Why SBC's Mosque-Gate Has Nothing to Do with Religious Liberty
Imagine the scandal. A former Democratic staffer who has been called “an open border zealot” by the press, who moonlights for a George Soros-funded pro-illegal immigration think tank, and who has repeatedly attacked border security as inherently unchristian, signs a brief on behalf of the Southern Baptist Convention to help get a Mosque built in New Jersey.
Now, imagine that it’s no scandal at all.
Which scenario is more unbelievable? Russell Moore and his willing accomplices in the fanboy Twittersphere are telling us that this is much ado about nothing. They told us that the courageous IMB trustee who withheld his church’s Cooperative Program funds (the IMB also signed the brief) was somehow anti-missionary and some kind of Benedict Arnold ne’er-do-well. They told us that Jack Graham’s capacious Prestonwood Baptist Church deciding to escrow their funds until sanity is restored in the ERLC is somehow unbaptist and ignorant of how things ought to be.
A post at SBC Echoes – a peanut gallery blogscape for SBC pastors and laypeople – argues that lobbying for Mosque construction is part and parcel to Southern Baptist values (link). Another post at SBC Echoes, this one by Brent Hobbs, alleges that Prestonwood Baptist’s decision to vote with their pocketbook is “destructive to the SBC” (link).
Before I explain why the SBC’s Mosque-Gate has nothing to do with religious liberty, let me state unequivocally that I am sick and tired of watching Southern Baptist pastors be treated as traitors and turncoats, being shamed with finger-wagging pillorying because they demand that Southern Baptist entity heads answer to Southern Baptists. The SBC has created an untouchable class of entity elitists who don’t have to answer to the people who pay their (undisclosed) salaries. When David Platt apologized for signing the imbecilic amicus brief, you could practically feel the collective air be sucked out of the Southern Baptist world in gobsmacked disbelief that an entity leader would prostrate themselves so far as to respond Biblically to criticism. And while it seems that it was money talking and not the criticism itself, per se, it was still a breath of fresh air. The Ivory Tower squawk-box and their sycophantic underlings like Brent Hobbs may attempt to shame Southern Baptists for withholding funds, but that’s the only thing that ever, ever, ever works in the SBC. Period.
What we have been told by our evangelical overlords is that Mosque-Gate is all about religious liberty. In fact, Russell Moore told us that the decision to support the Mosque wasn’t even a hard decision (link). Since Moore set the narrative at the annual SBC meeting in June 2016, the religious liberty talking points have been repeated ad nauseam. It goes like this: Baptists believe in religious liberty for all people, therefore it’s the ERLC’s job to support a Mosque that feels its religious liberty has been violated, and therefore any involvement, funding or support given for the establishment of the Mosque is a perfectly Baptist thing to do.
And this is where we get repeatedly lectured by Russell Moore courtiers, waving SBC resolutions on religious liberty about like they were the 95 Theses or a newly discovered manuscript of Romans.
“Didn’t you know the SBC passed resolution #whogivesacare in 1990-whatever about religious liberty?”
If the SBC is in general agreement that religious liberty is a universal human right, then the argument goes, it’s the SBC’s job to lobby the government on behalf of a Mosque. Do you see the colossal, chasmic leap of logic there? For example, here’s an excerpt from SBC Echoes…
[After citing a 2011 resolution on religious freedom], So, if the resolutions…speak an opinion of the SBC, it would seem that the view presented by [Jack Graham’s Prestonwood Baptist] is out of step with the beliefs and values of many in the SBC. Unless, that is, they are contending that our beliefs and values on religious liberty have changed over the past six years.
The sentiment expressed here at Echoes is either intellectually obtuse or intentionally misleading. Prestonwood or its pastor, Jack Graham, would not argue (and neither would I or any other conservative I know) that there is not a principle of soul-liberty in Scripture or a right to religion in the Constitution. The problem from our perspective is 100% not related to religious liberty. The question is if the ERLC is entitled to Southern Baptist milk and egg money to lobby on the behalf of the religious liberty of temples to false gods, not whether temples to false gods have religious liberty.
While the worshippers on Mt. Caramel certainly had the recognized freedom to worship their false gods in any manner of wrist-slitting, gut-crying method they chose, it was not the responsibility of Elijah to defend their right to the Asherah Pole. And while Baptists have recognized the right of religious freedom at least since the days of Obadiah Holmes and Roger Williams, it has never ever been the historic position of Baptists that we use our resources to assist false religions in their religious enterprises. To claim that Russell Moore’s groundbreaking and novel rush-to-defense of the New Jersey Mosque is the Southern Baptist status quo is violently offensive to history…and it also insults our intelligence. It is simply not true that Baptists have a long, rich history of throwing our money and support behind the religious freedom of false religions. That’s talk you may hear from the American Baptist progressives with whom Russell Moore would be infinitely more comfortable, but that is not the history of Southern Baptists.
The general fail in logical progression by the defenders of Russell Moore is the notion that recognizing religious liberty as an abstract idea both given by God and recognized by the First Amendment must by necessity lead to acting upon such admission, going so far as to support the construction of a Mosque.
The only question is this: In a world of very finite resources, do Southern Baptists scrape their pennies together to siphon four million dollars a year away from missions in order to pay Russell Moore to support Mosque construction? Simply put; is it Russell Moore’s job? The answer to that question has to be a resounding of course not.
It’s here that men like Chas Rowland, adjunct professor at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and pastor of Bovina Baptist Church, seem wholly unable to read the job description and mission statement of the ERLC on their website.
Notice, Rowland’s “logic” works like this: Russell Moore is paid by an organization that exists to advance religious liberty for Southern Baptists, therefore, Russell Moore is paid to assist the construction of Mosques. Rowland, who certainly seems like an educated individual, could read the mission statement of the ERLC if he were so inclined, and liberate himself from his opprobrious misconceptions.
While the ERLC website has a lot of New Age-Emergent, hipster Social Justice gobbledegook about “holistic views for human flourishing” and other nonsense like that, it includes four ministries as a part of their [ostensibly] official mission statement. Each one begins with these words…”assist churches.”
Now, you tell me where in that part of the ERLC mission statement defending and promoting Mosque construction could be found. The ERLC is to assist churches and other SBC entities, to provide information and counsel to denominational entities and churches, and to represent Southern Baptists. Even “communicating the positions of the Southern Baptist Convention on religious liberty issues to the public” doesn’t include lobbying the government on behalf of Mosques.
I believe that Muslims have a right to worship Allah as they see fit and to do so all the way to hell. And that’s different from saying that the Cooperative Program is paying Russell Moore to help them. This is the simple, obvious nugget of truth that it seems so many are unwilling to consider.
Consider this 2005 resolution from the SBC on freedom of speech, which says “WHEREAS, Freedom of speech is a cherished liberty which our Baptist forebears defended at great personal sacrifice.”
Given that freedom of speech is also a “cherished Baptist liberty” according to said resolution, would Russell Moore see fit to lobby against a township who chose not to issue a permit to an adult bookstore? Pornography is protected under the First Amendment – the same Constitutional Amendment that Moore is supposedly defending by lobbying on behalf of the Mosque. By the logic of Moore and his defenders, it would be perfectly acceptable to lobby on behalf of pornographers under the logic that it’s the ERLC’s job to defend Freedom of Speech wherever it may be infringed…after all, maybe they’ll come after us Baptists, next. While this comparison may seem far-fetched, this is the exact logic used by Moore, and the only difference is that Islam is far more offensive to God than nudity.
The next reason why the SBC’s Mosque-Gate has nothing to do with supporting religious freedom is that the ridiculous lawsuit in New Jersey had nothing to do with religious freedom, and had everything to do with standard zoning laws. The town in question, Bernard’s Township, denied the zoning request of the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge for a 4,252 square foot Mosque on 4.3 acres back in 2012. The township has repeatedly argued that “the Planning Board denial was based on legitimate land use and safety concerns which plaintiffs refused, and to this day, refuse to address. To that point, the planning board presented plaintiffs an opportunity for reconsideration to address the land use issues early on, and plaintiffs have shown no interest in complying” (link).
While Moore and his ecumenical counterparts point out that the township was eventually ruled against (because for progressives like Moore, decisions of the judiciary are considered as authoritative as the Council of Nicaea), the township has repeatedly demonstrated that there was a deep personal relationship between the head of the Islamic Society and the Justice Department official responsible for investigating the supposed civil rights infraction. There is literally not a modicum of evidence that this very progressive community in New Jersey rejected the Mosque on religious grounds, and they have continually pointed to standard zoning laws regarding parking requirements based upon projected facility attendance. Russell Moore, however, has chosen the Muslim narrative that it was hardcore oppression.
What the lawsuit and subsequent decisions against the New Jersey township demonstrate is the worst of an activist judiciary eager to prove any semblance of “xenophobia” or religious discrimination against Muslims. What the case lacks, however, is any substantive evidence that’s what happened. Essentially, the amicus brief filed by the ecumenical and interfaith Becket Fund (for whom Moore has led interfaith prayers with Muslims and Sikhs a their events) demanded the federal government usurp local municipal zoning laws, and the judiciary – always eager to help the federal government overreach their authority – happily obliged in the name of “religious liberty.”
Russell Moore has repeatedly taken the side against religious conservatism, and in fact has at times mocked and derided it. While smugly lecturing us about religious liberty, Moore’s defenders seem unable to read common English as written on the ERLC website, regarding the mission of the Southern Baptist organization.
It’s not about religious liberty. It’s about common sense.