Archive for the tag “freedom”

Quiet revolutionaries of freedom

Kisouru BangalaErich Bridges writes at WorldView Conversation:

Having no faith in the existence of heaven, postmodern secularists dream of a paradise on earth.

This paradise — to be created and ruled by secularists themselves, since there is no God — will ensure freedom for all, eliminate oppression, eradicate poverty and guarantee equality. Perhaps most important, it will bury old religious superstitions once and for all and usher in a new era of universal “tolerance.”

Cue global group hug.

“Society will outgrow doctrinaire [religious] belief systems accepted on traditional ‘faith’ and inculcated by authoritarian intimidation,” confidently predicts one futurist. His forecast is echoed by many others.

Since this brave new world didn’t work out so well during the disastrous experiment on humanity called communism, secularists hold up post-religious, democratic Western Europe as a model. There, old cathedrals stand empty and traditional Christianity appears to be dying, but many Western Europeans still enjoy relative political and personal freedom — at least for now. In the new, post-religious world promoted by secularists, that’s enough. For them, freedom is an entirely material phenomenon, a new stage in the historical evolution of human beings striving to shake off the chains of oppressive institutions, especially religious ones.

Such a view is not only bigoted but reveals historical ignorance verging on amnesia.

Even a cursory study of the West locates the roots of the modern idea of human freedom in the radical Gospel liberation offered by the God of the New Testament. The spiritual revolution begun by the first Christian Apostles and missionaries, while Rome still ruled, was rekindled and powerfully amplified in the emerging modern world by the Protestant Reformation, the printing press and the spread of the Bible to the masses in their own languages. Freed from their spiritual and mental chains, Europeans eventually embraced democracy and the ideals of political liberty.

And what about the rest of the world?

A fascinating cover story in Christianity Today reaffirms a historical reality that will make the secular fundamentalists gnash their teeth: Missionaries have spread freedom and education, aided the poor, worked for the empowerment of women and advanced general human progress almost everywhere they have gone. Not just any missionaries, mind you, but “conversionary” Protestant missionaries — evangelical Christians who have gone into the world to spread the Gospel and make disciples.

The Surprising Discovery About Those Colonialist, Proselytizing Missionaries,” by Andrea Palpant Dilley, highlights the groundbreaking research of sociologist Robert Woodberry, associate professor and director of the Project on Religion and Economic Change at the National University of Singapore. As a young grad student in sociology 14 years ago at the University of North Carolina, Woodberry became intrigued with the connection between the spread of Protestant Christianity across the globe and the spread of freedom and democracy. He has made it his life’s work.

“In essence, Woodberry was digging into one of the great enigmas of modern history: why some nations develop stable representative democracies — in which citizens enjoy the rights to vote, speak, and assemble freely — while neighboring countries suffer authoritarian rulers and internal conflict,” Dilley writes. “Public health and economic growth can also differ dramatically from one country to another, even among countries that share similar geography, cultural background, and natural resources.”

What he found in country after country was a direct correlation between the historical presence and mission activity of “conversionary Protestants” and the advance of freedom and social progress.

“I was shocked,” Woodberry told Dilley. “It was like an atomic bomb. The impact of missions on global democracy was huge. I kept adding variables to the model — factors that people had been studying and writing about for the past 40 years — and they all got wiped out. It was amazing. I knew, then, I was on to something really important.”

Woodberry “already had historical proof that missionaries had educated women and the poor, promoted widespread printing, led nationalist movements that empowered ordinary citizens, and fueled other key elements of democracy,” Dilley reports. “Now the statistics were backing it up: Missionaries weren’t just part of the picture. They were central to it.”

In 2005, a $500,000 grant from the John Templeton Foundation enabled Woodberry to hire a platoon of research assistants and launch a major database to gather more information. Armed with those results, he was able to assert:

“Areas where Protestant missionaries had a significant presence in the past are on average more economically developed today, with comparatively better health, lower infant mortality, lower corruption, greater literacy, higher educational attainment (especially for women), and more robust membership in nongovernmental associations.”

Woodberry’s findings explode the popular modern myth that most 19th- and early 20th-century missionaries were little more than agents or unwitting tools of Western colonialism. Yes, some fell into that tragic pattern. But many others sided with the people they served in the face of any form of exploitation, local or foreign. They fought the opium trade in China, defended Africans and Pacific islanders from encroaching white settlers, worked for the abolition of slavery in the Caribbean, struggled against temple prostitution and the burning of widows in India. And nearly everywhere they went, they began schools and hospitals, taught people to read and helped the poor to better their lot.

“Pull out a map, says Woodberry, point to any place where ‘conversionary Protestants’ were active in the past, and you’ll typically find more printed books and more schools per capita,” Dilley writes. “You’ll find, too, that in Africa, the Middle East, and parts of Asia, most of the early nationalists who led their countries to independence graduated from Protestant mission schools.”

In most cases, Protestant missionaries of the past did these things not because they were radical social reformers or political revolutionaries, but because their Gospel ministry brought them close to the common people, the poor and the oppressed, whom they sought to serve in the love of Christ.

What is the message for evangelicals in a postmodern age that relentlessly strives to sneer the Gospel out of the public square? Stop apologizing for your missionary roots. Be proud of your spiritual ancestors. Many of them were gutsy heroes who braved all sorts of dangers to take the Gospel far beyond its traditional centers to the ends of the earth.

They changed the world of their day and ours — and they are worth following.

Listen to an audio version of this column.

Who cares about equality, freedom, and justice for all?

CC DreamWorks NCMark Kelly writes at kainos about Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln:

… If the cause of equality, freedom, and justice for all in this country — in this world — is going to be advanced, do not look to the cynical nest-featherers in Washington. Instead look in the mirror. This country’s only hope is for us to step across the street, across town, across the tracks and partner with the people who have a vested interest in solving local problems with local resources. Even if top-down solutions did work, our federal government is too gridlocked, too corrupt, too mired in mindless ideology and sedimentary bureaucracy to take the bold action needed to do justice for the people.

If you care anything about equality, freedom, and justice for all, it will be up to you to forge the alliances in your community and attack the giants that oppress your neighbors. As with Lincoln’s boys in uniform — Union and Confederate — marching determined into battle, courage and self-sacrifice will win the day. When we are ready to risk everything for peace, when we decide to truly love our neighbors the way we love ourselves, we will see Almighty God move in our communities and transform lives. We will see justice “roll down like waters” – a mighty flood of justice, a river of righteous living that will never run dry. (Amos 5:24 NLT)

Jesus warned us a grain of wheat must fall into the earth and die, but promised that, in dying, it would  bear much fruit. (John 12:24) Who is willing to die to self to see God’s kingdom come, as Jesus prayed, “on earth as it is in heaven”?

You know you can’t count on posturing demagogues and their useful idiots to pay the price. The question is, are you willing?

Read the full post by clicking here.
You might consider this excellent new book by Stephen Mansfield,Lincoln’s Battle with God: A President’s Struggle with Faith and What It Meant for America

U.N. report: The most troubling violation of human rights

Recent rhetoric at the United Nations condemns criticism of Islam, but a new report from a UN task force on religious freedom — released, ironically, when Christians worldwide were observing the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church — says the far greater human rights concern is prejudice against certain religions and restrictions on the right to believe and worship as a person wishes.

Melissa Steffan reports for Christianity Today:

Nov. 9, 2012 — Restrictions on religious conversion have “become a human rights problem of great concern,” according to the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief.

Speaking to the UN General Assembly last week, Heiner Bielefeldt said those violations need to stop. He urged states to “consistently respect, protect and promote the human right to freedom of religion or belief in the area of conversion.”

Bielefeldt relayed the findings of his comprehensive report, which was distributed in August. The report analyzes “patterns of abuses that are perpetrated in the name of religious or ideological truth claims.”

In his address, Bielefeldt said some religious freedom abuses were perpetrated by state agencies, but many more were the result of widespread societal prejudices against certain religions. In addition, he said the violations against women were of particular concern.

… This is a particular problem in countries like India, where Hindu nationalists initiated attacks on Christians, 20 of whom were arrested for celebrating baptisms, in Orissa in October. A similar attempt to force Christians to convert back to Hinduism occurred in September.

CT has previously noted the case of Ethiopian Christians who were detained and pressured to convert to Islam in Saudi Arabia. In 2011, CT noted the arrests of 12 people in India for converting to Christianity without notifying government officials first.

You can read the UN press release about the report by clicking here. The full text of the report can be found by clicking here.

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It is true that some people who claim to be Christians behave hatefully toward those who do not share their religion, but anyone who reads the teachings of Jesus knows that is not authentic Christianity and that the vast majority of Christian teachers tell followers Jesus requires them to love their enemies and bless those who persecute them.

By the same token, extreme strains of Hinduism and even Buddhism restrict anyone who teaches other beliefs and punish anyone who leaves those religions to follow another path. In the world of Islam, however, ordinary Muslims discriminate against and persecute followers of other faiths and Islamic teachers in unnumbered villages tell their adherents that anyone who leaves Islam for another way deserves to die. By far, the greatest discrimination and persecution is experienced by people who choose to follow Jesus.

You don’t have to look far to find evidence that followers of Jesus, by the hundreds of thousands, suffer every day at the hands of dark-hearted individuals. Christian girls are abducted, raped, and “permitted” to “convert” to the religion of their rapist. Young men who “disgrace” their families by deciding to follow Jesus are beheaded in front of the entire village. In many places, Christians are not allowed to own land or hold jobs, except as slave labor to wealthy men of the dominant religion. So-called “blasphemy” laws, instead of protecting a vulnerable religious tradition, most often are used as a club to steal the property of Christians or settle grudges against them.

None of this is surprising. Ignorance and false teaching are widespread, and prejudice is actively promoted in many houses of “worship.” Jesus told his followers they would be hated by everyone. But even the thin gruel of a statement like the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes every person has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including the freedom to change his religion or belief and to practice it.

Religious discrimination and atrocities of persecution must be vigorously opposed, and followers of Jesus have an obligation to protect and assist brothers and sisters in distress. You can make a difference through organizations like International Justice Mission, International Christian Concern, and Christian Solidarity International.

The US government is actively undermining religious liberty in the United States. You can learn more about that from our friends at The Becket Fund and The Manhattan Declaration.

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