The 2016 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting has been hailed for its show of unity on race, the Confederate flag, and election of the SBC president, but messengers were not in agreement on all issues.
Most obvious: Should Southern Baptists support Muslims’ rights to build mosques?
Two messengers made motions opposing the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission’s submitting a friend of the court brief in support of a federal lawsuit by the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge, N.J. (The Muslim group was denied a building permit by the town’s planning board.) One of the messengers later challenged ERLC President Russell Moore on the issue when Moore delivered his report.
Moore’s response was succinct: “What it means to be a Baptist is to support soul freedom for everybody,” he said.
“When you have a government that says, ‘We can decide whether or not a house of worship is being 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,” Moore said.
The ERLC’s amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief, he said, was not about building mosques, but about upholding the right to religious freedom. The gospel—not just self-interest—is at stake, Moore told messengers.
A few days prior to the June 14-15 convention, three Southern Baptist academics issued an open letter supporting the ERLC’s brief. Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary Provost Jason Duesing, Cedarville University President Thomas White, and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary professor Malcolm Yarnell wrote a response to a Georgia Christian Index editorial that condemned the brief.
Their letter read, “For Christian Americans to question whether Muslim Americans qualify for religious freedom is essentially a question about whether all Americans are under the protection of the first and fourteenth amendments. We believe that all Americans, including Muslims, are granted, as an inalienable human right, the freedom of conscience to worship God as they believe best…
“We understand that granting such rights to some forms of Islam might one day lead to the threatening of Christians in our worship,” the professors conceded, “however, we trust God will honor our faithfulness to proclaim and practice his Word for his glory and to the best of our ability.”
John Wofford, pastor of Armorel Baptist Church in Blytheville, Ark. is the messenger who questioned Moore. The question he posed was, “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?”
In his answer, Moore said, “A government with ‘the power to outlaw people from assembling together’ is a threat to all. Forcing people into confessing their beliefs 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.”
A few days later, Woodford submitted a response to Moore via the the Arkansas Baptist newspaper. He acknowledged, “The freedom of religion as granted by our civil government applies to all faiths. But, the issue I was addressing with Dr. Moore was not a civil government issue. Rather, it was a spiritual issue.”
Since the annual meeting, Wofford said, “I have been called by some a ‘bigot’ and a ‘racist.’ It has been said I am a ‘fearful hater’ who wants to ‘deny men their religious freedoms.’ This is simply not true. I hate no one, nor do I fear any man—only God.”
Wofford said his concern is investing “efforts or money in helping [Muslims] to erect places of false worship which keeps them under condemnation and invalidates my witness of the One True God.”
– with info from Baptist Press, USA Today, The Becket Fund, and Arkansas Baptist