Bishop James Conley joined other religious leaders in Lincoln, Neb. for a prayer service for religious liberty, reminding those present that choosing goodness is what constitutes ultimate freedom. “We are set free by Christ so that we can love as God loves,” the bishop said June 27. “Freedom is the responsibility to choose goodness over profit, or comfort, or consequence. As the letter of St. James says, freedom is the responsibility to 'be doers of the word, not hearers only.'” The ecumenical prayer service was held at Zion Presbyterian Church in Lincoln and fell during the most recent “Fortnight for Freedom” announced by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The two week period from June 21 to July 4 is to be a time of prayer and fasting for religious freedom in the United States. In his remarks on Friday, the bishop touched on the history of one of America's most beloved hymns, “Amazing Grace,” which he said serves as an example of what it means to be set free by the grace of God to choose the good. John Newton, author of “Amazing Grace,” was a sailor for slave ships in the late 18th and early 19th century in Britain. Although he became a Christian after a conversion during a shipwreck in his youth, Newton continued in the slave trade business for years. “Slaves had made him wealthy. They'd given his family great opportunities…Comfort and profit blinded John Newton,” Bishop Conley said, “But the Lord worked in Newton's heart. And eventually, his eyes were opened to truth.” Once Newton recognized the evil of the slave trade, he worked as an abolitionist and helped bring about the 1807 Slave Trade act that began the process of abolition in the British Empire. Newton is an example of what it means to embrace the freedom that comes from Christ, Bishop Conley said. “Grace sets captives free. And freedom is the grace to know the fullness of truth, and to respond.” Our religious freedom in the United States is threatened in several ways, the bishop continued, though this should come as no surprise. “The human freedom to choose goodness is a great threat to the chaotic injustice of the devil,” he said, “The darkness of sin has no greater enemy than those who carry the light of Christ.” Bishop Conley then reflected on some of the most recent threats to religious freedom in the U.S., including the upcoming verdict on whether or not Hobby Lobby will qualify for religious exemption under the HHS mandate requiring businesses to offer insurance that covers contraception. “The U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether Christians have the right to bring the faith into their business administration,” he said. “Churches, and hospitals, and universities are still being threatened.” Still, these persecutions “pale in the face of the threats believers face around the world,” the bishop said. “In the Middle East, and Asia, and Africa, Christians are still beaten, and tortured, and crucified. This is happening today. Right now.” Our response as Christians, Bishop Conley said, is to conform ourselves more to Christ and to evangelize to others in order to transform the world through God’s love. “May we understand freedom. May we exercise it. And may Christ use us each to transform the world,” the bishop concluded. After the prayer service, representatives of the Diocese of Lincoln, the Nebraska Family Alliance, and faculty members for the University of Nebraska conducted a roundtable discussion on religious liberty.
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