With everything else on a pastor's agenda why should he or she be concerned about religious freedom?
First, because a pastor's ministry is dependent on that freedom. One Canadian court called it a “foundational freedom;” Another said it was an “original freedom.” Without that freedom, a pastor has no right to preach. No right to minister. In Canada, for instance, it was not too long ago that preachers who did not share the King of England's faith endured discrimination.
Second, religious freedom is constantly vulnerable. Governments around the world are threatened by religious communities that do not accept public norms. For example, in countries with a state-supported, historic religion, there is often tension with "new" religions. Around the world, Christians are being attacked and persecuted like never before, and yet our media and academics downplay the significance.
But challenges don’t just exist in non-Western countries. Increasingly, in Western democracies, norms of sexuality create legal and social tensions as traditional religious communities refuse to accept postmodern views on human sexuality.
Finally, we should care about religious freedom because a threat to one group is a threat to all. Even when it is a different religious community whose freedoms are threatened, we should be mindful that our own freedom to preach and teach in accordance with the Gospel commission is also in grave danger. It may be someone else today; but tomorrow, it could be you.
Pastors have a duty to be informed and equipped as to what they can do to protect the religious freedom of their parishioners. The world needs the voice of the pastor. The voice of faith. The voice of reason. The voice of conviction. The voice that is informed and that the world will respect. A voice for such a time as this.
The International Religious Liberty Association’s 8th World Congress, to be held next month near Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, is a great place to start one’s education about issues of religious freedom. The event will run from August 22-24 at the Diplomat Beach Resort by Hilton and will bring together some of the world’s leading scholars and advocates in the field of religious freedom. Presentations and breakout sessions will focus on challenges to religious freedom in North America and globally, as well as the role of individuals and communities in advocating for this fundamental right. There are still some places available, and you can find out more information and register at www.irla.org/world-congress.
Barry Bussey began his ministry as a pastor of two churches Newfoundland, Canada. He currently serves as Vice-President for Legal Affairs at the Canadian Council of Christian Charites, and Adjunct Associate Professor in the School of Law, Sydney at the University of Notre Dame Australia.