Evangelism and missions can be conducted openly and forthrightly only in an environment that fosters and protects religious liberty. The United States, with its constitutional protections, is a shining example of this reality, while nations with limits on religious expression are examples of the opposite.
Brent Walker, in the January Report from the Capital, develops the link between religious liberty and evangelism. Americans are "able to practice our religion as we see fit and free to go tell others about it," said Walker, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee on Religious Liberty.
One person's freedom, however, can best be expressed only in a context that respects another person's freedom.
"Respecting the other person's soul freedom does not mean we cannot share our faith; it does mean, however, that we respect and honor that person's right to say no. We must fight to resist others doing, or the church doing, or the government doing what even God will not do -- to violate conscience or coerce faith."
A commitment to "religious freedom and sensitive evangelism has resulted in amazing religious and cultural pluralism" in the United States. It also has changed the missions task.
"The 'world' is now next door, down the street, in our workplace and throughout our culture.
"Living alongside people from around the world allows us to get to know and understand them and their religious points of view. Ideally, 'with-nessing' should come before 'witnessing.' That makes what we say so much more effective and credible. And, it allows us to learn from the Hindu, the Buddhist, the Jew, the Muslim and countless others. As Christians, we believe we know the ultimatetruth in the person of Jesus Christ, but we do not presume to know all the truth. We can learn a lot from our brothers and sisters from various religious traditions."
"The Bible teaches both individual freedom and responsible evangelism. The Apostle Paul issues a clarion call for freedom in Christ to the Galatians when he said, 'For freedom Christ has set us free, do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.' (Gal. 5:1)
"Paul was a freedom guy through and through. But he was also the great missionary of the early church. His embrace of freedom did not detract from -- but added to -- his enthusiasm for sharing the Gospel. And, Peter tells us in his first letter that we must 'always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence.' (1 Peter 3:15) (emphasis added)"
The principle of religious liberty also is important in preventing human rights violations caused by religion. Walker noted that a recent op-ed piece in The Washington Post by Stephen Hopgood attributed the diminution of human rights internationally to the influence of religion. "This need not be the case," Walker said. "Religious freedom -- including the freedom to share one's faith and change one's mind -- is not antithetical to human rights. In fact, they are closely related.
"People of faith were integrally involved in the drafting and adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In fact, J.M. Dawson, the first executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee, along with Gov. Harold Stassen (a Baptist from Minnesota), were instrumental in convincing the United Nations General Assembly to embrace the Universal Declaration in December 1948 as the aspirational goal for the post-World War II world. Both Dawson and Stassen understood religious rights and human rights go hand in glove."
In addition to the article, Walker has written a new book, a "basic primer," titled What a Touchy Subject! Religious Liberty and Church-State Separation. The book is available at Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com and NurturingFaith.net.