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1998 Religious Freedom in Canada and the United States

Presented by the Commission on Christian Action, adopted by the delegates to the 113th Covenant Annual Meeting.

Introduction

Although we in Canada and the United States do not often experience religious persecution, we are meeting increased opposition to Christian life and ministry. Religious freedom is threatened in our countries by more extensive regulation, by secular viewpoints in culture and government that are hostile to religion, and by decreasing protection through the law. Religious liberty, like all liberty, must be carefully guarded.

Biblical Background

Scripture teaches that governments have a God-given responsibility to serve Him by preserving the welfare of those who do good and punishing those who do wrong (Romans 13:1-6). Therefore, government should honor and protect religious freedom in order to respect human rights, to minimize religious conflict, and to allow religion to support the moral foundations of justice, freedom, and voluntary compliance with the law. Because of this servant role, government is to be obeyed by Christians.

However, God’s people are under God’s call and commandment to give their first and highest loyalty to him. The Bible reminds us that God is the ultimate liberator who frees his people to love and obey God as their first priority. In the first commandment, God said: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:2-3).

God’s people have a long, heroic record of obeying God’s requirements rather than human government when the two conflict. Moses stood up to Pharaoh. The prophets stood up to the kings of Israel and Judah. Elijah stood up to Ahab and Jezebel. Meshach, Shadrach and Abednego stood up to Nebuchadnezzar. Esther stood up to Haman, the royal official. Daniel stood up to the satraps of Darius the emperor. Peter and John stood up to the Sanhedrin. Paul repeatedly invoked his Roman citizenship in order to take a brave stand for the gospel before that ancient government. Through the ages and to the present, God’s people have been faithful despite frequent oppression by human governments. These are the great cloud of witnesses who inspire the church to continued faithfulness to God’s mission despite any opposition by human authority.

Declaration

We thank God for our heritage of liberty and for the freedom with which Christians have been able to live and share their faith in Canada and the United States. We also accept our responsibility to stand up for our faith in the face of opposition. As citizens of free countries, we have the privilege and duty to invoke our citizenship for the sake of justice. Therefore, we join with all people of good will in order to protect freedom for all religions in our countries.

Response

We, the delegates to this annual meeting, call our churches and fellow believers to take the following steps of action:

  1. Pursue an end to attempts to restrict the use of church properties by designating them, against the will of the congregation, as historical landmarks. The following Covenant churches have experienced attempts to restrict the use of their church property by making it a historical landmark: First Covenant Church, Seattle, Washington, and Evangelical Covenant Church, Montclair, New Jersey.
  2. Pursue an end to bankruptcy trustees seeking return of offerings given, in good faith, to churches. The following Covenant churches have received requests from federal bankruptcy trustees for repayment of offerings from members of the church on the grounds that such gifts were fraudulent transfers for which the church provided no tangible value: Community Covenant Church, Wichita, Kansas and Evangelical Covenant Church, Milwaukie, Oregon
  3. Seek equal access to public school buildings and other public facilities for the Christian church to proclaim its gospel message with the same freedom with which other messages and viewpoints are accommodated. The following Covenant churches have experienced opposition in renting a public school auditorium for Christian worship because of their gospel message: Christian Community Covenant Church, Jamaica Estates, New York, Gateway Covenant Church, Lexington, Kentucky, Community Covenant Church, Eagle River, Alaska, Bayside Covenant Church, Granite Bay, California, and Neighborhood Covenant Church, Dublin, Ohio
  4. Advocate openness in every city and community in Canada and the United States to the building of new places of worship and other religious spaces and an end to unreasonable zoning and use restrictions. Oak Hills Covenant Church in Vista, California has experienced a zoning attempt to exclude churches from a portion of the city. In Vancouver, British Columbia, the government has prohibited new church buildings, limiting the church planting efforts of The Evangelical Covenant Church of Canada. Several Covenant churches in Canada and the United States have experienced onerous zoning and use restrictions in recent years that have prohibited, restricted, delayed or increased the cost of church facilities.
  5. Support reasonable accommodation for individual and group expressions of religious faith in public schools and work places.
  6. Appreciate the historic tax-exempt status of places of worship and other religious properties and seek the equal and fair application of that status for all religious bodies.
  7. The following Covenant Bible camps have experienced attempts to deny them tax-exempt status:
    Lake Beauty Covenant Bible Camp, Long Prairie, Minnesota
    Pilgrim Pines Conference Center, West Swanzey, New Hampshire
  8. In the United States, work for passage of state religious freedom restoration acts protecting the freedom of all, including prisoners, and enhancement of federal law to the same purpose.
  9. Diligently protect the same freedoms we seek and cherish for ourselves for people of all religions, even for those whose beliefs we reject.
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