In Twitter Debate Over Religious Freedom, Rep. Ilhan Omar Is Right
Tuesday night, a contentious debate over religious freedom broke out on Twitter between a Republican congressman and a former Trump campaign staffer. To make matters even more interesting, a Democratic congresswoman joined the fray, offering a strong defense of America’s First Freedom. Although the congressman eventually apologized for his comments, the debate shed light on how the nature of religious freedom can be misunderstood.
It all started when Lizzie Marbach, the director of Communications for Ohio Right to Life and a former Trump campaign official, tweeted the following via her personal Twitter account: “There’s no hope for any of us outside of having faith in Jesus Christ alone.” Thirty minutes later, Rep. Max Miller (R-Ohio) responded to Marbach, writing, “God says the Jewish people are the chosen ones, but yet you say we have no hope. Thanks for your pearl of wisdom today.” Miller went on to retweet Marbach’s original post, adding, “This is one of the most bigoted tweets I have ever seen. Delete it, Lizzie. Religious freedom in the United States applies to every religion. You have gone too far.”
Marbach responded to Miller, explaining, “Sorry, Congressman, but these are the words of Jesus himself.” After quoting John 14:6, Marbach paraphrased Philippians 2:10-11 stating, “No one has hope outside of Jesus Christ and every knee will bow one day declaring that Jesus Christ is Lord.” Marbach then wrote, “Even when a sitting Congressman tries to get us to deny the truth of the gospel, we can’t. We must obey God rather than man.” She quoted Romans 1:16, in which Paul says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”
In less than 24 hours, Marbach’s initial tweet had been seen by 1.5 million Twitter users. Many Christians came to Marbach’s defense, and for a while, #IStandWithLizzie trended on Twitter. Surprisingly, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) weighed in, writing, “No! Stating the core beliefs or principles of your faith isn’t bigoted as Lizzie did, its (sic) religious freedom and no one should be scolded for that. It’s also wrong to speak about religious freedom while simultaneously harassing people who freely express their beliefs.”
Within minutes, one of Omar’s followers pushed back, suggesting that Marbach’s initial tweet might have crossed the line by claiming there is no hope outside of Christianity. Omar immediately responded, explaining to her nearly three million followers, “That’s her actual belief, you can disagree but it’s not bigoted for her to say what her beliefs are. That’s all.”
From a worldview perspective, there are several lessons we can glean from last night’s debate on Twitter. First, Marbach’s original contention that there is “no hope for any of us outside of having faith in Jesus Christ alone” is one of the most fundamental tenets of Christianity. The exclusivity of Christ is a theme repeated throughout Scripture. For example, in Acts 4:12, the apostle Peter says, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Elsewhere, in John 3:36, Jesus says, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” Finally, and perhaps most famously, Jesus said himself in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
For 2,000 years, Christians have claimed that salvation and reconciliation between God and man only come through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The fact that a sitting member of Congress finds one of the most basic claims of Christianity “bigoted” displays a stunning lack of awareness about the world’s largest religion.
Second, Miller’s initial contention that Marbach’s tweet somehow violates religious freedom protections was misguided and reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of what religious freedom is. Religious freedom is not merely the freedom to privately believe what you want in terms of theology or to worship God as you see fit within the four walls of your church, mosque, or synagogue. Properly defined, religious freedom is the freedom to believe what you want in terms of doctrine and theology and to order your life around these deeply held religious beliefs. To suggest, as Miller said in his initial response, that sharing core tenets of one’s faith is somehow a step “too far” is evidence of an extremely narrow definition of religious freedom that is out of step with our nation’s history.
As I’ve argued before, the Bible provides a strong theological foundation for supporting religious freedom. In a secular world, Christian truth claims, like the exclusivity of Christ, will increasingly be seen as bigoted and outdated. This is partly why Christians understand the importance of protecting everyone’s right to believe and live out their faith according to the dictates of their conscience. Soul freedom for everyone is the ideal — an ideal that the United States has largely lived up to since its founding.
Ironically, Omar, who has often been antagonistic to Christian moral beliefs throughout her legislative career, is spot on in her defense of religious freedom. It is wrong and un-American to harass people for sharing their religious beliefs.
As a Christian, I am grateful for Lizzie Marbach’s bold articulation of Christian truth that faith in Jesus Christ is the only way for sinful people to be reconciled to a holy God. And as an American, I am grateful for Ilhan Omar’s defense of America’s first freedom and hope that her colleague, Max Miller, uses the latest dustup to sincerely reconsider his views on religious freedom.
David Closson is Director of the Center for Biblical Worldview at Family Research Council.