Cultural Encounters 16.1: Religious Liberty—For All

Cultural Encounters: A Journal for the Theology of Culture

Volume 16, Number 1: “Religious Liberty—For All” 

Published by The Institute for Cultural Engagement: New Wine, New Wineskins

The latest issue of Cultural Encounters expresses a desire to hear from other traditions as conversation partners for the common good in a common society. You will hear from a variety of perspectives including Roman Catholic, Jewish, Latter-day Saint, Muslim, Buddhist, Humanist, Satanist, and Evangelical Christian. Each of the contributions reveals how adherents of diverse traditions draw from their distinctive legacies to foster religious liberty in the here and now.

Purchase one issue ($9.99) or subscribe ($14.99/year [two issues]) here.


Essay Abstracts

“Religious Liberty and Relationality: Pope Francis’s De-Privatizing Challenge to Jurisprudence in Its Theological Context” pp. 7-18

Author: Peter J. Casarella

In Evangelii Gaudium [EG], Pope Francis defends religious liberty using language from the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops: “As the bishops of the United States of America have rightly pointed out, while the Church insists on the existence of objective moral norms which are valid for everyone, ‘there are those in our culture who portray this teaching as unjust, that is, as opposed to basic human rights. Such claims usually follow from a form of moral relativism that is joined, not without inconsistency, to a belief in the absolute rights of individuals. In this view, the Church is perceived as promoting a particular prejudice and as interfering with individual freedom’ (EG 64).” The Pope also, however, places the doctrine of religious freedom in the context of a new, invigorated approach to social dialogue based upon principles such as “unity prevails over conflict” and “the whole is greater than the part” (EG 222-5, 234-7, 255). In this essay I will explore the juxtaposition of a thorough-going rejection of relativism with a renewed call for respect for difference. In particular, I will analyze the speech that the Pope delivered in Spanish in Liberty Plaza in Philadelphia (while standing in front of the building in which the Declaration of Independence was signed) on religious freedom and his call to respect the other as other in that context. Here he not only alludes to principles developed in the U.S. founding but also to the thought on alterity of the Jesuit Michel de Certau. In sum, the Pope adumbrates a more global and intercultural understanding of religious freedom than the allegedly pragmatic approach, attributed to John Courtney Murray and his work We Hold These Truths, than that which has been purveyed recently in U.S. Catholicism.


“With No One to Make Them Afraid: A Jewish Perspective on Safeguarding Religious Freedom” pp. 19-25

Author: Rachel S. Mikva

The prophet Micah imagined a future time when “all peoples walk in the names of their gods, and we walk in the name of YHWH our God forever” (Mic 3:4). That perspective seems quite different from Deuteronomic instructions to eradicate polytheism from the land of Israel. The Hebrew Bible is a multivocal text and ideas about religious pluralism are no exception.

Of course, Judaism continued to develop after redaction of its scripture. Rabbinic tradition, taking shape under the thumb of various pagan, Christian, Zoroastrian, and later Islamic empires, was acutely sensitive to issues of freedom for religious minorities. It also developed a theology of religious difference grounded in natural law, framed as Noahide law in the rabbinic imagination, that recognized the moral capacity of all human beings. The sages affirmed that the righteous of all nations merit a place in the World-to-Come. They determined that people believe different things and practice different rituals, but it is how they treat each other and the society they fashion together that matter most.

A history of forced conversions and disputations, expulsions, discriminatory laws, and hate crimes has made the fight for religious freedom fundamental in Jewish life—more deeply embedded than the sources might suggest. In the United States, Jews fight not only for their own rights, but also for those of Catholics, Muslims, Sikhs, atheists, and others who have encountered oppression. Most Jews also tend to be very protective of the separation between religion and state, given the ease with which majority faiths can dominate public discourse and policy. This commitment does not require a “naked public square,” but it is cognizant of the ways in which the freedom of some might impinge on the freedom of others. The Talmud demonstrates the multiple ways in which values might collide, and models how to uphold religious freedom without making it an absolute.


“Religious Liberty in Islam” pp. 27-31

Author: Harris Zafar

Religious liberty is a fundamental right granted to every human being, and this is a right that Islam staunchly advocates for and protects for all people, regardless of their faith. The Holy Quran declares, “There is no compulsion in religion.”

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) proved with his own actions that religious freedom is to be protected for all people—not just Muslims. After migrating to Medina, he formed a treaty with the Jewish community and together formed a system of government guaranteeing the right of every individual to practice their religion and customs without fear of persecution. He also established a charter pledging peace and religious freedom for Christians around the world for all times to come, including the right to preach their faith.

Protecting religious liberty is deeply rooted in Islamic teachings, and it is appalling when religious freedom is attacked in the name of Islam.


“We, the Aliens (Religious Liberty)” pp. 33-36

Author: Sallie Jiko Tisdale

Religious liberty exists in a plurality of values. How do we handle the collision of ideals? Many countries have laws against the wearing of religious clothing, promoting secularism and community as a higher value; such laws especially target veils. But during the pandemic, many of the same countries now require the wearing of masks, promoting public health as a higher value than freedom of choice. In the United States, resistance to face masks during the pandemic has been largely driven by conservative Christians. Tisdale is a Zen Buddhist teacher, a tradition with a strong emphasis on responsibility. How does our understanding of internal religious practice find expression in public life?


“A Democracy of Royals” pp. 37-43

Author: Charles Randall Paul

The essay aims to clarify how beliefs about God influence human ideas for social order.  Specifically, the author examines how the theology of Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (CJCLDS), engages the classic tension between monarchical systems of sovereign (genetic, God-given) authority and democratic systems of elected authority granted temporarily by the majority of the electorate. Within the empirical henotheology of the CJCLDS lies a heavenly political theory that could be employed in a practical way on earth as it is in heaven: a democracy of eternal beings that enjoy a dynamic rivalry over who loves the most. The author will explore how this political system derived from a radical belief in the humanity of God and the divinity of humans.


“An Evangelical and Satanist Conversation: Jesus and Satan as Outsiders and How This Relates to Dialogue” pp. 45-57

Authors: John W. Morehead and Stephen Bradford Long

Stereotypes and hostilities abound when it comes to Christians and Satanists. This prevents mutual understanding, and an exploration of areas where members of these very different religious groups might find agreement. What follows is a conversation between John Morehead, an Evangelical Christian, and Stephen Bradford Long, a member of The Satanic Temple. The discussion begins with a brief discussion of their backgrounds, before moving to how they understand Jesus and Satan within their respective traditions as outsider figures. This understanding of their central religious figures provides an important aspect to their efforts at multifaith dialogue, working through deep differences for the common good.


“Freedom of or From Religion?” pp. 59-80

Authors: Paul Louis Metzger and Tom Krattenmaker

The reputation of religious freedom is under challenge today. Many progressive critics decry its use by those they view as a high-status population—white evangelicals—to protect their privilege and power, some suggesting the time has come to limit or retire religion’s special constitutional protection. Has American society reached the point where religious liberty is damaged beyond repair? No. This article aims to demonstrate that while novel, politicized invocations have damaged the reputation of religious freedom in some quarters, this important liberty has long served Americans of varying religious (and political) stripes and stands to do so in the future. Nevertheless, the coauthors urge Christians to use judgment and consideration in their appeals to religious freedom, always bearing in mind this potent freedom is not a cudgel to wield against one’s fellow citizens, and that rights come with responsibilities—never more so than in the case of religious freedom.

Book Reviews

Speak of the Devil: How The Satanic Temple is Changing the Way We Talk About Religion

By Joseph P. Laycock. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2020. 272 pp. $35. Hardcover.

Review by John W. Morehead—Director of the Evangelical Chapter of the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy and Multi-faith Matters


Doing Theology as If People Mattered: Encounters in Contextual Theology

Edited by Deborah Ross and Eduardo C. Fernández with Stephen B. Bevans. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 2019. 291 pp. $39.95 paperback.

Review by Brandon M. Basse—Evangelical Seminary


Fashion Theology

By Robert Covolo. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2020. 216 pp. $39.95 hardcover.

Review by Andrew Ong—Christ Church East Bay, Director of Pastoral Care & Discipleship


 Bonhoeffer’s Reception of Luther

By Michael P. DeJonge. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017. 261 pp. $143.46 hardcover.

Review by Josh de Keijzer—Independent Scholar