Friday, June 24, 2016

Muslims, Southern Baptists, Religious Liberty and Spiritual Adultery

Sometimes, some Baptists get out of kilter on religious liberty. Not all Baptists are in as much agreement as some might think we are. A motion and a question at the June 2016 meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention highlight that fact.

Leading up to the Convention, Christian Index Editor Gerald Harris asked Do Muslims Really Qualify for Religious Freedom Benefits? -- illustrating a prominent SBC leader opposing full religious liberty for Muslims. At the Convention on Tuesday, June 14, 2016 an Arkansas pastor moved “that all Southern Baptist officials or officers who support the rights of Muslims to build Islamic mosques in the United States be immediately removed from their position within the Southern Baptist Convention.” (The motion was ruled out of order as exceeding the authority of the messengers.) Then on Wednesday morning, during the question-and-answer segment of the report of the Ethics and  Religious Liberty Commission of the SBC (ERLC), the same pastor asked ERLC President Russell 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, “What it means to be a Baptist is to support soul freedom for everybody. Brothers and sisters, when you have a government that says 'we can decide whether or not a house of worship can be constructed based upon the theological beliefs of that house of worship,' then there are going to be Southern Baptist churches in San Francisco and New York and throughout this country who are not going to be able to build...” Following up in the Arkansas Baptist News on Monday, June 20th Pastor John 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.

Let's back up a moment and see Wofford's issue with Moore and the ERLC (and the IMB of the SBC. [1] On May 11, 2016 the ERLC and IMB with 16 other groups filed an Amici Curiae in Support of Plaintiffs in The Islamic Society of Basking Ridge v. Township of Bernards.[2] This was in support of a suit in a religious land use case. The planning board of Bernards Township, New Jersey denied the building of a mosque, ostensibly in a way they would not or had not denied other religious groups. The thrust of the brief of the 18 parties was 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.”

Religious liberty
The situation in New Jersey is broadly a First Amendment case, but specifically The Islamic Society lawsuit accused the planning board of Bernards Township with violating 42 U.S. Code § 2000cc - Protection of land use as religious exercise. This law was passed by Congress unanimously in 2000. It protects all houses of worship from undue burden by land use regulations. I agree with the law and the thrust of the brief. The law affords for a Muslim mosque the same rights as a Christian Church, Jewish Synagogue or other religious body. The planning board of Bernards Township would need to show their decision “is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest” and “is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.” From what I have read about the case, the planning board did not show compelling governmental interest and rather made the decision based on their feelings about Muslims and terrorism. If I were on the planning board of Bernards Township, I would decide the law allowed the Islamic Society to build a mosque.[3] They should not have an undue burden different for them from other religious groups. That much seems clear-cut to me, and easy to come down on the side of religious liberty as an American citizen. The state should preserve religious liberty for all, equally.

Spiritual adultery
Now for a Christian (at least some Christians) the “spiritual issue” is where the waters get muddy. In his explanation of his question, Pastor Wofford cited such verses as “Thou shalt have no other gods before the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy mind and with all thy strength....Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God and Him only shalt thou serve...have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather to reprove no unequally yoked together with unbelievers.” He mentions that the apostle John warned us that “if someone comes to us who does not bring the doctrine of Christ, we are not to bid him 'God speed'.” I don't know how far I can go in agreeing with Pastor Wofford, but many have misunderstood his main point and have not directly addressed it: “Would Jesus Christ stand in a court of law, defending the rights of a false religion to erect mosques, temples or other places of worship which are clearly in violation of the First and Second Commandments of God?”

Religious liberty v. Spiritual adultery
As I see it, Pastor Wofford is not discussing what the planning board of Bernards Township should do, but rather what his denomination should do. He is a Southern Baptist. The ERLC is commissioned and supported by Southern Baptists. Is their aligning with false religions in support of a false religion a case of spiritual adultery that violates the Christian's separation from unbelievers and direction to serve God only?

As Christians we should faithfully teach and firmly practice that Jesus is the only name under heaven whereby men must be saved. That cautions in choosing with whom to be involved in various endeavors, and whether those endeavors might compromise our faith and practice. Does filing a brief in a case of undue burden regarding land use and zoning regulations yoke us with unbelievers? Certainly the names of the ERLC and IMB stand equally beside the Interfaith Coalition on Mosques, International Society for Krishna Consciousness, Sikh Coalition, and Unitarian Universalists. But does this yoke them with unbelievers? Not necessarily. Does it support “another gospel”? It cannot be refuted that the mosque will teach, proclaim and promote another religion, another guide book and another form of salvation than Jesus Christ as the way, the truth and the life.

The government should/must recognize the same kind of religious rights for Muslims as everyone else. I support them being treated equally, but I would not go on a personal crusade to help them build mosques. If the Jehovah's Witnesses set up a bake sale to raise money for their Kingdom Hall, I support their freedom to do so — but I won’t be buying any of their bread.

“All external things including life and limb are subjected to external authority. But no one may coerce of compel true faith in Christ, for it is concerned not with temporal but eternal life.” — Pilgram Marpeck, 1531

“...Christ hath not commanded any king, bishop, or minister to persecute the people for difference of judgment in matters of religion...the king and parliament may please to permit all sorts of Christians; yea, Jews, Turks, and pagans, so long as they are peaceable, and no malefactors, as is above mentioned; which, if they be found to be, under two or three witnesses, let them be punished...persecution for religion is to force the conscience; and to force and constrain men and women's consciences to a religion against their wills, is to tyrannize over the soul, as well as over the body...persecution for difference in religion is a monstrous and cruel beast...No king nor bishop can, or is able to command faith; That is the gift of God, who worketh in us both the will and the deed of his own good pleasure.” — Leonard Busher, 1614

“This spiritual administration of Christ's power is in and over the spirits and consciences of man. It extends to all the inward and hidden motions and acting of the mind. It also extends to all the outward manifestations of its powerful commands in the outward man, in reference unto God, and especially unto such as pertains to the visible worship and service of God. God has declared Himself to be a spirit, and will be worshipped in spirit and in truth, and seeks such, and only such, to worship him.

“This spiritual administration, as it is concerned with the outward man, is to managed not by a sword of steel which cannot come near or touch the spirit or mind of man, but by the sword that proceeds out of the mouth of his servants, the word of truth. This is especially so as to the efficacy, and to the inward man, by the two edge sword of the spirit. But that spiritual law and light by which these candle are enlightened, by Himself, Who is that light that lights every man who comes into the world.” — John Clarke, 1652

“Government should protect every man in thinking and speaking freely, and see that one does not abuse another. The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians.” — John Leland, 1790

[1] Some might question whether this is in the purview of their Mission Statement -- “The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission exists to assist the churches by helping them understand the moral demands of the gospel, apply Christian principles to moral and social problems and questions of public policy, and to promote religious liberty in cooperation with the churches and other Southern Baptist entities.”
[2] The 18 groups named on the brief are: American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, Center for Islam and Religious Freedom, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, Interfaith Coalition on Mosques, International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, International Society for Krishna Consciousness, Muslim Bar Association of New York, National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, National Association of Evangelicals, New Jersey Muslim Lawyers Association, Queens Federation of Churches, Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Sikh Coalition, South Asian Bar Association of New Jersey, South Asian Bar Association of New York, and Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of New Jersey.
[3] From the viewpoint of a New Jersey pastor and former president of the Baptist Convention of New York, the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge was not treated differently than Christian churches. He told Baptist Press that the mosque “received the same treatment from our local planning boards that many of our churches do...I have seen how difficult it can be for area churches to receive building and expansion permits from the local planning board. A few years back I sadly watched as a local Baptist church attempted to relocate within our township only to be voted down by the planning board. The church spent hundreds of thousands of dollars only to be told that their site plan did not, and probably would never, meet all the requirements. Local residents raised even more money to defeat them...The same scenario played out for the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge, Inc...The majority of residents in Bernards Township seem dead set against any [emp. mine, rlv] new religious facility being built in their backyards.” This does not prove that the planning board did not violate Congress's Religious Land Use Act, but suggests that they did not act differently toward Muslims than they have acted toward any other religious group.

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