In the slew of religious freedom cases that have happened in recent years, many of us have found ourselves praying for courts to side with a Colorado baker, a Washington florist, or Catholic nuns. We rightly want religious freedom to triumph and the government to respect this foundational freedom. But Luke Goodrich of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty warns Christians in his book, Free to Believe: The Battle Over Religious Liberty in America, against becoming so fixated on winning that we fail to be good witnesses in the midst of religious freedom conflicts.
Goodrich continues his conversation with NC Family Communications Director Traci DeVette Griggs about responding to threats to our religious liberty, on this week’s episode of the Family Policy Matters radio show and podcast, in Part 2 of a 2-part show.
“Before we ask what we do about religious freedom,” says Goodrich, “we ask what type of people we are called to be in the midst of religious freedom conflicts.”
“Religious freedom is not just about winning cases to protect Christianity; it’s a much deeper issue of Biblical justice […] Are we entering into these conflicts simply to win and protect ourselves, or are we entering into them because we realize religious freedom is the basic issue of justice and we want to glorify God in the midst of it?”
“Our hope does not ultimately rest in favorable laws or good election results or a good Supreme Court; our hope rests in the person of Jesus Christ who has overcome the world.”
Tune in to Family Policy Matters this week to hear Luke Goodrich elaborate on the complex issue of religious freedom and how we as Christians can navigate a culture that continues to attack this fundamental freedom.
Today we bring you Part 2 of a 2-part series featuring Luke Goodrich, vice president and senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.
TRACI GRIGGS: All right, so far we’ve taken four of the five most pressing threats to religious freedom. We’ve had abortion rights, gay rights, religious discrimination, and now we just discussed non-Christian religious minorities. What would be the fifth?.
LUKE GOODRICH: The last major area Christians need to be aware of is what I call the “public square,” and this is the relationship of government to religion when it comes to religious symbols, or funding, or religious observance in public schools. And there I would argue that the posture we should take as Christians is that we don’t need the government to promote Christianity in order for Christianity to flourish. We also don’t want the government to be hostile to religion in the public square. Rather, we want the government to treat religion as a natural part of the public square. The goal should be for the government to leave religion as uninfluenced by government power as possible. So I play out in my book what this means across a variety of different disputes. It means the government doesn’t scrub every religious symbol from the public square; rather it welcomes religious symbols as a natural part of human culture, just like it welcomes other aspects of human culture. And when it comes to funding, the government doesn’t cut off funding from all religious groups; it can fund religious groups or non-religious groups on equal and neutral terms, so that it’s not influencing people’s choices about religion. That’s really, at the end of the day, the best posture of government toward religion in the public square.
TRACI GRIGGS: So you say that the church is unprepared for the changes that we are facing in this arena surrounding religious liberty. What do you mean by that?
Yeah, I think we’ve had it so good in America for so long—such great protection of religious freedom—we haven’t really had to think that deeply about religious freedom as American Christians. Now we’re just kind of starting to wake up to the very significant threats and challenges ahead, and we’re not ready. So we don’t just need to stuff our head with knowledge; we need to be ready to take action. And I think there are two major areas we need to think about as Christians. One is our overall posture towards religious freedom conflicts. I think as Christians, when we think about religious freedom, we initially start asking, “What actions can we take to win religious freedom conflicts and protect ourselves?” But I would argue—I have a chapter in my book, Free to Believe, called “Let Go of Winning”—and I think the first question we should ask as Christians is not, “How do we win?” but “How do we be faithful to God in the midst of religious freedom conflicts?” So before we ask what we do about religious freedom, we ask what type of people are we are called to be in the midst of religious freedom conflicts. And so much of scripture was written to Christians who are facing violations of their religious freedom, facing persecution, and we need to reacquaint ourselves as Christians with the message of scripture to the persecuted church. These are principles like expecting suffering, rejoicing when it comes, striving to live at peace with all men, but fearing God rather than fearing men, and being willing to continue doing good even when it’s costly. Also loving our enemies, blessing those who curse us, praying for those who abuse us, and then caring for our fellow Christians in the midst of suffering and conflict. So the first and primary goal is not just how do we win, but how do we be like Christ in the midst of religious freedom conflicts?
And then the second major area we need to be taking action in as Christians is just what are the practical steps we can take to protect ourselves and our ministries and our businesses from the religious freedom challenges ahead. We are called to be innocent as doves, but we’re also called to be shrewd as serpents. There’s so much we can do; whether we are a business owner, a ministry leader, a pastor, or a person in the pew, there are concrete steps we can take to prepare for the religious freedom challenges ahead..
TRACI GRIGGS: Very interesting. I think people might be surprised to hear you have a chapter in your book that’s called “Let Go of Winning.” You have such a winning record yourself, but I’m assuming that you use these principles that you’ve been talking about when you go in and confront some of these challenges.
LUKE GOODRICH: Yeah. I think the greatest reward of my work as a religious freedom attorney has been getting to stand shoulder to shoulder with people of faith who are staring down the government, and they’re saying, “We will not cave on our conscience.” Fortunately, by the grace of God, we’ve won the vast majority of our cases. At Becket, we have a 90 percent win rate over the last 25 years and we’re undefeated at the Supreme Court. So absolutely, every time I step into court, I want to win case because it’s just and right to protect religious freedom. But if we really look at scripture with an honest view, we see that Christians do not always win. Many Christians suffered for their faith, and it is unjust when the government punishes us and violates religious freedom without cause. But God can bring good out of injustice. I think as Christians sometimes we get so fixated on winning, and so afraid of losing, that we actually fail to be good witnesses in the midst of religious freedom conflicts.
TRACI GRIGGS: So, this is a little bit of an odd question, but when you’re standing shoulder to shoulder with these attorneys, I’m sure you’re aware of the fact that you’re being measured as a Christian man, as well as how you argue, right? So you’re able to form some relationships with some people who are defending basically “the other side” and who might’ve formed some rather interesting perceptions about what Christians are like.
LUKE GOODRICH: Yeah. I think one of the most eye-opening experiences for was when I represented a Muslim Imam whose mosque was opposed by local residents, and attempted to be shut down by the local government. It was remarkable! I’ve represented Christian churches in almost the same types of conflicts. But this Muslim Imam was a remarkable individual; he continually expressed love and forgiveness toward those who were opposing him. He expressed trust in the American legal system, that they would eventually allow him to worship God as his conscience dictated—which the court eventually did—but it also led to a long-lasting relationship. We still are in touch to this day, he asks questions about the Trinity and tries to persuade me that it doesn’t make any sense, and yet I get to tell him why I think Christ is the only way to God and we can’t earn our salvation. So I think when we do stand up for religious freedom for those we disagree with, it can give us some very surprising opportunities, some doors to share the gospel, and it’s also simply the right thing to do.
TRACI GRIGGS: So you’ve mentioned a couple of times about how we should be willing to suffer, and that we aren’t always guaranteed to win. Talk a little bit about that. How are we as American Christians possibly losing sight of this concept?
LUKE GOODRICH: Well, I think it all goes back to our mindset and our heart attitude when we face religious freedom conflicts. And so often as Christians, we think of these as political and legal disputes first and foremost, but ultimately they are theological disputes. Religious freedom is not just about winning cases to protect Christianity; it’s a much deeper issue of biblical justice. And we have to be prepared as Christians. Sometimes we will not win cases and we will suffer. I think if there’s one thing I hope that folks will take away from my book, Free to Believe, it is we should not be approaching these conflicts from a posture of fear, a fear of losing our rights. Rather as Christians, number one, we have plenty to be hopeful for justice because we live in America. We have a strong constitutional guarantee of religious freedom; we have Supreme Court justices that have repeatedly upheld religious freedom. And as I’ve mentioned, at Becket, we have a tremendous winning record in these cases. So there’s plenty of reason for optimism even if we just look at our secular legal system.
But as Christians, I love the passage in the Gospel of John where Jesus says, “In this world you will have trouble.” You know, Jesus was a realist, and when it comes to religious freedom, I think we will see increasing numbers of conflicts and we will face trouble. But in the very next breath, Jesus said, “Take heart, I have overcome the world.” So our hope does not ultimately rest in favorable laws or good election results or a good Supreme Court; our hope rests in the person of Jesus Christ who has overcome the world. That may mean in some cases, we win religious freedom disputes and the culture and our legal system is more just, and we can rejoice in that. But other times, it will mean we lose religious freedom disputes. Yet we don’t have to be afraid of that because we can still glorify God in the midst of suffering because we worship a risen Savior who has overcome the world.
TRACI GRIGGS: What you’re saying now, is this what you mean by theology of religious freedom? You’ve mentioned that term.
LUKE GOODRICH: Yes, our theology of religious freedom needs to understand religious freedom as a basic issue of Biblical justice. It also needs to understand religious freedom as a gift from God, and something that is not always going to be guaranteed. We need to reclaim the message of scripture to Christians who have suffered throughout history, and be prepared and willing to rejoice and bear witness to the gospel even when religious freedom is under threat.
TRACI GRIGGS: All right, and finally, are we called to live differently now that religious freedom is being threatened, and is not, as you said earlier, something that we can take for granted?
LUKE GOODRICH: I think number one, we’re called to reject fear and gloom when it comes to religious freedom. So often as Christians, it’s almost like we take pleasure in predicting how bad things are going to be. But I think we are called as Christians to cultivate joyful trust in the goodness of God, to reject anger and hostility toward our opponents. Rather we should love our enemies, speak to them with gentleness and respect, do good to them, and check our motives. Are we really entering into these conflicts simply to win and protect ourselves, or are we entering into these conflicts because we realize religious freedom is the basic issue of justice and we want to glorify God in the midst of these conflicts? At the end of the day, I think as Christians, we need to rest in the victory, the completed victory of Christ, and that needs to inform everything we do when it comes to religious freedom.
TRACI GRIGGS: Well, thank you very much. What a positive and optimistic outlook, I really appreciate it. So, we’re just about out of time for this week, but before we go Luke, can you tell our listeners where they can go to learn more about religious liberty, and also perhaps where they can go to get your book, Free to Believe: The Battle Over Religious Liberty in America.
LUKE GOODRICH: Yes absolutely. So you can find Free to Believe wherever books are sold, Amazon.com. You can also get it off my website at lukegoodrich.com. If you’d like to follow religious freedom litigation and the cutting-edge cases that are in playing out in courts across the country, you can follow our work at becketlaw.org.
TRACI GRIGGS: Great. Luke Goodrich, thank you so much for your work defending religious liberty in America, and for being with us today on Family Policy Matters.