The Crux of Religious Liberty

Practice What We Preach

In the midst of all of our talk about religious liberty, we face a tough question: Will we practice what we preach? Stay tuned to BreakPoint.

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John Stonestreet

In 2009, Chuck Colson and Drs. Timothy and Robert George launched the Manhattan Declaration, calling Christians of all traditions to defend marriage, the sanctity of life, and religious freedom.

Many people found it odd that religious freedom made the list. After all, the Constitution’s guarantee of free exercise has made America one of the safest places in the world for religious minorities.

But the Manhattan Declaration turned out to be almost prophetic. Just five years after its signing, many Christians in this country are being forced to choose between their livelihoods and their religious convictions. And that may just be the beginning, especially if developments in Europe foreshadow the future here, as they often do.

Take Reverend Alan Clifford, Pastor of Norwich Reformed Church in the U.K. Earlier this year, the Norfolk police informed Rev. Clifford that he’d been reported for spreading “homophobic hate.” What was his crime? Distributing gospel tracts about how Christ offers forgiveness and healing for all sinners—including homosexuals.

Daily_Commentary_11_01_13MReverend Clifford could pay a £90 fine or face prosecution. Never mind that he explained how his evangelism was about love, not hate, and quoted the European Court of Human Rights, which has ruled that freedom of expression includes speech that might cause offense.

All to no avail. Rev. Clifford’s could soon face a judge for his alleged homophobic hate.

Such a thing would have been impossible to imagine even a decade ago. Listen to what Lord Justice Sedley famously argued in a ruling on a case before the British High Court in 2000:

“Free speech,” he wrote, “includes not only the inoffensive, but the irritating, the contentious, the eccentric, the heretical, the unwelcome and provocative provided that it does not tend to violence. Freedom only to speak inoffensively is not worth having.”

On this side of the pond, another well-known political figure said much the same thing. Thomas Jefferson spent much of his life advancing the cause of religious freedom. As he wrote when a member of the Virginia legislature, “No man…[should] be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened on account of his religious opinions or belief…all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion…”

That means we have a right to speak and live our convictions—regardless of whom they offend.

Now it’s easy enough to give a hearty “hear, hear!” to Sedley and Jefferson when it comes to our rights. But as Timothy George and Eric Teetsel both articulated at our recent briefing on religious liberty, religious liberty is for everyone, Muslims, Jews, and—gulp—wiccans, not just Christians, or else it is for no one.

Os Guinness agrees. In his new book “The Global Public Square,” he outlines eight steps necessary to protect religious liberty. The very first is recognizing that religious liberty is for everyone. We have this important book at the BreakPoint online bookstore.

Newsletter_Gen_180x180_BAs Chuck wrote in one of his last columns on the subject, “Christianity stands apart as the only major faith that believes that because every individual human being is created in the image of God, freedom of religion is every human’s right.”

This doesn’t mean we have to agree with or like other people’s beliefs. Nor does it mean that we believe that the state must give free reign to every religious practice. For example, religious expression that would restrict historically recognized, inherent rights must be limited (which clarifies the difference between an Islamic community building a mosque and implementing radical Sharia law).

But it does mean we need to practice what we preach.  And Os Guinness joins me on BreakPoint this Week to talk about how we can do that—and why religious freedom is essential not only for religious people, but for maintaining peace, prosperity, and civilization itself. It’s an important conversation; come to BreakPoint.org to listen in.

Further Reading and Information

BP-Takeaction_110113The Crux of Religious Liberty: Practice What We Preach - Next Steps

Purchase "The Global Public Square" by Os Guinness at our BreakPoint online bookstore. For more information on religious liberty issues, check out the resources below.

And be sure to tune in to BreakPoint This Week to hear John Stonestreet's interview with Os Guinness. You can also find the interview online at BreakPoint This Week.

As John said, religious liberty is an important conversation, one we should all be ready to engage in.


The Global Public Square
Os Guinness | IVP Books | September 2013

Faith, Culture & Religious Freedom in 21st Century America
The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and Manhattan Declaration | 2013

How can Christians stop the abuse of the phrase 'separation of church and state'?
Chuck Colson | BreakPoint.org | July 20, 2010

Revd Dr Alan Clifford’s ‘homophobic’ comments referred to the CPS
Adrian Hilton | The Spectator | August 29, 2013

Christians Need to Fight for Religious Freedom for All, Not Just Themselves, Russell Moore Says
Napp Nazworth | Christian Post | October 13, 2013


An ally

I am glad you consider the ACLJ an ally. I knew you were aware of it; I wasn't trying to convince you of anything. I just thought that by some off chance, some of the readers of this site might not be aware of it, and they need to know about some of the things they are doing that relate to the commentary on which I am commenting. Especially when there is no reference to them in the commentary or on this page (sometimes it is mentioned on the page, which is how I know you are aware of it).

In this case, I was not referring to the ACLJ as the elephant in the room; I was using that term for the OIC and their evil resolution.
Richard, I feel I should let you know that we here at BreakPoint are very much aware of ACLJ, and consider them an ally. You don't have to keep trying to convince us. :)
The elephant in the room
I applaud and pray for Os Guiness' efforts at the UN, as mentioned in DT's comment. Because what he is up against there is the elephant in the room that so far no one has mentioned: the OIC (Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, formerly the Organisation for the Islamic Conference). Because they repeatedly propose a resolution with a very misleading title: Defamation of Religions. The only religion this resolution would protect is Islam, at the expense of all other religions. If adopted, it would criminalize the preaching of the gospel all over the world!

A number of Christian organizations, chief among which is the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which I have mentioned several times before on this website, have fought this Satanic resolution. The ACLJ is basically a Christian non-profit law firm with its own radio and television programs. It is unique, I think, in that it has gotten approved by the UN as an official NGO (non-government organization), which they have used, for example, to help prevent Defamation of Religions from passing, as well as getting diplomatic support for Saeed Abedini, an Iranian-American pastor in prison for his faith in Iran. That is the kind of thing that will happen to missionaries and evangelists in many countries if the OIC resolution passes.
John, Os Guinness was here at the International Prayer Breakfast at the UN on Sep 17th and gave his message "Living with our Deepest Differences: The Making of a World Safe for Diversity" to over 200 diplomats from the UN. He also gave them all a copy of "The Global Charter of Conscience". Tomorrow (Nov 5), he will be meeting in NYC with 15 Ambassadors to discuss how to launch an effort at the UN with this Charter. Pray for them as they meet and that the cause of religious liberty will go forward.
Your point is well taken, Chuck. I take comfort in knowing the church has seen hostile times before, and motivation in knowing that freedom never survives without virtue. The state can create space for freedom, but the church is what brings virtue to the culture.

Faithfulness first... thanks for the rich comment.
Religious Practice
"Practice what we preach" is a fine exhortation. Of course, religious liberty, freedom of conscience, "free will" are granted by the Lord as "every human's right," in the United States and elsewhere. But, at least in my experience, when believers talk about the issue of religious liberty, they rarely dare to go into the thorny patch where the real problem lurks: not belief or even teaching, but practice. As I'm sure you know, when the early jurisprudence on Free Exercise hit the obstacles of polygamy (Mormons), drug use (Native Americans), interracial dating (Bob Jones U.), etc., practice was held to be so contrary to public policy (and, in the Mormon cases, to Christian morality! LOL) that the Court had to say no on grounds of public policy. I talk back at you guys all the time on the PC: "Come on ... you aren't willing to mix it up! What if Muslim 'Free Exercise' includes atrocities against women?" At least in this BP message John touched upon this question -- but only lightly. Whether a practice is "historically recognized" or "inherent" is, to me, a tissue paper test, completely subjective and in the discretion of Justices who, in the main, have the modern belief that "history" CHANGES these standards of morality, gender roles, and other "laws of Nature and of Nature's God"! The fact that a "historically recognized" standard in America would refer to historical recognition by Christians further throws the standard into a cocked hat (so to speak). Good example: The Windsor v. U.S. court's recent characterization of the "historically recognized" denial of marital status to "gays" as hurtful, disparaging, irrational, vicious, etc., makes it clear that an alleged civil rights atrocity like that is not going to be protected in a "Free Exercise" case (as in Bob Jones). Bottom line, the Free Exercise of our Christian faith, including the teaching of the Word of God as truth and the embodiment of that truth in our laws, is GONE -- no matter how solicitously we treat adherents of other faiths. Can the faith be renewed? Can there be a Third Great Awakening? Well, "with God all things are possible." But today we can "practice what we preach" all we like (and of course we should so love our neighbors), but it will not change the hatred for Christ and his servants that Jesus told us to expect from members of other faiths and from secular society. Welcome to a modern Rome -- brutal, reprobate, a difficult place for the Church, but more fruitful than the affluent U.S., too, in many ways! Love you guys, and am 100% with you in Jesus. ~ Chuck Morin