Religious freedom and the right to worship Ariana Grande
This week in Washington D.C. something actually unprecedented is taking place: the Secretary of State is hosting an international Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom. While the focus of the event is advancing religious liberty around the world, it provides opportunity to discuss the value of religious freedom here in the United States.
Genuine religious freedom depends on the foundational idea of pluralism as defined by the freedom of conscience. The freedom to freely believe anything or nothing. The freedom of 40 million people in the first week following the release of “God is a Woman” to worship at the altar of Ariana Grande. The freedom of the New York Times to post an Op Ed undermining the veracity of the Bible. The freedom of parents to raise their children as gender-free and the freedom of those children to choose, craft, create or adopt a gender along an ever-growing identity spectrum. And the freedom to reject all those ideas. Getting us to what we tend to think of as religious freedom: the freedom of pastors to preach the Word of God in and out of season and the freedom of Christians to enter into even these cultural conversations of the day declaring that God is God, the Bible is God’s revealed Word, Jesus is Lord of all and the Kingdom of God is advancing here and now whether people believe it or not.
People have been rejecting God, God’s authority and God’s Son for a long, long time. The fact that people adopt and advocate for ideas contrary to God’s design, God’s reign and even God’s reality is not some new avant garde theology. It’s just plain old idolatry. It’s what the Bible describes as the exchanging of the truth about God for lies and the worship of the Creation in place of the Creator.
Ariana Grande would have you believe that she, specifically her female sexuality, is worthy of worship. Based on everything we know from the Bible, Ariana Grande is wrong, but she is absolutely free to build an altar of self-worship and receive the adoration and economic offerings of others in support of her cult of personality. While we can and should be critical of her ideas and call out the utter perversion of the beauty and goodness of God’s gift of sexuality, we must also acknowledge her right to believe and preach falsehood.
Your very freedom to believe another person’s beliefs are unbelievable is the very foundation of religious freedom. Every time you read or hear about someone believing something you find unbelievable, remind yourself that their freedom to believe what they believe and your freedom to believe otherwise is not only freedom of thought and freedom of conscience, it is the foundation of the freedom of religion.
Viewpoint discrimination then, from any direction, is the very antithesis of the foundational freedoms of speech and religion. And viewpoint discrimination is on the rise. We’re all aware of the rise of viewpoint discrimination on college campuses but did you know that in Indiana, a bus company rejected an ad featuring photographs of the biological development of a human baby as political speech in violation of the bus company’s advertising rules? We’re aware that in other places around the world blasphemy laws are enforced against those who speak in contradiction to the established state religion, but did you know that some U.S. lawmakers want Amazon to close its distribution platform to those advocating for ideas contrary to the prevailing progressive winds of our day?
All of which brings us to the meeting taking place this week in Washington. The first ever Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom starts today. The State Department and host, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, are seeking to raise awareness about the challenges people face around the world. But the very fact such a conversation is taking place here, in the United States, highlights the depth of commitment to the idea and ideal of religious freedom.
Indeed, a free people are only as free as the ideas they are free to freely express. Chief among those ideas is religious belief, conviction and expression. Not only in the context of what you might think of as Sunday morning church, but in every context and every conversation in every place under the sun at every hour of the day and night. You may not be inclined to howl at the moon nor worship today’s teen idol, but the right of others to do so stands as a guard against those who would deny you and I the right to declare the goodness, beauty and truth of the God of all Creation, the King of Glory, and the risen Son, Jesus Christ.