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Freedom of and from a particular religion


I had a conversation with a man I admired. He was a judge on the bench many years. I felt he was a good Christian man.

While working on his campaign for re-election, I learned of something he had done that I did not feel was worthy of him, or the position he held, nor of the faith he proclaimed. I approached him about it, and he said, “Van, don’t be naive. When I am involved in the election process, I must place my Christian self on the shelf. If you want to succeed in life that is how you must learn to operate…”

I was devastated by his response, because I felt then, as I do now, one should never proclaim a faith that one is not willing to at least attempt to live into, and to integrate into every aspect of your being. One of the great fundamental freedoms we have in this country is the freedom to profess our faith, and to live into our faith.

After years of observing people of faith in public offices, and more recently as some attempt to impose particular religious ideology on all of us, I find an even more frightening trend than my friend’s cynical hypocrisy.

It is one thing to have the freedom to express and live into one’s faith, it is another to demand others get in lock step with religious opinion. No one has the right to impose a particular religious lifestyle on another, or insist on a particular litmus test for moral behavior based on religious tenants. As my father used to quote, “your freedoms and rights end where my nose begins.”

The judge wanted people to think he was living a Christian lifestyle in every respect, when he knew he wasn’t — trusting no one would believe him capable of doing bad things, or they would turn a blind eye.

Some more recent politicians and their followers want to force others to live stripped of certain legitimate freedoms which hurt no one, but are to them a moral offence. Surely there is a middle road between hypocrisy and enforcing a theocracy?

It is a good thing to live into your faith, to share your faith, but is not a good thing to force your faith, or impose it. In limiting, we limit ourselves as well.

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1)

” For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” (Galatians 5:13)

The Rev. Walter Van Zandt Windsor is rector at Trinity Episcopal Church.

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