August 06, 2013
Pope Francis, evangelization, and freedom
In his message for World Mission Day, Pope Francis affirmed that "publicly witnessing to Christ" should not be seen -- as it sometimes is, by those who would regulate conversions, missionary work, "proselytism" and the like -- as an "assault on others' freedom." (Story here.)
Francis commented on an obstacle to evangelization that comes from the idea that "proclaiming the truth of the Gospel means an assault on freedom."
Quoting Paul VI in Evangelii Nuntiandi, he said: "It would be ... an error to impose something on the consciences of our brethren. But to propose to their consciences the truth of the Gospel and salvation in Jesus Christ, with complete clarity and with total respect for free options which it presents ... is a tribute to this freedom."
Francis said we must always have "the courage and the joy of proposing, with respect, an encounter with Christ."
This is important, I think. A few years ago -- two papacies ago! -- I wrote a short essay called "Changing Minds: Proselytism, Religious Freedom, and the First Amendment", that dealt with some of these same issues. The abstract:Proselytism is, as Paul Griffiths has observed, a topic enjoying renewed attention in recent years. What's more, the practice, aims, and effects of proselytism are
increasingly framed not merely in terms of piety and zeal; they are seen as
matters of geopolitical, cultural, and national-security significance as well.
Indeed, it is fair to say that one of today's more pressing challenges is the
conceptual and practical tangle of religious liberty, free expression, cultural
integrity, and political stability. This essay is an effort to unravel that
tangle by drawing on the religious-freedom-related work and teaching of the late
Pope John Paul II and on a salient theme in the law interpreting the Free Speech
Clause of the First Amendment.
Running through and shaping our First Amendment doctrines, precedents, and values is a solicitude for changing minds - our own, as well as others'. Put differently, the Amendment is understood as protecting and celebrating not just expression but persuasion - or, if you like, proselytism. There are, therefore, reasons grounded in our Constitution and traditions for regarding proselytism and its legal protection not as threats to the common good and the freedom of conscience, but instead as integral to the flourishing and good exercise of that freedom. This same solicitude for persuasion and freedom pervades the writing of Pope John Paul II, who regularly insisted that the Church's evangelical mission does not restrict freedom but rather promotes it. The Church proposes - thereby inviting the exercise of human freedom - she imposes nothing. The claim here, then, is that proposing, persuading, proselytizing, and evangelizing are at the heart of, and need not undermine, not only the freedoms protected by the Constitution, but also those that are inherent in our dignity as human persons.
Well, the freedom to evangelize is coextensive with the freedom to walk away from evangelist if you so desire. Kinda hard to do if you're in the armed forces and your CO is bent on spreading the good news, whether you want to spread upon or no...
Posted by: sam | Aug 7, 2013 1:03:20 PM
Professor Garnett, It would be accurate to state His Church affirms, rather than proposes, least it appear that there is more than One Truth of Love.
Posted by: Nancy | Aug 7, 2013 3:00:36 PM
Sam -- agreed. Nancy, our recent popes have used the term "propose," and I do not think that doing so is inconsistent with the fact that what the Church proposes / teaches is proposed and taught as true.
Posted by: Rick Garnett | Aug 7, 2013 4:31:59 PM
Professor Garnett, protecting the freedoms inherent in our dignity as human persons, depends upon our affirming the truth about the human person from the start.
Posted by: Nancy | Aug 8, 2013 8:34:46 AM
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