The life of evangelical churches and their spiritual leaders has been portrayed in some recent films and series. Can they help us start conversations?
Christel Lamère Ngnambi, Brussels Representative of the European Evangelical Alliance, talks about religious freedom and freedom of conscience.
Throughout 2016, there have been many examples that show the lack of religious freedom and freedom of conscience that many experience worldwide.
Christel Lamère Ngnambi has served for 8 years as the Brussels Representative of the European Evangelical Alliance (EEA). The Brussels office of the EEA promotes active citizenship of its constituency and represents evangelicals to the European Institutions.
Christel’s main tasks as Brussels Representative include monitoring decision-making and political trends within the European Union, developing an evangelical Christian approach to a set of issues and being the voice of Europe’s 20 million evangelical Christians.
In an interview with the European Leadership Forum, Lamère talked about advocacy and religious freedom in Europe.
WHY IS FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE IMPORTANT?
Lamère believes that “freedom of concience is the freedom that recognises us the freedom to form opinions, to form beliefs, to be convinced about things concerning God, eternity or humanity.”
All that “is the real foundation for our impulses for serving our neighbour; for being obedient, considering the law is important; for building associations; all of that is based on our beliefs, on our worldview, and freedom of concience is really the recognition of the centrality of what happen in our hearts”, he adds.
“RELIGIOUS FREEDOM, ONE OF THE CORNERSTONES OF HUMAN RIGHTS”
“Freedom of religion is one of the cornerstones of human rights, and one of the oldest - if not the oldest - fundamental freedoms that was recognised. In fact, in the Bible, King Cyrus gave religious freedom to the israelites”, the EEA Representative says.
Religious freedom is also “as some people have put it, `the canary on the coal mine´ for human rights and peace. The places in the world where people have less freedom, generally, and where developement is more difficult, are often places where there is little or poor religious freedom”, he states.
Actually, “research shows that aboout 75% of the world population lives in countries where there are moderate or serious violations of religious freedom.”
That is why “Christians, alongside others, should regain or rediscover the importance of freedom of concience, for our brothers and sisters in many places in the world, our brothers and sisters in Europe who are also suffering, but also for the rest of humanity, this is part of the common good”, Christel points out.
“A CIVIL PUBLIC SQUARE”
Lamère Ngnambi explains that “with the emergence of the global public square, things you say or do in London today, may have direct consequences in things that happen in Baghdad tomorrow. So we need to be conscious of the diversity and understand that we cannot go away with it, that religion is going to stay.”
He emphasises that it is important to understand that each player has its role: “Churches need to be churches, the state should do what it must do to promote public justice in an even-handed way, not giving favoritism to any group, it should function within its limits.”
But, how do we live together with our differences? “The vision that we promote, and we have done that with doctor Os Guiness, is the vision of a civil public square. It's a vision of freedom for people, to express their inner values, and beliefs, to have freedom to engage in the public square, but in a context, in a framework of the great values and principles, and the recognition that what is true for me, its true for you, recognising that my rights are the same as yours.”
“RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IS UNDER THREAT”
Lamère sees “a lot of encouraging signs of progress, specially in the way Christian comunities understand the importance of religious freedom, and now the EU understand religious freedom better.”
But “religious freedom, freedom of conscience, which many would call the mother of all freedoms, has been described as a human right under threat, and threats come from various sites, like redefinition of religious freedom, considering it as a freedom of worship: you are free to worship, to believe, to practice, within the walls of your church, or your house, but, please, do not bring your faith to your workplace, or in the streets, or in the public square”, he adds
“That is a problem, because religious freedom is a maximal freedom, there can be limitations to religious freedom, but even these limitations are limited by law, this is what the Declaration of Human Rights says, what the European convention of Human Rights says.”
ADVOCATING FOR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
The problem is that “there is a reinterpretation of that freedom, and also a pressure coming, on the one hand, from the radicalised secularism [...] but also from the difficulty that Europe has as society with diversity, we have difficulties dealing with diversity, and what we are really lacking is a vision for diversity politics.”
“How do we live together with our deepest diferences, when we disagree about fundamental things? Is still possible to live together? What kind of societies do we want to build? The lack of understanding and vision of these issues,is one of the reasons why advocating for religious freedom is more difficult now that it would have been 15 years ago.”