As Christians, we cherish our religious freedom. But this constitutional right is a little harder to accept when it involves another religion—if, for example, a mosque is built in our community.
Liberty for All: Defending Everyone’s Religious Freedom in a Pluralistic Age explains the all-encompassing benefits of religious freedom. The book is a challenging yet rewarding read for the layperson.
What is religious liberty?
Author Andrew T. Walker, an associate professor of Christian ethics and apologetics at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, offers this definition: “Religious liberty is the principle of social practice wherein every individual, regardless of their religious confession, is equally free to believe, or not to believe, and to live out their understanding of the conscience’s duty, individually and communally, that is owed to God in all areas of life without threat of government penalty or social harassment. It is nothing short of grasping truth and ordering one’s life in response to it.”
That includes people of every religious belief, or none at all. Religious liberty, in Walker’s view, “helps us manage social and religious differences” in a pluralistic culture.
More importantly, there can be no decisions for Christ without freedom of choice.
The gospel and religious freedom
“We Christians should extend religious liberty to everyone, because everyone is pursuing truth, even if incorrectly,” Walker wrote. “In a secular and increasingly pluralistic age, we need to allow falsehood a space to be wrong in hopes that individuals will ‘come to the knowledge of the truth’ (1 Tim. 2:4).
“This does not mean we refrain from naming moral wrongs or fall captive to empty-headed relativism. It means we do not seek to criminalize, persecute, or marginalize people whose beliefs are sincere and are animating them toward lives of purpose, meaning, and goodwill (and there are checks and balances to consider when convictions pose risks and harms to civil society).”
Only Christ can judge religious convictions. The just state’s job is to guarantee freedom of choice. But even in an unjust society where Christians are persecuted, the gospel has shown throughout history an ability to thrive. “The government may possess the authority to kill the body, but it cannot damn the soul,” Walker wrote. “The martyrs of the early church went to their deaths knowing that from death came life.”
A day of judgment is coming. Until then, governments should allow religious freedom.
“If the gospel is true, the gospel does not need government preference,” Walker wrote. “Why? Because in the scope of history, truth wins.”
And that’s good news.