If the state believes it can… it will.


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.


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.


Where the canary sings. Canada & the Office of Religious Freedom

When the canary quits singing, there’s trouble.  The phrase “canary in the coal-mine”  references a historical mining practice of taking canaries into a coal mine.  The canary  would show distress from carbon monoxide, methane, or carbon dioxide earlier than the miners working and breathing the same air.  The canary was their early warning system.

Religious liberty is our canary.  Where religious liberty falls, other freedoms will soon decline.

This week perhaps in recognition of the importance of religious liberty in our global conversation, Prime Ministry Stephen Harper announced the creation of Canada’s newest office:  The office of religious freedom.  Andrew Bennet a former professor and dean will be the director.

Religious liberty as a societal value is a complex set of beliefs and convictions.  Within Christian thought and practice, religious liberty for all is a philosophical position that evolved over many years after governments gave certain expressions of Christianity favoured-religion-status.  The network to which I belong points back to Roger Williams , founder of Rhode Island, as a leader that dramatically advanced the pursuit of liberty beyond “my group” to “for all.”  I am aware within my own tribe of baptists though, that our stated value for religious liberty is not often taught and is more often pragmatically neglected when confronted with our pluralistic and democratic society.  In those cases, the canary is under duress.

My hope for the Office of Religious Freedom is that it will take its small budget and multiply it by encouraging reflection, scholarship and praxis within Canada’s diverse cultures and religious communities to pursue a “for all” vision of religious liberty.  The global mix of Canada’s citizenry in our cities and our universities affords us the opportunity to create safe spaces for the intentional effort required.

Being the canary watcher is not enough.  It will not be enough for Canada to critique countries and governments that deny religious liberty.  We must learn to recognize the signs of duress and consider how to stimulate and support the hard work, thought, and sacrificial actions  required for liberty.

liberty, human rights, & the Gospel

“This understanding of the equal and inalienable value of people has steadily made its way into people’s thinking wherever Christianity has spread, so much so that every ethical theory by Western philosophers, however much they differ from each other, assumes and is based upon the absolute value of every human being.  Since this teaching of Jesus took hold in Western civilization, our legal systems, our understanding of human rights, the slow and gradual rise of democracy, and the emancipation of women and slaves–all rest on and are inspired by such simple parables as that of a Lost Sheep, a Lost Coin, a Lost Son, because they teach us that every person must be taken with ultimate seriousness.  These stories encapsulate the core of the gospel:  each and every person so matters to God that God the Son became a human being to seek us.  Nothing can give us the value and worth that underlies our civilization’s conviction concerning human rights, which is spreading to the rest of the world today–nothing except the love of God.  To reject God, to ignore God, or to neglect God is at the same time to reject, to ignore, or to neglect our irreplaceable value.”  Diogenes Allen, Theology for a Troubled Believer, xxii

why you need not fear public debate on faith and spirituality

Brit Hume stirred the souls of many when he suggested on a public broadcast that Tiger Woods should consider Christianity.  Some people were outraged, some agreed, and some wondered if we should even be talking about this idea in public.

Ross Douthat, writing for the New York Times suggests that public discourse about matters of faith need not be feared but pursued.

When liberal democracy was forged, in the wake of Western Europe’s religious wars, this sort of peaceful theological debate is exactly what it promised to deliver. And the differences between religions are worth debating. Theology has consequences: It shapes lives, families, nations, cultures, wars; it can change people, save them from themselves, and sometimes warp or even destroy them.

If we tiptoe politely around this reality, then we betray every teacher, guru and philosopher — including Jesus of Nazareth and the Buddha both — who ever sought to resolve the most human of all problems: How then should we live?

It’s reasonable to doubt that a cable news analyst has the right answer to this question. But the debate that Brit Hume kicked off a week ago is still worth having. Indeed, it’s the most important one there is.

Read the whole article here.