‘Religious freedom’ is just one ball to juggle in a pluralistic society


I must confess I am sick and of tired of people using their faith to justify their callous political positions, generally arrived at by faith-free considerations.

For centuries, folks have appealed to the Bible to promote their dangerous theology of gender complementarianism, arguing that women were to complement men. While elements of complementarianism still remain, we more regularly mount towering stacks of Bibles to loudly protest same-sex marriages, equal protections under the law for women, abortion and other social and cultural red-hot issues that plague our evermore interconnected and pluralistic world.

{mosads}Americans, both religious and non-religious, must come to understand that the First Amendment, as expressed in the Establishment Clause, means that government cannot police anyone’s religious beliefs. It does not mean that your beliefs are permitted to trump over someone else’s rights simply because your beliefs are against some practice or preference of theirs.

This is the issue before the Supreme Court in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The case centers around a baker refusing to design and sell a wedding cake to a gay couple, arguing that doing so would violate his right to religious freedom and freedom of expression. This sets up a major test this term weighing religious freedom against discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Christians, most especially Evangelicals who often champion cultural values and practices common to ancient biblical times, seem so frequently to be the ones who ignore what we owe one another when it comes to creating public policy and comity.

Belief in biblical inerrancy is all well and good when considered by Christians in religious and theological context, and even proves valuable as framework for making choices in personal and family life. However, when it comes to the consideration of the common good – i.e. what is beyond our individual selves and families, and instead nurturing our wider communities, society, and country, as imbued in public policies providing for education, social safety nets, stewardship of environment and social justice for all – it appears that common constructions of biblical fundamentalism are trumped by a more potent “free-market” fundamentalism.  

The same Christians who say that all fertilized embryos are unborn children in the womb to be protected at all costs, are often those who seem indifferent to the welfare of the most vulnerable children once they have been born, especially children of color.

There must be some core of fundamental values to which we all can appeal that subsume our varied doctrines and creeds.

I certainly understand that liberal theological Christians profess their faith by trying to “make the world a better place” through works, while Evangelical Christians believe that the world would be a better place inherently if more people simply professed to be disciples of Christ and practiced a personal piety. At present, not only in the U.S. but also in many predominantly “Christian” countries, liberal mainline Protestant denominations are decreasing in membership while, by contrast, conservative and Evangelical churches, are not just holding steady but flourishing.  

Can “liberal” Christians become more “Evangelical” in the theological sense – willing to speak of whence comes their drive so that others might know? Conversely, might conservative Evangelicals become more compassionately tolerant of the diversity of the human condition?  May such a median of praxis be forged amongst Christians who seem to view the parsing of roles of faith between private and public spheres so differently?

Must we all agree on all things religiously doctrinal?  I would say certainly not! Do I believe in both theological and political diversity? Yes, especially as the means by which we, the imperfect of limited sight, might see more clearly by deploying multiple aspects and sharing among us. Moreover, I understand that the post-Christian aspects of our society have posed a tremendous threat to the Evangelical among us.  

However, diversities of viewpoints and ideas, and engaged civil discourse over them, are the cornerstone of a vigorous democracy. It must be realized that we cannot talk about “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” with “liberty and justice for all,” if we as citizens are not willing to make sacrifices of the self toward the good of the whole.

Are we willing to make such sacrifices? How so much more did the one whom Christians claim to follow, as well his saints named and unnamed, surrender. If we cannot yield even a modicum, then how may we long expect to cohere as a country, “one nation, under God”?

More than a third of millennials consider themselves non-religious, which is double the portion of among Baby Boomers and triple that of the generation before them. Even those who do identify with a religion do not necessarily practice its rituals to any degree. Only 2 in 10 people under 30 think that going to church is an important or worthwhile activity deserving of any regularity.

It is very striking and, insofar as the religious-political demographic trend in the United States shifts, the salvation of America’s religious freedoms may rest in the hands of these “nones,” the non-religiously affiliated. Certainly, its future does, literally.

Reverend Professor Quardricos Bernard Driskell is a graduate of Morehouse College and Harvard Divinity School with 10 years of federal lobbying and ministerial experience. He is an adjunct professor of religion and politics at The George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management. Follow him on Twitter @q_driskell4.


More Civil Rights News

See All
See all Hill.TV See all Video