Opinion: The Trouble With Religious Freedom
By Ian Ebright
October 25, 2012
Ian Ebright is a former film critic who writes about faith, life, culture, and human rights while working on film projects. You can read more from Ian by visiting his blog The Broken Telegraph, or connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.
I grew up in an Evangelical Christian home where hyper-opinionated, fear-based media was considered part of a healthy diet and fear was a key ingredient. I was raised to believe the walls were coming down on this planet, and that Christians were target number one. The implication was that it was best to stay close to the people and beliefs I knew, to hold tight and pray hard. Plug into that same sort of media today and you will see little has changed when it comes to employing fear. Consumers are greeted with a barrage of alerts and other perceived attacks on Christianity. The internet piles on, with end-times newsletters forecasting yet another development on the path to Armageddon and scary emails warning of the latest threat to religious freedom. Not only are most of these reports fictitious, but corrosive to an authentic faith in Christ.
The trouble begins when we insist on keeping religious freedom as we define it, and allow it to divide our attention away from the calling of Christ.
The Evangelical Christian community finds itself frequently spooked by a roster of fabricated bogeymen, in a time when accuracy is considered frilly while sensation is viewed as substantial. In this space, events are presented to show us at a tipping point. Arguments tend to focus on the slippery slope. The facts get buried while the mere suggestion of a threat wins an eternal life.
Religious freedom has also become a handy evasive maneuver when something encroaches on comfort zones that are important to Christians, like marriage and abortion. It is like a wet bar of soap, slipping from our hands as we try to hold on to it. Unencumbered religious freedom is impossible to achieve, because each person has a different view of what freedom must include, and a variable tolerance for what constitutes persecution. It is no surprise that the quest for religious freedom has fostered a climate of discontent among many Christians. Is that what we want to be known for?
Religious freedom is something we aren't guaranteed in this life and don't even need. The church has thrived in places without it.
Religious freedom is something we aren't guaranteed in this life and don't even need. The Church has thrived in places without it. We are fortunate to have such freedoms here in the U.S., and they are not going away, no matter what paranoid media, scary emails or end-times newsletters have to say. What we don't have is unrestrained religious supremacy, where Christians get whatever privilege we can dream up. And thank God, because supremacy is not good for the Church. Christ achieved victory over sin and death, and walked in The Way through surrender and sacrifice. He did warn of persecution for those who follow him, but this does not apply to everything spooky or uncomfortable, especially when those things are so often built around falsehoods.
The religious freedom we have is a blessing, and it is a global rarity. Instead of focusing on every square inch of what we think is our rightful turf, we have the option to be grateful, focus on being a blessing in various ways, to seek justice, and to say a prayer or advocate for our brothers and sisters who encounter real persecution elsewhere in the world. The more we in America are known for culture war crusades under the banner of religious freedom, the more irrelevant the Church becomes to those outside it.