Why Religious Freedom Means Tolerance

I am little late writing this blog as the SCOTUS’ decision about Hobby Lobby and other court cases are two weeks old, meaning they are ancient history.

And if there is anything I know about the times I live in, it is that we could care less about history.

The issue of religious freedom, however, is not limited to Hobby Lobby, SCOTUS, or even the Constitution; the right to believe and act on that belief is something that is fundamental to how God has made us as human beings made in his image. It is absolutely shocking to me to see the secular humanists being the champions of religious freedom, while increasingly conservative Evangelicals are letting it erode away with their constant insistence that we should be treated differently because America is a “Christian nation,” at least in history and theory.

John Leland is face-palming himself in heaven.

I am not going to argue about America being a Christian nation (I already have argued against the notion, not wasting any more web space); I want to address the issue of religious freedom and why it hinges on a word that very few religious people seem to like: tolerance.

Why Tolerance is Necessary for Religious Freedom

I have no idea when tolerance, in of itself, became the main enemy of faith. In fact, the history of religious persecution shows that tolerance allows for the freest expression of religious ideas and beliefs. Tolerance allows an atheist, a Muslim, a Jew, and an Evangelical to live side by side, and yet to hold differing views about the world and the nature of existence. Few societies have successfully made this work (some would argue that even in America it only partially works), but it works to the extent it does because we all agree that despite our differences we are all citizens of the United States. Now, there are many people who have tried to use tolerance to discredit belief (to make everything true, and thus nothing is true), but this does not mean that tolerance needs to be thrown out of the country.

I would argue that we need tolerance now more than ever.

When SCOTUS ruled that Hobby Lobby and other small companies had the right to object to unreasonable government coercion on the ground of religious objection, it opened a flood-gate of possible religious impositions that Evangelicals may find objectionable. What if say, as a female you were forced to wear a burka and let your husband do all the talking while in public in certain Muslim areas and businesses? As a free, American Evangelical woman, you would find this sort of requirement regressive, discriminatory, and entirely objectionable.

That’s my point. Why should you be forced to follow Sharia Law, anymore than a Muslim should be forced to disobey it? Why should an atheist have to deal with pro-life Christian, “baby-savers” anymore than a Christian should forced endure a lecture from Planned Parenthood every time they want to have a kid even the mother is at risk? We should not have to; that is why there is a public forum where all belief has input, but the law benefits no belief directly.

The reason there is an Enlightenment separation of church and state is because in a pluralistic, democratic society the majority makes the rules for everyone else. Just because you would like the rules passed by an Evangelical leaning Congress, does not make it a legitimate argument to throw out the separation. Congress is Evangelical today, and then fill-in-your-religion tomorrow; then guess who is going to be chanting separation of church an state? There is a reason we do not have religious tests, state-sponsored churches, and excessive legislative morality: no one wants any religious organization controlling our government. I do not want the government or a corporation dictating my belief and practice; why should I want some religion (especially one I do not follow) dictating those things?

I am amazed that many Christians are increasingly trying to “save the country” by forcing a Christian-worldview on a pluralistically secular state. It is almost as if the Church has abandoned the path of influence and testimony and has reverted back to coercion and legislation to force the kingdom on an unwilling populace, We are ambassadors of the coming kingdom, but that does not mean that we have a mandate to force Christianity or Jesus on others. The U.S. government is not our savior; we are not Christians because we are granted to be so by the laws of the U.S., or even the Constitution. We show our appalling lack of dependence and hope in our King Jesus Christ, when we desperately try to use a pluralistic government, that for the most part has respected our rights, to save our own rights at the expense of our neighbors.

How Christian is that?

Tolerance is not “you’re okay, I’m okay” and it is not “all beliefs are true,” what tolerance is, is “we’re different, so we have to learn to respect our differences and live in harmony.” Tolerance respects the rights of every man, woman, and child to believe and practice as they see fit (within reason, there are some things that we all agree are wrong and should not be done). That is what is missing from our discourse, the care for the rights of the other person. When we lose this, we lose religious freedom because the paradox of religious freedom is that I need to give up forcing some of my beliefs in the public square (you do as well) in order to have a civil and tolerant society. We have freedom of religion so that we can influence and win-over each other, rather than having our government tell us what to believe (or what not believe). I believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, the crucified and risen Messiah; I believe that Scripture and a lot of circumstantial, historical evidence backs this belief up. However, I do not want my government forcibly making people live like Christians (or their conception of Christians) because I would not want my government forcing me to be an secular humanist. I am not going to change my beliefs and practices in the face of public opinion, but I am also not going to force them on others…because God does not do that, and when I respect the rights of others they tend to respect mine.

That is why Christians need to be about speaking the truth in love, while accepting the fact that society may reject them. Jesus promised intense hatred and persecution; it has happened before and in many parts of the world is happening now. We can be against homosexual acts, while allowing homosexuals to be civilly married; we can be against abortion-on-demand, while accepting that a woman is this country has the right to her own reproductive organs. We can object to insurance funding abortion and find creative ways to reduce abortions, without threatening to go out of business or claiming that we have the right to regulate the lives of our underpaid hourly employees. We can stand up against greed and corruption, while accepting that at its heart humankind is corrupt and in rebellion against God. We can be against the philosophical, material atheism that is advocated by some scientist-philosophers, while at the same time acknowledging that world may be older than 4000 years, may not have been created in six literal days, and that evolution may have been a part of it. We can speak truth without forcing the truth; it is called being a disciple, it is called showing people who Jesus is, what he has done, and what he is still doing.

It is called giving up the power; taking up a towel and a cross.

Religious freedom is not a right, but a privilege. Will we make that privilege an entitlement, or will we show the world that Christ is king and his kingdom is coming…no matter the cost to us?


Grace and Peace