As theological debates on sexuality and marriage become more and more central, many Christian denominations are being asked to clarify their views.
The Evangelical Alliance United Kingdom has launched the Speak Up campaign to provide a clearer picture of the legal basis to talk about Jesus. Jurist Nancy Lefèvre (France) helped to start the initiative.
In the majority of the European countries, Christians have the freedom to speak about their faith and demonstrate it in their communities.
But many countries are facing a debate about freedom of speech in the media, in schools and on the street; especially when it comes to how people with faith convictions should express their ideas in the public arena.
The 'Talking Jesus' research showed that in the UK one in five non-Christians, after having a conversation with a Christian about Jesus, say that they are open to an encounter with Jesus.
However, it can often feel like we live in a society where it is increasingly difficult to share that faith. Christians may face hostility or rejection, but are usually protected from religious discrimination by strong domestic, European, and international legislation.
SPEAK UP CAMPAIGN
Speak Up is a new resource from the Evangelical Alliance United Kingdom (EAUK) and the Lawyers' Christian Fellowship, which aims to “equip and inspire Christians with confidence and knowledge of the current legal freedoms we have to share our faith.”
“Amid the religious illiteracy, confusion and attempts by some to 'chill' the atmosphere for public expressions of Christianity in the UK, we hope this resource will provide a clearer picture of the legal basis for us to talk about Jesus - and will encourage Christians to be more confident in sharing the gospel”, the EAUK says.
Through an in-depth report, an easily-accessible summary and web resources, the EAUK hopes “to enable Christians to speak up confidently, in line with Jesus' advice to his disciples to be 'as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves' (Matthew 10.16)”
“THE FREEDOM TO PROCLAIM THE GOSPEL SUSTAINS OTHER FREEDOMS”
“The resource encourages Christians to resist the temptation to respond in the manner of just another rights-claiming victim group, solely focused on our own narrow agenda. This is because the gospel has wider consequences for society.”
The document states that “the freedom to proclaim and live out the gospel – and the freedom for all to accept it or to reject it – demands and sustains even more freedoms. And when this happens everyone benefits.”
The campaign encourages Christians “to remember that, as followers of Christ, the truth is that if we don't exercise our freedoms, like a muscle they will eventually weaken. If we don't use them, we'll lose them. So don't be chilled out. Speak up.”
LIBRE DE LE DIRE
As Nancy Lefèvre, a jurist of the National Council of Evangelicals in France, told Evangelical Focus last year, Libre de le dire “started with the growing awareness of CNEF leaders about the gap between the law and how it was understood, about the potential threats and the great need of legal security and education on these crucial themes.”
“We promote freedoms of expression and religion for all, not only for Christians. The issue goes far beyond our own concerns, it impacts French society as a whole...believers and non believers”, Lefèvre explained.
“FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND SPEECH ARE CORE VALUES OF OUR DEMOCRACIES”
Lefèvre believes that Christians need to work together: “CNEF, EAUK and Evangelicals around the globe, with different strengths and weaknesses, are on the same boat, so sharing and supporting one another in this troubled time, seems crucial if we want to live out the Gospel of peace in a shaken world.”
Both campaigns fight for the freedom of every citizen: “Freedom of speech and freedom of religion are not just an ideal for believers, they are core values of our democracies.”
Evangelical Focus asked Nancy Lefèvre about the Speak Up campaign:
Question. What can French evangelicals provide - with its history of secularism - to the UK, in the area of freedom of speech and protection of the religious freedom of minorities?
Answer. Evangelicals might not share the same experience on both sides of the Channel but we share the same concerns.
Nowadays, France is a secular state, where the place and role of religion in the public sphere is questioned, due to the growing visibility of Islam in an society, sadly unprepared for religious pluralism and under shock after Daesh terrorists attacks and in a lasting state of emergency.
The balance between fundamental freedoms, separation of state and religion and security is extremely fragile. The situation is similar in the UK.
We see the notion of “radicalism” arising and being potentially harmful to many, as our faith and principles of live differs from the “politically” or “socially” or “morally” correctness of the secular society, deprived of Christian values.
There is a need to clarify the scope of legitimate intervention of the state for security reasons to secure the larger scope for freedom and pluralism.
Who will stand to watch over the balance between freedom, state intervention and security? British and French Evangelicals can surely help prevent disproportionate restrictions on freedoms for believers and plead for a society of diversity and security, (not diversity or security). Believers need to be comforted and delivered from their growing fear so they can share the Gospel.
CNEF and EAUK, and Evangelicals around the globe, with different strengths and weaknesses, are on the same boat, so sharing and supporting one another in this troubled time, seems crucial if we want to live out the Gospel of peace in a shaken world.
Q. You launched the “Libre de Le Dire” campaign in 2014. Now it is the EAUK with the Speak Up guide. Is there a need in Europe of defending essential freedoms like freedom of speech and freedom of religion?
A. Needless to say that Europe is going through a significant crisis: a crisis of identity with Brexit, crisis of values with the difficult handling of migration issues, economical and somewhat political crisis... In the midst of it, there are strong voices for national populism, challenging the idea of pluralism and the acceptance of diversity, in particular religious diversity.
These voices are heard all over Europe, across borders. Freedom of speech, freedom of religion are not just an ideal for believers, they are core values of our democracies, they go with freedom of thought and are at the root of the ability of every individual to choose to live and think as he wishes.
We need to look back at what led to the European Convention of Human Rights after World War II. Peace rests in the respect for everyone, not just for the majority.
We need to be aware of the presence of dangerous and insidious arguments in the political and media arena and be prepared to contradict them now.
Libre de le dire is a preventive campaign. CNEF wanted to stand up, encourage Christians and other believers to exercise their rights with legal security. We did not want to wait too long, or to wait for cases and hardships or for new laws...
As I sat in different European meetings, I sensed that clarifying what freedom of speech and freedom of religion are and defending them was a common concern, whether at European level or at national level.
This accurate understanding seems necessary for the Church to continue to spread the Gospel and for peace in our society. Indeed, you can measure democracy with how a state deals with its minorities, in particular with freedom of religion. Europe surely needs more democracy.