ISIL and Religious Freedom

This week, the elders of Emmanuel Baptist Church would like to share with you this blog post written by David Anderson (MP for Cypress Hills – Grasslands) on the topic of religious freedom. The following article originally appeared on David Anderson’s blog (http://www.davidanderson.ca/isil-and-religious-freedom/).

At a time when the eyes of the world are fixed on atrocities being committed by ISIL in the name of religion, the notion of “religious freedom” can sound repugnant.  It almost appears to imply that ISIL, the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, should be granted some measure of safe harbour.

Yet nothing could be further from the truth.  In actual fact, there is possibly no better example of the need for an unequivocal defense of religious freedom than the barbaric actions and baseless ideals of ISIL.  Rather than providing protection for ISIL, religious freedom resoundingly condemns their cowardly regime of terror.

Religious freedom is a fundamental human right which protects three vital individual freedoms: One, the right to freedom of belief or non-belief; two, the right to manifest that religion or belief in teaching, worship, practice and observance; and, three, the right to change your belief. You can freely choose what you believe and you can freely exercise that belief.  What you don’t get to do is restrict the rights of others. Your religious freedom must be exercised in a way that does not infringe on the freedoms of those around you.

Today, religious freedom is under attack from not just one point on the spectrum, but from two extremes which represent polar opposites. On one extreme, government grants and enforces exclusive status to only one religion. This has been referred to as “the sacred public square”.  On the other extreme, government seeks to stamp out any expression of religion from public life. This has been called “the naked public square”.

Both of these approaches are fundamentally flawed for the same reason: They rely on the power of the state to enforce belief or nonbelief, focusing on coercion rather than protection. The sacred public square seeks to utilize the power of the state to impose religious belief and practice, while the naked public square seeks to utilize the power of the state to remove all religious belief and practice. Both approaches violate the rights of freedom of conscience, speech and association and neither ensure religious freedom.  In their extreme, they both result in brutal government repression and human rights abuses.

Religious freedom is not attained by balancing the right to have faith with the right to have none, but by protecting both. Individuals can freely choose to believe, not to believe, or change their beliefs, and to express those beliefs without fear of retaliation or censorship. Like a marketplace, there is a free exchange of religious or non-religious ideas and beliefs, much like the free exchange of goods and services which takes place within an economic marketplace.  The objective is not to create sameness but to guarantee freedom. Individuals can freely participate without fear of coercion or retaliation, resulting in diversity with harmony.

While ISIL and its sympathizers understand none of this, we must. Because failing to do so will inevitably result in blaming religion for outbursts of radicalization. And in blaming religion, we will soon find ourselves curtailing religious freedoms, at which point we will be unwittingly complicit with the very attitudes we so vehemently oppose in ISIL.

– David Anderson, MP for Cypress Hills – Grasslands

A Tribute to a Departed Saint

A few days ago, Emmanuel Baptist Church lost one of its most cherished and admired members. Lorna Steele was very petite physically, but she was a pillar of the church in her faithfulness to God and in her deep love for Christ that was evident to all who knew her. She was a sterling example of what Christian womanhood should be. Her joy was infectious and she loved to be with God’s people. One of my fondest anecdotes concerning Lorna was the day she asked, “Where would you like to be when Jesus comes again”? I knew from the twinkle in her eye that whatever I said, she had something much better. She said, “I would like to be standing by my late husband’s grave, and to hear the trumpet sound, and to see him rise from the dead, and to be caught up together to meet the Lord in the air. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?” Wonderful indeed! But in God’s wise providence, she didn’t have to wait for Christ to come. She is now in the presence of her Saviour, reunited with her husband and other loved ones who have died in Christ, in that place where there is no more parting, sorrow, pain, tears, or death and all is well.

The verse she wanted emphasized and considered by us who have been left behind in this vale of tears was Romans 8:28. “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose”. This is a great promise, a great promise about a great God. If God causes all things to work together for good to those who love Him, what kind of God must He be? This promise thunders out that God is absolutely sovereign, that He rules and reigns over all things according to His good pleasure (see Isaiah 46:9-11; Daniel 4:34,35). He is not a deist God who like the proverbial watchmaker, wound the universe up and then sat back disinterested and disengaged, never interfering in the course of history again. He is not an open theist God who is unable to see the future and is taken by surprise, as we are, by the unexpected twists and turns of life. No, our God reigns, He reigns over the biggest galaxies and the smallest atoms, over good people and bad people, over good things and bad things, over the past, present, and future, over life and death, heaven and hell, time and eternity, over every event, encounter, and circumstance. Things don’t just happen as if by blind fate, but it is God who ordains, initiates, orchestrates, governs, and consummates His plan. Lorna wanted us to know that the God she knew and served is a great God.

This is also a great promise with a great guarantee – ALL things work together for good to those who love Him. This is an iron-clad promise from the God who cannot lie that all things, good and bad are being harmonized and relentlessly directed toward our good. Not one thing is working out badly, not just some of the time, but all of the time. The context makes it clear that what Paul primarily had in mind when he said all things was human suffering (Rom. 8:14-18, 23, 35-39). Where is God when people suffer? God never moves. He is occupying His eternal throne and for those who love Him, He is never absent in our suffering. He is taking all the suffering and the trials and the heartaches to which we are not immune, and He is working it all out for our good. The greatest demonstration of this was the cross of Jesus Christ when wicked and envious men murdered the Son of God but what they intended for evil, God worked it out for good, for the salvation of sinners. Lorna was persuaded of this great guarantee and enjoyed the wonderful serenity of life that issues from it.

This is a great promise unto a great goal, namely the good of those who love Him. And we are not left to guess what this good is. Physical good? Material good? It is greater than temporal things. The next verse identifies this good as the conformity of the believer to the image of Christ that He (Christ) might be the firstborn among many brethren. This great good is worked out progressively in our sanctification, but ultimately achieved in heaven when every brother and sister whom He died to save is made perfectly and permanently like Him. That is our eternal destiny and Christ’s eternal glory and reward. Every time a saint passes from earth to heaven, it is the crowning proof that God has accomplished exactly what He set out to do, to work all things together for good to those who love Him. Lorna would have us know as she stands perfected in the glories of heaven that God is true to His promises.

The question is then, do you love God? Do you dismiss Him or desire Him? Ignore Him or embrace Him? Give Him no thought or bow your knee to Him as Saviour and Lord? Have you obeyed that effectual call of the Spirit to come to Christ and be saved? Lorna loved her Saviour and so must we if this God, this guarantee, and this goal is to be ours.