Christian political involvement & Freedom of Religion

Os Guinness’ lecture on Freedom begs my question. Reference the Golden Triangle of Faith:

  • Freedom Requires Virtue
  • Virtue Requires Faith
  • Faith Requires Freedom

Should the Christian engage with politics to promote freedom of religion and to what extent? (If at all?)


Interesting question. Am not entirely sure what you mean though … Are you asking if our primary motive for engaging in politics should be to promote freedom of religion?

And I have a comment on the “Golden Triangle of Faith.” I confess I am not clued up about it. But when I read Paul’s letter to the Galatians, which has a lot to say about freedom, he sort of summarises it in Chapter 5, vs 13 and 14:

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.

He definitely seems to say that true freedom is only found in serving others in love. As I understand it you can never know freedom if love is not central to the mix. (I don’t know if “virtue” is meant to include love in the Colden Triangle of Faith, but in 1 Corinthians 13, we learn that both “faith” and “good works” are of no value in God’s sight without love.) Jesus said “know the truth because the truth will set you free.”

Jesus was incredibly free of many of the things that constitute heavy “baggage” for us: He was free of prejudice (whether racial, ethnic, gender, status, wealth, etc: to the extent that he loved his “enemies” - that is, those who hated or persecuted him), he was free of pre-conceived ideas that place people in “boxes;” he was free of a condemnatory attitude, he was free of anxiety and worry, he was free of guilt, regret and remorse. Compared with these things, is “freedom of religion” the highest priority?

Should the Christian engage with politics…? Only if s/he is sure that that is was the LORD Jesus wants him/her to do. And if the LORD directs it, then He will bless the engagement. If the Lord is not in it, it will never achieve anything of spiritual value (“Without me you can do NOTHING!”)

The freedom of religion is different from the freedom to believe what you want (freedom of belief). There are many places in the world that do not have freedom of (Christian) “religion,” but which have growing numbers of people who have personal beliefs about, and relationship with Jesus Christ. And politics is pretty powerless to stop this. The reality is that people believe what they want to believe, whatever laws, regulations, or “freedoms” you grant them. And in our modern societies, whether you have laws granting “freedom of religion,” you will still have religious prejudices and subtle kinds of antagonism. Certainly in the OT the Israelites were forbidden to have other gods and rituals than prescribed under the law. Legally, they did not, as God’s chosen people, have freedom of religion. But the Prophets (and especially Jesus) were equally adamant that simply following the law and it’s rituals was not in fact what God wanted. We’re not living in OT times, but it seems to me that religion, as a set of rituals and practises, is still not what God wants.

Micah said it so succinctly in his chapter 6 vs 8

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Personally, if a Christian believes s/he is called to be engaged in politics, this verse should set the tone and direction of all s/he should do. And if we’re not called to be engaged in politics, we should live according to these basic requirements anyway. These admonishments are totally in line with the description of love in 1 Cor 13. I’m pretty sure that if we lived accordingly, we would experience a truly amazing degree of “freedom.”

Sorry if I missed the point of your question.

Lecture 5.1 Freedom – Os Guinness.pdf (234.1 KB)

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These are notes from the Os Guinness lecture on Freedom. As you read through it, you may see where he implies that freedom is necessary so that faith may thrive. That’s what I’m suggesting.

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@SAMBURU2020 - This is one of my favourite lectures Os gives!

I do believe that Christians should engage in/with politics, wherever they are, if they can. I also highly value freedom OF religion as a political value, thus would advocate for its priority in the political life of a nation.

As I read your words in your most recent reply, this phrase stuck out to me:

I do believe this to an extent, but I would add a caveat: Political freedom is not necessary for faith to thrive. I was thinking of the explosion of the Christian church in communist China or the church in Iran or any other nation-state that outlaws the practice of Christianity…or, indeed, actively persecutes those who would be Christian. I think it can be said that there is an incredibly thriving faith amidst no political freedom.

However, I do believe with the above statement in that one cannot force a faith upon another. It seems to be that a genuine faith (as Christians define that word) is one that is only chosen freely, without compunction.

So, whereas I believe that political freedom is important, I wouldn’t say that faith would collapse without it.

Is that along the lines of what you were thinking, or do you have some thoughts on that as well? :slight_smile:

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Is Os Guinness teaching as a secular political scientist or a true believer in Jesus Christ, who accepts that what the Bible says is true? What is/was the context of his lectures? Lecture notes are usually just short reminders of what a speaker actually says. So it would be very unfair of me, having not heard his lecture, to give all my comments openly based entirely on these notes.

The reason I ask, is because the Bible’s definition of “faith” says nothing about freedom (Hebrews 11:1-2). Nor does all the experience of the Israelites in the Old Testament. It was precisely when the Hebrews were slaves in Egypt that they cried out to God in their distress and He heard them and brought them out of Egypt. And repeatedly through their history, they returned to servitude when they ceased to trust in God. Then they again cried out to Him for salvation and he answered and he sent deliverance. Indeed several of the writers in the NT insist that it is exactly when we are in situations where we have least control of anything outside of ourselves (and are even persecuted for our faith), that our faith is purified. The freedom the Christ gives is a freedom that can be experienced just as much in a prison as it can by someone who is so “independent” that they are supporting themselves “off grid.” The freedom granted by faith is not in the same category as “liberty.”

Freedom from guilt, from the penalty of sin, etc etc, as well as freedom to love properly and serve, is ours only by faith. “By faith are you saved, and that not of yourselves, but as a gift of God.” It is true faith that gives freedom, not freedom that gives faith - at least that’s what the scriptures say.

I could write a lot more about the Notes you sent. But I hesitate to give them in a public thread, without first interacting with Os Guinness himself. For example, this was lecture 5.1. Do his other lecture notes give more clarification of what he means, and cover (what to me are) glaring gaps in his coverage of the subject, or was he just one lecturer in a series, given by different people? I have no need or desire to misinterpret his notes or lectures or to misrepresent him.

But thank you for sending them - they give me a lot of food for thought, and remind me that words like faith, freedom and virtue mean very different things to people in different cultural, social and economic settings, with different collective and personal histories.

I suppose it was unfair to ask this question outside of the course where the lecture took place, so my apologies for that. Os Guinness also said that there cannot be a civil public square unless all people are free to express their faith. Civil discourse depends upon mutual respect. Of course, there are few places on earth where this sort of interaction can truly take place. In Christianity, our spiritual freedom certainly does not require political freedom, yet once true political freedom, i.e. the civil public square, is lost, then spiritual freedom comes under attack by those in opposition to it. So, our ability as Christians to engage politically for the sake of true religious freedom requires integrity to remain Christ-like in that process.

Our spiritual freedom to worship God can never be taken from us. Our relationship with Him is personal and unique. I don’t suggest otherwise and I never will. Thank you both for your perspectives.

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“So you also are complete through your union with Christ, who is the head over every ruler and authority.”
‭‭Colossians‬ ‭2:10‬ ‭NLT‬‬

We are called through Christ to rule on this Earth. I believe that as Christian we are called to make a difference even in politics and rule according to how God wants us to rule, with Christ at our head. Every nation needs Christ in their “White House”!

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Interesting question @SAMBURU2020! I would respond with the approach used by Jordan Peterson, that freedom of speech is the most fundamental right for which we must stand. Peterson argues that all power structures inherently tend to become insular and will attempt to stifle criticism. Which is why freedom of speech is so important, to point out the errors early and to protect those who speak up.

Along those lines there was a video I once watched of Naom Chomsky who is Jewish defending the right of holocaust deniers to speak, because he realized that as soon as we consent to censorship, it will grow.

I would then extend that to say that freedom of speech will inherently support freedom of religion. I think the American founders saw this also when they tied these two together in the First Amendment to the Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech…”

So yes, if you are concerned about freedom of religion, be involved in politics to help be sure every voice has the same right to speak.

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Does this include the right to preach hatred, to consciously propagate falsehood, to use freedom of speech to cause division, to demolish individual people’s reputations by spreading malicious and false accusations, and so on and so on? Should there be any conditions or limits placed on the freedom of speech? Is murder OK? Jesus said that if you hate your brother you have already committed murder in your heart … and that is before you have murdered his character by spreading “false witness” through the use of your “freedom of speech.”

1 Corinthians 6:12

“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything.

These so-called fundamental freedoms are also known as basic human rights. They are a big deal around the world. But people very seldom talk about basic human responsibilities, or fundamental responsibilities. The Bible speaks a lot about them. So the real question for any of us who are Christ-followers is: What are the fundamental responsibilities that we must respect when we exercise our freedom of speech? (Freedom of speech has crept into this thread, but I personally think is quite distinct from “freedom of Religion” - which I also think is not the same as “freedom of faith/belief.” But perhaps that’s just me.

One of the “power structures” many of us have to deal with daily is our employer (unless you’re self-employed, or the boss - in which case there is an inverse case to make). How many of our employers give us the level of freedom of speech that we expect our national constitutions to grant us? How free are you in your place of employment to express what you think - for example about the boss, the product or service quality, the treatment of staff, etc etc.)? If you don’t have the right to blow the whistle on something that is wrong within your company, without being penalised for it, you do not have freedom of speech.

Hi @Mohembo. It didn’t exactly “creep in” - I brought it in quite consciously. The OP question is on protecting religious liberty, and I believe there is a strong argument that freedom of speech is closely associated with freedom of religion.

You bring up the responsibility that goes with freedom, and that is true for every freedom. As Peter says, “…do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil.” But the main topic is working in the public square for freedom of religion.

You ask if this includes speech you think is unhealthy, and you engage with the problems around free speech but you don’t engage with the problems around censorship. As soon as some people get to decide what someone else can say, it might start off seeming like a good idea, but just as freedom of speech can be abused, so eventually will almost any form of censorship. Whereas freedom of speech is an individual right, when we yield power to any censoring authority, it is very difficult to get it back when they start to abuse it. So with all its dangers, on balance I argue for free speech.

Regarding your comments on employers, I agree.