At the Southern Baptist Convention meeting last June (2016), an Arkansas pastor addressed ERLC President Russell Moore: “Yes. My name is John Wofford. I pastor Armorel Baptist Church in Armorel, Arkansas and I have a question for Dr. Moore. I would like to know how in the world someone within the Southern Baptist Convention can support the defending of rights for Muslims to construct mosques in the United States when these people threaten our very way of existence as Christians and Americans. They are murdering Christians, beheading Christians, imprisoning Christians all over the world. Do you actually believe that if Jesus Christ were here today that He would support this and that He would stand up and say, ‘Well, let us protect the rights of those Baal worshipers to erect temples to Baal?’ Do you believe that Dr. Moore?”
Moore replied, in part, “Sometimes we have to deal with questions that are really complicated and we have to spend a lot of time thinking them through...sometimes we have really hard decisions to make. This isn’t one of those things. What it means to be a Baptist is to support soul freedom for everybody...The answer to Islam is not government power. The answer is the gospel of Jesus Christ and the new birth that comes from that.”
Following up later in the Arkansas Baptist News, Pastor Wofford complained that this is a ‘spiritual issue’ – an issue of unequally yoking together with unbelievers and bidding them God speed – and that Moore did not answer his question. There is a fine line for Christians to walk between supporting freedom of religious views and actions while not bidding Godspeed to those who do not hold the true doctrine of Christ. Perhaps both Pastor Wofford and President Moore both missed the mark.
Pastor Wofford said that he was addressing a spiritual issue of yoking with unbelievers and bidding them God speed – rather than the issue of religious liberty. We ought to accept his explanation, whether or not one agrees with his position. On the other hand, Wofford and others on his side are too hard on Russell Moore about not answering the question. Yes, Moore promoted religious liberty and didn’t really address the “spiritual issue” put forth at the end of the question. Wofford’s “set-up” to his question was somewhat distracting from the point. In the beginning Pastor Wofford apparently alludes to the brief filed by ERLC. Then he goes into the fact of Muslims threatening “our very way of existence,” not only as Christians but also as Americans. When we bring “Americans” into it, it is no longer just a spiritual question, but a temporal one as well. If Pastor Wofford wanted to know about the spiritual issue aspect he didn’t give the best introduction he could have. He must take some responsibility for getting the answer he got and not just blame that on Russell Moore. Moore addressed religious liberty, soul freedom and the right to build – more than specifically whether the ERLC including their name (and that of the SBC) on an amicus brief was a spiritual issue, some kind of unequal yoking with unbelievers. Moore was wrong, and even comes off a bit flippant, when he says “sometimes we have really hard decisions to make. This isn’t one of those things.” But avoiding spiritual adultery while supporting religious liberty is an issue with which many are struggling, and they need “hard” answers that address the entire scope of what they are asking. Some seem to backing into the corner of religious liberty without dealing with spiritual adultery.
I think a sane mind must realize that a major part of the problem is the word “Muslim”. There have been no previous outcries over the ERLC (or IMB for that matter) signing amicus briefs[i] that support or ally with some other religion (for example, the amicus brief in the Little Sisters of the Poor case).[ii]
The government should/must recognize the same kind of religious rights for Muslims as everyone else; I would not go on a crusade to help them get mosques. I agree with the thrust of the brief, which is that “A Muslim mosque cannot be subjected to a different land-use approval process than a Christian church simply because local protesters oppose the mosque.” I believe in our American judicial system. For it to work every person must be given a fair trial with the best legal counsel available. I could not defend someone I knew was guilty. I would support their having someone else do so, because that’s necessary for our system to work. Supporting religious liberty from both a biblical and civil standpoint can be like that.
[i] When you get into issues like the IMB and ERLC filing amicus briefs you also get into an issue of Southern Baptist people feeling like “you are taking my money to further a cause I don’t believe in.” That is always a source of frustration.
[ii] “Revolting as the pagan religion is, it is no better, nor is it any worse than any other worldly religion. It possesses the essential elements of the religion of Cain, delusion and bloodshed. It is doubtful whether the human sacrifices made to their idols would suffer by comparison with the religion of the world which in this day claims the Christian name, either papal or Protestant.” – Gilbert Beebe, Signs of the Times, January, 1871