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Religious Freedom: It’s Not About Me

It took me a while to realise that people mostly assume your actions are all about you.

The assumption is that a person’s motives are basically self-interested.

I recall dining in a small town called Lititz, in rural Pennsylvania. After a particularly good meal and great service, I left a very large tip on the table for our waitress to find after we’d left.

I walked away hoping it would make her day.

But when my travel companion saw it, I was loudly accused of trying to boost my own ego.

In hindsight, I understand the accusation. On this occasion, however, that had nothing to do with it.

I remember the moment because I realised I had encountered a tiny demonstration of something that is near universal. Whether it’s a small thing, a big thing, a political position, or a simple action… People normally accuse you of doing it for yourself.

That’s why I haven’t been surprised when people accuse those who advocate for religious freedom of self-interest.

I have heard the accusation made bluntly, “why do you want freedom for yourself?”

I have heard it made in more sophisticated ways, “should the church really be fighting for its own rights as some kind of minority victim class? Isn’t that playing into the very narrative we so often claim to dislike?”

And I think that is how it is probably perceived by many in the world at large.

Self-preservation. Self-interest. My rights.

Now, make no mistake, people are masters at being selfishly minded.

There are whole personality disorders which grow like cancer around people’s concealed motives.

We are masters at making our selfish pursuits look like good deeds.

There are some even in Christian ministry for whom it’s ultimately about them. Ego. Leadership. A spotlight. A platform. Power. A kingdom.

We ought to constantly examine our motives because they can be buried deep. We deceive ourselves.

And we ought to examine ourselves when it comes to the issue of religious freedom.

See, the right motive for being concerned about religious freedom is an others-centered motive.

It should be instinctive, not because we want to preserve ourselves, but because we want to see others blessed.

See, we live in a time when activist movements on several fronts are against the ideals of religious freedom, and related freedoms like speech, association, and so forth.

Last year’s school freedom bill put forward by Labor Senator Penny Wong is one such example.

That bill would have hit the trifecta – attacking all three of those freedoms – by seeing Christian schools and other bodies sued for teaching or upholding their beliefs.

We’re in the process of putting together case studies for ACL’s forthcoming religious freedom campaign. Make no mistake, the threat is very real.

But also, don’t be mistaken on this point: the real target is truth.

What we call “religious freedom” could so often simply be called “freedom for the truth.”

Who has found themselves in court for speaking about marriage? Those who told the truth about it.

Who has been denied the right to foster children? Those with a home built on Biblical truth.

Who gets fired, loses accreditation, or gets sued for “offending” when it comes to gender bending issues? Only those who tell the truth about gender.

What’s at stake through the latest conversion therapy proposals? Pastors, parents, professionals, laypeople who tell the truth about conversion and the gospel itself.

I could go on.

And now we are getting somewhere – freedom for truth is not ultimately about me. God, in His grace, has opened my eyes to the supreme truths of His person, His gospel, and His Son.

But the eyes of many remain closed.

So really… it’s others for whom this astonishing agenda has gravest consequence.

I have mentioned that scripture in 1 Timothy 2 several times because it is, as far as I can tell, a verse directly on the point of “religious freedom” (or at least some version of it).

It is a prayer that the godly, Christian life would be a life of peace in our society.

But note the motives within which the Apostle Paul sets that prayer:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

Yes, perhaps he is praying that the kings might come to a knowledge of the truth.

But I suspect that’s not quite the whole picture.

If the truth is not free, then its availability to “all people” will be suppressed.

This is why missionary movements the world over have been launched – to take the truth into places where it is suppressed or undiscovered.

This is why we lament the conditions of severe persecution in many nations – the truth itself is (to the extent possible by human agency) extinguished, at great cost to those nations and their people.

If the truth is not free, then our Australian neighbours – and their children – will live in a world where it has instead “stumbled” – and that world will be a dark place for them .

When I look at the declining state of our schools, and the radical agendas that are infiltrating them, I see that in the most heartbreaking way.

These children will suffer. Mark my words.

As Christians, our character should be trained such that our gut instincts are driven by a motive that is instinctively others-centred.

That is the only way to live a life shaped by the greatest commandments, to love God and love neighbour.

In fact, it is Christ’s summation of human obligations in that way which led me ultimately to reject the idea of human rights.

There are no rights in God’s design, except for His own rights.

For us, it’s all about duty. Duty to our neighbour, and duty to God; to live out of love for them both.

That is precisely why religious freedom is so important.

Afterall, if we are to love them, surely we desire for them what has been done for us: that the truth may set them free.

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