I’m so blessed and thankful to have Yelena Bosovik here today on Ashes to Beauty. She is a young woman with a lot of wisdom and a heart for God. Yelena brings us this guest post, Redefining Religious Freedom. Enjoy!
“Believe what you will, but don’t force your religion/beliefs/opinions on anyone else” seems to have become the modern definition for religious freedom. You can do whatever you want in the privacy of your home and church, but if your beliefs seep into other aspects of your life, things get complicated.
A teacher can dress up as a witch on Halloween at school, but she can’t sing Christmas carols. She can assign an R-rated novel, but not pray in the classroom.
So, what should you do if at the core of your faith is evangelism? What do you do if your whole life is Jesus? How then do you hide your entire identity?
My family immigrated to the United States from Ukraine to escape religious persecution in 1999. For generations, my family has been persecuted for their beliefs: my great-grandfather served a 15-year-sentence in a Siberian prison camp. My grandfather, who served as pastor of a large Pentecostal church for 40 years, the majority of which was under the Communist regime, underwent several public, citywide trials for his faith. My father got the lighter end of the deal, serving “only” three days in a local jail.
Somewhere along the way though, I began to notice that these religious rights are constrained. Take, for example, the recent political and social conversations on legalizing gay marriage. As my faith influences every aspect of my life, it also influences my social, economic and political beliefs. The Bible says that homosexuality is an abomination before the Lord and that sexual immorality is a sin. But, when you say these words in today’s setting, you’re bound to get a heated debate, and in some instances, name-calling and hatred. The religious folk are accused of being intolerant and that our opinions are too judgmental and religious. The gay marriage advocates in turn are called all sorts of names.
All a “belief” is though is something that you believe – an opinion or conviction. I believe that homosexuality is a sin, and thus immoral. Yes, my opinion is founded on my religion. But, if you believe that homosexuality is okay, then that is your opinion as well. But, it is also based on your personal credo – the way you were raised, who your friends are, and maybe even where in the country you live. Just because my belief is influenced by religion, does not make it any different from the things that influence your beliefs.
Theoretically, you and I should be able to voice our religious beliefs and get the same amount of respect and credibility – even if those beliefs are polar opposites and maybe completely insane (excluding the sects that advocate violence – because violence is never the answer).
The most meaningful conversations I have ever had were with people whose beliefs were different from mine, because in those exchanges, my faith was convicted and strengthened. You can’t put value on a conversation that is open, honest, and respectful. A conversation that even if it does get into a heated debate, each person is willing to listen and acknowledge the other’s points.
Sometimes, we forget that just because you acknowledge someone’s belief, does not mean you are endorsing it or accepting it as your own. Allowing someone else to voice his or her beliefs does not mean you are betraying your faith.
Yes, my God instructs me to share the Truth of salvation with all of humanity – even to the ends of the earth (Mark 16:15-20). And, the reality is that if you love your God so much, you can’t hide it – it’s in the way you live, how you dress and speak and it’s one of the few conversation topics that interest you.
I want to tell you what I believe. I want to share with you what gets me up in the morning and why there is joy and peace in my heart that I can’t seem to explain.
I also want to hear what you believe. I want to hear what motivates you and what you think the purpose of your existence on this planet is. I will sit and listen. I’ll probably ask questions and counter some of your points.
But, it’s not because I am judging you. Nor am I not trying to convert you. Yes, I would be over-the-moon kind of happy if you accepted Jesus as your Savior, but if you walk away from the conversation with beliefs that conflict with mine, I won’t love or respect you any less.
Let’s unleash the true meaning of religious freedom – an open, honest, respectful existence that produces conversation, not intolerance. I promise that each one of us will learn something new as a result – and maybe make a new friend or two. That’s what Love would do. Because, regardless of your religion, political affiliation or economic status, I think we can all agree that we could do with a bit more love in this world.