Freedom of Religion and Marginalization of Religious Communities

Freedom of Religion and Marginalization of Religious Communities by Dr. Alfonse Javed

The idea of a superior culture vs. an inferior culture is not limited to the criticism of a certain belief system abroad anymore. I have noticed two new trends in our society here in the U.S.:

1. Within the so-called superior cultures, non-religious people criticize and bully religious communities. This means if I do not approve of a certain viewpoint simply because my religion dictates so, I will be considered intolerant and my religious beliefs will be considered backward. One thing I always admired about the U.S. is that I was encouraged to practice my religious beliefs and express my opinion without any hesitation. However, this new cultural shift in the U.S. is marginalizing religious communities, and pushing them to forfeit their rights to disagree with popular opinion. In my opinion, this is an extreme view of tolerance that itself has become intolerant of other views and demands absolute surrender to it.

2. The culture of the intellectually charged, emotionally paralyzed, and theologically advanced church in the United States is not far behind the non-religious communities of this amazing county. The view of God, Christ, the Church and the Holy Spirit in the West has been gradually moving towards the left and has hit all time low in the present days. They are ignoring the power of the Holy Spirit and submitting to the social norm of the non-religious powers of the world. Therefore, culture has been influencing and leading the church in the West just as it has been influencing and leading the church in the East. The former is moving away from depending on God and religion and the later clinging to God and religion.

Periodically, the church in the West adopts the changing culture of Western civilization, which is an inappropriate response to faith and biblical culture because, if studied carefully one can observe that cultural shifting is inevitable. Usually in every society and civilization, culture happens to accommodate the elites and liberal thinkers of the land, and the shift is always gradual and smooth.

My understanding is, once cultural superiority begins to seep into the church, it is just a matter of time before the fruit of the spirit starts disappearing, replacing humility with pride, harmony with chaos, and faith with reasoning. It is almost always guaranteed that the faith of the ‘inferior culture’ will be scrutinized and eventually absorbed into the ‘superior’ understanding. Such an inferiority complex has the power to end independent thinking and theological development on a larger scale. Subsequently in Asia, Africa and in the rest of the world where Christianity is growing in the midst of persecution, the majority (not in number but in conversions) is willing to follow the minority in the west. I guess there is a danger in either extreme.

Recently, I have been challenged by the clear evidence of the power of the Holy Spirit in a situation where I offered a rational and theological solution that I truly believed in, which my own family members in Pakistan rejected and insisted on exercise faith. Yes, against all odds, the triumph of their faith over my reasoning and theological understanding presented me with a dilemma. Could it be that gradually the American culture of my Baptist faith has replaced my simple faith in Christ to trust in Him for greater needs? Perhaps by not exercising the authority that Christ gives us, I have become the authority over my faith or perhaps everything is the same only I changed and thus started compartmentalizing the work of God. Growing up in Pakistan I witnessed many Muslim families, true followers of Islam exercising the same faith in Christ. Because they believed in the revelation of their prophet Muhammad they respected and believed in Christ and that He was blessed with the power of healing. So, they would come to my parents for prayer and they will receive healing in the name of Jesus. They too believe in Jesus’s power to heal.

This takes me to a very fundamental question that every believer should answer individually. How do you shield your Christian faith from cultural influence? Personally, I think the answer is not found in allegiance to charismatic faith, Baptist faith etc. but faith¬≠-the simple faith in Christ. I think, where there is a desperate need, God’s power is still at work and the manifestation of His power is not limited to time because He is the same yesterday, today and forever. Should I say that the Holy Spirit works differently in different cultures (see my other article on that topic), well, the Holy Spirit is His own being, and if He wills He can do so, but my understanding is that we limit His power by not allowing Him to function freely among us because we are wrapped up in our brand of theological criticism dictating what He can and can’t do.

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Dr. A. R. Javed

Dr. A. R. Javed is on faculty of New York School of the Bible, offering and heading the department of Missions and Understanding Islam. He is a lecturer at Davis College's NYC site and regularly gives lectures on Islam, Missions, Christian Theology nationally and internationally.

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