Feb 23, 2014

Religious Freedom or Freedom of Worship?

Standing at the Bonfire with the Valdensians the other night was kinda surreal.  I can only imagine what it was to gain the freedom to express one's beliefs without fear of retribution, and yet here they sang, celebrated, and lit bonfires all up and down the valleys of the Piedmont, signifying that day when the political powers that be in Italy decided that enough was enough - the Valdensians would be recognized, could worship freely, have their own schools, not be prohibited from jobs, not be imprisoned or hassled, simply because they did not adhere to the teachings and services of the prevailing religious powers…

My thoughts naturally went to the prevailing winds in my own nation, where Christians are just beginning to face a persecution of a different kind.  No one as far as I know has gone to jail yet, but some have been ordered by courts to either provide services they find utterly reprehensible, or close down.  When marriage laws were changed in Massachusetts for example, the largest provider of adoption services by far in the State had to change their policies (based on 2,000 years of faith and belief), or shut their doors.  Rather than violate their beliefs, they shut their doors.  Photographers and cake makers have been vilified, and court ordered as well.  Interesting.

So what happens when the State starts to dictate how a people should behave when their religious convictions run headlong up against what the States says such convictions ought to be?  We need to look no further than Nazi Germany, or the Roman Empire.  While both examples may appear at first to be extreme, it is important to realize that both persecuted Christians without guilt or quarter if they in any way spoke out against, not to mention acted out against State policy if it differed from Christ's commands.  The result at first is a lot of people got killed, and the result at the end is that God brought those powers down in ruin.

Watching the bonfire burn, the people sing, and the children running around gave me once again a glimmer of hope:  the motto of the Valdensian Church:  Lux Lucet In Tenebris, or, "The Light Shines in the Darkness".  What amongst many other things that bless me about these people, is not only their tenacity and perseverance against being slaughtered, but also their grace - as far as I can tell, they are not bitter.  So how do you not move toward anger and retribution when your rights are taken away, your woman and children killed, and your churches burned down?  I think the answer was in the bonfire that night.  You concentrate on being the light, staying connected to its source, focusing on delivering what you have been given, and not on what is being taken away.

To be continued...

1 comment:

  1. Hi Bill, Great post. About three years ago I was there at the annual commemoration and had similar feelings. In his book "A Thicker Jesus" Glen Stassen explains how the USA has been reaping the fruit of their commitment to freedom of religion. In countries where coercion has been the main method of forcing people to comply to the religious convictions or biases from governments, this usual results in (civil) war and a lot of bloodshed. The USA has always been very keen to uphold their first amendment. It seems to me that the government is no longer happy with that. Governments should respect the religious convictions, the people's right to gather together under that religious banner, and express their beliefs in the choices they make. Separation of state and religion is something that needs to be reinforced.