Thursday, March 16, 2017

Practical thoughts on religious liberty and spiritual adultery

Often when we speak and write on religious liberty versus spiritual adultery we may speak in abstract terms of doctrine, without understanding or explaining how the right view of doctrine applies to our practice. 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. Trying to find exactly where this fine line is can be a matter of Christian liberty. Here are some (in my opinion) practical suggestions on dealing with religious liberty and spiritual adultery.

I have mentioned a number of times the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and the Muslim mosque amicus brief. I am not a Southern Baptist and the outcome of their internal debate is not personally applicable to me. We do not support the SBC Cooperative Program or the ERLC, neither do we engage in any denominational programs, policies or politics in such ways. Nevertheless, the situation has brought forth a broad debate concerning religious liberty and spiritual adultery, not only among Southern Baptists, but a broad spectrum of Christians throughout the United States. It is a debate that should be had. [See More on Moore.] I don’t believe there is some vast sin or collusion with evil in simply presenting an amicus brief that asks a government to abide by the laws it has on the books. I don’t see this as the same as aiding and abetting the spread of Islam. That said, if I had been making the decision, I wouldn’t have filed the brief. Not filing the brief is not the same as actively working against the right to religious freedom, and entering the legal arena is not the wisest use of church time and money. [E.g., “The church should not resort to the civil power to carry on its work. The gospel of Christ contemplates spiritual means alone for the pursuit of its ends.” – Baptist Faith and Message]

A recent freedom of religion situation in Georgia involves a preacher of a different faith and practice than Baptists. Eric Walsh, a doctor who is also a lay preacher in the Seventh Day Adventist Church, accepted employment as a director for the Georgia Department of Public Health. Walsh is a highly regarded and highly accomplished member of the medical community. Shortly after he accepted the position, someone found out from his sermons online what he believed on homosexuality (among other things). The Georgia Department of Public Health retracted his job offer.[i] Despite having serious disagreements on doctrinal issues with the Seventh Day Adventists, I find no compromise or spiritual adultery in defending and supporting the rights of Eric Walsh. My support for his right to employment free from inspection of his religious beliefs does not equal support for his religious beliefs. Such support could, at least in theory, increase his ability to proclaim the doctrines which he believes and I do not. Yet that support is not spiritual adultery, but rather support of religious liberty.

Here’s an illustration of how I try to walk the fine line and reconcile the existence of religious liberty and spiritual adultery. I believe in religious liberty. I believe we should avoid spiritual adultery. I believe the group called Jehovah’s Witnesses do not hold the true doctrine of Christ. If a Jehovah’s Witness owns a mini-mart I don’t automatically refuse to shop there based on that fact[ii] – even though I realize if the owner is an active Jehovah’s Witness that he or she may use some of the proceeds from the business to support their false worship. But I am not supporting the false worship. I am simply shopping at a business, and the owners choose to do what they will with the profit from their business (as with any owner of any business). If we can’t do any business with anyone engaged in false worship “then must we needs go out of the world (I Cor. 5:10).” On the other hand, the Jehovah’s Witnesses might host a bake sale to raise money for their Kingdom Hall. I can support their freedom to have the bake sale free of molestation and with the same rights as any other group that might host a bake sale – but I won’t be buying any of their bread. This is directly and deliberately supporting their false worship. Christians may have trouble deciding and even come to different answers whether shopping at a store owned by a Jehovah Witness, buying the Jehovah’s Witnesses’s bread at their fundraiser, or supporting their right to have the fundraiser are all the same kind of relationship of the Christian to those who do not hold the true doctrine of Christ (or if they are substantially different).

[i] Walsh won a suit against the Georgia Department of Public Health for religious discrimination. Dr. Eric Walsh Exonerated in Georgia Discrimination Case
[ii] Actually I am never consumed with the idea of finding out who owns a store where I shop.


Michael White said...

I appreciate your view on religious liberty.
I think there should be a line between what you do as a citizen of the USA and what a religious entity, say the ERLC or the SBC does. For there are those in this world, many in fact, that see any religious endeavor as just another path to God. The pope said that those faithful to their own religious tenets are accepted by God. Therefore whether a local congregation or a denomination or possibly a high profile Christian there should be a great deal of caution involved before they support in some way, maybe in any way, false worship.
Of course the amicus brief wasn't directly supporting false worship, it was supporting a law of the land. But it was supporting false worship in an indirect way. And the purpose giving for filing that brief was to support the law that Christians might [so the hope goes] continue to have religious freedom down the road. But such an idea does violate the idea of you quoted from the BF&M. It also does not jive with the Scriptures which tells us to both seek God for a quiet and tranquil life, and not to use the weapons of this world in our spiritual battles.
From my point of view then, religious liberty is a secular term, useful by a fair government that wants to promote religious life within its borders. It is not a Christian term, nor has God given His people such a right. It is a blessing from God that he bestows s meets His purposes. For us, as His children, to seek to use secular means tomato it a right, is simply wrong.

R. L. Vaughn said...

Mike, thanks for sharing your thoughts. We may not see eye to eye on all points, but I don't think we are too far apart. I see you are working through this and thinking about it, as am I. It seems like a lot of folks aren't giving it much thought -- more like spouting "the party line" and "let's not question the way it has been". I think your warning to exercise caution, think it through (biblically), is the thing to do. On some things we are going to come up with different solutions, but hopefully we are headed in the same direction.

I agree that there can be a difference between what we do as citizens of the USA and what a religious entity does. But even there we have to be careful, because we are citizens first of a heavenly kingdom and pilgrims & strangers here in this world. For example, Paul appealed unto Caesar but also advised the Corinthians not to go to law before unbelievers. My position on I Cor. 6 is that in cases with brothers & sisters we find recourse in the church, and in other cases we are to turn it over to God rather that sue. So it seems like there can be a fine line of difference between a verbal appeal to authorities for them to do what is right (Acts 25:11) and actually entering into a legal case to "get my rights" (1 Corinthians 6:1-6).

Some of the problems we have in figuring all this out is because we have religious liberty in this country -- to such a degree that we take things for granted without bringing them before the mirror of the word of God. If the ERLC filed the amicus to support (in the long run) religious liberty for Baptists and the IMB filed it somehow thinking it would help their Muslim witness, they really didn't do it because they thought it was the right thing to do, but it was rather self-serving instead, seems to me.

At times we may use the same terms in different ways (not just you and I, but others discussing the topic as well). As you point out, religious liberty is not a biblical term (of course, we use many words that aren't in the Bible). My thought is not that religious liberty is a "right" in the sense that it is something we are guaranteed, but in the sense that it is something that is morally good and worthwhile. Or, conversely, it is immoral for anyone (state, church or individual) to force someone to feign faith or worship in a particular manner. What we are "guaranteed," on the other hand, is that "all they that live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution." I realize that there will be more persecution where there is more opposition to Christianity, but this text might also make us wonder just how godly in Christ Jesus we are living!

Our spiritual weapon is the word of God -- teaching and preaching it and praying God to bless it. So, yes, while I am not against voting or expecting the government to abide by its own rules, when we go into court with a legal strategy in a lawsuit it seems we have taken up another kind of weapon.