Is the defense of religious freedom a legitimate Christian ministry?

“Nobody should be persecuted because of their faith,” says Robin David, the ADF International allied lawyer defending the pastors in court. “In India, many citizens face fierce harassment because they belong to a religious minority.”

These Christian pastors in India are being persecuted not because they are a minority but because they are Christians.  While “nobody should be persecuted for their religious belief” may be a nice sentiment, the reality is that persecution occurs on a daily basis. In fact, anti-Christian irrational hatred and the resulting persecution is amply talked about and predicted in the Lord’s teachings and throughout the New Testament.

It is right and proper for us to support each other as believers and stand up against persecution and the injustice it represents. The NT teaching that Christians must be ready to embrace suffering for the name of the Lord does not constitute a surrender to the claims of evil without opposition on our side. Jesus suffered ultimately but He never stopped to assert His divine right to be recognized as the Son of God, the Son of Man, and the Savior of the world. We see the same example through the lives of the apostles and the martyrs of the faith.

Being subject to persecution should never be seen as a reason for Christians to approve of persecution, even if they gladly embrace it as a sign of their loyalty to Christ.

Christ embraced suffering because it was part of the great plan of God to offer a sacrifice for our sins. He accepted, after a great struggle, his destiny and promised that His disciples would be persecuted as well. Not for a moment, however, did Christ praise his persecutors for what they were doing. It was out of mercy that He actually prayed that they be forgiven for the evil they were doing to Him, as He knew that they would eventually face God’s judgment and punishment.

However, when freedom of conscience exits the “defense of Christian believers” realm and enters the realm of political and legal definitions, one question demands our attention: Do we as Christians care to defend non-Christian religious belief? If we do not, does that mean that we do not care about the people who hold such beliefs (i.e. do we need to endorse one’s wrong beliefs in order to be able to show true Christian love? Or is denouncing one’s false beliefs, in fact, a show of true love and concern for their soul?) If we insist on religious freedom for Christians, does this oblige us to insist on religious freedom for all religions? How is this latter situation different from universalism and supporting messages that are non-Christian or even anti-Christian?

Then if Christians are persecuted, shall we ignore the fact, and shrug it off, because, as we will see, both Jesus and the apostles predicted the inevitable hostility of the world against Christ’s disciples? Shall we not stand up for those of our brothers who suffer under tyrannical regimes or by the hand of evil people just because they are believers?

Religious liberty, if seen as a merely secular pluralist concept, seems to go against the exclusivity of the Biblical message of salvation. After all, what does it profit you if you gain all the pluralism of religions in the world, securing the tolerance of all belief systems toward each other, but lose your soul by rejecting Christ?

Yet, is the fight for religious freedom just a secular cause, which has no application in Christian ministry?

I have been involved in defense of the right to freedom of conscience, religion and speech in Eastern Europe since the 1990’s. In a place where the state is god and only its ideology is promoted and imposed on the people and the churches, the stand for freedom of religion is an inherently Christian cause. To treat the state as god, and believe only state ideology, which bans or limits the spread of the Gospel, is idolatry. The very belief in the true God is a defiance of the false god of the state. Thus a fight for “religious freedom” can be a new form of the all-time valid and biblical fight against idolatry.

Any attempt to stand against idolatry will result in a harsh and hateful response. Moses, Elijah, Daniel, Jeremiah, Gideon, Hezekiah, are only a few men of the Old Testament whose stories remind us of this fact. The truth that God is the only true God and Jesus Christ is His only begotten Son, through whom we are saved, drives the principalities and powers insane.

Tertullian, the 3rd-century lawyer and theologian, properly declared: “The first reaction to truth is hatred.”

However, if the biblical standard of persecution against Christians is the norm, and we should expect persecution to take place if we are active believers, is our fight for religious liberty simply idealistic wishful thinking? Is this really a needed ministry to help the church?

The legitimacy of these questions stems from the clear teaching of the Lord Jesus and the New Testament that Christians, true followers of Jesus, will be persecuted only because of their belief in Him. From the Scriptures, we see that we will be inevitably persecuted by those who hate and oppose God, that we are to bless them who persecute us, that we are to pray for our enemies (which includes those who persecute us), and that we are to…rejoice when we are persecuted in His name. Also, we see that if they persecuted Christ, they will also persecute His followers; we are to flee persecution and to endure (be strong and not lose our faith). The prophets and scribes, servants of God, are always persecuted, as Jesus Christ was rejected.

If they hated the message of Christ, the Son of God, who exposed the deeds of the world, which are evil, how much more will they persecute His messengers, who will have the same message?

Romans 12:14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.
and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure;
Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered…
and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure. 
2 Timothy 3:12
Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.

Perish the thought that all of these teachings are a calling to hide, bless secretly, and be irrelevant.

Jesus warned His disciples, respectively us His contemporary followers, that we must be strong in faith. This was said not for the purpose of our going into hiding with our faith and message, but for the exact opposite purpose. We are to be light and salt, to be a city on a hill, and to shine with the truth and the light of the Gospel. The truth is if we are not actively doing these things, then no persecution will ever come our way.

As the Scriptures tell us: only if we want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will we suffer consequences. If our faith is hidden, not relevant to the sins and problems of this world, then there will be no need for persecution, since those who oppose the message of God in Christ will feel no offense.

Where does then the fight for religious liberty, as a Christian cause, apply since persecution is a normal, or at least an expected, essential element of a vibrant Christian faith?

In fact, the Bible is full of examples of men of God and followers of Christ standing up for their right to believe and speak their message. There is also one woman involved in that type of service, Esther.

Daniel 3, 6; Matthew 10; Acts 4, 5; Romans 13; 1 Timothy; 1 Peter 2:13-17 are just a few examples of the theme which runs through the whole Bible and the whole history of man: the fight for freedom. That’s freedom to be who God has created us to be, freedom from sin, and from slavery of death. And as the world is still under the dominion of Satan, such freedom is impossible to achieve unless one has the faith and courage to stand against the intimidation of the forces that be for the truth of Jesus Christ as the only way to God and salvation.

An element of the truth is standing for righteousness. Not only those who are persecuted are blessed in the beatitudes, but also those who hunger for righteousness. It is useless to be happy that you’re being persecuted if you’re persecuted not for righteousness’ sake but because of your fear or personal lack of integrity, or even misdeeds.

Governments and authorities are ministers of God (Romans 13). However, when these ministers embrace evil, ungodly principles and ideologies then they no longer serve God and the people but evil, corruption, sin and eventually — death. There are a number of examples in history, one of them being “communism.”

An example in the Western so-called “civilized” governments is their adoption of laws that defy and turn God’s very creation into a mockery. The legalization of same-sex “marriage” has no other purpose than to make a statement to God that we, men and women, can define our own gender and our own “holy matrimony” in defiance to His creation and to anything natural.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. – Genesis 1:27

The very idea that we can reformulate, rebrand and reassign gender, which is a part of God’s creation, and is currently the cry for “equality” and “human rights” in the world, represents a  rejection of the truth that there is a God, that He is a creator, and that He has designed a plan to save us and reconcile us to him. Anyone who thinks that “marriage equality” laws are actually aimed at correcting a wrong in society is completely blind to the immense spiritual and historical significance of this “movement for equality.” It is a design of the enemy of God to mock even the very dignity He has bestowed us with — our identity and image as we are born as male or female.

It is clear to anyone involved in observing these political, cultural, and spiritual trends of making up new rights and new equalities that the biggest enemies of these movements are Christians who are not silent about their beliefs; the ones who dare oppose the cultural shifts toward calling evil “good.”

The proponents of gender equality and sexual “rights” naturally want to curtail the freedom to preach the Gospel, to speak of God’s love, and to state that God can heal sin and perversion. If homosexuality is to be adopted as an intrinsic human right and societal value, then naturally, any opposition to such a “value” must be deemed anti-social. And if the Bible teaches that homosexuality is sin and something bad, then those who preach and teach the Bible must correct and curtail their teachings or be pronounced a threat to society.

In April of 2018, a famous left-wing progressive American TV anchor was “exposed” to have written in a blog years before of her disapproval of homosexuality. When the blog was found out in 2018 she put on a show that her blog had been hacked which caused a government agency to investigate. Eventually the TV anchor backtracked and said that she honestly did not believe that she could have written those opinions of criticism against homosexual behavior. This formerly held opinion was “not her voice.” Some called for her firing. She responded by  apologizing to the homosexual community. The “community” withdrew an award they had given out to her as a pro-homosexual public figure.

The main lesson from this incident is that certain behavior seen as immoral by many in the past, (and that behavior has to do with sexual “liberation” or perversion, depending on the interpretation), is now not allowed to be the subject of criticism without the critic facing personal and social repercussions, to the extent of one having to lie, squirm and apologize profusely and cause the FBI to investigate. The fear and the terror experienced is in having an opinion that is not according to the party line or in this case, social “orthodoxy”! If in the past it was “religious bigotry” that wrote social and legal norms, at this point in time it is the morally unhinged sexual revolution that defines what is “right and wrong.”

A recently adopted “covert” California consumer law banned treatment and services for people who might want to revert from their homosexuality as “fraud” (California Law Makers: Faith Practices Can Be Punished as Fraud).

How different are these developments, occurring at the moment in the West, from the former communist control of the freedoms of thought and speech? It is not the specific sin here that we are opposing. Sin is sin, regardless of how repulsive or prevalent, or how hidden and inconspicuous. It is the turning of that sin into a mandatory social construct of honor and righteousness that is the stronghold to which we are opposed.

These are only two examples which point to the fact that groupthink is alive and well in the so-called free countries; that the fight for freedom of religion, freedom of conscience, and freedom of speech rages on. We are made aware that the very foundation of the struggle to proclaim the message of God’s mercy and judgment in Jesus Christ does not affect only churches, but the whole of society including politics.

If a society excludes the freedom to speak against sin and corruption, which is the liberating message of the Gospel of Christ, for which He and His followers were hated back then (John 3:16-21), and are hated today, if self-censorship out of fear becomes the norm for people of faith, if we cover our moral cowardice under the pretense that we are responding to the world’s appeal to be tolerant, then can we fulfill the purpose of being a light in a dark world?

As long as the struggle for freedom is not one that minimizes the Christian message, or replaces it completely, as in the example where due to the need to respect all people we announce that all religions are equal, religious liberty work has a legitimate place among Christain ministries. Here is a list of four reasons why this is so:

  • Witness. Defending religious freedom opens up an opportunity to speak about the faith of Christ in different contexts, including in the courts and in politics.
  • Brotherly love and compassion. Defending religious liberty is helping our brothers in need by prayer and by morally and legally standing by their side while they are suffering for their faith.
  • Justice and righteousness. Defending religious liberty is the prophetic role of Christians to stand up for justice when governments and rulers abandon their role of simply serving and become a quasi-god type of structure, desiring to regulate the thought and the speech of people.
  • Biblical Example. Defending religious liberty is inspired by the respect of the apostles for governing authorities yet their refusal to obey the illegitimate orders to stop proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Thus to state that no one should be persecuted for their belief is truly a nice sentiment, but as we’ve seen has little support in the New Testament for Christians. The Christian teaching is that there will be a lot of opposition to those who live and teach the way of Christ.

The fact that Christians are persecuted does not justify the reason why we are persecuted. As long as we do not see ourselves as victims when persecution comes, but as victors, by rejoicing in our blessings, and praying for our enemies, then there is no reason for us to not stand up for what is right and what is true — namely the message that Christ is Lord, and that persecution against His followers is illegal and in fact is persecution against Him.

By standing up for what we believe in, even in the face of persecution, we are overcomers and ambassadors of liberty in Christ. The ministry of religious liberty, which aims to defend the rights of Christians to believe, worship, and speak, is meant to help us not be victims but victors. We serve a living God who can use our lives and witness to liberate those who seek him, and no one has the right to imprison that message.

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