Friday, April 4, 2008

Afraid of Free Speech? (Part 3)

In two earlier posts, I wrote that you can always tell when certain views are vulnerable, because their proponents do anything in their power to keep other views from being expressed. That’s because they are afraid that the weaknesses and illogic of their views will be exposed. Sometimes this mentality spills over into the religious realm.

The Constitution guarantees freedom to practice the religion of your choice (or no religion), totally forbidding the establishment of an official state religion. Learning from the religious conflicts of Europe, our founding fathers intended to eliminate forcing people to support and participate in a religion not of their choosing. This was wise, but had come to be misinterpreted by the courts starting in 1947.

The founding fathers of the United States, being either devout Christians or having a profound respect for Christianity and biblical principles (contrary to the propaganda put out by the anti-Christian bigots), allowed any and all religions to be practiced. Why? Because they knew that Christianity could stand up to all kinds of other viewpoints. Moreover, they believed that if somebody wanted to embrace another viewpoint or religion, that’s their prerogative. It wasn’t the business of the state how, where, or when people worshipped.

Islamic Example

In contrast, we see no such freedoms in many Islamic countries. In some Muslim countries it is illegal to convert to another religion from Islam. Religious minorities are persecuted. No proselytizing is allowed. Why? It must be because they understand the appeal of Christianity, which provides people with a Savior, and gives hope. Islam does no such thing. Fearing exposure of its weaknesses, Islamic leaders suppress any and all non-Islamic religious expression in such countries (Turkey being somewhat of an exception to this). If Islam is so great, then why don’t they open their societies to alternative religions, at least those of The Book?

Christian Examples

While the Islamic suppression of freedom of choice when it comes to religious practice is an obvious example of not wanting competition, we see several examples of that in Christianity as well. The following news report is an example of a Russian Orthodox bishop persecuting a Methodist church because it doesn’t want competition. So much for one, holy, catholic and apostolic church:

RUSSIAN CHURCH DISSOLVED: The battle over Smolensk United Methodist Church (“UMC”) in Russia escalated March 26 when a regional court dissolved the church for having a Sunday school attended by four children. “The court agreed with the Regional Organized Crime Police that the Methodists were breaking the law by conducting ‘educational activity in a Sunday school without a corresponding license’,” reported Geraldine Fagan of Forum 18 News Service. The legal dissolution of the church is the latest in a series of attacks on Smolensk UMC led by the local Orthodox bishop, who has said he sees the church as a threat to the Orthodox faith. UMC Bishop Hans Vaxby confirmed the Forum 18 report for UM NeXus, and said that his office has engaged an attorney to defend the church and help in its lawsuit against the Orthodox bishop. There was no immediate word on how the Smolensk church, which has about 35 members, would proceed with its ministries under the circumstances. Forum 18 reported that “the unprecedented court liquidation of a Methodist church because it has a Sunday school could affect thousands of religious organizations across Russia.” (from the UM NeXus e-newsletter, 04/02/2008; published by TPC Publications, Inc., Publishers of The Progressive Christian Magazine. © 2008, UM NeXus. All Rights Reserved)

The second example is from my childhood. I grew up Roman Catholic, and I remember our priest forbidding his parishioners to attend a Protestant service (unless we had to as part of a wedding or funeral). My family joined the YMCA so I could swim in their pool in the winter, and when Fr. McGough found out, he made us quit that “Protestant” organization. Makes you wonder why they are so insecure if they are the “true faith.”

Sadly, turf wars exist even in Christianity, which is not a good witness to the unchurched. Let’s try to do better.

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