Russell Moore: Religious liberty for non-Christians as well
    June 10 2016 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

    Baptists and other Christians should defend religious freedom for non-Christians, including Muslims, because it is morally right, as well as helpful to their own cause, says Southern Baptist religious liberty leader Russell Moore.

     

    Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), advocated for religious freedom for people of all faiths in a blog post June 8, which came two days after a Baptist state editor questioned providing such liberty for Muslims.

     

    Photo by Paul W. Lee

    Religious freedom is not a government benefit “but a natural and inalienable right granted by God,” Moore wrote. “At issue is whether or not the civil state has the power to zone mosques or Islamic cemeteries or synagogues or houses of worship of whatever kind out of existence because of what those groups believe.

     

    “When someone makes such a claim, that person is not standing up for Jesus and his gospel, but standing against them,” he said. “To empower the state to command or to forbid worship is not fidelity to the Bible.”

     

    Applying religious liberty to Christians alone is “self-defeating,” Moore said. “A government that can tell you a mosque or synagogue cannot be built because it is a mosque or a synagogue is a government that, in the fullness of time, will tell an evangelical church it cannot be constructed because of our claims to the exclusivity of Christ.”

     

    Those professing Christians who desire to limit religious freedom “are perhaps unknowingly on a campaign to destroy religious liberty,” he wrote. “They would set the precedents that will be used to destroy churches, and they will give the opponents of religious liberty the charge that the issue isn’t about freedom at all but about seeking government approval of one’s religion.”

     

    In May, the ERLC defended religious freedom for all in a friend-of-the-court brief in support of a Muslim community in New Jersey that has been prevented by the local government from building a mosque. The ERLC and the International Mission Board joined 16 other organizations in a diverse coalition urging a judge to find the government had violated a 2000 federal law protecting religious freedom in the area of land use.

     

    Gerald Harris - editor of The Christian Index, the Georgia Baptist newspaper - questioned the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) entities’ involvement in the brief, suggesting in his June 6 editorial Islam is “more of a geo-political movement than a religion.”

     

    In his post, Moore did not name Harris but said he was surprised a “Baptist writer” would question the defense of religious freedom for non-Christians. Such an assertion is a “direct contradiction” of the Southern Baptist Convention’s statement of faith and “all of its predecessors,” he said.

     

    In its article on religious liberty, the SBC’s confession - the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 - says, “The state has no right to impose penalties for religious opinions of any kind. ... A free church in a free state is the Christian ideal, and this implies the right of free and unhindered access to God on the part of all men, and the right to form and propagate opinions in the sphere of religion without interference by the civil power.”

     

    Moore also appealed to Baptist history, citing the example of 17th Century preacher Roger Williams, who stood up for the liberty of Baptists, then “an unpopular minority” in New England, but also “explicitly said such freedom ought to extend to ‘the most paganish, Jewish, Turkish’ consciences as well.”

     

    The application of religious liberty to people of all religions is not suggesting “there are many paths to God, or that truth claims are relative,” Moore wrote. “We are fighting for the opposite. We are saying that religion should be free from state control because we believe that every person must give an account before the judgment seat of Christ.”

     

    The government can only coerce, not regenerate, Moore said.

     

    “By shutting down houses of worship, or by any other act, the state cannot make a person a Christian,” he said. “All the state can do is make people pretend-Christians, one birth short of salvation. ... If you want to see people come to Christ, though, you do it by openly preaching and debating the claims of Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, not by forcing people into hiding through the brute force of Uncle Sam.”

     

    Religious freedom “is never an excuse for violence and crime,” Moore wrote. “The United States government should fight, and fight hard, against radical Islamic jihadism. But the government should not penalize law-abiding people, especially those who are American citizens, simply for holding their religious convictions, however consistent or inconsistent, true or false, those convictions are.”

     

    The state not only should defend its citizens against religiously motivated terrorists, but “the state also has an obligation to protect citizens from the state itself,” he said. “Stripping a religious community of civil liberties is an act of aggression by the state against its citizens.”

     

    See Russell Moore’s June 8 blog post included in its entirety below.

     

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    “Is Religious Freedom for Non-Christians Too?”

     

    Does religious liberty apply to non-Christian religions? Someone told me this week that he had seen a Baptist writer question whether Muslim Americans qualify for religious liberty “benefits.” Hearing that was honestly surprising, in that it would represent a direct contradiction of our confessional document and all of its predecessors. But beyond this there’s a broader question that’s important to consider: must a person who believes Jesus Christ is the only way to God defend religious freedom for Christians and non-Christians alike?

     

    One thing we need to be very clear about is that religious liberty is not a government “benefit,” but a natural and inalienable right granted by God. At issue is whether or not the civil state has the power to zone mosques or Islamic cemeteries or synagogues or houses of worship of whatever kind out of existence because of what those groups believe. When someone makes such a claim, that person is not standing up for Jesus and his gospel, but standing against them. To empower the state to command or to forbid worship is not fidelity to the Bible.

     

    When we say - as Baptists and many other Christians always have - that freedom of religion applies to all people, whether Christian or not, we are not suggesting that there are many paths to God, or that truth claims are relative. We are fighting for the opposite. We are saying that religion should be free from state control because we believe that every person must give an account before the Judgment Seat of Christ.

     

    The government’s power is limited to the coercive power of the sword (Romans 13:1-7). The state can do all sorts of things with that sword, some lawful and some wrong. What the state cannot do is regenerate a soul. A religion of external conformity can happen by state decree or by cultural pressure. That’s the kind of religion we see among some of those who heard Jesus. They found him credible but they would not follow him “so that they would not be put out of the synagogue, for they loved the glory that came from man more than the glory that comes from God” (John 12:42-43).

     

    If that’s all the religion you want - people who will mouth words they don’t believe - then, yes, the state can serve up whatever religion you can cobble together the votes for, just like any other government program. Just don’t call that the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus taught us that one must be born again to enter the kingdom of God (John 3:3). And the Bible tells us how people come to conviction of sin and new life in Christ, not through government power but by the “open proclamation of the truth” (2 Corinthians 4:2).

     

    By shutting down houses of worship, or by any other act, the state cannot make a person a Christian. All the state can do is make people pretend-Christians, one birth short of salvation. Again, if all you are concerned about is a form of godliness, then perhaps this is the option for you. If you want to see people come to Christ, though, you do it by openly preaching and debating the claims of Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, not by forcing people into hiding through the brute force of Uncle Sam.

     

    Religious liberty is never an excuse for violence and crime, nor has religious liberty been so construed in American history. The United States government should fight, and fight hard, against radical Islamic jihadism. But the government should not penalize law-abiding people, especially those who are American citizens, simply for holding their religious convictions, however consistent or inconsistent, true or false, those convictions are.

     

    Some would say, based on their reading of the Koran, that non-violent Muslims are inconsistent Muslims, the equivalent of cafeteria Catholics. The government’s job, though, is to punish evildoers for evil-doing, not to decide who is most theologically consistent with their professed religions.

     

    The state must also protect citizens from the state itself. A government that can regulate worship and conscience is a government that can do anything. One can’t claim to be for “limited government,” while at the same time proposing that the government be in the business of regulating worship and conscience.

     

    Like other freedoms, there are limits to how our freedoms can be exercised, and government has an obligation to protect its citizens from violence and harm. It should carry out this obligation faithfully. But the state also has an obligation to protect citizens from the state itself. Stripping a religious community of civil liberties is an act of aggression by the state against its citizens.

     

    Moreover, the idea that religious freedom should apply only to Christians, or only to religious groups that aren’t unpopular, is not only morally wrong but also self-defeating. A government that can tell you a mosque or synagogue cannot be built because it is a mosque or a synagogue is a government that, in the fullness of time, will tell an evangelical church it cannot be constructed because of our claims to the exclusivity of Christ. Those voices (though a distinct minority, to be sure) that claim to be Christian but seek to restrict religious freedom for others are perhaps unknowingly on a campaign to destroy religious liberty. They would set the precedents that will be used to destroy churches, and they will give the opponents of religious liberty the charge that the issue isn’t about freedom at all but about seeking government approval of one’s religion.

     

    If Jesus is right about his gospel, we do not need the power of bureaucrats to carry out the spiritual mission of the advance of the gospel. Roger Williams stood up for the right of an unpopular minority in early New England, the Baptists, not to christen their babies. But he explicitly said such freedom ought to extend to “the most paganish, Jewish, Turkish” consciences as well since we are not to extend God’s kingdom by the sword of steel but by the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.

     

    There is precedent in the Bible, of course, for a religion using the state to force people to externally conform to it. Those examples, though, are those of Nebuchadnezzar, and of the Beast that John saw rising out of the sea (Revelation 13), not the church of Jesus Christ. Religious freedom means religious freedom for everyone, including those who reject our gospel. We plead with our neighbors to be reconciled with God, as long as it is still the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 5-6). We want that change to happen the only way it can: by the Spirit’s enlivening power, not by some city council’s roll call vote.

     

    External conformity, backed up by government power, is easier to achieve than Great Commission gospel advance. It also leads nowhere but to death.

    6/10/2016 4:11:50 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 1 comments
    Filed under: Gerald Harris, Muslims, New Jersey, Religious freedom, Russell Moore




Comments
Believer
All believers should and must advocate for religious liberty. However, this really should not be a discussion at all since it was the government that hijacked the divine laws of major faiths and twisted them into a civil right which should never have occurred in the first place. Religious liberty must be returned to its rightful place as the first foundational principle of American freedoms. Also there are liberal politicians seeking special equal rights for straight and gay people. We already know what special civil rights they are seeking for gays, but they have yet to mention what special civil rights they are seeking for straight people. And this is only the beginning and will get much worse if this lunacy is not put in check now.
6/11/2016 3:35:30 PM

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