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. The following series is what I presented that evening.
Freedom of Expression and Respect for Religious Sanctities: A Christian Response (Part 1)
(7th Annual World Religions Conference, Cochrane, Alberta)
I count it a privilege to represent the Christian perspective this evening. Let me express my thanks to Ahmadiyya Muslim community for hosting this evening’s event and for extending the invitation to me to contribute to the discussion on this important topic.
If I may, let me give a little background to my perspective I present this evening. Christianity is a huge religion claiming upwards of 1/3 of the world’s population as adherents to its basic beliefs. Within Christianity are at least three major streams of traditions, each with their own distinctives yet all claiming to follow the same Lord: Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant.
I would fall within the Protestant tradition of Christianity. Specifically, within Protestantism, my belief system would be considered “Evangelical.” An evangelical believes that one becomes a follower of Jesus Christ only by a decision of personal faith. Even though a person might be born into a Christian family, that person only “becomes a Christian” when they choose to be. No one is “born” a Christian; they must be “born again” in order to become a follower of Jesus Christ.
To be even more specific, within evangelical Christianity I am a part of the Baptist denomination. A “denomination” is like a cake recipe – many cake mixes share many or most of the same ingredients, but each denomination has its own unique combination that makes it distinct.
The topic of discussion this evening is very precious to Baptists and is a vital part of our history.
The same “King James” whose name is on the title page of millions of copies of “the Authorized Version” of the English Bible was the same “King James” who had my Baptist forefathers imprisoned and killed for insisting that the king had no authority to make dictates over the human conscience. The king could neither demand faith from people nor prohibit it.
The fact that there is a Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution and that the first amendment in that Bill of Rights is largely due to the influence of Baptist clergy and laymen insisting that the new nation be built upon this freedom.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Section 2) contains language that is quite similar:
“Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:
- freedom of conscience and religion;
- freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
- freedom of peaceful assembly; and
- freedom of association.”
The subject of “Freedom of Expression” is both precious and vital to Christian belief.