Proclaiming freedom

Intolerance is ugly in any setting and particularly so in the realm of religious belief and expression.


 James A. Cress is the secretary for the General Conference Ministerial Association

At our creation, Jesus took a great risk to grant humanity freedom of choice. That risk, of course, meant that we might choose slavery to sin over freedom. Unfortunately, we made the wrong choice, and one on going consequence of our rebellion is our willingness, even eagerness, to impose our personal viewpoints upon the minds and lives of others.

Intolerance is ugly in any setting and particularly so in the realm of religious belief and expression. If my convictions are so weak that they need compulsion or force of law to attain adherence, then they are more devilish than divine. Furthermore, forcing outward compliance never attains the real objective of committed belief.

Because of our denomination's long standing heritage of valuing and promoting religious freedom, Seventh-day Adventist pastors face the recurring challenge of making an "old-fashioned" value relevant and meaningful to today's members. After all, it is difficult to whip up excitement about impending persecution if our members are experiencing a comfortable lifestyle that does not envision imminent "hard times."

Growing from recent conversations with Clifford Goldstein and Richard Fenn (religious liberty specialist colleagues), permit me to share several doable focuses that we pastors can implement as we make religious freedom a relevant and realistic discussion for our congregations.

Freedom should be a core value for all Christians. Knowing Jesus means experiencing freedom. Satan enslaves. Jesus liberates. Of all people, Adventist believers should exalt the reality of freedom in Christ and extend this benefit to all with whom we associate or to those we hope to evangelize.

Good people can disagree. It is neither possible nor necessary to achieve lock-step agreement on all concerns in the public sector. Politically and socially conservative believers will view certain issues far differently than politically and socially liberal believers, and we must continually affirm that this is acceptable.

Information liberates. As we provide current data of what is going on locally, nationally, and internationally to our members, we will increase not only their knowledge but also their commitment to religious freedom for all people everywhere.

Pastors need to instruct. An interpretation of world events within the context of the great controversy between Christ and Satan needs to be consistently brought to the minds of our members. Far too many political and social issues arise which are not seen within the wider view of prophetic significance.

Teach discernment. Not every rumor is true. In fact, most rumors are false. Pastors should develop a healthy skepticism when they hear about the anonymous, undocumented "they" alleged to be doing dark and dirty deeds. We should also help our members to love truth, reject evil surmisings, and "prove all things" before jumping on the rumor-mongering bandwagon.

Defend others, even those who are different. By deeds as well as words, we should make public our commitment to the concept that religious liberty is for everyone. If my Baptist, Catholic, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Shintoist, Islamic, Rastafarian, or Zoroastrian neighbor is not free, then neither am I. A person should not have to look, dress, live, or worship like I do in order for me to vigorously defend their freedoms.

Encourage and model community involvement. Become friends of elected officials and community leaders in your area now so that when the opportunity or need arises, they will be open to hearing your opinion on matters of religious rights. Also, by your deeds and actions you can distance yourself from those who advocate enforcing their own viewpoints upon society.

Become an activist for religious freedom. Take the initiative to go to employers of those members who may be facing challenges in the workplace. If you are a bit nervous about being on the front-line for liberty, don't worry.Your union or division's Public Affairs and Religious Liberty (PARL) director will offer you professional support.

Beware governmental gifts for the operation of religious institutions. The reality of even well-meaning governments is that what they support, they will ultimately seek to control. Also, remember the Golden Rule as it relates to this issue. Do we really want our taxes paying the freight of our neighbor's religion? Do our neighbors want their taxes paying for the pervasively sectarian program of our schools?

Preach what you practice. It is not enough just to live in freedom and to advocate freedom for all. Preach religious freedom. Enthusiastically. Frequently. Because it goes to the very heart of the gospel.

Read, promote, and sponsor Liberty magazine. Urge your members not only to sponsor subscriptions to thought leaders in your community, but also to subscribe and read Liberty for themselves. Following these suggestions will lead to the fulfillment of a prime objective of Jesus' own ministry--to proclaim liberty to the captives!

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 James A. Cress is the secretary for the General Conference Ministerial Association

February 1997

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