The Barna Group, a non-partisan research group focused on the intersection of religion and culture, recently published some interesting findings on how we perceive the current state of religious liberty in America. Overall, a majority of Americans expressed some level of concern that religious freedom would become more restricted over the next five years. 29% of respondents to the survey said they were “very concerned,” and 22% reported being “somewhat concerned.” This number is largely driven by Christian groups. Protestants reported the highest percentage of respondents who were “very concerned” (46%), while 71% of evangelicals reported being concerned at some level. The survey asked several questions, and I recommend going to look at the report. One of the things that interested me was that there seemed to be widespread consensus on the definition of religious freedom. 90% of those surveyed agreed with this definition – “True religious freedom means all citizens must have freedom of conscience, which means being able to believe and practice the core commitments and values of your faith.”
The unity of thought on the definition of religious liberty makes the Evangelical response to religion the public square very interesting. 54% of Evangelicals said that they believed that Judeo-Christian values should be given preference in the public square. It should be noted that 35% of Protestants agreed, which was above the national average of 23%. (Catholics, interestingly, were at around the national average (24%).) I wonder if these Evangelicals realize that if Judeo-Christian values are given preference in the public square, then by definition the religious freedom of those who are not Judeo-Christian would be restricted, helping to create the very dystopian view of religious freedom that they say they fear. I get the impression that what Evangelicals are concerned about is not the restriction of religious liberty, but the restriction of their religious liberty. David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group described it as a double standard to embrace religious freedom for all but want your values to be given preference. Kinnamen asks a pertinent question. “Is it possible that evangelicals are interpreting a loss of religious privilege as loss of religious freedom?”
I think the answer to that question is yes, and so I spend a lot of my time thinking about the question of religious liberty and the selfishness of those who would assure freedom and privilege for themselves and not others. What I am not able to understand is why we believe that religious liberty is some sort of zero sum proposition and that in order to have freedom for ourselves we must take freedom from others. The only answer I can come up with is that some people believe that their religion obligates them to not only control themselves, but to control others as well. I believe that it is possible to make religious freedom as expansive as possible, and truly allow people to follow the dictates of their hearts as God (or whatever they believe in) leads them. Not only do I think that this is the solution that works best for our democracy, but I also happen to think that this is the solution that gets us closer to what God wants as well.
Many people think that expanding the notion of freedom means believing in some sort of standardless God who has no binding rules. I believe nothing of the sort. However, I do believe in a God who says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.” (Rev 3:20) I believe in a God who has called us all to spread the Gospel and help make disciples. (Matt 28:19) I believe in a God who wants us to keep His commandments out of love. (John 14:15) I don’t believe that God forces His way into the human heart. I don’t believe that we spread the gospel or make disciples by making people follow God’s law. I don’t believe that people should be keeping God’s commands out of compulsion. God is a god of love and freedom. He simply asks us to share His love with others and live lives that reflect His character. I’m not sure that looking out for our own freedom at the expense of others is a part of that.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/5118