If the state believes it can… it will.

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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.

 

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2 thoughts on “If the state believes it can… it will.

  1. Hi Craig, great post! Really got me thinking about a couple of things.
    My first question is your statement “actively protecting religious liberty for a secular society” (paraphrased).
    Ive always been under the impression that Christians (or any religious group) considers ‘secular’ as a negative word, and remember my Christian school and church back home using it to express things that are detrimental to Christianity. On a personal level i think a secular society is ok, especially if we want the government to be impartial with how it functions to service every group and community.
    Could you please clarify what you mean by that statement, whether you think being postured towards a secular society is a desired aim for a Christian community or not?
    Thanks! And always, thank you for sharing your thoughts and prayers and meditations with us here!
    Marie

  2. Hi Marie,

    Yes I am comfortable using the word “secular” in reference to civil society. I prefer a system of governance that is not directed by any theological group. The word secular has its origins in the religious community to describe a form of pastoral or priestly ministry that was not ordered by vows to a particular group. So by my use of the term I identify the desire that our society remain “secular” — not under a vow of allegiance to any particular religious group or framework. It seems to me that when followers of Jesus have sought to align the state for their own brand of thought most unfortunate and bad practices have abounded. Which is no surprise considering what God shows us about selfish ambition.

    When I use the word “secular” in this concept I am trying to maintain a commitment to liberty with a basic understanding of what is good for humans from a theological framework. Freedom of conscience given by God leaves room for people to choose what they will believe about him. As a follower of Jesus I believe God has given this freedom and so should we. The gift of good governance is a common grace from God that allows people the peace and the liberty to choose Him and yet also be constrained (governed) by laws respecting people.

    Religious liberty in the Christian conversation has been an evolving theological and public policy construct globally. It is most tested when majority groups realize their privilege must also be shared with those with whom they disagree. Without religious liberty being more than a “concession” to minorities but also a litmus for a good society we will excuse violence and exclusion of “people of faith” from regular or normal society. A good society I believe must also be secular.

    So yes I hope Christian communities would desire a “secular” society. My confession of “Christ as Lord” is a voluntary vow that simultaneously brings me under the royal law of love and the Lordship of Christ. I am looking forward to the redemption of all things and people under the rule and reign of Christ… but there are others who can’t stand the thought. This choice must not be legislated. God seems to be happy enough to grant all of us the common grace for that to be reality to be on hold till Christ comes again. In the meantime a commitment on the part of Christians for a secular civil society seems reasonable. I can be Christian in such a setting and others will also have a good setting in which they too can choose to respond to Jesus.

    However I should add two caveats: 1) I believe the secular society that chooses to be most active in promoting liberty for the public realm rather than pursuing a “secular purity” devoid of faith in the public realm will be the most healthy and the most nimble for assimilating and serving a diverse people of conscience and practice. 2) And I believe that anyone who is under the confession “Jesus is Lord” will discover that now all of life is gracefully infused with the sacredness of God and will have to figure out how to live as citizens of Jesus’ Kingdom in a secular society. A secular realm is now blurred. For when I wear professional hats within this society I am also a follower of Jesus at heart. The churches have wrestled with this from the early years and determined that in truth followers of Jesus would and should make the best citizens of any kind society.

    Grace,
    Craig

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