In case you were wondering here’s what I hope for in civil authority when it comes to people who subscribe to religious communities and beliefs.
When civil authorities make it their intent to seriously limit the rights and freedoms of people based on their religious opinions or views, it means they can seriously limit you if you happen to hold a religious view or sentiment. Civil authority in the oppression of people of faith, even if it is a faith you do not agree with or subscribe to, may or may not act in combination with or in response to societal outrage or pressure, prejudice, or violence against those with “minority” views. When civil authority losses the capacity to differentiate between those who have an intent to harm and those who do not, we all lose.
It is my hope that civil authorities would maintain a degree of sophistication when it comes to faith, ideologies, and religions. Acting to protect religious liberty as a posture toward minority groups will indeed promote liberty for all. We must continue to build up the fragile and always eroding posture of respect for all people by insisting on an environment of trust and civility. Violence inshrined in a “blood thirsty” darkness of heart and mind does not come solely wrapped up in one particular ethnicity or people group. When we start to believe that violence is simply owned by one group above any others, we will fail to recognize hate speech when it comes pouring across our media outlets.
Some baptists know about this. Or perhaps they used to know about it. This is the tribe of Jesus followers of which I am a part.
Here’s the Baptist Faith and Message, 1963, statement on religious liberty, that is part of the Statement of Faith for the Canadian National Baptist Convention.
XVII. RELIGIOUS LIBERTY
God alone is Lord of the conscience, and He has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are contrary to His Word or not contained in it. Church and state should be separate. The state owes to every church protection and full freedom in the pursuit of its spiritual ends. In providing for such freedom no ecclesiastical group or denomination should be favored by the state more than others. Civil government being ordained of God, it is the duty of Christians to render loyal obedience thereto in all things not contrary to the revealed will of God. The church should not resort to the civil power to carry on its work. The gospel of Christ contemplates spiritual means alone for the pursuit of its ends. The state has no right to impose penalties for religious opinions of any kind. The state has no right to impose taxes for the support of any form of religion. A free church in a free state is the Christian ideal, and this implies the right of free and unhindered access to God on the part of all men, and the right to form and propagate opinions in the sphere of religion without interference by the civil power.
Gen 1:27; 2:7; Mat 6:6-7, 24; 16:26; 22:21
John 8:36; Acts 4:19-20; Rom 6:1-2; 13:1-7
Gal 5:1, 13; Php 3:20; 1Ti 2:1-2; Jas 4:12
1Pe 2:12-17; 3:11-17; 4:12-19
Here’s some highlights to draw out as we consider leadership and the civil society:
“The state owes to every church protection and full freedom in the pursuit of its spiritual ends. In providing for such freedom no ecclesiastical group or denomination should be favored by the state more than others.”
“The state has no right to impose penalties for religious opinions of any kind.”
Actively protecting religious liberty I believe is a desired posture for a “secular society.” Of course I’m biased.
So to my fellows baptists we would have to ask: Does this hope for civil society apply to only to us? What obligation do we have to ask for this hope to extended to people who subscribe to other faith positions? How do we want our leaders to think about this issue when it comes to working out any of the forms of democratic governance we enjoy today?
If the state believes it can discriminate on the basis of religious belief or community connection it will discriminate without prejudice.