. To God be the glory forever!

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