I have lately been doing research on the connection between Religious Freedom and other liberties that we treasure in society such (especially Freedom of Speech). In doing so, I have come across a lot of really interesting quotes highlighting the connections between the “first freedoms.”
I was quite pleasantly surprised to read some of the words of President Obama at a recent prayer breakfast. President Obama gets a lot of criticism from many religious individuals on a wide range of issues from the contraception mandate to abortion, but I was pleased to hear him give a strong defense of religious liberty and to talk personally about how his belief in Christ animates his values. Each of his speeches has been quite beautiful. Here’s one from 2011 for instance.
One particular part stood out to me:
“Now, here, as Americans, we affirm the freedoms endowed by our Creator, among them freedom of religion. And, yes, this freedom safeguards religion, allowing us to flourish as one of the most religious countries on Earth, but it works the other way, too — because religion strengthens America. Brave men and women of faith have challenged our conscience and brought us closer to our founding ideals, from the abolition of slavery to civil rights, workers’ rights. “
For me, this was a beautiful reminder that religious liberty has allowed this country to flourish and that religious motives have been behind so much of the progress in this nation’s history. Religious ideals brought many of our ancestors to these shores and helped them to build up a city on a shinning hill. For all of our nation’s flaws, these ideals have been its guiding force. And they continue to be so today. And that is true on both sides of the aisle.
I think it’s really valuable to remember that we can read the same scriptures and truly believe in God and yet reach different conclusions. Some read the saviors call for charity and seek to construct government programs to alleviate suffering. Others, see the focus on agency and aschew such efforts focusing instead on private choice. Some seek to protect unborn children, while others focus on lifting women out of poverty by offering birth control.
I was also reminded of a part of President Obama’s 2004 convention speech:
The pundits, the pundits like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue States: red states for Republicans, blue States for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too. . We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don’t like federal agents poking around our libraries in the red states.
It’s been really a dispiriting time to be a defender of socially conservative positions. Every time one makes an effort to advocate for traditional notions of marriage, one is tarred with the brush of bigotry. The comparisons with Jim Crow instantly sunk efforts at a moderate expansion of religious liberty in Arizona.
Yet, on the other hand I have personally witnesses pro-choice or pro-same sex maarriage or pro-Obamacare members of the church called hypocrites and shunned. This is completely inappropriate.
We are all brothers and sisters. We are all seeking to follow our conscience and to do the best we can in attempting to translate our beliefs into policy.
I make a plea for charity on both sides of the political isle. We can all be a little bit more humble. We can all chose to not second guess the motives of those on the other side. To not assume that those that believe in God differently must secretly be Muslim rather than Christian (as conspiracy theorists have labelled Obama), or that they must truly be racist bigots.
I will continue to fight for what I believe to be true. I will fight for the religious liberties which I hold dear. But as I do so, I will make an effort to not impugn or question the motives of those with whom I disagree. Those fighting for the dignity of gay couples or those fighting for the impoverished women’s access to birth control deserve my respect even though I may vehemently disagree with the means and tools they use to achieve those ends.
Ultimately, I am reminded of Elder Holland’s stirring words in a CES devotional last year:
“My young friends, there is a wide variety of beliefs in this world, and there is moral agency for all, but no one is entitled to act as if God is mute on these subjects or as if commandments only matter if there is public agreement over them. In the 21st century we cannot flee any longer. We are going to have to fight for laws and circumstances and environments that allow the free exercise of religion and our franchise in it. That is one way we can tolerate being in Babylon but not of it.
I know of no more important ability and no greater integrity for us to demonstrate in a world from which we cannot flee than to walk that careful path—taking a moral stand according to what God has declared and the laws He has given, but doing it compassionately and with understanding and great charity. Talk about a hard thing to do—to distinguish perfectly between the sin and the sinner. I know of few distinctions that are harder to make, or at least harder to articulate, but we must lovingly try to do exactly that. Believe me, brothers and sisters, in the world into which we are moving, we are going to have a lot of opportunity to develop such strength, display such courage, and demonstrate such compassion—all at the same time. “
I know that this is a hard path to walk, but it is the path of the true disciple.