Tag Archives: proselytizing

Fundamental Human Rights Are Important to Christians

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, one of the first achievements of the United Nations, was signed by the United States on December 10, 1948. For many countries, the freedoms named in this document were not always comfortable, and many signers fall far from actually protecting the rights in this declaration. Article 18 is particularly problematic for countries with state religions, but the USA has no state religion, and until recently, the USA would have been regarded as exemplary in its enforcement of Article 18. In fact, most American citizens would see in Article 18 a wordier statement that protects the same rights protected in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the USA.

                The First Amendment to the US Constitution reads as follows:

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.

 

                Articles 18 and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights read as follows:

Article 18

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Article 19

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

                It is important to note that the First Amendment protects both a right to the exercise of religion and a right to freedom of speech. The two rights are addressed separately in Articles 18 and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Whether protected in a single article or in two, those rights are naturally and logically linked, because speech is integral to the exercise of religion. It is worth noting that the authors and legislators who passed the First Amendment did not think it necessary to say that a person was free to change his religion and free to manifest it in teaching, while two hundred years of observation of nations and human oppression motivated the authors of the UDHR to spell out those rights. The fact that they are not elaborated in more words does not reduce the protection of the First Amendment, because all those issues were intended to be incorporated within it. The Founders of the USA wanted to be sure that citizens could speak and act on their faith, including the right to persuasive and instructive speech. Even though they knew that any unprotected human right is subject to be suppressed by an autocratic or dictatorial government, they could hardly have imagined that in the twenty-first century, the freedom to speak of one’s religion and to talk with others about its teachings and its value would be compared to rape. Yet this sort of thing is actually happening in the US military.

                Writing in the Washington Post, Sally Quinn reported a conversation with Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation discussing his concerns that military personnel should not be subjected to what he called “proselytizing”: “This is a national security threat. What is happening [aside from sexual assault] is spiritual rape. And what the Pentagon needs to understand is that it is sedition and treason. It should be punished.” This is harsh language for the act of sharing our faith that is central to Christian discipleship. Weinstein was returning from a meeting with Pentagon officials where he participated in a discussion of proselytizing, a practice Weinstein considers to be as brutal as sexual assault. Pressed for some explanation of his attitude, Weinstein placed the real onus for such brutality on groups he called “dominionist” and “fundamentalist,” but it is his general attitude that is concerning to Christians. Christians consider Christ’s command to “make disciples” wherever they go to be a foundation principle for obedient discipleship. For any part of the government to attempt to shut down the freedom to talk with others about their faith would simultaneously shut down their freedom to exercise their faith.

                For the moment, the military is attempting to quiet the uproar caused by Mr. Weinstein’s comment. An announcement reported in USA Today simply says that conversations about faith are allowed as long as they don’t constitute harassment. Needless to say, the definition of “harassment” is fairly subjective, but for the moment, it is not considered treason for one soldier to offer to pray with one of his fellow soldiers, or for a petty officer to invite her bunkmates to a prayer meeting.

                This issues concerns Christians, however, because it brings to light an attitude that is not unknown in the culture at large. While many secular thinkers simply ignore Christians, some feel obligated, like Mikey Weinstein, to protest and attempt to suppress expressions of Christian faith. The Freedom From Religion Foundation strongly protests the National Day of Prayer each year. This year’s announcement included this statement: “Don’t let the Christian Right hijack our secular Constitution.” Just last month, the FFRF celebrated joyously because they succeeded in persuading the Breathitt County Schools in Kentucky to remove displays of the Ten Commandments on the basis that the displays amounted to establishing a state religion. (Exactly how a display posted by a school district is in violation of the Constitutional prohibition against an act of Congress to establish a religion is not clear, but the displays were removed nonetheless.)

                While many Christians prefer to stay out of political warfare, they need to know and care about attempts to suppress the freedom to share the faith. The authors of the US Constitution and the authors of the UNDHR all felt strongly about the freedom both to choose a religion and to talk about it with others, even to be persuasive in the conversation. This right is not universally protected. In many countries, the government states a commitment to freedom of religion, but the “freedom” is actually nonexistent due to the tightly constricted legal language. For example in China, people are “free” to be Christians or not as they choose, but if they choose to be Christian, they must belong to a church the government registers and read the Bible the government prints and listen to preachers the government authorizes. If they meet with neighbors for a spontaneous prayer meeting or if they choose to attend a church led by a pastor who did not graduate from the seminary the government operates, they can be arrested and imprisoned. The kind of liberty Christians enjoy in the US today is not common around the world.

                The news about the attempt of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation to suppress the sharing of Christian faith is just a hint at the ferocious enmity of some secular thinkers toward Christians. It is worth noting that secular thinkers constitute only one pincer of the cultural challenge Christians face in the US. The other pincer is Islam, and Islam is even more ferociously opposed to Christian evangelism than atheists in general. The move by Islam to promote the incorporation of sharia courts into the American legal structures could result in significant suppression of the ability of Christians to share their testimony with Muslims in the US. In a sharia court it would be a serious crime to converse with a Muslim for the purpose of sharing some other faith.

                Jesus warned Christians that the world would reject them, because the world rejects him. It is clearly as true in the US as in any other nation. Unlike a nation such as China or Uzbekistan, the US actually responds to citizen action to protect rights such as the freedom to exercise the faith. Christians may wish not to be sullied by dirty politics, and they certainly should stay out of the mudfights, but Christians can and they must be voices for the freedom to exercise the faith in speech and action. Pray for the USA, and pray for the continued protection of the freedoms protected by the First Amendment. Freedoms that are not protected disappear.

What are Christians Afraid of?

Recently I heard an interview on the radio that shocked and motivated me. Two women, each of whom spent nearly a year in Evin Prison in Iran, explained how they were arrested for talking about Christ. The government of Iran has laws against talking about Christ, telling people how to receive Christ in their hearts, or conducting private unauthorized prayer meetings. The government of Iran even regulates the version of the Bible that Iranian Christians in authorized churches may read. The women I heard were charged with talking about Jesus, proselytizing, and possessing an unauthorized Bible.

            The prison where they served their sentence is notorious for its brutality. While imprisoned they suffered torture daily and were held in solitary confinement in total darkness for long periods. The cells used for solitary confinement are too small for an adult to stretch out full length on the floor and they have no widows. The interviewer asked if they felt afraid. One woman said that they actually felt freer in the prison because there was nothing more anyone could do to them. The prison with its tortures and brutality, including frequent executions, is the worst the government can do them, so they went ahead telling people about Jesus and leading prayer meetings.

            In worse conditions than any normal American citizen can even imagine, these two women testified to the love of Christ and his forgiveness for all sinners, inviting prisoners and guards alike to receive Christ. What would I do in such circumstances? What would you do?

            I ask myself what I do where I am. You should ask yourself the same question. Today’s rancorous public conversations are vicious enough to give anyone pause. People are careful not to say anything that might offend someone and set off the name-calling and personal attacks, but how does that sort of assault compare with a prison sentence that includes near starvation rations, horrific beatings, even on the soles of the feet, and constant death threats from both prisoners and guards. Given Christ’s call to all of us to make disciples as we go about our daily lives, how do we explain why many of us don’t do that?

            It makes me look closely at the situation where I live. The US has historically been the place where people went if they were in danger of persecution for their religious beliefs. I live in the country reputed to be the freest country on earth. Yet I don’t feel free to talk with just anyone about my faith. I have had moments when I worried that I would suffer in some way if I spoke the name of Christ. Why do I do that?

            A few days ago I found myself in a conversation with people online who were upset because Christians believe they should be able to talk about their faith openly. One of the commenters said he took extreme offense when people around him talked about Christ. He wanted a law that said nobody could do that if anybody objected. I actually read an article recently in which someone claimed that when a Christian insisted on talking about Christ in his hearing, it felt like a personal assault.

            There are people in our culture who do not want Christ, God, or the Bible mentioned in their presence. They don’t want to see or hear anything Christian. They are so offended by Christ that they do not want to permit anyone to be obedient to Christ, either. Numerous commenters online have expressed the view that people who want to be free to live according to the principles of their faith, when their faith principles conflict with secular perceptions, were asking not for freedom but for privilege.

            Against this backdrop, it is, indeed, a challenge to engage in conversation with a stranger, and then say, “Can I pray for you? Jesus loves you, and I want to pray for you.” Yet, to date, it is not a crime in the US to speak to anyone about Christ. You won’t be arrested and tortured if you talk with someone about receiving Christ in his heart. The person you speak to may or may not respond to your invitation, but you and the person you talk with are free to speak about Christ and protected by the First Amendment from being arrested or charged with a crime for doing so.

            When I heard two women who have suffered imprisonment and even torture because they just could not stop talking about Jesus, I felt I needed to pray about myself. They are confident that they are simply doing what Jesus would do. I look around and I see people every day who need Jesus. These women know that every time they speak to anyone about Christ, they are at terrible risk. In the free country of the USA, why do I even hesitate to share the best gift in the world with people who need it? Why do you? What are we afraid of?