Freedom of Expression: A Christian Response (Part 4)

The Ahmadiyya Muslim community of Calgary each year holds an interreligious dialogue in Cochrane with speakers from various religious perspectives all speaking on the same topic.  In light of various world events, and especially in light of the Islamic extremists actions in murdering several Charlie Hebdojournalists in Paris for their “blasphemy” against the prophet Muhammad, this year’s dialogue was organized with the topic “Freedom of Expression and Respect for Religious Sanctities.” The dialogue, with presenters from Islam, Baha’ism, Native Aboriginal Spirituality, and Christianity, was held on April 9, 2015, at the Cochrane Ranchehouse Theatre. I was privileged to be asked to present the “Christian perspective” to the topic.  This series is what I presented that evening. 

Freedom of Expression and Respect for Religious Sanctities: A Christian Response (Part 4)

(7th Annual World Religions Conference, Cochrane, Alberta)

In a society where the population is marked by different backgrounds, different ethnicities, different belief systems, and different loyalties, How should people who live in a religiously pluralistic society treat one another in terms of their differences of beliefs? Admittedly, Christians throughout history have not always handled this in a “Christ-like way.”

Imposition. Some have sought to “impose” Christian beliefs by use of force, either through the power of the government or by physical force (the Spanish Inquisition would be an example of this).

Jesus never used force to compel belief – for true faith is invited, urged, and pleaded for, but never compelled or imposed.  Just as when is confession is brought about through torture, there is always the doubt that such a confession is truthful. Imposition is not an option for Christian believers – as soon as they impose they cease to be acting like they Christ they say they follow.

Laissez-faire. The exact opposition of imposition — simply “leave it alone” and do nothing. Far from imposing our views, we say we won’t even share our faith with others.  This attitude decides to leave people alone to mind their own business, in the hopes that they will leave us alone to mind our own business.

A laissez-faire attitude is not an option for Christian believers either.  Jesus summed up His entire ministry with this statement, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save lost people” (Luke 19:10).  Jesus said to His followers, “In the same way that the Father has sent me, so I am sending you” (John 20:21).  Jesus said to those He called to follow Him, “Follow me, and I will make you to be fishers of men” (Mark 1:17) – We do the following, and He does the making. If He makes a fisher of men out of those who follow Him, then that means if someone is not fishing, then they are not truly following Him. Leaving people alone to die in their sin is not an option for Christian believers either.

Persuasion. The way the Bible teaches that Christians are to live out their faith in a pluralistic world is to persuade people with the truth.  God has made people as responsible beings, with the consciences and the capacity for moral reasoning.  God says, “Come now, and let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18).  The only sword we wield is “the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17), the message He wants us to proclaim.  We speak truth into falsehood, shed light into darkness, call injustice and immorality to account, and help make sense out of the mess of people’s lives.  We educate the ignorant, offer hope in the midst of despair, love in the midst of hatred, and clarity to understand the cacophony of life.  We seek to persuade people (2 Cor 5:11) with the good news of the message of Jesus Christ.

As a fire exists to burn, a Christian exists to share – it is simply who we are.  We are recipients and bearers of the Truth, the good news.  We believe that we have the truth that will set people free – and for that, we demand the freedom to express this truth.

Jesus taught us what is called “the Golden Rule” – treat others as we would want them to treat us (Luke 6:31).  In asking for the freedom to speak, we must demand that others have the same freedom.  In asking for the freedom to worship, we must demand that others have it also.  In asking for the freedom to live out our faith, others deserve the same.  In a pluralistic society with a multitude of views, voices, and beliefs, we as believers in Christ need not fear.  Truth is immortal – it will not die. We believe we have the truth, so we need not fear the competition – we just demand the freedom to speak that truth.

It was only weeks after the Jewish authorities tried Jesus and determined that he must be killed.  Two of Jesus’ disciples, Peter and John, stood before the same Jewish governing authority.  In the name of Jesus they healed a lame man on the Temple steps.  As they preached in the name of Jesus, the religious authorities arrested them, imprisoned them, put them on trial, and commanded them never to speak again in the name of Jesus.  Peter responded,

Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard. (Acts 4:19-20)

We must obey God rather than men. (Acts 5:29)