Religious freedom advocacy is often criticised as playing the victim. The argument goes that it’s fundamentally a self-interested effort, and that the need is not pressing enough.
Through the Apostle Paul, the Holy Spirit exhorts us to pray for our leaders. The content of that prayer is that the godly life might be a life of peace.
I am more evangelist than lobbyist.
That sounds close to a prayer for religious freedom. Is it self-interest or victimhood?
The answer is a decisive “no,” because the prayer is made in the context of a desired outcome – an others-centred outcome, that all people might be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.
And it’s true – most opposition to religious freedom is opposition to the knowledge of the truth. Laws to prevent Christian schools teaching Christianity compromise a key mission field. Some of my classmates were converted at my Christian school.
Laws that claim to ban “LGBT conversion therapy” are more likely laws that ban parts of the Bible, key aspects of the Christian gospel, and a parent’s right to raise their gender-dysphoric child to affirm their biological sex. These laws are as serious an attack on Christianity and the Christian home – another mission field – as I’ve ever seen.
When employees cannot hold down their job whilst discussing beliefs grounded in God’s truth at work, another evangelistic option is lost.
When people are losing professional accreditations, getting drummed out of universities, disciplined at work, and generally facing the prospect that the godly life is no longer a life of peace, we need to remember Paul’s prayer.
These things are happening, often. I’ve always said Israel Folau and Archbishop Porteous are the ones that are famous – there are many more, often worse examples in which the media has no interest.
But our remembrance of Paul’s prayer must focus on its ultimate purpose: that people might be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.
It is noteworthy that nearly all the recent cases are examples where the truth has been subjected to attack. It’s never the parent who raises their child as “non-binary,” or the employee who talks about atheism over the water cooler. It’s practically always the person who witnesses to truth.
I once thought that we were in a fight for freedom. I don’t think that anymore. I think we are in a fight for truth, and it’s a spiritual battle.
And we cannot love Christ and neighbour unless we proclaim God’s truth through godly lives. Likewise, the governing authorities cannot fulfil their “servant of God” mandate unless they get out of the way, and let the truth be spread.
I am more evangelist than lobbyist. Being named after a preacher probably has something to do with it. The reason I regard religious freedom as the crucial political issue of our times is that it relates directly to Christ’s call upon us to evangelise the world. It keeps the doors open for the gospel.
So, it’s not about me.
Martyn Iles is managing director of Australian Christian Lobby