By Rudy Barnes, Jr.
The ideal of liberty and justice for all begins with the freedoms of religion and speech. Those freedoms have been the hallmark of American democracy, and have allowed diversity in America to be its strength rather than its weakness—that is, until recently. Now evangelical Christians are making our diversity a weakness by claiming that their freedom of religion allows them to discriminate against those they consider sinners, including homosexuals.
There is a symbiotic relationship between freedom and religion. When some demand religious freedom that denies the rights of others, it undermines the freedom for all of us. And if political freedom is eroding in America, it doesn’t even exist in Islamic nations, where apostasy and blasphemy laws deny the fundamental freedoms of religion and speech.
Political freedom originated in the natural law of the Enlightenment, not in religion; but the fate of freedom in religious nations depends on religious values. Religions in the libertarian democracies of the West have long conformed their doctrines to political freedom and the secular rule of law, but not so in the East, where Islamic law (Shari’a) continues to stifle freedom.
But even in America political freedom is threatened by extremist religious values. When religions promote unlawful discrimination they undermine equal justice under law. Edmund Burke warned Americans before their revolution that in a democracy they would forge their own shackles. The evolution of American democracy indicates that Burke may well have been right.
The greatest challenge for America’s democracy is to balance individual rights with providing for the common good, and religion plays a pivotal role in striking that balance. The ancient scriptures of Judaism, Christianity and Islam all emphasize providing for the common good, especially for the least of those among us. That’s a common word of faith expressed in the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors as we love ourselves.
It is ironic that evangelical Christians in America advocate extending their freedom of religion to allow them to discriminate against those they consider sinners. It not only denies equal justice under law, but it also contradicts the moral imperative taught by Jesus to love all our neighbors—even those we consider sinners—as we love ourselves. And the same is true for Muslims who use Shari’a to deny women and non-Muslims equality under the law.
The end of freedom comes as its beginning, in the shifting tides of religion and politics. Freedom cannot begin where religious laws prevent it, and freedom ends when religious values deny equality under the law. Religion provides our standards of political legitimacy and justice, for good or bad; and today the bad seems to have gained the upper hand.
Faith and freedom are interwoven in American culture. That has been ignored in white mainline churches that avoid controversial issues of religion and politics, while black mainline churches and evangelical churches are politically aggressive. It seems that politics have to get really bad before respectable white Christians recognize the relevance of their faith to their freedom. Well, hello! In case they haven’t noticed, things have gotten really bad.
Sadly, Americans are forfeiting their political freedom, and Christians are leading the way. They are promoting individual rights that trump their moral obligation to love God and their neighbors—even sinners—as they love themselves. Altruistic Christian values are needed to provide for the common good and to preserve freedom and democracy in America.
In nations where most people are religious, freedom has a symbiotic relationship with religion. In Islamic nations, the enforcement of apostasy and blasphemy laws deny the freedoms of religion and speech, while in the U.S. evangelical Christians promote their freedom of religion at the expense of equal justice under law. In both cases political freedom depends upon religious values that support individual rights and balance those rights with promoting the common good.
On changing values on homosexuality, gender and religion in America, see http://www.people-press.org/2017/10/05/5-homosexuality-gender-and-religion/morality.
The 2017 Values Voter Summit held October 13-15 in Washington, D.C. was an exposition of how far Christian values have deviated from the teachings of Jesus. Thousands of evangelical Christians professed their loyalty to Donald Trump, who exemplifies the self-centered objectivist morality of Ayn Rand rather than the altruistic morality taught by Jesus. On the 2017 Values Voter Summit and Trump’s unlikely Christian covenant, see http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-41617793. For a list of the purpose, participants and sponsors of the Values Voter Summit, see its website at http://www.valuesvotersummit.org/about.
On why Trump is evangelicals’ “dream president”, see https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/trump-is-evangelicals-dream-president-heres-why/2017/05/15/77b1609a-3996-11e7-a058-ddbb23c75d82_story.html?wpisrc=nl_opinions&wpmm=1. On how the prosperity gospel explains Donald Trump’s popularity with Christian voters, see https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2016/07/15/how-the-prosperity-gospel-explains-donald-trumps-popularity-with-christian-voters/?wpisrc=nl_headlines&wpmm=1. On why Christians will stick with Trump, see https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/why-christians-will-stick-with-trump/2017/10/05/7d7d2bb6-a922-11e7-850e-2bdd1236be5d_story.html?undefined=&wpisrc=nl_headlines&wpmm=1.
Mustafa Akyol has asked, Is free speech good for Muslims? He noted “…a paradox Muslims, especially those of us living in the West, face in the modern world [is that]…they are threatened by Islamophobic forces against which they need the protections offered by liberalism — freedom of speech, freedom of religion, nondiscrimination. But the same liberalism also brings them realities that most of them find un-Islamic — irreverence toward religion, tolerance of L.G.B.T. people, permissive attitudes on sex. They can’t easily decide, therefore, whether liberalism is good or bad for Muslims.” Akyol noted double standards on freedom, and that “Muslim opinion leaders have to decide where they stand.” See https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/27/opinion/is-free-speech-good-for-muslims.html?rref=collection%2Fcolumn%2FMustafa%20Akyol&action=click&contentCollection=Opinion&module=Collection®ion=Marginalia&src=me&version=column&pgtype=article.
Egypt illustrates how fundamentalist Islam (Islamism) can deny human rights. With midnight raids and chat-room traps, Egypt has launched a sweeping crackdown on the gay community. See https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/with-midnight-raids-and-chat-room-traps-egypt-launches-sweeping-crackdown-on-gay-community/2017/10/17/6a8397fc-b03e-11e7-9b93-b97043e57a22_story.html?undefined=&wpisrc=nl_headlines&wpmm=1.
Saudi Arabia promotes an especially intolerant form of Islamism. See Saudi Arabia: Religion Textbooks Promote Intolerance at https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/09/13/saudi-arabia-religion-textbooks-promote-intolerance.
(12/8/14): Religion and Reason
(12/15/14): Faith and Freedom
(1/11/15): The Greatest Commandment: A Common Word of Faith
(1/18/15): Love over Law: A Principle at the Heart of Legitimacy
(4/12/15): Faith as a Source of Morality and Law: The Heart of Legitimacy
(1/23/16): Who Is My Neighbor?
(1/30/16): The Politics of Loving Our Neighbors as Ourselves
(2/27/16): Conflicting Concepts of Legitimacy in Faith, Freedom and Politics
(6/18/16): A Politics of Reconciliation with Liberty and Justice for All
(8/2/15): Freedom and Fundamentalism
http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2015/08/freedom-and-fundamentalism.html (8/9/15): Balancing Individual Rights with Collective Responsibilities
(2/7/16): Jesus Meets Muhammad on Issues of Religion and Politics
(7/9/16): Back to the Future: Race, Religion, Rights and a Politics of Reconciliation
(1/23/16): Who Is My Neighbor?
(1/30/16): The Politics of Loving Our Neighbors as Ourselves
(4/30/16): The Relevance of Religion to Politics
(8/5/16): How Religion Can Bridge Our Political and Cultural Divide
(9/10/16): Liberty in Law: A Matter of Man’s Law, not God’s Law
(9/17/16): A Moral Revival to Restore Legitimacy to Our Politics
(11/19/16): Religion and a Politics of Reconciliation Based on Shared Values
(11/26/16): Irreconcilable Differences and the Demise of Democracy
(2/25/17): The Need for a Revolution in Religion and Politics
(3/4/17): Ignorance and Reason in Religion and Politics
(4/22/17): The Relevance of Jesus and the Irrelevance of the Church in Today’s World
(5/20/17): The Freedoms of Religion and Speech: Where Human Rights Begin
(7/1/17): Religion, Moral Authority and Conflicting Concepts of Legitimacy
(7/15/17) Religion and Progressive Politics
(8/5/17): Does Religion Seek to Reconcile and Redeem or to Divide and Conquer?
(9/2/17): The Evolution of the American Civil Religion and Habits of the Heart http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2017/09/the-evolution-of-american-civil.html.
(10/7/17): A 21st Century Reformation to Restore Reason to American Civil Religion http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2017/10/a-21st-century-reformation-to-restore.html.