The history of Christianity has been marked by periods of persecution and tolerance interspersed with periods of prosperity or entente cordiale. Particularly in the Western world, Christianity has enjoyed many periods of social, cultural, and legal liberties since Constantine legalized the religion in 313 AD. These freedoms have allowed the church to exert significant influence over education, morality, governance, among other key aspects of society.

Despite its many blessings, Christianity does not exist in a vacuum. It thrives in a broader societal context that has been created by a complex mixture of culture, government, philosophies, and other religions. In many ways, Christian liberty depends on a broader societal environment that upholds freedom of expression, association, assembly, religion, among other rights.

In this paper, we argue that the church—individuals, congregations, denominations, Christian organizations, etc.—should take responsibility for protecting and nurturing these broader societal liberties. Christians are not mere beneficiaries of these freedoms but must also be their stewards, consciously maintaining and fostering a context where their own faith can flourish, as well as the faith of others. This responsibility is borne out of Christian conviction as well as realism regarding the historical symbiosis between religious freedom and social stability. We conclude by presenting several practical suggestions for living up to this responsibility.

Christian Conviction: The Command to Love Your Neighbor

The Bible contains an overarching call to love God above all else and to love one’s neighbor as oneself (Matthew 22:36-40). This commandment should move Christians not only to share God’s goodness but also to consider the impact of their actions on others. This includes understanding how their actions or inactions can protect or threaten the liberties and freedoms upon which Christianity thrives.

When Christians approach societal issues through the lens of love of neighbor, they are called to examine broader societal implications of their actions beyond personal preferences or doctrinal convictions. Loving one’s neighbor becomes a lens that transcends narrow religious perspectives in order to embrace holistic views of human dignity, respect for difference, and fairness. These ideas support broader societal rights that define a just environment where religious groups can coexist.

For instance, to love one’s gay or lesbian neighbor might demand that Christians support measures to prevent discrimination against homosexual persons in housing, job opportunities, or public spaces. This support does not imply acceptance of homosexual acts, but rather a commitment to ensuring that no person suffers unequal treatment on the basis of their sexual orientation. While the broader Christian community continues to grapple with this issue, there is a clear call to promote social justice and harmony that extends beyond individual congregations.

Historical Realism: The Reciprocal Nature of Liberty and Religious Fruitfulness

In addition to Christian conviction, a historical understanding of how freedoms enhance religious flourishing compels Christians to take responsibility for societal liberties. Christianity has always flourished more in societies with greater liberty and less in repressive ones. This can be traced back to early Christianity when its growth in the Roman Empire was fueled by toleration from the fourth century onward—but even earlier as Christianity took root under the Emperor Septimius Severus who allowed toleration of traditional Roman religious practices as long as Christianity was not aggressively propagated (Simpson 1995). However, Christianity truly thrived in the West under the edicts of Constantine in 313 AD.

However, this relationship between religious liberty and growth is not unidirectional as some might assume; instead, it is reciprocal. For instance, as Europe transformed into a Christendom with legal recognition for Christianity during the Middle Ages, religious authority expanded with moral codes often dictating many aspects of societal life. While this could be seen as a period of religious expansion, it also created spaces where religious minorities struggled under this majoritarian dominance, limiting their ability to grow and evangelize freely. Similarly, religious freedom in the United States has allowed for great evangelistic efforts by Christianity, but also necessitates awareness and vigilance about protecting the rights of those who do not share Christian beliefs.

Through this reciprocity, Christians are not merely passive recipients of their liberties, but active agents working to ensure a society conducive for healthy religious development for all faiths. Such societies allow for peaceful coexistence, mutual understanding, and respectful dialogue where individuals and communities of faith can share their beliefs in the public sphere and be protected from harm by laws that value diversity and tolerance.

Practical Responses: Stewarding Freedoms for the Common Good

In light of both Christian conviction and historical realism, individuals, congregations, Christian organizations, etc., have several ways to take up responsibility for societal liberties. These responsibilities may overlap but are presented separately for clarity:

1) Encourage mindful voting: As citizens in democratic societies, Christians vote to shape their governments. They can strive to elect leaders who uphold and champion constitutional liberties and social justice. They can also consistently pray for their governmental leaders regardless of their politics so the climate in society remains healthy for religious freedom (1Timothy 2:1-4).

2) Model respectful citizenship: Churches can influence their members by modeling inclusive practices for worshipping and volunteering opportunities while highlighting the importance of respectful engagement with nonbelievers, other faiths, or minority beliefs.

3) Advocate for the marginalized: The church can support organizations which work for the rights of marginalized groups such as refugees, migrants, indigenous peoples, prisoners, women, LGBTQ persons, etc. This inclusion speaks to the ideal of ‘love thy neighbor’, which demands compassion towards all regardless of our personal ideologies.

4) Support educational institutions that foster religious pluralism: Churches can support schools that promote religious pluralism as well as critical analysis and dialogue of diverse religious beliefs. This equips future generations of adults with the necessary skills for a productive coexistence with adherents of different faiths or none at all.

5) Be an example of religious tolerance and harmony: Within their own denominational circles, churches can model tolerance and harmony by welcoming individuals from diverse religious backgrounds, initiating interfaith dialogues and promoting projects that encourage cooperation among different religious traditions. This not only strengthens the cohesion within their own community but sets a valuable example for broader society.

6) Resist religious fundamentalism and extremism: Churches should actively discourage their congregation from extremist views and practices while promoting a balanced approach to religious observance and scriptural interpretation. This entails teaching about the importance of contextual understanding of religious texts and the dangers of religious dogmatism that could create tension in society.

7) Promote dialogue between religious groups and secular institutions: Churches can host seminars/ workshops or engage with educational or other public institutions to foster open dialogue around religious freedom, its benefits, threats, and the importance of protecting these rights for all religious groups. This also involves regularly staying informed about updates in government policy relevant to religious expression and liberty.


Christians live in a complex web of relationships with people from multiple religions and none at all. In this web, they must navigate shared values, while safeguarding freedoms necessary for their own religious expression. While they benefit from societal liberties, Christians ought not see these as passive gifts but as active responsibilities they must steward responsibly—considering not only their own interests but the flourishing of society at large.

Ultimately, Christians are challenged to embody Jesus’s commandment to love their neighbors as they seek to serve not only their religious communities but also the broader societies which house them. This does not require religious uniformity but mutual respect and tolerance among diverse peoples and their faith expressions. Ultimately, this stewardship promotes social harmony, allowing for healthy religious development for all faiths, including Christianity itself.

Works Cited

Simpson, Brian Walter. Roman Religion and Christian Politics: Constantine to Mamaea. University Press of America, 1995.

Author Bio:

George Panga is a Baptist Minister in Democratic Republic of Congo and a Research Assistant at the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre in Rwanda, Africa. His field of interest includes history of Christian thought and its impact on societal development; social theory and how it affects Christian theology; as well as the interplay between religion, development, violence and peacebuilding.