About five years ago, I had the privilege of making a presentation before the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a European intergovernmental organization established to protect, among other things, international “human rights.” While there, a prominent European atheist group also did a presentation claiming that churches across the world are violating the rights of atheists by excluding them from church membership.
Of course, this was news to me. So I listened.
Their argument went this way: governments subsidize churches directly through tax support, such as in Europe, or indirectly through tax exemptions, such as in the United States (which is false, of course). Since atheists pay taxes, they argued, they can’t be excluded from full church membership and participation, at least not on the grounds that they don’t believe in God. To do so constitutes unlawful discrimination on the basis of religion and a violation of their human rights—again, at least according to them.
Now, at the time, I frankly thought this argument laughable. However, with the passage of just a few short years, what seemed absurd then is gradually becoming reality through the use of so-called “anti-discrimination” regulations targeting Christian ministries. Assuming there are indeed bona fide societal justifications for “nondiscrimination” regulations, their application to churches or Christian ministries turns the essential nature of “Church” on its head. And since we know that ideas expand to the limits of their own logic, any acquiescence to the notion that a body of religious adherents cannot remove non-believers from their membership poses an existential threat to that religious body.
A few actual examples make my point. In the UK, the University of Exeter has sought—unsuccessfully for now—to ban the Christian Student Union from campus on the grounds that it requires members with voting rights and leadership positions to be—drum-roll please—professing Christians. This is a Christian student group founded over 50 years ago for prayer, discipleship, and ministry.
In the U.S., in the state of Washington, I represented a Christian student club named the Truth Club, which was established to promote Christian virtues and moral behavior. Incredibly, a public school banned the club from campus because the club required that its officers and voting members be professing Christians.
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