We seek to live faithfully in a hurting, divided, and broken world. It seems, more and more, that being a Christian puts us in a category of being irrelevant, weird, or even hate-mongers. Like me, you may worry that there is a steady erosion of our religious freedoms. How should we respond?
The Committee to Study Religious Persecution and Liberty that reported to Synod 2016 offers helpful guidance. In its report, the committee observed, “While the rule of law in North America and other Western countries often prohibits the worst kinds of persecution, real tests of faith can and do occur in these environments.”
We can point to many real-life examples of these tests, including a recent decision by the Supreme Court of Canada to uphold the decisions of two provincial law societies that deny membership to graduates from Trinity Western University law school. This decision was based on the belief that the school’s community covenant, which includes a commitment to sexual intimacy only in the context of heterosexual marriage, is not constitutional.
Other examples include people from Muslim-majority countries facing more travel restrictions than those from other groups, or Indigenous leaders seeking restoration of sacred burial grounds that have been bulldozed for road construction.
The 2016 report explains that in situations like these, “There is a genuine public limit on the freedom of individuals or organizations to act on their faith. By our definition, each could be a type of persecution. But suffice it to say here that in all of the recent cases in North America, the constraint on freedom pales in contrast with the real violence and abuse that many Christians and people of other faiths experience.”
In other words, while we really should not claim we’re being persecuted to the extent that some are in other parts of the world, limits on religious freedoms are a growing reality even in North America. We are increasingly being tested because of our beliefs and should respond accordingly. This includes individual responses to these tests but also joining with people of other faiths to focus our joint attention on governmental policies that relate to freedom to practice religion.
Consider, for example, the Trinity Western University decision. Is a limit on one school’s ability to enforce a community covenant something that people from all religions should be worried about? Is it the first step down a slippery slope of denying people freedom of religion?
In the same way, should words or legislation that seem to unfairly target people of Islamic faith concern Christians and other faith groups?
Again, the 2016 report can give us some advice: “Christians should not only expect but actively safeguard confessional diversity as part of the proper task of government in a world marked by the fall. Christians should reasonably expect to live and work alongside persons of diverse and contradictory faiths, who are partners—as surely as our Christian brothers and sisters—in our work to build just societies.”
It also points out that “the mission of God’s people transforms not merely human hearts and minds but also societies and cultures. Religion is practiced not just in private but also in public space. Its freedoms are both individual and corporate, personal and institutional—and both aspects must be safeguarded.”
In other words, as Christians we have a responsibility to know Christ, follow Christ, and proclaim Christ . . . at home and in the public square. As we do so, we link arms with those of other faiths in pursuit of more just communities where freedom to live and express our faith is protected.
I think that we have the following and proclaiming part of this responsibility in hand. But I suspect that linking arms is something we still need to work on. And as we strive to live our our religious freedom together, we will be bearing witness to our hope in Christ.