By Baptist Press
WASHINGTON — 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 (Gerald Harris of The Christian Index in Georgia) questioned providing such liberty for Muslims.
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.
Harris questioned the 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.”