Trump Announces New Religious Freedom Initiatives. And Evangelical leaders cheer. But let’s be honest. Exactly what do those religious freedom initiatives accomplish? Oh yeah – businesses are going to be involved too. Huh? “Freedom of religion and belief can contribute to a rich pluralism that is itself associated with economic growth.” Again – Huh? And since the announcement was at the United Nations, they chimed in as well. “The UN secretary-general António Guterres, seated to Trump’s right, thanked the President for his focus on religious freedom and praised the recent efforts of Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, Ahmed al-Tayyib, to promote religious peace and fraternity. He announced two new UN initiatives to support religious freedom—a strategy against hate speech and an action plan to protect houses of worship.” One more time – Huh?
I’m sorry but, is that what religion is really about? Pluralism, a condition or system in which two or more states, groups, principles, sources of authority, etc., coexist? Really? Contributing to economic growth? Really? Religious fraternity? Really?
The image here is of a pigeon. It’s not, obviously, a dove. Why does that matter? ‘Cause the Holy Spirit in Christianity is represented by a dove – not a pigeon. Trump’s religious freedom initiatives are represented not by a dove, but more likely by something like a pigeon. Something masquerading as freedom of religion initiatives, but more like using religion to accomplish economic goals. Not Christian goals.
Any Christian should be asking, what happened to salvation?
Islam is a theocracy, where government and religion are tied together. But while I very much disagree with their beliefs, Muslims also look to their religion for salvation. In a very different way than Christians, but it’s still there.
But the big thing is, how can Evangelical Christians, or any Christian, look to this and think it’s a great thing for religious freedom?
First – is there anything Christian in Trump’s religious freedom initiatives?
Well, kind of. There are some “good” things, from a Christianity Today article.
“Today, with one clear voice, the US calls on the nations of the world to end religious persecution,” Trump said.
Ending religious persecution is a good thing. Ending all persecution would be a better thing. After all, you may remember that Jesus did say something about loving, well, everyone.
22:34-40 pp — Mk 12:28-31
Mt 22:34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Mt 22:37 Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Love your neighbor as yourself.
That includes people of other religions. And people of different races and nationalities. And LGBT people. And whatever other group you can think of. We really shouldn’t persecute anyone. Period. Isn’t that the Christian message? So, while it’s “good” – it could be even better.
Of course, it’s hard to combine loving say, LGBT people, when we’re also talking about religious freedom. Because too many religions want to be able to persecute various groups of people. Even Christians. Even the very person, Trump, who is pushing religious freedom initiatives. Remember the Muslim bans he wanted to implement? Oops. That’s not even freedom of religion, is it?
But then, Trump did call out some countries for their religious freedom issues.
Seeking international consensus on religious freedom, he called out Iran, Iraq, China, Venezuela, and Nicaragua for their violations and mentioned the terrorist tragedies that struck down Jews in Pittsburgh, Muslims in New Zealand, and Christians in Sri Lanka.
That’s good, isn’t it?
Mt 7:1 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
Mt 7:3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
OK – maybe that’s not so good. We’ve already seen Trump’s own religious freedom issues. Or lack of, to be more proper. So while he’s not wrong about what he said, it would be more Christian to admit that we have our own problems in this country as well. That’s important, right? Being Christian about it?
Or is that actually the wrong thing to do – be Christian – because that, in itself, is a problem because of the very religious freedom Trump is talking about? Quoting Jesus is offensive to some people. So maybe that shouldn’t be done?
What about including businesses? Is that a good thing?
In particular, Trump announced plans for a first-of-its-kind coalition of US businesses that would take a proactive role to defend religious freedom.
“This initiative will encourage the private sector to protect people of all faiths in the workplace,” he said. (The Trump administration has strengthened conscience protections for government employees, such as those who wish to decline participation in medical procedures such as abortions for religious reasons.)
Before you read the passage below, realize that I’m including the entire passage, for context. When you read the part about circumcision, it really doesn’t apply directly to this topic. However, I’m leaving it in, because Paul is addressing Jewish people in this letter – and He’s letting them know that he’s entirely qualified to address them, being at least as “Jewish” as anyone else.
Phil 3:1 Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you.
Phil 3:2 Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh. 3 For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— 4 though I myself have reasons for such confidence.
If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.
Phil 3:7 But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. 10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
So the first part is Paul, giving his credentials to prove he has the authority to speak to those addressed in this letter. While some of the individual things he lists aren’t so relevant today, some definitely are. For instance, as for zeal, persecuting the church. There are, obviously, a whole lot of people today who love to persecute a religion. Maybe just one. Maybe some of them. Possibly all of them. But here, Paul says that he pretty much lived (not love – but lived) to persecute followers of Christ. And then there’s legalistic righteousness, faultless. Again, there’s a lot of self-righteous people today too.
So Paul’s credentials make him eminently qualified to talk to us today, just as much as he was 2,000 years ago. A Christian hater is a Christian hater, regardless of when they lived.
However – Paul then goes on to write – But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. Whatever he did before he too became a follower of Christ, Paul now considers loss. Rubbish. Actually, it’s too bad the translation is to tame on that last word. Paul doesn’t say rubbish. He actually says a word that today would be a common four-letter word.
4657 σκύβαλον [skubalon /skoo·bal·on/] n n. Neuter of a presumed derivative of 1519 and 2965 and 906; TDNT 7:445; TDNTA 1052; GK 5032; AV translates as “dung” once. 1 any refuse, as the excrement of animals, offscourings, rubbish, dregs. 1A of things worthless and detestable. Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.
OK – that’s what Paul thinks of everything he did before he became what we’d today call a Christian. BTW – not just calling himself a Christian, but actually following what Jesus taught. There is a difference – and it can be huge.
Trump’s religious freedom initiatives – what Christian concepts are missing?
Well, we’ve already seen some of what’s not there. But there’s more.
For one thing, how about this:
The First Commandment
Ex 20:1 And God spoke all these words:
Ex 20:2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
Ex 20:3 “You shall have no other gods before me.
Sure, God didn’t rescue us, people living today, out of Egypt and rescue us from slavery under Pharaoh. However, Jesus did come to earth to rescue us from slavery and death under Satan. So the commandment to have no other gods before God is still valid for us today.
However, when we bow down to the god of money, isn’t that exactly what we do? Put the god of money over the God of the Bible? Or when we put the god of business or the god of the economy over the God of the Bible? And how about when we put the Trump god as our “savior” for “religious freedom”?
All of that’s a far cry from the people in the early church. They left everything to follow Jesus. And they risked their lives to preach the Gospel.
But now too many people look to Trump, who hardly is a shining example of how to live a Christian life, as the one who’s going to bring us religious freedom. That, in spite of what Jesus told us.
Mt 5:11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
So I ask you – when we look to Trump to help us avoid the very thing Jesus told is cause for rejoicing, are we not putting Trump over God?
Can religions coexist
This is a step forward with very tangible markers in terms of protecting people of faith.
One problem with “protecting people of faith” while pushing religious freedom is that many religions truly hate people of other religions. Some, because that’s what their religion teaches. Others, because it’s what people think their religion teaches.
Even Trump, who claims to be all for religious freedom ties it to things like his desire to remove certain people from the U.S.
A year ago, the Trump administration doubled its funding for Christians and religious minorities returning to Iraq.
Sure – it can sound like religious freedom. The freedom for people to return to Iraq. But is that the real issue for Trump? Or is the real goal to get “those people” out of the U.S. and back to wherever they came from? With Trump, we just don’t know.
In any case, there’s no question that with some religions, it’s not possible to have them agree on important religious questions without watering down basic beliefs. One way or another, people will be offended by varying beliefs. And whenever the government gets involved, something’s got to give. You can read more about that in The problem of Coexist – and – Love your enemy.
Trump’s New Religious Freedom Initiatives – Conclusion
Things like this can sound like lofty goals. But remember, part of what Jesus told us to do is love God with all our mind. And if we use that God-given mind, and think about what’s going on, we have to take into consideration the last of the Seven Letters to the Seven Churches.
Rev 3:14 “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:
These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. 15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.
Rev 3:19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. 20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.
Rev 3:21 To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth
Being lukewarm could be because we really don’t pay that much attention to what we claim to believe as Christians. But I believe it can also come from having beliefs that are so watered down compared to what Jesus taught, that we really don’t care that much about Jesus.
When we don’t look to the Bible as the source of our faith, then that’s a real possibility. Just look at whether or not economics, businesses, people who spew the kind of hatred that Trump does. Are those the places and people we should be looking to for a definition of our faith and what we should believe?
When Jesus tells us to love our enemies, are the people who set our economic policies, run most of the large companies the kind of people who are even trying to follow the love your enemies command? Just listen to what Trump says and look at the things he does. Is he listening to and following Jesus?
Why is it that we, Christians, keep listening to and looking to people for our faith?
That’s not what the early church did. They got together with each other. And prayed to God. Not just any “god”. Not to a corporate “god”. Certainly not to a “human “god”. They prayed to the God of the Bible. And when they prayed, it wasn’t to avoid the troubles that Jesus said would come. Rather, it was to strengthen them to not only survive those troubles with their faith intact, but to come out of them with even more faith than before.
Where did we go wrong? Why don’t we pray to God anymore? Why do we pray to human gods, monetary gods, corporate gods, and expect them to “save” us from the very things Jesus said we should expect and be blessed through? Remember what we read at the very end of the Beatitudes.
5:11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
What do we really expect when we rejoice over a government and it’s corrupt leaders preventing these very things?
|↑1||Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.|