By Dr. Douglas Levesque
Religious liberty in early America meant the freedom from a state sponsored, nationally mandated church. Roman Catholicism and the Church of England were examples of such religious authorities ultimately persecuting other forms of Christian expression. Biblical Christianity that differed from the state endorsed expressions of faith was often deemed heresy, dissent and dangerous. True believers were banished, burned, or imprisoned. Underground churches were formed. Separatists fled to frontiers and wilderness regions in order to gain freedom of religion. Many of the first American pilgrims were simply religious and therefore political refugees. Our forefathers ensured through the first amendment that such tyranny would not be possible in their new country. Unfortunately, the freedom to obey the Scriptures without state interference had morphed in the freedom to not only reject the Scriptures, but alienate all true gospel mandates from government offices. Re-defined, religious liberty has become a Babylonian type of religious pluralism.
At the time of this writing, President Elect Trump has won 80% of the so called evangelical vote while at the same time touting a dedication to “religious pluralism”. Real threats to the original concept of religious liberty are coming from both the left and right. The threat may seem like a simple misunderstanding or mistaken vocabulary, but more often the new pluralism is a scheme to overthrow the culture of Christianity and it’s voice in the halls of power.
Make no mistake, Pluralism is the political lowering of Biblical faith to the mandated level of every other opinion or religion. It puts shackles on preachers to proclaim sin or the “only Jesus saves” message. It defines and punishes Christian opinion as “hate”, points out true believers as the problem in American culture, and subtly re-creates a state religion.
If the Biblical role of women is misogynistic, if warnings against accepting homosexuality as a civil right are deemed threats, if rejection of Islam is called racist, then Christians under religious pluralism are only one step from civil disobedience or worse . . .prison. An even greater danger of accepting the pluralism or tolerance mantra over true religious liberty is the voluntary quieting of churches in regards to their evangelistic mission in the world. Gospel witnessing is our chief activism, and without it all other attempts to affect society will be watered down. Patrick Henry said it best, “Give me liberty or give me death!” It was a command statement, a didactic sentence, and a prophetic truth all at once.
Consider these recent headlines:
“What Are the Limits of ‘Religious Liberty?’” -July 7, 2015, The New York Times Magazine
“Civil rights or religious liberty – what’s on top?” -September 9, 2016, The Washington Post
“‘Religious freedom,’ ‘liberty’ just ‘code words’ for intolerance, U.S. Civil Rights chairman says” -September 8, 2016, Washington Times
These articles all reference the battle between backing religious liberty advocates, who wish to live in a reality that rejects homosexuality as normal, and the LGBTQ community that wants to mandate its views as a civil right forcing American conscience to reject the clear admonishments of Scripture. Obviously, this cultural and legal conundrum has no real way of coexistence, therefore the cultural tide turning to pluralism is a form of compromise.
The greatest way to preserve true religious liberty is to practice it. Preach the Word in season, and out of season. Proclaim the truth of Jesus Christ when it is fashionable AND when it is illegal. Call out sin when the culture backs it, and when all of the courts condemn it. We are living in a surreal time in America when political activism and pulpit exposition will be deemed the same thing, despised by elected officials and religious panhandlers alike. To reform our truth in order to comply with pluralistic expectations or to quiet our voices in order not to offend is not an option that our Biblical examples or American forefathers would consider. This scenario is not the beginning of America’s Transformation but the death throes of a journey into darkness. It is not the politician’s job to lead in this particular cultural wrestling match, but pastors and Christians honor to stand and face the darkness.