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Southern Baptist leader defends religious liberty for Muslims

Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, gives the entity's report during the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention on June 15, 2016 in St. Louis. Photo courtesy of Adam Covington via Baptist Press

(RNS) Southern Baptists are usually the first to defend religious freedom. But when it comes to Muslims, some want to draw a line.

At their annual meeting in St. Louis, an Arkansas pastor said Baptists shouldn’t support the right of Muslims to build mosques, especially “when these people threaten our very way of existence as Christians and Americans.”

That suggestion was soundly rejected by Russell Moore, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, who pointed to the dangers of government dictating who should have religious freedom.

“The answer to Islam is not government power,” he said. “The answer is the gospel of Jesus Christ and the new birth that comes from that.”

His remarks drew applause and cheers. But there is debate among the rank and file.

On Tuesday, John Wofford of Armorel Baptist Church in Blytheville, Ark., offered a motion calling for the removal from office of SBC leaders who supported the right of Muslims to build mosques. He was referring, among others, to Moore, who joined a legal document supporting a New Jersey group’s fight to build a mosque.

“They (Muslims) are murdering Christians, beheading Christians, imprisoning Christians all over the world,” Wofford said Wednesday (June 15).

The chairman of the Committee on Order of Business ruled the motion out of order. And Moore defended his agency’s support for the legal brief.

“What it means to be a Baptist is to support soul freedom for everybody,” Moore said during a report to Southern Baptists at the St. Louis gathering. “And, brothers and sisters, 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.”

Another motion that asked for the withdrawal of the legal brief that both the ERLC and the Southern Baptist International Mission Board signed on behalf of the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge was also ruled out of order.

Wofford wasn’t the first to criticize Moore or question whether to extend religious liberty to Muslims. Gerald Harris, longtime editor of a Georgia Baptist newspaper, blasted  Moore in a recent editorial for spending “his professional capital to defend the religious liberty of Muslims in New Jersey.”


RELATED STORY: Georgia Baptist official says religious freedom is not for Muslims


(Left to right) Outgoing Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd together with presidential nominee J.D. Greear congratulate president-elect Steve Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn., after he is elected president of the SBC by acclamation after Greear withdrew from the race and moved that the convention elect Gaines by acclamation during the SBC's annual meeting at America's Center in St. Louis Wednesday, June 15. Photo by Bill Bangham, courtesy of Baptist Press

Left to right, outgoing Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd together with SBC presidential nominee J.D. Greear congratulate President-elect Steve Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn., after he is elected president of the SBC by acclamation after Greear withdrew from the race and moved that the convention elect Gaines by acclamation during the SBC’s annual meeting at America’s Center in St. Louis on Wednesday, June 15. Photo by Bill Bangham, courtesy of Baptist Press

In other business during the meeting on Wednesday:

  • Memphis-area pastor Steve Gaines was elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention after North Carolina pastor J.D. Greear withdrew from the close race. In one ballot, Gaines received nearly 50 percent of the vote and Greear received 48. “We must celebrate the work of God in this pastoral moment,” said outgoing SBC President Ronnie Floyd after Gaines was elected by acclamation.
  • Baptists adopted a resolution opposing efforts to register women for the draft. The U.S. Senate passed a measure Tuesday that would require women to register for the Selective Service. “While women have served faithfully and effectively in combat settings as volunteers, the dominant pattern, both historically and biblically, is that men bear responsibility to serve when war is necessary,” the resolution reads.
  • Messengers, or delegates, also expressed support for Christian compassion and “strictest security measures” for refugees who enter the U.S. “We affirm that refugees are people loved by God, made in His image, and that Christian love should be extended to them as special objects of God’s mercy in a world that has displaced them from their homelands,” they said.

On Tuesday, Baptists adopted a historic resolution urging Christians to repudiate the Confederate flag and welcomed the president of the historically black National Baptist Convention, USA, to address the annual meeting.

About the author

Adelle M. Banks

Adelle M. Banks, production editor and a national reporter, joined RNS in 1995. An award-winning journalist, she previously was the religion reporter at the Orlando Sentinel and a reporter at The Providence Journal and newspapers in the upstate New York communities of Syracuse and Binghamton.

45 Comments

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  • ““What it means to be a Baptist is to support soul freedom for everybody,” Moore said…”

    Says the man who lobbied long and hard to keep other churches and denominations from marrying loving, mutually consenting adults because they are Gay and Lesbian.

    Says the man who is perverting the concept of “religious liberty” into an exclusive privilege to capriciously humiliate and discriminate against law abiding minority people going about their lawful business in the public square.

    “Baptists adopted a resolution opposing efforts to register women for the draft….”

    The SBC is apparently still quite comfortable using paternalism to justify discrimination against people because of what they are, even to the point of keeping them from serving their country.

  • The very fact that the baptists can seriously debate religious freedom for Muslims means that they don’t seriously believe that religious freedom is for anyone except for baptists.

  • It wasn’t a serious debate. Dr. Moore’s position was overwhelmingly accepted. And it is Mr. Peterson’s remarks which would actually pervert the definition of biblical marriage and the role of the Church in performing marriages.

  • Which biblical definition of marriage? There are 8 of them. As for the Church’s role in marriage ceremony, nobody really cares about that. It is an internal matter. What is important is the Church’s role in civil marriage laws. How they were pushing their discriminatory sectarian agenda into legal power.

  • Your views on sexuality and gender, which you and other progressives hope to be made canonical by the power of the state, are neither self-evident nor universally accepted. They are as much the product of social construction as any other set of beliefs, even as you claim them to be ‘natural’ and ‘obvious,’ acting as if it is only your opponents trying to impose their beliefs on wider society. It’s fine if you want to argue that your beliefs and way of understanding the world are superior, better supported by evidence, or whatever, but don’t pretend as if what you’re advocating is of a different, ‘superior’ order to that of your opponents.

  • First the Baptist minister in California calls for the slaughter of all LGBTs, now a number of Baptist ministers call for the denial of First Amendment rights – religious freedom – to Muslims. Fine lot the Baptists harbor. Oh, and aren’t these the people who last week endorsed for president of the United States of America the racist, misogynist, religious bigot Trump? The Baptists are a worse than useless group. They are harmful.

  • Of course my views are social constructs, that’s how we make sense of our world. Nevertheless, there are people who inhabit the social constructs of “Gay,” “Lesbian” and Bisexual. They are adults who make valuable contributions to societies around the world despite oppression, and they should be treated as such.

    Mr. Moore doesn’t. Instead, his perverted sense of paternalism leads him to treat LGBT people as sort of rebellious teens who need to be kept under his control for their own good. He thinks he knows what is best for an evermore interconnected worldwide, very diverse minority community of a couple of hundred million people or so.

    So, like an exasperated parent trying to discourage a torrid teen love affair, he is trying to control “the problem.” Which no matter the intentions, is about discouraging law abiding responsible adults from seeking stable relationships, to be invisible, silent, sexless, distracted by “their sinful impulse” to seek and have a soulmate in life, and thereby becoming complicit in their own oppression.

    He has done that by disparaging LGBT lives, their relationships, as “a problem” to be contained. He has lobbied hard for the perpetuation of the economic injustice of no legal recognition of minority relationships, which also discourages seeking and keeping stable minority relationships.

    This economically disadvantages LGBT loving couples, their spouses and children that they are raising. It contributes to a climate of animus towards LGBT people in general.

    Not to mention that these are automatic legal protections that come with legal recognition of marriages which he enjoys, which protect his spouse, his children, his family, yet what he would deny for others. What does the Bible say about people who deny for others what they allow for themselves?

    Talk about white male heterosexual privilege.

  • They, in general, were also awfully fond of Sen. Ted Cruz, who is very good at being a religious bigot.

  • The SBC has negative credibility. It has a horrible history, for which it has never apologized or atoned. This is an organization that split off from another Baptist group over the issue of slavery: the SBC thought slavery was fine, and continued to support segregation until *1995*!

    It’s not at all surprising that nutty stuff like this is being debated at the SBC.

    What gall!

  • FA: Well-said. It’s interesting to me how the most fervent believers, in all denominations and religions, are almost always the biggest hypocrites, and threats to liberty.

  • There simply is no such thing as “religious liberty for some”. If the religious liberty of any group is threatened, the religious liberty of everyone is threatened.

    I’m always impressed at how some believers just don’t get this. I think there are some denominations such that membership in them badly short-circuits reasoning abilities.

  • I support Moore’s position on religious freedom for all religions. I echo the comments of Gregory Peterson, Kimchee man, Ben, etc., regarding SBC bigotry.

    Moore and the SBC are wrong about women registering for selective service. I don’t want Anyone being drafted and I don’t want war. But part of full equality for women is draft registration.

    I say women should register the moment they receive full, constitutional guarantees that they will always be fully in control of their own bodies, just as men are – the moment they have proportional governmental representation, equal pay, etc. I say the same for people of color. Chances are if such folks cannot be used as canon fodder, while male privilege will end sooner.

  • What? Trump has a position on something? No chance. Let’s look at the reality of what he has said on gay marriage.

    From the Human Rights Campaign (often shown as HRC): “Marriage : Trump has been a consistent opponent of marriage equality. He said that he opposed it because he was a “traditional” guy, choosing to support domestic partnership benefits instead. Trump later reversed himself and said he also opposed civil unions. Despite a brief flirtation with “evolving” in 2013, Trump has consistently maintained his opposition to marriage equality, sometimes by citing polling and making an analogy to his dislike of long golf
    putters. After the Supreme Court ruling, Trump said the court had made its decision and, although he disagreed with the ruling, he did not support a constitutional amendment that would allow states to re-ban marriage equality. He later said he would appoint Supreme Court judges who would be committed to overturning the ruling.”

    So contradictions there. No position or every position. Something for everyone as long as they vote for Trump.

    So, let’s look at what LGBTNation had to say in March of this year: ‘In the last several weeks, Trump told FOX News that he’d “strongly consider” overturning same-sex marriage, and he urged evangelical leaders to “trust” him to protect “traditional marriage.”
    ‘On the other hand, he flip-flopped while talking to a lesbian journalist, stating that he’d “move forward on LGBT rights.”
    ‘Now, to make matters even more confusing, the Republican frontrunner is apparently refusing to discuss gay marriage at all.’
    So, once again no position and every position.

    The only real position Trump has is that he believes that if he becomes President it will be good for his hotels and golf courses.

  • But we’re talking about an influential Southern Baptist leader, Russell Moore, here. And from what I see in the way in which he interacts with the LGBT community, it’s from a position similar to that of white male privilege towards…well…most everyone who is not.

    Even if he is a leader in this denominations much belated racial reconciliation project, his go-to position towards the LGBT community is one of whitewashed white theology and privilege. His outraged statement on the Supreme Court’s ‘Lawrence v Texas” decision, which decriminalized Gay relationships, was lightly recycled “Southern Manifesto.”

    As for the terrorist, it hasn’t been definitely established that he was Gay…and if he was, he generally remained outside the community. Congnitive dissonance between what one is and what religions says you must be, minority stress, mental instability, gun culture, a climate of animus towards both LGBT people and Muslims, perhaps steroid abuse…obviously not a good combination.

  • The topic is Southern Baptists debating, in their traditional smarmy, paternalistic, condescending way, on IF Muslim Americans are entitled to the their First Amendment protections.

    And the answer is…why are you even debating this, except to allow Southern Baptist bigots a forum in which to encourage a climate of animus towards Muslims?

    This is long settled law with over two centuries of legal precedence. Of course they do. No question.

  • I didn’t remark on the Church’s role in performing marriages. They can do as they please.

    What I remarked upon was Mr. Moore’s hypocrisy in working so hard to legally prevent other churches from doing as they see fit on marriage.

    And it’s hardly the first time that Southern Baptists and conservative Evangelicals in general have done that. After all, it took the Supreme Court in ‘Loving v Virginia’ to get the Southern Baptist/conservative Evangelical dominated Bible Belt to allow churches that would marry interracial couples, to be allowed to marry interracial couples.

    Speaking of which, I’m fairly sure that Mildred Loving had endorsed the marriage equality movement before she passed on.

  • It actually has apologized, too little and very late, but it did.

    The SBC apologized in the same way that it’s proslavery founding fathers justified slavery and white supremacy…by scavenging the Bible for dubiously contextual verses to string together to add biblical authority to what ever it is they wish to propagandize.

    They didn’t actually learn anything from the radical abolitionists…which is why they can shamelessly use their now whitewashed white theology to justify discrimination against their own female members and LGBT people who are unfortunate in having been raised in the SBC.

  • Not the Gay community that I know about. Perhaps you’re talking about the Gay community on the Superman comic’s Bizarro world, where everything is the opposite of what it is on Earth.

  • I think we have a space alien from Bizarro world here.

    Welcome to Earth! I hope you enjoy your visit.

    But do be aware that everything here is the opposite of what it is on your planet, Bizarro.

  • Yawn. See http://fortune.com/2016/04/19/poll-gay-voters-overwhelmingly-support-hillary-clinton-in-new-york/

    This is from April 19, 2016, and I quote:

    “Of the poll’s nearly 900 respondents, 57% say they intend to vote for
    Clinton, while Bernie Sanders received 32% of the votes. With only 30
    votes, Donald Trump came in fourth place, trailing behind a group of
    undecided Democrats. Only 52 of the 895 respondents say they are
    registered Republicans.”

    Now, when you are talking only about the Republican primaries, sure, gay Republicans would favor Trump over Cruz who would gladly hold an auto-de-fe in their honor. But, very few gays are Republicans.

    Then there is this from just last month: http://www.advocate.com/commentary/2016/5/10/why-lgbt-voters-are-rejecting-trump-en-masse

    Quoting from the article: “A poll released this week by Whitman Insight Strategies
    showed that 84 percent of LGBT voters are supporting Clinton, while 16
    percent support Trump. That 16 percent support for Trump is much less
    than past Republican nominees have received from LGBT voters. According
    to CNN’s past general election exit polls, John McCain received 28
    percent of the LGBT vote in 2008, and Mitt Romney garnered 22 percent
    support in 2012.”

    Methinks you are smoking something stronger than weed.

  • More power to Moore, Muslims have as much right to build mosques as others do to build churches and temples. But that doesn’t mean that what is preached in those mosques shouldn’t be monitored.

  • The church is one alternative conduit which performs the function of facilitating a civil union. Baptists have the highest divorce rate of any demographic in the country. Divorce also perverts biblical teaching. So let us continue to pick and choose those parts of the Bible to follow or not follow.

  • You forget the reason there are so many sects of Christianity is because of mans social constructs of their, the sects or denominations, beliefs. They are social constructs based loosely some mans interpretations of the bible and the social mores of the era.

  • I generally agree with you generally, except, white male privilege is a defunct archaic concept.

  • Take it from this white male…it is an archaic concept, but it’s not defunct.

    I’m never stopped for driving while white, for starters.

  • I love your play on words “canon fodder”, Her Leftness — perfect for this article and RNS!

  • CErmle:
    1. I’m in no sense a “fervent believer”–and unlike most fervent believers, I stand up for the rights of those with whom I disagree profoundly.

    For expl, I dislike the tenets & actions of Islam, of Southern Baptists, and many other religions–but I understand that if *their* religious freedom is threatened, then so is mine. And I stand up for their freedoms in other ways.

    If that does not address your question, please ask again, in more detail.

    2. What does “Just asking” mean? It’s obvious that you were asking a question.

  • Is he actually supporting religious freedom for Muslims, or is he afraid of the consequences to baptists if he doesn’t?

  • Moore is simultaneously seeking to avoid persecution and violating the clear command of Christ for the sake of baptist tradition in his support of Polytheistic Religious Freedom. It is disappointing to see the SBC rallying support. Christ says, “You shall recognize no other gods in my presence.” Likewise, Christ commissions his ministers to preach his Gospel, calling all men to repentance. His ministers are not to lend the slightest credence to false gods by supporting the building of mosques. Quite contrary, they are to “destroy speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10:5

    Ironically, it was the famed baptist preacher Isaac Backus in his 1773 appeal for religious liberty, that reiterated the apt quote: “the prudence of men is very short, and their views very limited; that they cannot penetrate into futurity; and that many times what they think must needs turn to their advantage proves their ruin…”

  • If the Muslim religion was a valid religion and not a political movement the Baptist would most likely defend their right to religious freedom. Your thoughts are incorrect when saying Baptist think rights are for no one but Baptist.

  • I can’t even begin to point how Well you proved my point about baptists.

    If the baptist religion were a valid religion and not a political movement…

    Oh never mind.

  • And you proved my point – you do not see the difference between an organization that in many cases helps people, and a political movement that breeds violence.

    Yes I do know that not all Muslims are violent – but I also know that if the follow their leader and their Holy Book they will be violent.

    If you can’t see the difference in those two, all you have proved is you have no reasoning power.

    With the “oh never mind”, maybe you had a touch of reality.

    This is my last post to you on this subject as it is evident you have serious issues.

  • Well, I’m just devasted.

    Christians used to wield that kind of political power, back when church and state were wed. Religious wars, murder, and turture were the results. There are still such organizations in the west.

    You’re obviously of the breed that don’t need no stinkin’ facts, doesn’t read history books.

  • I believe the discussion we were having was concerning liberty in this country. Obviously you have nothing but contempt for Christianity and you are not able to stick with the conversation without jumping to something else.

    Waste someone else’ time. No more conversation with you on this subject as you obviously have serious issues.

    Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

  • Ben in Oakland. You made your point brilliantly in your second post… the one beginning
    “I can’t even begin to point how Well you proved my point about baptists.”

    MGM46 is clearly blind to history, and to the present moment as well.

  • Thanks. ?

    The lack of knowledge of history, and the understanding of it– not to mention facts, logic, and experience– is seriously undermining our country, and has for the past forty years. MGM is the symptom of it.

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