“The definition [of religious liberty] has two elements: (1) ‘the capacity to manifest fully, in public and private, one’s religion without interference from the state’; and (2) ‘the obligation of the state to protect citizens from anyone who might threaten the expression of those citizens’ faith.’
- Because God created humankind in his image, each person is owed dignity out of respect for that image, which includes what has become described as ‘freedom of religion.’
- Because only God has the power to save, any human coercion of religion is necessarily futile and probably idolatrous, because the persecutor claims a power to correct and save that can only rightly belong to God.
- Therefore, it is the duty and calling of Christians to advocate for freedom of religion or belief as fundamental to recognizing both the image of God in humans and the sovereignty of God over them.
What do these convictions mean in practice? Muslims, Jews, atheists, agnostics: we all bear the image of God. This is the most fundamental theological reason why Catholics, Protestants, and other Christians have joined together to defend religious freedom. We are not indifferent to the truth and to the worship of the true God, but we know that any coercion in faith, any repression or violence, violates the image of that same God. Those in the Reformed Protestant tradition of Christianity add that any coercion is also a denial of the sovereignty of God and that salvation in Jesus Christ can only be received as a gift.”(Committee to Study Religious Persecution and Liberty, p. 15)
The definition of persecution is simply “the unwarranted violation of religious liberty.” If religious liberty protects the faithful from threats to their religious expression, then religious persecution occurs when those threats become a reality and the state fails to prevent these violations or even perpetrates them. (Committee to Study Religious Persecution and Liberty, p. 16)
What Can the Church Do?
“We call the denomination and its churches to refocus on this problem. To build a movement against persecution, the most fundamental thing the church must do is preach and practice a theology that religious freedom is for all persons. Practicing that theology entails being willing to work across lines of difference to develop political and social virtues while allowing freedom to disagree on reasons for doing so.” (Committee to Study Religious Persecution and Liberty, p. 23)
“Practically, liturgical acts can help reorient the church to preaching a gospel that rejects persecution in favor of shalom….We do not envision prayer as a brief stopping point before more important matters. We emphasize prayer—more specifically, prayer as part of public worship—precisely because it is a key starting point in building a faith-based movement against persecution.” (Committee to Study Religious Persecution and Liberty, p. 23-24)
Header image: Flickr user Beautiful Faces of Berlin.