Web Extra: The Chicago Declaration on Religious Freedom

National | Sharing Jesus Christ in a Pluralistic Society

Issue: "UNbelievable," June 17, 2000

Freedom to share one's deeply held religious beliefs is a basic liberty. Yet confusion has arisen over the efforts of some Christian believers, ministries, and denominations to make Christ known to members of other faith communities. Some contend that these efforts undermine a peaceful, pluralistic society and may lead to intolerance, bigotry, and even violence. As followers of Jesus Christ representing numerous denominations and religious organizations, we affirm that: Only a society that permits free discourse within the robust marketplace of ideas envisioned by America's founders can safeguard the true liberty, freedom, and human dignity we all pursue. Misguided or false notions of pluralism must not be allowed to jeopardize anyone's constitutional right to evangelize or promote one's faith. I. THE GREAT FREEDOM: RELIGIOUS LIBERTY
The freedom to worship God without government coercion and to exercise liberty of religious conscience is fundamental to any serious notion of human rights and the dignity of humankind. This is acknowledged in Article 18 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights: "Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance." In many countries, such as the People's Republic of China, Sudan, and Saudi Arabia, the liberty to exercise one's faith or to change religion is in jeopardy. For this reason, it is imperative that the United States of America remain a beacon of hope for those oppressed for reasons of conscience-a model nation where citizens affirm without hesitation the rights of others to hold beliefs or convictions that differ from their own. The religious freedom of American citizens is acknowledged and protected by our founding documents: the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. The First Amendment guarantees that Congress "shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise" of any religion. As American citizens, we reaffirm our commitment to a government that upholds the First Amendment of the Constitution. Moreover, as followers of Christ, we acknowledge that religious liberty is fundamental to human dignity and moral integrity, whatever one's religion or lack thereof. Each person has the right to hold his or her beliefs and also to express them to others, either publicly or in private. As Christians, we stand in solidarity with our fellow believers around the world who are imprisoned, tortured, and killed for their faith, and we pledge to pray and work for religious liberty for everyone, everywhere. We respectfully call upon all nations to abide by the tenets of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and we ask all signatory nations to renew their commitment to this Declaration. II. THE GREAT COMMISSION: CHRISTIAN WITNESS
Jesus Christ has commissioned His followers to proclaim His Gospel throughout the world, making disciples from all the nations. This final instruction of Christ to His disciples after His resurrection is known among Christians as "the Great Commission" (Matt. 28:18-20). Christians are commanded to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with others, even when they are censored or suppressed for doing so (Acts 4:18-20). This Gospel, or "Good News," announces that Jesus Christ is God incarnate, the one and only Savior and mediator for humankind (John 14:6, 1 Tim. 2:5). He paid the penalty for our sins by His death on the cross. His resurrection makes ours possible (1 Cor. 15:1-22). Those who receive Christ as Lord and Savior, through the power of the Holy Spirit, will not perish but have eternal life (John 1:12, 3:16). Salvation is a free gift of God. It is not earned by good works or by religious observances, however devoutly done (Eph. 2:8-9). Salvation is entirely by grace alone, through faith alone, and in Christ alone. As Christians, we have the weighty responsibility and joyful privilege of sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with others. We believe Christ's Gospel is the best news any person can ever hear. III. THE GREAT COMMAND: TO LOVE GOD AND NEIGHBOR
Jesus Christ calls upon His followers to love the Lord their God with all their hearts, souls, minds, and strength, and their neighbors as themselves (Deut. 6:5, Lev. 19:18, Mk. 12:29-31). This love must include respect for our neighbor's dignity, worth, and liberty of conscience. For us to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with others is not merely an act of obedience but also an act of love. It is also an act of humility, as Christians know they need Christ's mercy as much as anyone else. In this light, as followers of Jesus, we pledge to respect the value, dignity, and human rights of all with whom we speak. The Bible instructs us to shun "the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming" and instead to "speak the truth in love" to each person (Eph. 4:14-15). Therefore we reject the use of coercive techniques, dishonest appeals, or any form of deception in our evangelistic outreach. We acknowledge with shame that some Christian churches have failed to exercise proper respect for the rights and dignity of others. Under the banner of Christianity, churchmen have betrayed the high ideals of the Declaration of Independence by defending the institution of slavery or by fostering prejudice or exploiting the poor. The Gospel we proclaim must be ratified by lives of biblical love and compassion. IV. OUR COMMITMENT TO EVANGELISM AND RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
"The Great Freedom: Religious Liberty," "The Great Commission: Christian Witness," and "The Great Command: To Love God and Neighbor" are indispensable and mutually compatible truths and essential to our evangelical faith. We are abidingly grateful to God that our "unalienable" religious rights are acknowledged in the charter documents of the United States, thus providing a basis for protection of the fundamental freedom to share our faith. Moreover, we pledge to defend the rights of others to hold their own religious convictions, to challenge our beliefs, and to attract converts to their religious faiths. We commit ourselves afresh to obey the Great Commission, to love our neighbors, and to protect the rights of all. As followers of Jesus Christ, we expect to be held accountable for the principles and commitments set forth in this declaration. May God help us to be faithful in our witness. Mr. David Brickner
Executive Director
Jews for Jesus Dr. Bill Bright
Campus Crusade for Christ Dr. Paul Cedar
Mission America Mr. Rich Cizik
Vice President for Governmental Affairs
National Association of Evangelicals Dr. Robert Coleman
School of World Mission and Evangelism, Trinity International University Mr. Charles W. Colson
Prison Fellowship Ministries Rev. Leon Johnson
Senior Pastor
Bread of Life Baptist Church Chicago Dr. Richard Land
Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (SBC) Rev. Fred Luter
Franklin Avenue Baptist Church New Orleans Dr. Erwin Lutzer
The Moody Church Chicago Dr. Richard Mouw
Fuller Theological Seminary Ms. Dianne Knippers
Institute on Religion and Democracy Dr. Jesse Miranda
Associate Dean
Azusa Pacific University Mr. David Neff
Executive Editor
Christianity Today Mrs. Janet Parshall
National Spokesperson
Family Research Council Dr. John M. Perkins
John M. Perkins Foundation Dr. Bob Reccord
North American Mission Board (SBC) Mr. Jay Sekulow
Chief Counsel
American Center for Law and Justice Dr. Joe Stowell
Moody Bible Institute Dr. Greg Waybright
Trinity International University Dr. John Woodbridge
Research Professor and Department Chair,
Trinity Evangelical Divinity School ENDORSERS
Dr. Joseph Aldrich
President Emeritus
Multnomah Bible College & Seminary Mr. Gerald H. Anderson
Overseas Ministries Study Center Dr. John F. Ankerberg
Ankerberg Theological Research Institute Dr. Don Argue
Northwest College Mrs. Kay Arthur
Precept Ministries Dr. Ted Baehr
Christian Film & TV Commission Dr. Robert O. Bakke
Executive Director
The Evangelical Free Church of America Pastor Tommy Barnett
Pastor, Phoenix First Assembly
Co-Pastor, Los Angeles International Church Dr. B. Clayton Bell, Sr.
Pastor Emeritus
Highland Park Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) Dr. Ron Black
Executive Director
General Association of General Baptists Rev. Stuart Briscoe
Elmbrook Church Brookfield, Wisconsin Dr. George B. Brushaber
Bethel College and Seminary Mr. Larry Burkett
Christian Financial Concepts Commissioner John Busby
National Commander
The Salvation Army Dr. R. Judson Carlberg
Gordon College Mr. Samuel B. Casey, J.D.
Executive Director and CEO
Christian Legal Society Mr. Larry N. Chamberlain
President and Executive Director
Grace Brethren North American Missions Dr. Clyde Cook
Biola University Dr. Robert E. Cooley
Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary Mr. Roger Cross
Youth for Christ/USA Dr. Paul H. Dixon
Cedarville College Dr. David S. Dockery
Union University Dr. Maxie D. Dunnam
Asbury Theological Seminary Ted W. Engstrom
President Emeritus
World Vision Rev. Jerry Falwell
Liberty University Mr. Millard Fuller
Founder and President
Habitat for Humanity International Dr. Dennis L. Gorton
Director for Church Revitalization Ministries
Christian & Missionary Alliance Rev. Franklin Graham
President, Samaritans Purse
Vice Chairman, Billy Graham Evangelistic Association Mr. E. Brandt Gustavson, L.L.D.
National Religious Broadcasters Mr. Hank Hanegraaff
Christian Research Institute Dr. Jack Hayford
The King's Seminary and College Dr. Stephen A. Hayner
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship Mr. James V. Heidinger II
President and Publisher
Good News (United Methodist) Dr. Carl F. H. Henry
Theologian and first editor
Christianity Today Dr. Clyde M. Hughes
General Overseer
International Pentecostal Church of Christ Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.
Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary Dr. D. James Kennedy
Senior Minister
Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church Dr. Dennis F. Kinlaw
Francis Asbury Society Dr. Beverly LaHaye
Concerned Women for America Dr. Tim LaHaye
Tim LaHaye Ministries Bishop James D. Leggett
General Superintendent
International Pentecostal Holiness Church Dr. Duane Litfin
Wheaton College Dr. Crawford W. Loritts, Jr.
Associate Director
U.S. Ministries
Campus Crusade for Christ Pastor Charles Lyons
Armitage Baptist Church
Chicago Dr. John C. Maxwell
The INJOY Group Mr. Bill McCartney
Promise Keepers Dr. James Merritt
First Baptist Church
Snellville, Georgia C. Ben Mitchell, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Bioethics and Contemporary Culture
Trinity International University Dr. Albert Mohler, Jr.
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Dr. J.I. Packer
Regent College Dr. Paige Patterson
Southern Baptist Convention
President, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary Ms. Susan Perlman
Interdenominational Foreign Mission Association Dr. Keith Phillips
World Impact, Inc. Dr. Phil Roberts
Vice President,
Strategic Focus Cities, North American Mission Board (SBC) Dr. Dal Shealy
Fellowship of Christian Athletes Dr. Ronald J. Sider
Evangelicals for Social Action Dr. Kennedy Smartt
Past Moderator
Presbyterian Church in America Dr. R.C. Sproul
Ligonier Ministries Dr. Bill M. Sullivan,
Director of Evangelism and Church Growth Division
Church of the Nazarene Dr. Daniel E. Weiss
General Secretary
American Baptist Churches, USA Dr. Luder G. Whitlock, Jr.
Reformed Theological Seminary Rev. Donald E. Wildmon
American Family Association Rev. Michael Youssef, Ph.D.
The Church of the Apostles, Atlanta

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