The confusing world of religious freedom.
With so much diversity, it is not a surprise to see worldwide debate on religious freedom. Religious freedom gets politicized and leveraged for selfish gains, all while actually limiting the very freedom they are claiming to defend. Even atheist or secular humanist groups stand for something and would want the freedom to express that. Thankfully most of us aren’t forced to believe something for fear of death, like some parts of the world. Take the story of Iranian pastor Pastor Youcef Nadarkhan who was to be executed for refusing to recant Christianity and turn to Islam. Iran is now denying this is the case, even though Iran continues to raid worship meetings and arrest people for their faith. These are not isolated cases of people being bullied for their faith.
I have followed the work of the Voice of the Martyrs and find it amazing the way so many people will still gather to worship, even after being harassed. In one case I read, the officials locked up the church forcing them to meet on the sidewalk instead. There was another story about someone who entered a church at the conclusion of service with explosives on himself. He ended up killing himself, but no one else was killed. In the face of all of this, the church continues to see great advances. People, when faced with dangerous circumstances, still choose to follow Jesus Christ.
“And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” – Matthew 16:18
Of course, these cases stands as the antithesis of religious freedom, but it still does make me wonder what religious freedom ought to look like. This week there was a story about a road in Florida that has been blessed by a church group using oil. I guess they are thinking that this blessing is going to prevent certain people from coming to that county in Florida. I do agree that it is a bit harsh to say it like that and that this actually proves to muddy the water for religious liberty. People took offense to this because it marginalized certain people who they didn’t want to come into their county. That is a confusing message for a church to send to a community they want to reach for the Gospel. It is true we want God’s blessing on our lives, but that doesn’t mean praying harm on other people. I have no issue asking God’s blessing over areas, lands, buildings or whatever, but I think it is done with God as the starting point for that blessing. In other words, it is not a blessing based on what I want to see, but based on what God wants to do. It is a “Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven” type prayer. If that were to happen, people would notice!
This story is especially funny because the atheist and humanist groups went out there to unbless the road. To their credit, they weren’t being mean about it. But, I do again wonder why an atheist group would care if a church blesses a road or not. I thought they didn’t believe in God. To them wouldn’t it be like someone asking the tree gods to bless our land. There seems to always be more to it than what meets the eye. Even if the blessing of the road was not done with the right heart, would that mess with an atheist’s worldview? The country still has a foundation in the Bible, with mention of a Creator in the declaration of independence. I know that doesn’t mean everyone will believe in God, but it should at least allow people to express their beliefs. Scrubbing oil off a road in order to prove a point doesn’t really accomplish religious freedom, it just shows that we have become somewhat petty in our thinking.