The gospel story is the good news of freedom. In the Old Testament, God liberated His people from Egypt to a life of political, economic, social and spiritual freedom. But the great Exodus narrative was only a sign of the greater freedom that was to come when God sent His son to free us from the slavery of sin.
This gospel of freedom has inspired Christians to struggle for liberty in all areas of people’s lives. Evangelicals like John Newton and William Wilberforce threw themselves into campaigning against slavery – and this struggle is far from over. Christians today also support people breaking free of other slaveries, such as gambling or drug addiction.
Religious freedom is at the core of our commitment to liberty. In this year, the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, we remember persecuted dissenters who sought the freedom to worship in accordance with their conscience. This legacy commits us to freedom of thought, conscience, religion and speech as a right for all, both in this country and overseas.
This should never mean Christian privilege at the expense of other groups. We want freedom for everyone to express their beliefs, from the most dedicated evangelicals to our strongest opponents. Peaceful and lawful opinion is diverse and a commitment to freedom must recognise this fact. In a free society, we must all have the right to be wrong.
Freedom also means the right to live out one’s beliefs. A right to private faith is no right at all. As highlighted in the Speak Up resource, we have tremendous freedom to share our faith respectfully with our neighbours. And our society has always respected freedom of conscience in different areas of life and work. We celebrate and stand by this historic respect.
Nonetheless, freedom is often controversial. Non-violent but unpopular beliefs are sometimes labelled ‘extreme’ – usually by those who wish to silence particular views. Restricting peaceful opinion in these cases may give the illusion of a secure or united society. And yet we believe that the most secure society is the one secure enough to tolerate peaceful dissent, and the most united is one which unites around freedom for all.
Questions to ask your candidates
- Gospel Freedoms – will candidates support the freedom of Churches and Sunday Schools to operate without registration and regulation by Ofsted?
- A duty of reasonable accommodation – do candidates believe that employers should consider and accommodate, within reason, the requests of employees to express their religion at work?
- Freedom of expression – will candidates uphold historic freedoms to preach the gospel in public, in print and online?
- The right to change religion – do candidates affirm the right of any individual to change their religion and will they campaign for greater protection for anyone who does so?
- Modern slavery – what will candidates do to continue the fight against modern slavery and human trafficking in the UK and overseas?
Freedom in action – Open Doors
Open Doors has an amazing 60 year history of resourcing, praying and advocating for the persecuted church. Last year Open Doors distributed over 2.5 million bibles, books and Christian resources across the globe in places where such materials are difficult to access. Open Doors also works in the UK to encourage Christians to pray for their brothers and sisters around the world and annually publishes their World Watch List which highlights the top 50 countries where Christians face persecution. Open Doors regularly speaks out in the public square and engages with politicians, advocating for the freedom of persecuted Christians across our world.