Religious Freedom Advocacy and the Challenge of Pluralism: Principles of Engagement
Ratliff, Walter R
Kessler, Michael J
This thesis examines the promotion of religious freedom among a representative selection of evangelical groups in order to identify a set of ethical principles for advocacy that take into account contemporary pluralism, best practices derived from the social sciences, and core debates within Protestantism over religion in public life. The three case studies presented here cover political mobilization by American evangelicals, rights-based development by Coptic evangelicals in Egypt, and transnational religious freedom advocacy represented by the Institute for Global Engagement’s efforts in Vietnam.The primary social science methodology employed to examine these advocacy and mobilization efforts is Social Movement Theory. Each of the three case studies examines how each group identified a political issue, framed the issue according to its ideological outlook, developed political resources to address the issue, and mobilized its resources to resolve its grievances. This study explores the limits of religious mobilization through the theological critiques of leading Christian theologians and public intellectuals such as Reinhold Niebuhr and Stanley Hauerwas. These critiques highlight the paradox of Christians seeking to maintain the integrity of their faith while seeking to exercise political power. It also examines approaches among religious freedom advocates that transcend the common mobilization narrative in an interdisciplinary way that increases their effectiveness and mitigates concerns about the polarizing effect of identity group politics. The result of this analysis is a set of principles for religious freedom advocacy that reflects practical observations from the field and addresses theoretical and theological concerns. The principles are as follows: (1) Christian leaders should emphasize within their own communities the central role of the universal free conscience that appears in scripture, theology, and tradition, and the implications of this in a pluralistic context. (2) Christian public engagement in defense of religious liberty should be consistent in its emphasis on freedom and justice for all religious and nonreligious groups in society. (3) Religious freedom advocacy should emphasize the role of faith groups serving the common good through participation in civil society. (4) Religious freedom advocacy groups integrate their work with others across religious and social identity lines.
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