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When I participate in panel discussions on the state of religious freedom in the country today, there are a few questions I can almost guarantee will come up every time. One is about the biggest threats to religious liberty, and it gives panelists the opportunity to reflect on either rising political polarization or the decline of organized religion — or both.

During a panel last week co-hosted by the Trinity Forum, the Center for Public Justice and the American Enterprise Institute’s Initiative on Faith and Public Life, the threats question did indeed get raised. But panelist Kristina Arriaga, a scholar and legal advocate, surprised me by taking the conversation in an unexpected direction.

Arriaga, a former member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, said that the rise of cancel culture is one of the threats that’s worrying her most. Today, people often try to censor statements they don’t agree with, she said, rather than embracing the right to share controversial ideas, argue and then find a way forward.

“We were meant to challenge each other,” including in the realm of faith, she said.

Americans have always been pretty bad at having difficult faith-related conversations, Arriaga acknowledged, referencing the old saying about not bringing up religion or politics at the dinner table. But this problem is getting worse as people begin to believe that words are a form a violence.

“The solution for offensive speech is not censoring people. It’s to have more speech and more discussions,” she said.

Arriaga challenged the religious freedom advocates listening to the virtual panel to start talking about their faith and the importance of religious liberty more often. The country is better off when we regularly talk — and disagree — with each other, she said.

“We need to talk more about religion and talk more about politics,” she said. “It’s almost a responsibility to say things that may be offensive to other people.”


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Term of the week: Frozen chosen

I think I’ve mentioned in the newsletter before that I’m Presbyterian, which means I’m part of the big blob of mainline Protestantism (as I so eloquently put it when people ask.) That also means I’m one of the “frozen chosen,” a somewhat silly and somewhat mean way to describe Presbyterians or mainline Protestants more generally.

As one Presbyterian pastor puts it in a blog post about the nickname, “frozen chosen” references the “reserved and sometimes timid” way that Presbyterians typically worship. Rather than sway and clap to praise music, we stand and sing formal hymns. Rather than share spontaneous speeches about our beliefs, we read centuries-old declarations of faith.

Those characteristics may not sound very glamorous, but, as the pastor wrote, being steady and measured isn’t a bad thing. I’ve always enjoyed the quiet routines of mainline Protestantism and the formal structure for Sunday worship.


What I’m reading ...

Dr. Mehmet Oz could be the first Muslim senator, but you’d hardly know that from following his Pennsylvania race, according to The Associated Press. “It’s something he hardly brings up while campaigning, his Democratic opponent isn’t raising it and it’s barely a topic of conversation in Pennsylvania’s Muslim community,” the AP reported, noting that one possible reason is the rarity of Muslim Republicans.

In case you missed it, a church in Texas made national news recently for illegally reproducing a Christianized version of the musical “Hamilton.” Last week, the church, The Door McAllen, posted an apology on Instagram and agreed to pay damages, The New York Times reported.

Religion scholar Roger Nam argues that biblical teachings on loan forgiveness are more nuanced than it may seem on Twitter in a recent column for Religion News Service. That’s probably always the case with faith-related social media debates.


Odds and ends

My friend and mentor Bob Smietana has a new book, “Reorganized Religion,” coming out this week. It’s about the present and future of American faith. Bob spoke with another friend, Bobby Ross Jr., about the book earlier this month. Check out their conversation here.

Here’s the case for talking to strangers.