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.
Radical muslims in Nigeria are out confusing the world in the name of religion again. Most recently, they did this by attacking Christians as they celebrated Christmas. This is tragic because there were people killed, but it is also tragic for the message it sends. As I write this, there are reports that the violence in Nigeria is getting even worse.
I read this with interest because of the implications it has on the spread of the Gospel, especially with teenagers. I have been trying and will continue to try to get our High School students to be a light to their peers at school. This has become increasingly difficult with all of the ‘tolerance’ taught in schools. As soon as one of them lets anyone know they are a Christian, they are branded as “one of them.” This makes them uncomfortable and often unwilling to make that known. Then things like this happen and, even though it is a hateful crime committed against Christians, Christians are still labeled as the intolerant ones. The world views these acts of violence as if they were started by Christians. But, where do we see Christians attacking other religious celebrations with bombs? I have never seen it happen.
For years this has been getting worse with the assault on anything to do with Jesus Christ, but the acceptance of everything else. A local school group wanted to have a Bible study before school and they went through all the procedures to make that happen. They received ridiculous comments claiming that they couldn’t do it because tax payer money paid for the lights to be on. Alright, but what about any other club? No one is worried about any other club out there, no matter what it is. This double standard is a troubling trend, but no one really says anything about it.
Recently the discussion in our student leadership team has been about the number of Christians in the public school. I asked them the number of people they thought were Christians in their school. They couldn’t really come up with an answer.
This brings up two questions:
1- If there are a lot of Christians in the school, why aren’t they known? Why aren’t they talking to each other and encouraging each other to be a light to their friends? Where is the unity that comes from knowing there are other believers there?
2- If there are very few Christians in the school, does that bother anyone? It is possible that there are very few Christians in the school system. Does this mean that the Christian teenagers should just hide and try not to offend anyone?
I think that rather than just walking around concerned that sharing Jesus might be offensive, we all should be engaged in sharing that truth with people. If we really believe it, then we believe it is true for them also, right?
But, as long as there is violence around religions, there will also be confusion. People can’t seem to separate some of these groups of people from the actual teachings of that religion. Anytime there is any sort of attack like this, immediately the atheist groups let us know how much better the world would be without religion. But, we can say all we want without anything we say actually correcting their thinking. We can actually make a difference, though, if our actions actually show the world that we are serious about loving others like Jesus.
Will the world look at you and I and glorify God, or will they just see another person claiming to know Jesus but living the opposite?
We must not be ashamed to proclaim Christ to others through our lives and through our words. No, it is not popular, but it is needed to help people see that the message of Christ, is not a message of violence, but a message of hope, love, life and forgiveness.
Also, please pray for the persecuted church worldwide. They need our support! For more information you can visit the Voice of the Martyrs.