The fight for religious liberty is only beginning to intensify in America, whether for retail giants, restaurant chains, bakers and florists, sacrificial nuns, or the imminent obstructions on the path paved by Obergefell vs. Hodges.
Yet even when facing these pressures for themselves, many American Christians still seek to withhold such freedoms from those of differing religious beliefs. Forgetting our position of exile, such a stance trades the first of our God-given freedoms for narrow self-interest and self-preservation.
Such profound disconnect was recently on vivid display at the Southern Baptist Convention’s 2016 Annual Meeting, where a pastor asked Dr. Russell Moore how a Christian can possibly support religious liberty for Muslims. “Do you actually believe that Jesus Christ would support this,” the pastor asked, “and that he would stand up and say, ‘Well, let us protect the rights of those Baal worshipers to erect temples to Baal’”?
Moore’s answer couldn’t be clearer:
What it means to be a Baptist is to support soul freedom for everybody. 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.
The bigger issue, though, is not one of self-interest. The bigger issue is the fact that we’ve been called to the gospel of Jesus Christ. A government that has the power to outlaw people from assembling together and saying what they believe, that does not turn people into Christians, that turns people into pretend Christians, and it sends them straight to hell.
The answer to Islam is not government power. The answer is the gospel of Jesus Christ and the new birth that comes from that.
As we fight for religious liberty, let us heed Moore’s reminder that our action not be inspired by narrow self-interest or self-preservation, as if Christians are trapped within a temporal, humanistic order. It is the Christian’s role to fight for the advancement of God’s Kingdom, and this includes the fight for a government that aligns with the powers God gave it.
“Conscience marks a boundary that the state may never cross,” as Abraham Kuyper puts it, no matter what beliefs the conscience adopts. Religious liberty is a divine right from God.
He holds the authority, not the government, and thus we ought to be vigilant in assigning such authority to where it belongs.