In Defense of Freedom
By Dr. Dorothee Cole
“Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.” – Benjamin Franklin
Since 9/11, our world has changed dramatically. It may not be so obvious in the average person’s life but it is nonetheless profound. America is changing. The Patriot Act signed in 2001 gave our government “authorization of indefinite detentions of immigrants; searches through which law enforcement officers search a home or business without the owner’s or the occupant’s permission or knowledge (1); the expanded use of National Security Letters, which allows the FBI to search telephone, e-mail, and financial records without a court order, and the expanded access of law enforcement agencies to business records, including library and financial records” (2). On December 31, 2011, the American president signed the NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act) which gives him (as well as members of the Armed Forces) authority to indefinitely hold U.S. citizens arrested on American soil without probably cause and thus without trial (3). Internet censorship is a hot topic as both the Senate and House of Representatives are working on bills that could shut down offending websites. Concerns over this issue led many website such as Wikipedia to shut down for a day in protest. Finally, surveillance via drones is not only used overseas but also domestically to ensure our safety. Security is competing with liberty and the latter seems to be losing. Is this constraint on freedom a Christian issue?
Americans did not hesitate to give up their lives for the cause for liberty just over 200 years ago. Do they feel less passionate about it today? Why are so few citizens aware, much less bothered, when the most beautiful document ever devised in the history of government, the American Constitution and Bill of Rights, is losing authority? Or do we need security at the expense of liberty? It was for the sake of security that “the president has made clear, in one of his signing statements, that he retains the power to engage in torture regardless of congressional statues to the contrary” (4). How do Christians today view these developments? A 2009 survey conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that it was white evangelical Christians who are most likely to support torture, compared with people who rarely or never attend religious services (5). Isn’t a Christian “one who professes belief in the teachings of Jesus Christ” (6)?
The tightening of our liberties, increasing surveillance, and the use of force seem to be accepted as “unavoidable” and even “necessary” by most American citizens. How is it possible that Christ’s followers not only condone but support such measures? Are we Christians embarrassed by Jesus’ statements? Is Jesus’ ideology unrealistic for our lives? Our world? Was Thomas Jefferson right when he said that, “In every country and every age, the priest has been hostile to Liberty” (7)?
God’s Son refused all forms of violence (8). He never inflicted physical or emotional pain on his listeners; instead he fed the hungry, healed the sick and even protected his enemy from violence (9). He warned Peter that those who live by the sword would die by the sword (10). He himself was tortured and did not retaliate. He did not allow the violence of his enemies to define him. Instead, he steadfastly lived by God’s law of love, honoring our freedom to accept or reject him. Our freedom was so paramount for him that he gladly paid the price for it—his own life at our hands. God’s love for us is so great that he limited his own freedom to assure ours.
The way God has chosen to deal with evil confirms that freedom is at the foundation of his government. The Almighty could have chosen to wipe out his enemy, Satan, from the very beginning. But he allowed the opposition a voice; he knew that evil could not be defeated by force but only by the truth given with love, leaving people free. Only persuasion by demonstration can evoke love, force and coercion have no place in God’s government.
One can’t be without the other. If God cannot enforce love, we can’t either. Whatever the prevailing principles of our respective country, of our world, Christians can’t afford to compromise on God’s principles. Violence, force, and deception are not part of God’s kingdom. We can only bring his kingdom to this earth when we are faithful to his principles. And freedom is one of those fundamental principles that distinguishes God’s ways from those of his enemy. As Christians, let us emulate Jesus by forsaking violence and coercion as means to gain control over others. Faithfulness rather than effectiveness; Liberty rather than force; Truth rather than lies; Love rather than fear.
“Everyone has become a captive of a fateful illusion that believes itself able to drive out evil by force. In this world where we everywhere marshal force against force, we must learn that force at best may succeed in containing a few manifestations of evil, but it can never conquer or eliminate evil. On the contrary, the force with which we fight evil has mainly the consequence that we ourselves become the victims of evil. As we resort to force against others, evil attacks us from behind and makes us evil ourselves.” – Helmut Gollwitzer
- The Fourth Amendment of the American Constitution states that, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated; and no Warrants shall issue but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
- Paul, Ron. The Revolution, 2008: p. 119.
- Torture prompts soul-searching among some Christians
- One could argue that Jesus showed violence when he overturned the furniture or sent the spirits into the pigs which then drowned in the water. However, it’s noteworthy that during Christ’s “violent” act, children came running to him and tortured human beings were given back their dignity.
- Luke 12:51
- Matthew 26:52