Freedom of Religion
On the day I write this, I just heard more reports out of China. A generation ago, China’s crackdown on religion was harsh. Christians huddled in underground churches. The threat of persecution, imprisonment, and, on rare occasions, death was very real. (If you want to read a powerful book on this era, Randy Alcorn’s Safely Home is an inspiring fictional story of bold faith in the face of persecution.)
That was a generation ago. For most of the last two decades, Chinese religious persecution softened. Sadly, it’s dramatically ramping up again. One of my favorite Christian commentary sites, BreakPoint.org, began a recent commentary, saying,
“Right before the New Year, a Chinese court sentenced Early Rain Church Pastor Wang Yi to nine years in prison for ‘inciting subversion of state power.’
“As summarized by the Catholic website Asia News, ‘Religious organizations must spread the principles and policies of the Chinese Communist Party … educating … religious citizens to support the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party …’ If that sounds like China will now force religious organizations to be organs of the Communist Party, that’s because China is forcing religious organization to be organs of the Communist Party. ‘Every aspect of the life of religious communities – from formation, gatherings to … projects – is subject to approval by the government’s religious affairs department.”
Freedom of Religion?!
In 1943, in the darkest days of World War II, American President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill proclaimed four essential freedoms for peace and liberty. One of these four was Freedom of Religion. War-torn Europe was watching first-hand the horrors of religious oppression at the hands of government. The Nazis were systematically exterminating millions of Jews.
There’s still religious persecution today. In October, the PBS News Hour reported that Muslims in China, especially in its western provinces, “have endured what the U.S. calls one of the worst human rights crises of modern times.” Christians must stand up against all forms of religious persecution – for Jews in Nazi Europe or Muslims in Communist China. Why? Because if we accept any form of religious persecution, one day it will be us who are persecuted … and it is apparently that day again for Chinese Christians.
Christians face persecution across wide swaths of the world today. Across the globe OpenDoorsUSA.org estimates that 11 Christians are killed each day on account of their faith. It happens in places like North Korea, Somalia and Sudan, in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria. And it’s not just killings. Systemically there are church bombings, kidnappings, and Christians being oppressed into slavery.
In America, we face much, much softer forms of persecution. But it’s there. For example, one secular view is actively promoting “freedom of worship” rather than “freedom of religion.” It seems innocuous, but it’s far more than just semantics. As Sarah Torre, a religious liberty scholar, states, “This incorrect view of religious liberty argues that faith should remain a private affair—relegated to personal activities or weekend worship services. Step outside the four walls of a home or house of worship and robust protection of religious freedom ends.” Is that freedom of religion … or is this really a semantic way of silencing people of various faiths?
Other prominent politicians have actively advocated for religious institutions to lose their tax exempt status if they don’t subscribe to certain tenets of the modern cultural orthodoxy. Be clear, however, that the issue is not about taxes, money and funding; it’s about control. If churches lose their non-profit status, they’re existence would now be regulated like corporations which are accountable to governmental policies rather than religious beliefs. It’s an absolutely subtle way to curtail (and even silence) religion.
Compared to what’s taking place across much of the world, this is soft persecution to be sure. But religious freedom is much more than a constitutional principle; it’s at the heart of what it means to be free. And Christians ought to bark whenever any religion is being persecuted, or we may find ourselves like German Pastor Martin Niemoller who woke up in the middle of Hitler’s reign and said …
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
In Christ’s Love,
a guy who views this
as an essential freedom
and principle motivation