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 Chapter 10

Toleration of Liberty


THE Scripture makes it plain that our responsibility in religious matters is to God and not to man.

Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand. Romans 14:4

So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God. Romans 14:12

Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men. 1 Corinthians 7:23

Therefore it is the right of free citizens to dissent when men attempt to control them in matters of religious life and practice. It is important that we understand the difference between liberty and toleration. The American Constitution and those of many nations of the world guarantee much more than toleration—they guarantee freedom to worship according to the dictates of each man’s individual conscience. There are countries, however, which do not afford such freedom. Yet they maintain that their constitution allows for religious toleration.

We very well might ask the difference between the two. Religious liberty demands the separation of church and state. Before there can be religious persecution, there must be a union of the civil and religious powers. The church must have access to the power of the state to punish those who dissent from her doctrines, practices, and authority. Religious tolerance, however, requires no separation of church and state. Neither does it guarantee freedom of worship. Indeed, the concept of toleration is embedded in the power of the state to control the religious practices and beliefs of its citizens.

Russell resided for a number of years in an Islamic nation which granted religious toleration to its citizens. Thus Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, and Jews were permitted to worship freely and follow their own specific practices.

Nevertheless, this toleration fell far short of religious liberty. While Islam had the right to evangelize those of other faiths, this privilege was not reciprocal. There was a prohibition upon evangelism directed to adherents of the Moslem faith. One pastor, who was a convert to Christianity from Islam, achieved modest success in converting Moslems to the Christian faith. The pastor was arrested and imprisoned without trial under the Internal Security regulations of the nation. He was released only when he agreed to leave his homeland for the remainder of his life.

Four former adherents to Islam accepted the Baptist faith. Their blue identity cards were revoked and they were issued with brown identity cards. In that nation the color of the identity card indicated status. Blue cards indicated full citizenship, red cards were issued to permanent residents, while green cards, one of which Russell held, were provided those with work permits. Brown cards were reserved for "undesirables" such as paroled felons and political dissidents. Thus these converted Christians were immediately identified as "undesirables" upon the presentation of their identity cards. Since the card itself contained no mention of the reason for its issue, the individual may well have been a convicted murderer on parole, for all those viewing the card might know. The four Baptist men found the obtaining of employment almost impossible. Eventually they were compelled to emigrate in order to live acceptable lives, and thus their Christian witness to their fellow citizens was lost.

A visiting New Zealand Christian was charged with vilifying the Koran and Islam, an offence punishable by a long term imprisonment. His "crime" was to testify to the love of Jesus and to express his faith in the Bible to an Islamic man. He made no mention of the Moslem faith nor of the Koran, but was convicted of the offense as charged on the grounds that his words contained an implied denigration of both Islam and the Koran. Probably because of the strenuous diplomatic efforts of the New Zealand High Commission, the New Zealander was given a "light" sentence—one day’s jail, immediate deportation upon the expiration of the sentence, and a lifetime ban upon reentry to the country. It was likely that the man was only too willing to accept this latter penalty.

Even more serious was the prohibition of the use of the Bible in the national language. The government decreed that over thirty words in the language of the country were reserved for use only in Islamic worship. Since these words included those for God, Salvation, disciple, and other words freely used in the Bible, God’s Word was prohibited. There was no prohibition on the use of the Bible in other languages, such as English, Mandarin, and Tamil, since they contained none of the prohibited words which were all Arabic words found in the Koran and introduced into the national language.

A Eurasian couple who were Roman Catholics had been happily married for twenty-five years. The wife, unbeknown to her husband, converted to Islam. He was presented with the option of himself converting to his wife’s new faith or being divorced from his wife. Since the man held sincere convictions concerning his faith, he was forced to suffer intense heartache.

Even members of the state religion are denied religious liberty. They are virtually forbidden to accept other faiths. They are flogged for drinking alcohol and fined for eating or drinking between sunup and sundown during Ramadan, the fasting month. A declaration that they are now free-thinkiers is not accepted as a defense against such penalties, which are meted out only against Moslems.

Russell’s experiences cited above plainly illustrate the differences between religious liberty and religious toleration. Those differences are immense.

Where there is true freedom, there is the acknowledgment by the state that guarantees freedom for all religious beliefs and practices, no matter how unusual or different these practices might be. Within the context of religious toleration, there is the implication that the state does not necessarily wholly approve of the religious principles, but by its generous act is tolerating the practices of a particular group. It also implies that at any time a state decides that a particular religion is not, for any reason, acceptable to the goals of the state, that religious practice can be suppressed and the worship of its adherents banned.

A very significant example of the limitations of toleration can be seen in the Edict of Nantes. In August 1572, the St. Bartholomew’s massacre of Protestants took place in France. Many faithful Huguenots were slaughtered in this massacre. However, some time later a new king, Henry IV, ascended to the throne. Henry IV was raised a Protestant, but he knew that he could not accept the throne unless he was a Roman Catholic. He was therefore reported to have said, "Paris is worth a mass," whereupon he joined the Roman Catholic Church. Nevertheless, he did not forget his Protestant friends, and enacted the Edict of Nantes which offered toleration to the Huguenots in 1598.

The signing of the Edict of Nantes can be seen depicted in relief on the Wall of the Reformers in Geneva. However, the Huguenots were not happy with the edict. Deeply concerned that the Huguenots were not granted full religious freedom, their leader, Theodor Agrippa D’Aubigne, left the proceedings. D’Aubigne was greatly disappointed with Henry IV’s change of religion. He argued in the proceedings that a people only tolerated by privilege may have that privilege withdrawn.

Indeed, that statement proved all too correct, when in 1687, Louis XIV, the grandson of Henry IV, revoked the Edict of Nantes, saying, "My grandfather loved the Huguenots, my father feared them; I neither love nor fear them." (Chris Richards, The Reformer, Bedford, England, November-December 1997, p. 9)

The following nineteenth-century sources clearly delineate between liberty and toleration.

There is a very great difference between toleration and liberty. Toleration is a concession which may be withdrawn. It implies a preference for the ruling form of faith and worship, and a practical disapproval of all other forms. Schaff’s Church and State in the United States, p. 14

The free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience, is something which every man may indeed demand as a right, not something for which he may ask a privilege. To grant to the State the power of tolerating is implicitly to grant to it the power of prohibiting. Appleton, Cyclopedia of American Biography, Vol. 4, p. 165

Toleration denotes neither the freedom of religion from State control, nor the equality of all religions before the law. Toleration is the allowance of that which is not wholly approved. Religious liberty, on the other hand, is absolute freedom of religious opinion and worship. Thompson, Church and State in the United States, p. 12

What other nations call toleration we call religious rights. They are not exercised in virtue of governmental indulgence, but as rights, of which government cannot deprive any portion of citizens, however small. Despotic power may invade these rights, but justice shall confirm them. U. S. Senate Report, 1829

Thus we can clearly understand that the difference between religious toleration and religious freedom, is that the former is freedom recognized as a favor, whereas the latter is freedom recognized as a right. Toleration implies that there is an established, or state religion, as is still commonly known in many countries of the world, and that all others, while deemed heretical or disapproved, are nevertheless permitted. Whenever a nation has a state religion, there are only two options: (1) persecute those who will not conform to the state religion or participate in its practice; or (2) offer a measure of toleration to those who choose to worship in another fashion. Thus, for example, because England has an established religion, therefore properly we cannot refer to the United Kingdom as having liberty in the full sense of the word, even though there is no evidence of the restriciton of religious freedom in that nation today. That is why the First Amendment to the American Constitution explicitly contains both the non-establishment and the free exercise clauses. These provide liberty to all to worship according to the dictates of their conscience as a right, and not as a concession. The fact that the ruling monarch of the United Kingdom must be head of the Church of England deprives him or her of true religious freedom. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution, because of its establishment clause, places no religious constraints upon the head of state.

In some nations, any claim to religious toleration represents at best, nothing more than the sufferance or endurance of those who do not follow the state recognized religion. If the government has the right to permit the exercise of religion, it by implication still reserves the right to prohibit. Thus in certain countries, their constitutions declare religious toleration. There are sometimes certain religions, unpopular in the sight of the state for one reason or another, which are excluded from the provision of toleration. Thus it is possible in some countries that the state can compel certain minority groups to refrain from worshipping according to the dictates of their conscience.

When a religious group seeks permission from the state to practice its religion in a certain way, that church implicitly concedes that the state has the right to dictate in that manner. If that is true and the group is to be consistent, it should abide by the decision handed down by the state, whether favorable or unfavorable. If the religious group is unwilling to abide by the state’s decision, should it be unfavorable to its request, then there is no consistency in asking the state for permission. Certainly, if there is a "Thus saith the Lord" from the Scripture, it is wholly inconsistent to ask civil legislators for permission to carry out that which God has commanded. True freedom and liberty of conscience can be maintained only at the price of constant vigilance.

It was Lord Stanhope, in the House of Lords in London, who in 1827 said,

The time was when toleration was craved by dissenters as a boon. It is now demanded as a right: but a time will come when it will be spurned as an insult.

To give to man his God-given rights is not in the power or province of the state, for it has no such right to bestow. Rights of this nature are bestowed by God. What God has given to the state is, the responsibility to protect the liberty of conscience, and surely this is the limit of its authority in matters of religion, for governments exist to a large extent for the protection of the persons and properties of their citizens. Religious freedom has to be separate from the state, because states by their very nature are controlled almost inevitably by majorities. The Scripture is plain that faithful Christians are a tiny minority.

Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. Matthew 7:13, 14

When there is a state-controlled religion, or alternatively a religion-controlled state, minority religions are automatically deprived of their God-given freedom. Under religious persecution it is almost certain that those who are persecuted are men and women of conscience. Often, conscientious people are detested by those who themselves operate with less than selfless intent. This is true in the operations of the church as well as the state.

Conscientious men are not the enemies but the friends of any government not established on tyranny. They are its strength and not its weakness. Daniel, in Babylon, praying contrary to the law, was a true friend and supporter of the government: while those who, in their pretended zeal for the law and the constitution would strike down the good man, were its real enemies. It is only when government transcends its sphere that it comes in contact with the consciences of men. Fairchild, Moral Philosophy, p. 185

It is the conscientious Christian’s responsibility to disregard unjust laws which transcend the rights of conscience. This principle is altogether different from anarchy. Anarchy is the disregard of all law. The most patriotic, loyal, and conscientious eschew anarchy, but they have a right to disregard unjust laws. When it comes to just laws, faithful Christians are the best citizens a nation can have.

Daniel’s persecutors used a ploy common to all ages. By subterfuge, persecutors secure the unjust measures they desire and then attempt to coerce submission of their fellow citizens to the unjust measures. Only when national governments recognize that they have no jurisdiction in matters of religion do we have true God-given liberty. When a government demands absolute obedience to its dictates, this implies that if the state commanded men to murder, or to steal, or to lie, or to worship in just one particular way, citizens who disregarded such laws would face the severest of penalties. So permeated by the sacral philosophy was society at the time of the Romans, that the following law was in place.

Whoever introduces new religions, the tendency and character of which are unknown, whereby the minds of men be disturbed, shall, if belonging to the higher rank, be banished; if to the lower, punished with death. Neander, Church History, Vol. I, Sec. 1, Pt. 1, Div. 3, Para. 2

The founders of the American nation possessed an entirely different concept:

It is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage, and such only, as he believes to be acceptable to Him. This duty is precedent, both in order of time and in degree of obligation, to the claims of civil society. Before any man can be considered a member of civil society, he must be considered as a subject of the Government of the universe. James Madison, Memorial and Remonstrance, State Papers, p. 29

What was understood by the early leaders of America, was that man’s relation to his God supersedes all human legislation, and the rights of conscience are inalienable.

The framers of the U. S. Constitution recognize the eternal principle that man’s relationship with his God is above human legislation, and his rights and conscience inalienable. Reasoning was not necessary to establish this truth: we are conscious of it in our own bosoms. It is the conscientiousness which, in defiance of human law, has sustained so many martyrs in tortures and in flames. They felt that their duty to God was superior to human enactments, and that man could exercise no authority over their consciences. It is an inborn principle which nothing can eradicate. The bigot, in the pride of his authority, may lose sight of it; but strip him of his power, prescribe a fate to him which his conscience resists, threaten him in turn with the dungeon and the fagot, and the spirit which God has implanted in him rises up in rebellion, and defies you. U. S. Senate Reports, 1829


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