Ministry Forum dives into religious freedom
By Jeannette Cruz
GCU News Bureau
Is it the case that we have religious privilege that we don’t notice? Is it the case that we are offended when people ask about our beliefs? Or, is it furthermore the case that we conflate American values with Christian values?
Those were the questions raised Monday at Grand Canyon University’s Ministry Forum, hosted by the College of Theology.
The hour-long program included presentations by GCU faculty members Dr. Toby Jennings, new to the college of Theology, Dr. Jason Hiles, a trained theologian, and Manny Cota, an ethics professor — who explored the topic of religious liberty from Biblical, practical and historical dimensions.
Justin McLendon, the moderator of the panel, first called attention to the case of Aaron and Melissa Klein, co-owners of the Oregon bakery Sweet Cakes by Melissa, who were forced to pay $136,000 after they refused to provide a cake for a same-sex couple’s wedding in 2013.
McLendon then noted how the case was only one of many religious issues that bring religious liberty to light. For instance, Little Sisters of the Poor, an elder-care charity run by nuns, objected to Obamacare in 2014 because of the law’s contraception requirements.
Jennings had a theological rationale for religious liberty. He said that because all created beings are dependent upon something, that which people are dependent upon is essentially what a person is worshiping.
“Even an atheist has to worship and that worship then must have liberty,” Jennings said. “They talked about this in the Declaration of Independence… One human being does not have the authority to impose on another human being… We’re endowed by our creator.”
Hiles drew on the ideas of political and religious leader Roger Williams. Williams was among the first to say that the government can enforce the second tablet of the Ten Commandments but should not enforce the first tablet — a set of laws that summarizes how people should relate to God.
“And so God as Lord of conscious alone will hold me accountable to those things. The state may deal with those things that have to deal with loving my neighbor and acting appropriately toward my neighbor,” Hiles said. “That’s a pretty clear division between what the state ought to do and what it not ought to do. In that point I think Williams was moving in a direction that was pretty radical.”
But Hiles said that because the United States had Christian influences, religious freedom is often misunderstood as exclusively a Christian privilege.
“Really, religious liberty extends to non-Christians as well,” he said.
Cota said the misunderstanding of privilege is one of the first challenges when discussing religious freedom, as Christian privilege allowed Christians to assume their religious worldview as normative.
“One — the great thought that you have this (religious liberty) is already a Christian privilege,” he said. “Two — it institutionalizes religious discrimination.”
The next Ministry Forum, “Does God Call Women into Ministry?”, is scheduled for 5 p.m. Monday, Nov. 14 in Howerton Hall.
Contact Jeannette Cruz at (602) 639-6631 or firstname.lastname@example.org.