A group of expatriates wanted to organize a church in one of the most Muslim countries in the world. Permission was denied time after time. One of the reasons given was that evangelical Protestants don’t have a Pope like the Catholics so no one could speak authoritatively on their behalf.

When I visited the country one of the expatriates decided that the President of the National Association of Evangelicals was roughly equivalent to the Pope. (Please don’t think too much about this absurd comparison; it was his idea, not mine!) Religion is part of the Department of the Interior in this nation so he contacted the office of the Minister of the Interior and asked for an appointment. He and I met the Minister in his office where he sat at a desk on a raised platform and talked to me through a translator. It was kind of intimidating.

When it was my turn to talk I told him that in America we have religious freedom and that means that Muslims are free to worship in a majority Christian nation. It seems only fair for Christians to be able to freely worship in his majority Muslim nation.

My rationale didn’t work. He explained to me that his country is 100 percent Muslim and that his citizens are better Muslims than those in any other Muslim nation. He rattled off the names of numerous other countries where he considered the faithful to be less than fully faithful. Then he refused again to grant permission for the Christian expatriates to organize a church in his country.

Some Americans may want religious freedom in our country limited to Christians, but that is neither the American way nor the Christian way. As evangelicals we are convinced that the truth of the Bible and the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ are more powerful than any other religion, philosophy or argument. We just want a fair opportunity to live our faith and proclaim our gospel. One of the ways we claim religious freedom for others is to promote and defend religious freedom in America. Sometimes that is messy and not so easy. But, it’s the right thing to do here and everywhere.

This article originally appeared in the NAE Insight.

Leith Anderson
Leith Anderson has been president of the National Association of Evangelicals since 2006, and was the senior pastor of Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, for 35 years before retiring in 2011. He regularly teaches in seminaries, addresses evangelical concerns with elected officials, and provides theological and cultural commentary to leading news outlets. He has been published in many periodicals and has written over 20 books. Anderson has a Doctor of Ministry degree from Fuller Theological Seminary, and is a graduate of Moody Bible Institute, Bradley University and Denver Seminary.