While Americans celebrate Independence Day with flags and fireworks, cookouts and complaints about the price of gas, we should take a moment to remember how many people in the world still remain without religious freedom.
In several former republics of the Soviet Union, for example, persecution of the church is a daily affair. Baptist pastor Hamid Shabanov, for example, was recently arrested in Azerbaijan by police who claimed they found a gun in his home. Supporters insist the gun was planted.
In Kazakhstan, authorities are closing down churches and other places of worship, often on the basis of specious reasoning or trumped-up charges. You can learn more about religious persecution in these and other former Soviet bloc states at the watchdog site Forum 18.
In countries where Muslim law is incorporated into the national government, conversion from Islam to Christianity is against the law and can carry stiff penalties, as illustrated by a recent case in Iran. A religious freedom organization called Compass Direct offers updates of religious persecution across the globe — more than enough stories to prompt prayers for the oppressed and thanks for the religious freedom Americans have.
One of the things we can pray for is that the Baptist World Alliance will find an effective spokesperson to lead an open staff position to promote religious freedom and human rights worldwide. BWA has good connections in the United Nations and is the most widely respected voice for Baptists in global political circles.
Another thing we can do is to offer thanks for the freedom we have. While some Baptists have joined other conservative Christians in pushing for a more cushy relationship between religion and government, our founding fathers knew of the dangers, and guarded against them. To learn more about the role Baptists played in guaranteeing religious liberty for Americans, you can reprise this old editorial, or take a look at this excellent post by David Stratton.
On this holiday, fireworks can be fun, but center stage belongs to freedom.