Almost persuaded

th-6You can’t have it both ways.

You can’t argue for freedom of religion in public life and then apply that freedom to only the religion you want. Nor can you have freedom of religion in public life to the exclusion of one particular religion. Nor can you have freedom of religion in public life to the exclusion of all religions, thus promoting non-faith as the only religion. If you are going to have freedom of religion in public life, then that must mean freedom for all faiths and none.

This is the premise of Os Guinness’s new book The Global Public Square. If we are going to have freedom of religion in America – part of the brilliance of what this country was founded on – then we must argue for everybody’s freedom. It can’t be freedom of Christianity in America. Nor can it be freedom of atheism in America. It has to be freedom of all religions and none.

I think the fact that it is a Christian making this argument is splendid. It is remarkable. It is something that is somewhat of a surprise, and something that makes me proud to be a Christian. It means that the Christian is arguing for more freedom than the secularist. The conservative is arguing for more freedom than the liberal.

“We should all stand for the rights of those with whom we disagree who wish to persuade us – liberals should fight for the rights of fundamentalists, Christians for the rights of Jehovah’s Witnesses and Scientologists, and Muslims for the rights of atheists. All lovers of freedom should stand together against every insidious attempt to use the law to outlaw whatever is considered blasphemy, defamation or apostasy. It is time to rise up and challenge the politically correct. Who are the free thinkers now? Truly free people know what it means to persuade and to be open to persuasion.” (Guinness, pg. 111)

To put this another way: if I want to be free to argue that I am right, I need to do that in such a way as to be willing to be proven wrong. If you want to persuade me to become a Mormon, go right ahead, as long as you respect my freedom to not be one, and, in similar light, that you are open to being talked out of your Mormonism. Then, and only then, can we have a relationship. Otherwise, we will just bloody each other.

This is the brilliance of Os’s book: It puts this freedom of religion (or what he calls: “soul freedom”) on a global level where in some ways it is easier to understand, but it has incredibly practical implications in our daily life as Christians in an increasingly pluralistic society. Standing for and respecting soul freedom for all is what will allow us to have relationships in the marketplace.

But if you want to persuade, you must be open to being persuaded. To bash everyone as wrong who does not agree with you is no way for Christians to behave. The more we believe the truth, the less we have to defend it. It can stand quite well on its own, thank you.

At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defense. “You are out of your mind, Paul!” he shouted. “Your great learning is driving you insane.”

“I am not insane, most excellent Festus,” Paul replied. “What I am saying is true and reasonable. The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.”

Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”

Paul replied, “Short time or long-I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.”  (Acts 26:24-29)

Note: Os Guinness will be our guest on BlogTalkRadio Tuesday, April 8.

Mark your calendar!

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8 Responses to Almost persuaded

  1. And it’s tough, isn’t it? As humans, we have this primal urge to WIN, to be seen as RIGHT, even when (especially when) we’re wrong. God calls us to rise above those primal urges and look at others and at Him. As you say, Truth can stand on its own and doesn’t need to suppress opponents. Oddly enough, not one of us has the lock on truth; only Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life, and He seems to have withstood anyone who’s tried to oppose Him. As Larry Norman put it, “They nailed Him to the Cross and they laid Him in the ground/But they shoulda known you can’t keep a Good Man down!”

  2. Many folks think “.freedom OF religion” means ”freedom FROM religion!

  3. Bev says:

    John, I am surprised that you are surprised to hear a Christian say they believe in freedom of religion for all, not just Christians. You even go so far as to say, “It is remarkable”! Wow! I am amazed at those statements because I have met very few Christians who feel that people of other faiths don’t have a right to worship however and whomever they please. Oh, I know there are some who feel that way, but certainly not most.– I’m not responsible for what others believe. I’m only told to tell them the claims of Christ, love them, and leave the rest to the Holy Spirit. I can pray that God will reveal Himself to that person but in the end, it is up to the individual. John, do you know a lot of people who don’t want everyone to have the freedom to believe what they choose regarding religion? If so, how do they defend that kind of attitude?

    • jwfisch says:

      What’s remarkable is that Os is arguing for the rights of atheists and other faiths in the public square. I don’t know of too many Christians who are standing up for the rights of Muslims in their neighborhood.

      • Bev says:

        John, we had billboards in our area that were put up buy atheists to advertise what they believe and where they meet. A couple of them were defaced and several churches in the area helped to restore them, with the comment that everyone has a right to believe what they want and Christians would be offended if someone defaced their signs. As far as Muslims are concerned, we don’t have many in our part of California, but the ones I’ve met seem cordial. However, after a brief study of their holy books, I have concluded that the teachings of Mohammed were violent toward anyone not accepting Islam and, in fact, Muslims are encouraged to kill “infidels”. I’m sure most peace-loving Muslims would not resort to murder but the question remains, “Why do they not leave that kind faith”? I think many Christians and those of other faiths and even atheists have a mistrust of those that would be part of such a group. Would most Christians help a Muslim in a crises situation? I believe they most would. I guess I have more confidence in Christians than you seem to.

      • Mark Seguin says:

        May I plz suggest a visit to a few local Churches around here in Dearborn, MI Pastor John and I think you may, you jus maybe a bit surprise to see and find how well or how much good things are being done w/ Muslims & Christians…
        PS for those that may not be aware of the fact that Dearborn, MI which is a few miles East of where I live and it is the largest population of Arabic in the USA. And when that “nut-case” came-up here from the South burning the Koran – I was soooo proud when a large number of Christian Churches spoke out against it!

  4. Mark Seguin says:

    I’d like to agree to disagree with this: “If you want to persuade me to become a Mormon, go right ahead, as long as you respect my freedom to not be one, and, in similar light, that you are open to being talked out of your Mormonism.” The reason(s) to me I think why cannot ‘we’ have an intelligent discussion and not want to try to “persuade” anyone and jus try to learn from also respect each others own personal beliefs?

    I really like what Bev wrote: “I’m not responsible for what others believe. I’m only told to tell them the claims of Christ, love them, and leave the rest to the Holy Spirit.” I’ll add it’s NOT my job to try persuade anyone – that I like to think and believe is entirely up to the Holy Spirit.

  5. Andrew P. says:

    Amen, John.

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