Petition 81138

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Religious Liberty (81138-C2-R239)

   Amend Resolution 239 Religious Liberty (Book of Resolutions):
    The United Methodist Church, as a worldwide denomination, declares religious liberty, the freedom of belief, to be a basic human right that has its roots in the Bible.  Paul admonished Christians with these words: “Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another?” (Romans 14:4). This understanding is fundamental to our religious heritage, which requires that we honor God, not by placing our demands on all persons, but by making true account of our own selves.  We recognize this from what the Bible teaches about the reciprocal duties between government and the individual and about how God deals with each individual.
    Jesus Christ taught: “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17). This means that both government and God have just claims on the individual. But when government claims for itself what belongs to God alone—worship or the religious conscience—government overreaches its bounds. Government is God’s appointed instrument to keep order and execute justice. It may collect taxes and regulate behavior (Romans 13:1-7). But it cannot command the conscience.
    Moreover, the Bible clearly teaches that God has given people free will. People are free to obey Him or to disobey. They can follow “the straight and narrow way” or the wide path to Destruction. God does not command worship of anyone. Therefore, it is presumptuous, if not blasphemous, for mortals to command what God does not.
    The Bible further teaches that the church will experience persecution until the Lord's return (Matthew 5:11-12, 24:9-14; 2 Timothy 3:12; Revelation 6:9-11) and this persecution is the reality of the present day, so that more Christians have died for their faith in the twentieth century than in the previous nineteen centuries combined.
    As United Methodists, we know this reality. Our spiritual ancestors in the Wesleyan, Evangelical, and United Brethren movements faced persecution from the beginning. On both sides of the Atlantic, Methodist, Evangelical, and United Brethren preachers suffered mob attacks and government-imposed penalties for preaching the Gospel. In the British possessions in the Caribbean, early Methodist missionaries found themselves jailed as “disturbers of the peace.” Our brothers and sisters in Germany found their freedom to worship secured only with the unification of the German states in 1871. Even today amid the civil strife in places like Liberia, Sierra Leone, and the Congo, our people find themselves the victims of atrocities committed by supporters of one faction or another.
    We grieve, therefore, when some in our denomination or in our sister churches deny or minimize the extent of persecution throughout the world, dismissing it as the “ravings of the religious right.” We grieve that some downplay the issue, calling it “an obstacle to dialogue,” and subordinate their compassion for the persecuted to other issues. Most of all, we object to the correlating and confounding a passion for the Gospel with religious bigotry. Such delusions prompt irresponsible speculations and slanders that the expressed desire to win non-Christian peoples to Christ may lead Christians to commit hate crimes and that persecutions occur because the churches are too fervent in their evangelism.

    The preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights...
    The declaration further establishes the rights of parents to provide religious training for their children.
    Our test of religious liberty is not limited by these standards. “We hold governments responsible for the protection of the rights of the people” (The Social Principles, ΒΆ 164A); therefore, we believe that governments must not only allow people the freedoms listed above, but also must protect religious people from threats, intimidation, coercion, slander, violence, robbery, vandalism, false accusations, and spurious litigation by others. We also believe that religious liberty includes the freedom to doubt or to deny the existence of God, and to refrain from observing religious practices. Further, we believe that persons of faith have the right to propagate their faith through evangelistic outreach . and, if this is so, persons also have the right to convert from one faith to another. Persons must be allowed to live...the decisions of faith.
  
   Threats to Religious Liberty

    Religious liberty involves much more than the right to worship...Broad latitude must be allowed in defining this religious function.
    The experience of twenty centuries of persecution teaches that religious liberty is threatened from many quarters. We have already mentioned the harassments and persecutions by nongovernmental groups—other religions, anti-religious societies, even one's family and friends (Matthew 10:34-39), but governments also threaten religious people in many ways.
    Theocracies and other governments and societies that give special privileges to adherents of one religion or ideology too often seek to enforce a monopoly of religious expression or belief. All governments have a particular responsibility to ensure and guarantee not only the religious rights and spirituality of indigenous groups, but also the political, economic, social, and cultural rights of those who are not members of the favored group.
    A grave threat to religious liberty...
    Religious liberty is menaced in other ways. Governments or political movements have used religious institutions or organizations for their own purposes by compromising their personnel through offering power, or by manipulation, infiltration, or control. Governments also subvert religious organizations by means of surveillance of their legitimate activities through the use of informers, covert searches of religious property, and politically motivated threats to the safety of religious leaders or the financial operation of religious institutions. Local governmental zoning ordinances sometimes unfairly restrict a church’s ability to expand, improve, or relocate their property. The single-minded pursuit of public policy objectives without proper regard for their impact on religion constitutes a multi-faceted threat to religious liberty. Whether the objective is to raise public monies by taxing churches, to maintain the separation of church and state by banning religious discussion in schools, or to compensate creditors by forcing churches to refund the donations given them by those who have gone bankrupt, they represent the removal of religion from society’s mainstream and the demotion of religious liberty from an inalienable right to a special privilege to be granted or denied at the government's discretion. We pledge our continual efforts to protect against these activities.
     We recognize that situations exist...minimal burden on religion.
  
   Denominational Action to Expand Religious Liberty

    The United Methodist Church places a high priority on the struggle to maintain freedom of religious belief and practice in  throughout the world. Religiously observant persons in some societies Whenever, because of their faith, religious individuals and groups are denied  the  their rights  on which there have been international agreements. Our , our members have an obligation to speak out on their behalf  of those for whom such freedoms are abridged .
    To this end, the General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns is directed to compile an annual report on religious liberty throughout the world. This report will devote special attention to instances of religious oppression and to plight of persecuted Christians. To prepare this report, the commission will consult with and maintain liaison with Amnesty International, Christian Solidarity International USA, the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, Freedom House, the Institute on Religion and Democracy, Open Doors, the Puebla Institute, the Society of St. Stephen, the State Department Advisory Committee on Religious Freedom Abroad, Voice of the Martyrs, and other authorities on the issue of international human rights. This report will be completed each year in time for a summary to appear in the September issue of The Interpreter to help local churches prepare for the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church, held every November.
    Also, when the commission or its representatives become aware of a church leader’s denying, minimizing, or excusing religious oppression or persecution, they shall inform the offender of his or her error following the guidelines set forth in Matthew 19:15-17 and Galatians 6:1-2. If, after two admonishments, the offender has not publicly apologized, they shall issue a public rebuke.

    In carrying out their responsibilities, United Methodists, United Methodist agencies and institutions, shall:  Moreover, we call on our members, agencies, and institutions to:
    (1) Affirm and support...
    (2) Pursue application of these minimum standards...
    3. Advocate, through prayer, education, and political action, to gain religious liberty in all places where it is lacking;
    4. Extend the compassionate ministry of the Church...
    5. Educate ourselves so that we will be able to identify and respond to violations of religious liberty both in our own and in other societies;  and
    6. Support all Offer support to the Office of the United Nations’ activities to promote religious liberty and curtail religious intolerance; and Special Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance.
    7. Participate wholeheartedly with churches around the world in observing the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.

Rationale

This expanded version seeks to correct several defects of the current statement, including a faulty biblical basis for religious liberty, the absence of historical perspective, blindness to nongovernmental threats to religious liberty, tying itself to a possibly no-longer-existing UN office, silence about the International Day of Prayer.