2014 Canterbury Medal Dinner: Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks
Last night I was honored to attend the Becket Fund’s Canterbury Medal Award dinner, and tag along with true warriors in the fight for religious liberty. Like last year (which I wrote about here), I left the evening with new resolution to stand and be counted. What I didn't realize until last night was that the name of annual award, The Canterbury Medal, comes from the English cathedral where Thomas Becket was murdered in 1170 for courageously opposing the king’s encroachment on religious liberty. Though the tinkling crystal and elegant gowns, turbans, habits, yarmulkes and zuchettos in the Pierre Hotel last night were a far cry from Thomas Becket’s world, the battle for religious freedom is the same.
This year the Canterbury Medal was awarded to Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, the former chief Rabbi for Britain. His brilliant speech was at once stirring and harrowing, severe yet lighthearted, warning and inspiring. But I don’t think his call to action was missed by anyone in the room: without religious freedom there is no freedom.
He shared the grim reality of what is happening in Europe—a worker being let go for wearing a cross, a nurse facing persecution for praying with a patient, a Catholic adoption agency forced to shut its doors for refusing to place children with same sex parents, and the list goes on and on.
However, despite the stern messages, the feeling in the room was one of lively celebration, and a battle cry to continue on in fellowship in the work. I would recommend reading or watching his speech in its entirety (click here to watch), but wanted to touch on just two points as I was reflecting on my takeaways this morning.
First, the threat to religious liberty is real. While I haven’t yet faced persecution for talking openly about God, the feeling that I have to do so in hushed tones and in an apologetic matter is alarming. Our society is steadily moving towards individualism and moral relativism, and away from communities of faith which Lord Rabbi Sacks called “the real wealth of our nations.”
Rabbi Lord Sacks and The Becket Fund aren't the only one noticing. Just yesterday Kirsten Powers wrote an excellent editorial in the USA Today, opening with, “Welcome to the Dark Ages II”, in which she pointed out the blatant intolerance and persecution facing those with religious beliefs, appropriately calling out Bill Maher, HGTV, UC Santa Barbara, Richard Dawkins, and Mozilla for their recent flagrant offenses.
In a society that claims to allow free expression, there is a disturbing and ominous double standard.
Second, we must do something. Silence is not an option! I don’t want to go gloom and doom, but think of the horrific disaster that could have been avoided had the many good people in Europe stood up to Hitler before that wasn't really an option. Each and every voice matters. Even mine, and especially yours.
So what can we do? We let our voice be heard! We speak of God and our beliefs openly and unapologetically, which gives others courage to do so as well. We keep ourselves informed of what’s happening, and encourage those who play a more active role. We donate when we can, we write letters, organize petitions, and band together. We don’t act in fear and we don’t stand for intimidation and shaming.
As Rabbi Lord Sacks said, “More than we have faith in God, He has faith in us. Let us honor that faith.” Please know that you will always have an ally in me in this fight.