Religious Liberty

Why Blasphemy Laws Are Wrong

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News reports tell us that Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, a Christian minister sentenced to death in Iran, has been released and acquitted of blasphemy. Advocates of human rights and religious liberty are rejoicing all over the globe. At such a time, it’s worth Christians asking: just why are blasphemy laws wrong?

Now, obviously, as Christians we disagree with Islam and its teachings. And, obviously, we stand in solidarity with our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ. But why would such laws against blasphemy not be appropriate in the reverse case. If a Christian majority existed in a country, with the will to enforce all the laws it could, would this country be justified in outlawing Islam or atheism or Wicca? Why not?

Fundamentally, this is because blasphemy laws and other uses of state power to enforce religious belief or worship are themselves a repudiation of the beliefs themselves. A religion that needs state power to enforce obedience to its beliefs is a religion that has lost confidence in the power of its Deity.

Christians should fight for the liberty of Muslims in America and around the world to be Muslims, to worship in mosques and to freely seek to persuade others that the Koran is a true revelation of God. This isn’t because we believe in Islamic claims but precisely because we don’t. If we really believe the gospel is the power of God unto salvation, we don’t need bureaucrats to herd people into cowering before it.

The gospel is big enough to fight for itself. And the gospel fights not with the invincible sword of Caesar but with the invisible sword of the Spirit. When we seek to freely persuade our neighbors, and not to coerce them, we are confessing that the Spirit of God is mighty enough to convict of sin, to pull down strongholds and fortresses of the mind and the conscience.

Christians learned this the hard way. Some of us have tried to follow the way of the flesh and to enforce our gospel the Caesarian way. This doesn’t lead to the triumph of Christianity. It only covers paganism in a Christian veneer. The Church of England is more pageantry than coercive these days, but the state establishment hasn’t led to revival in the United Kingdom. The old Puritan colonies of New England drove out dissenters, true enough, and Christianity was as official as could be, and those places are now as burned over and secular as it gets in the United States.

We don’t just object to the Islamic persecution of Christians because we don’t want to be persecuted ourselves. We ought to work with freedom-loving Muslims and with other people to see to it that no person is imprisoned or executed for religious belief or practice. That’s not because we think all religions are relative or because we think religion doesn’t really matter all that much.

It’s because we come before the state with the same kind of confidence Jesus did in the court of Pilate. Jesus knew where Pilate’s authority was, and where it wasn’t.  With the calm tranquility of the One who knew he was in the right, Jesus simply said, “If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting” (Jn. 18:36). But, he said, “My kingdom is not of this world.”

Let’s let the Word of our God stand there with all the other words. And then let’s see what Word can convict hearts and move wills, without the coercion of jails or guillotines. Let’s love our neighbors as they seek to persuade us that “There Is No God but Allah and Muhammed is His Prophet.” And let’s seek to persuade those same neighbors, with love, that “Jesus Is Lord.”

The kingdom of God doesn’t consist in talk but in power. Right? And that’s a power the state, any state, cannot handle.

Only when we see how lost we are, we can find our way again. Only when we bury what’s dead can we experience life again. Only when we lose our religion can we be amazed by grace again.


About Russell Moore

Russell Moore is Editor in Chief of Christianity Today and is the author of the forthcoming book Losing Our Religion: An Altar Call for Evangelical America (Penguin Random House).