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Religious freedom

Posted by Alan Vink

Dear Pastors

This week a few of us met in Auckland to have a roundtable conversation about Religious Freedom in New Zealand. So as it is occupying my mind at present I thought I would share a few thoughts on this subject this week.

WHY I believe a national conversation is needed?

There are a number of reasons why I believe we need to have a national conversation on Religious Freedom in NZ.

  • This has become a critical issue in our day. Most everyone agrees with the importance of Religious Freedom in a Democratic society. However Christian Freedom is already under threat in NZ and around much of the ‘free’ world.
  • Christian Faith continues to be marginalised often times in favour of the ‘newer’ religions mostly from Asia that have accompanied immigrant peoples.
  • Everyday Christians have already had their mouths stopped for fear of saying the wrong thing, offending others (especially their work mates and employers) or afraid of committing the terrible offense of hate speech.
  • Pastors and preachers are increasingly reluctant to address this issue (and other social and moral issues) for fear of offending their parishioners many of whom have quite different points of view especially the millennials.
  • There seems to be no ‘prophetic voice’ anymore.
  • It is VERY hard to get consensus (let alone unity) from the Christian church on this or any issue for that matter. The Christian viewpoint has become increasingly diverse on most of the big issues of our day.

Some Thoughts/Questions

  • As Evangelicals we believe in the separation of Church and State. I understand this to mean that the State and the Church have two distinct and different roles in a democratic society.
  • Politics is about ‘the affairs of the city’ and therefore this should be of interest to the church and all Christian people. Therefore being ‘apolitical’ may not be a biblical position to hold.
  • The Christian church has an important role in influencing the affairs of the city and thereby in politics.
  • This is not the same as being Partisan. The Christian church should NOT be Partisan that is aligned to a particular political party. Individual Christians are free to be partisan. At the end of the day you have to vote for someone.
  • Is reasonable disagreement with a person(s) of a different religious persuasion (or for that matter a person who has a different view on human sexuality etc.) ever hate speech or when might it become hate speech?
  • That said, what would Jesus say and do about Religious Freedom if He were living in 21st Century NZ? What would He say to the Church? What would He say to the Government of the day? What would He say on Social Media (or any media platform) to the people of NZ?
  • Given that NZ is now a secular state, what can we reasonably expect the government to do (legislate)?
  • How important are existing conventions, laws and statements in determining the ‘right’ to religious freedom(s). For example The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
  • How can we be more effective to let our voices be heard? Or should we even try? Or should we even bother?

Finally. “The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world that it leaves to its children”.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer [and we should add “and its grandchildren”].