All religions look forward to religare (re-attach or re-unite) the human been with the upmost force or the highest intelligence mostly called God in different languages, to save the gap between us and the higher dimension of existence(1). All kind of believers put their trust in a future event, wether is the nirvana or the unity with Cosmos, or in the Christian case, the second coming of Jesus Christ(2). This demonstrates the historical human need of transcending the present reality towards a higher level of existence(3), demonstrating an universal sense in the collective conscience of civilizations of a lost paradise(4).
This collective sense of divine transcendence(5) leads toward the constant sense of human need of godly immanence(6). In many civilizations the human been has sought impatiently for divine signs of hope yielding to many different expressions of customized worship(7) and, by the way, intolerance as well. Through Christ, humanity has found the genuine, most loving and peaceful manifestation of God, coping the human need of transcendence in the midst of a despaired existence(8) and the promise of an end to all suffering and unanswered trascendental questions(9). The pattern is quite similar among many religions, good, evil, and an end for the controversy. The difference is based in how to reach that ending point and the God who taught and still teaches us the path to follow.
Preaching the gospel
Since Christians have and await the blessed hope of the second coming of Jesus(10), and since Christianity has been commissioned to spread all over the world this message full of hope(11), it becomes a duty, a privilege and a need which oftenly clashes with others’ convictions(12). Nevertheless the constriction is so strong(13) that a Christian may risk his/her life to reach out for sharing this expectancy of eternal bounty(14). Is the clashing or conflict because of proselytism(15) something to be sought since was predicted? Is it avoidable? Since we are heading to the conciliation of nature in this planet towards the calm and equilibrium, should it go unavoidably through a rough way in all cases? According to John Witte Jr.(16) in the New World Order where we are immersed, seems impossible to avoid it due to the slight line drawn by the laws protecting religious freedom and, at the same time, implementing a self- restraint context for transmitting to others the own religious experience.
“Blessed are you when people persecute you”
We have been told in the Bible that this would happen: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me”(17). The key word here is falsely. How far do we have to go in order to fulfill the duty of preaching the gospel? Doubtlessly there’s no limit from the perspective of personal costs(18), but other’s freedom. But since we could be ready to sacrifice our own life, does this authorize us to do anything at any price besides the personal costs? How about else’s free will? The key word here is respect. We need to differentiate between religious freedom right, including freedom of speech, and the personal and inalienable freedom of choice. None in the New Testament forced to someone else to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, neither Himself intended to do so, but instead of that, a bold testimony was delivered when opportunity was given. Trespassing that line, forcing by any means others to accept our own truth will always give a reason to those who could acuse us of intolerance, not setting the scenario depicted in the blessing mentioned above, but the opposite one. If Jesus said “falsely” it is because it may be truly as well by wrongdoing while obeying His commission.
Rights protection and defense
Jesus respected, respects and will respect everyone’s choice and decision(19). This sets our model in fulfilling the commission given and entrusted to us. Jesus avoided as much confrontation as possible(20). Further more, He promoted active conciliation(21), and passive vindictive resistance(22), and by this claiming, He never taught to avoid telling the truth, but in the right context and with the right words yielding the listener to take his/her own conclusions(23). The Lord’s example sets forth the model to follow by His disciples of all times(24), specially as we approach the parousia.
Tension between right and duty
There’s a constant tension between the right and the duty of preaching, specially as we approach the last scenes of this world’s history where many lobbies are coming forth aggressively to stop certain discurses understood as attacks towards some social and minority collectives. Let’s say and recognize that religious intolerance towards what it is considered “sin” or misbehavior according to the core of each one’s beliefs has provoked the raise of these lobbies and debates, even clashes afterwards, provoking the weakening of religious freedom in some instances(25).
Tolerance doesn’t imply acceptance, but yielding the judgment to the highest, wisest and latest responsible Judger(26). Recognizing our failure in this area doesn’t mean giving up in a needed part of the preaching of the gospel, but to afford all aspects of the message with the same care, balance and love that Jesus showed and still shows towards humanity, giving second opportunities, telling what’s wrong, not condemning and placing the judgment after the very last breath exhausting all given opportunities of the individual. Only then the final decision will be done by Someone superior to all of us(27).
It is a paradox to fight for our own religious tolerance, rights and freedom, and at the same time become an intolerant collective against anything that does not match the values in the core of our own beliefs(28). We have the duty of preaching the gospel, and the duty as well of respecting others’ decisions. This is the practical way of applying the golden rule in modern times: “Do for others what you want them to do for you. This is the teaching of the laws of Moses in a nutshell”(29).
We deduce from this thought what the Apostle Paul said: “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established”(30). Apostle Peter repeats the same idea: “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority”(31), but in the framework set years before by himself and the other apostles: “We must obey God rather than human beings!”(32) The key point here is to recognize if with our obedience to authorities we are honoring God, doing the right things for His sake.
As we step towards the second coming of Jesus, and recognizing that the one and only condition for its fulfillment is the preaching of the gospel to the entire world(33), shall we take unnecessary risks to cope the task?
Clearly we have seen that God is calling to His people to honor Him by obeying authorities, but with one exception, when human laws contradict divine laws. Since we have been called to preach and not to convert the entire world(34), we need to learn where to stop when sharing the gospel with others, letting the Holy Spirit to do this task reaching where any human being may ever have access(35). Only by doing so the text of Matthew 5:11 will be fulfilled by those who will precede the parousia, otherwise, we will only suffer the consequences of an inappropriate understanding of how to give a very sensitive message, anticipating unnecessary persecution.
Times will come where due to the development of laws and the pressure of different lobbies will confine the freedom of speech, even when is properly done. That is and will be the moment of preaching not by speech, but being a living example to others(36) and only answering to those who ask for a reason. A similar situation is occurring now in some countries where becoming a Christian is punished with death penalty for both the giver and the receiver of the message.
Persecution in Revelation
In many texts in the book of Revelation persecution is mentioned. How will this happen in the nowadays context of democratic countries caring for the Human Rights? To find it out is not the task right now, but seeking how to reach that moment with an exemplary behavior while doing the entrusted duty. As long as there’s freedom of religion, of conscience and of speech, we need to take opportunity for learning and refining methods, applying Jesus’ model. Nevertheless, according to the Revelation given, this will happen anyway.
I personally believe that the Freedom of Religion will be slowly but boldly shaped by common good’s sake. It is very difficult to rule over billions of people and to assist them in every particular need, at least from the human perspective, and at the same time, avoid disagreements and ideological clashes. This will lead to a tighter legislation assuming the loss of certain freedoms, as it happens now with security measures when traveling by airplane, for instance.
Current trends in rights and freedoms
It is becoming more and more difficult to draw a line between freedom of religion, including freedom of speech and expression, and what it is called the use of religion to discriminate(37). This topic is causing a big debate on how to legislate practical issues of religious experience in order to grant the liberty and rights of other groups. Note that the freedom of conscience here is not under discussion, but rather how to live personal faith without affecting others in the pursue of the common good. This limits part of the religious life itself, such as sharing particular truths with the intention of benefiting others. As long as legislation steps into regulations affecting how to live this vital part of the religious experience regarding communicating the gospel, it does so against one’s convictions, opening the door for future religious laws in broader issues.
This present scenario and trends are what will lead to a future legal situation or context depicted in some eschatological theologies, including the Seventh-day Adventist Church one regarding Sunday laws. Thus, understanding its inevitability from a theological and prophetic perspective right before the second coming of Jesus, it becomes vital to understand how to correctly fulfill our duty of sharing the gospel, not abusing of our present (yet not full) freedom of religion in most countries, neither slitting apart portions of very specific messages such as, for instance, Revelation chapters 13 and 14.
Whenever there’s opportunity to be heard with interest, anyone should and must share, but as long as there’s no will for hearing, none should impose anyone else to listen unwillingly a message. If God respects human freedom to accept Him and His salvation at any time, we can not do better than Him as the parousia approaches. “Whoever has ears, let them hear”(38).
1 2 Co. 5:18-19.
2 John 14:1-3.
3 Acts 17:26-28.
4 Acts 17:22-24.
5 Rom. 2:15.
6 John 1:14.
7 Isa. 44:12-17.
8 Mt. 20:28; Mr. 10:45.
9 Rev. 21:1-5.
10 Titus 2:13.
11 Mt. 28:16-20; Mr. 16:14-18; Lc. 24:36-49; Jn. 20:19-23.
12 John 15:20.
13 2 Co. 5:14.
14 Acts 20:24.
15 José Casanova reviews the tension between the duty of preaching the gospel and legal implications during his speech at Georgetown University, during a symposium sponsored by the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs. The post drawing the content of the talk is available in José Casanova (2010): Religious Freedom: For and against proselytism. SSRC.org. Accessed on http://blogs.ssrc.org/tif/2010/04/26/proselytism/ as April 29th, 2015.
16 An interesting paper of John Witte Jr. from Emory University School analyzes the paradox between religion right abuses and creedal clashes. John Witte Jr (2007): ‘Go Ye, Therefore, and Make Disciples of All Nations’: Proselytism in the New World Order. SSRN.com. Accessed on http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1014724 as April 29th, 2015.
17 Mt. 5:11 NIV.
18 Lk. 9:24; 17:33.
19 Mt. 19:16-22; Mr. 10:17-31; Lk. 18:18-30.
20 For instance, as soon as He knew the pharisees started to complain against Him, he retired to another region temporarily. See John 4:1-3.
21 Mt. 18:15-17.
22 Mt. 5:39. The slapping of the right cheek in the context of Lex Talionis goes further more of passive resistance or non aggressive response, but rather to confront the conflict in equality order. Slapping the right cheek is more than physical harm, it is a sign of humiliation due to the way it has to be given, with the back side of the right hand left-to-right, inflicted from a person in a higher position to a lower class opponent, either slave or servant. Hence, showing the left cheek implied to repeat the procedure but right-to-left, using the front hand, recognizing equality among both parts. This is passive claiming resistance. See Lidija Novakovic (2006): “Turning the other cheek to a perpetrator. Denunciation or upholding of justice?”, 2006 Annual Society of Biblical Literature Meeting. Matthew section: Reading Matthew in a time of war. PDF file p. 11. Accessed on https://www.sbl-site.org/assets/pdfs/Novakovic_Cheek.pdf as April 29th, 2015.
23 i.e. John 4 where Jesus led the Samaritan woman to take her own conclusions about His messianism.
24 John 13:15.
25 Here we could include Creationism vs. Evolutionism, LGBT collective, Atheism and Religion among others.
26 Mt. 7:1-2; Lk. 6:37-38, 41-42. It is true that we will judge even angels (1 Co. 6:3) but this is in the future, where we only will review the cases already decided by the heavenly court.
27 An example is Judah 1:9 where Satan wasn’t yet judged but rebuked. Another example in opposite sense is the woman caught in adultery and forgiven (John 8:1-11).
28 Mt. 23:13-15.
29 Mt. 7:12 The Living Bible.
30 Ro. 13:1 NIV.
31 1 Pe. 2:13 NIV.
32 Acts 5:29 NIV.
33 Mt. 24:14.
34 Only the Holy Spirit is able to convert the hearts of the people. John 16:7-8.
35 Ro. 8:27.
36 1 Pe. 2:12.
37 American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is featuring a campaign named “Stop discrimination: The ACLU’s campaign to end the use of religion to discriminate”, accessible in https://www.aclu.org/feature/using-religion-discriminate, reviewed as April 29th, 2015.
38 Rev. 13:9 NIV.
Article written for LIBERTY TODAY 2015
By Pedro Torres, Executive Secretary of ADLR. April 29th, 2015
Download the PDF file here.