A Theology of Religious Freedom
This is a blog series entitled, "A Theology of ..." written by various Anglican priests and deacons in our Jurisdiction.
We continue with a theology of religious freedom by the Reverend Zachary Nash.
“If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).
Having a theology of religious freedom is essential. Chaplains will gladly defend the rights of our sheep. Military chaplains, in particular, are guardians of and oath takers to the Constitution after all. And, like the Apostle Paul, we have the right to appeal to Caesar as temporary citizens of this earthly realm. However, Constitutional religious freedom should never replace true freedom in Christ lest we end up fighting the wrong enemy. With a Biblical understanding of Truth and Freedom, we can repel false attacks from Satan and rightly defend first things.
In the current cultural tumult, the attack on basic religious freedom is apparent. If you’re not frolicking in the flow of the zeitgeist, you’re not only wrong, but you are also considered a violent oppressor. Love, not defined as agape, but most curtly defined as “niceness,” has created a tolerance that tunnels out the foundations of virtue and replaces it with empty calories from Satan’s storehouse. Society is gorging itself on an anti-eucharist roasted over the stench of Gehenna.
The anti-religious faith environment in which we often operate can bring up very strong emotions. For example, wow do you feel when you run across something like the following:
“In Canada, it is now illegal to say there are only two genders or even to use the words “mother” and ‘father’ on public documents. We are no longer moving toward Brave New World, we are in it. This is not the separation of church and state, it is the exact opposite: the institutionalization of a new church, or anti-church” (Kreeft 142).
After reading this, I know my first inclination is to fight back against these cultural forces. I want to call my congressman and make sure this doesn’t happen in my back yard. I want to organize a campaign to protect conservative values and ensure religious freedom. I want my rights protected. I want to stop the “anti-church!” But is my desire to protect this kind of freedom actually what scripture calls me to do, or have I made an Amendment into an amulet? Could Satan be drawing me in to a false invasion of society only for me to miss the attack on my soul?
Idols of the heart rarely start out evil. They are often good things that we turn into ultimate things. Idols that tug on the tethers of Christ are often significant things in life that we give supreme significance for life. In other words, we take second things and make them first things. Peter Kreeft, in his book How to Destroy Western Civilization and Other Ideas from the Cultural Abyss writes, “A crucial example of our reversal of first and second things is the relation between truth and freedom. Freedom is for truth, not truth for freedom. Deny truth, and you destroy freedom. The truth makes you free; freedom does not make you true.” (Kreeft 18). Jesus Christ is the Truth. Jesus Christ makes us free.
The lie before us could very well be that what looks like the main attack on our religious freedom is only masking the real attack on our souls. Satan could be staging a false invasion of culture and be walking directly into our hearts by tempting us to believe that freedom defines us. However, when we get the truth and freedom equation rightly ordered, we eliminate the propensity for anxiety when it comes to personal, religious freedom. The only way that we can truly be free is to be faithful. That is to say, full of faith. “There is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God” (Romans 3:11). This being the case, no one actually gets faith, rather we are given faith. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God…” (Ephesians 2:8). This gift of faith is worked out fully in Christ who sets us free and, “…if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36). Therefore, we also do not “get” freedom or “preserve” freedom; rather, we receive freedom from and in Christ alone.
St Ambrose, writing in the 4th century, speaks about internal martyrdom where we die to self by denying our sinful desires and thus become little martyrs in our spirit. Just as evil kings send out henchmen to persecute the Church, so Satan sends out demons to persecute our spirit. In denying these temptations we become martyrs. I have to fight the temptation to believe that my freedom is mine and something that I have to defend. If I give in to this temptation, I can turn a good thing (temporal freedom granted by the Constitution) into an ultimate thing that pulls me away from the real freedom I have in Christ. So, I must die. I must be martyred in spirit and ultimately be willing to enter into martyrdom of the body if need be (Russell 194-196).
A theology of religious freedom, therefore, could be summarized as this: be faithful and die. We must be faithful to the Truth and die to ourselves (be crucified in Christ) in order to truly be free. In doing so, we won’t mistake second things for first things. This keeps me from putting too much importance in fighting temporal battles that might be a misdirection from Satan. Satan would only be to glad to watch me shadowbox demons over something I’ve awarded too much. His attack on culture, while vile and tragic, pales in comparison to the invasion of our souls which blinds us to idols and diverts our calling to the Truth. What a tragedy it would be to win a battle for “our rights” only to miss out on being crucified with Christ to his Glory (Galatians 2:20). However, with Truth and Freedom being rightly and Biblically ordered, we will recognize the false attacks from Satan and faithfully die for first things.
In conclusion, may our prayer be ...
Almighty God, who hast given us this good land for our heritage: We humbly beseech thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of thy favor and glad to do thy will. Bless our land with honorable industry, sound learning, and pure conduct. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endue with the spirit of wisdom those to whom, in thy Name, we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that, through obedience to thy law, we may show forth thy praise among the nations of the earth. In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in thee to fail; all of which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (2019 BCP, Prayer 39 For Our Nation)
Kreeft, Peter. How to Destroy Western Civilization and Other Ideas from the Cultural Abyss. Ignatius Press, 2021.
Russell, Claire. Glimpses of the Church Fathers. Scepter Press 2008.