Loss of the historic Baptist commitment to religious liberty has left U.S. evangelicals ill-prepared for current threats to the free exercise of religion, the Southern Baptist Convention’s top spokesman for moral and public policy concerns suggested.
“I think one of the problems is that for a long time evangelical Christianity, at the lay populist level, has had a narrow vision of religious liberty, because we haven’t had a lot of threats to it in a real sense,” Russell Moore, president of the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said in a Q&A podcast on the agency’s website.
Moore noted that makes his job harder in a couple of ways.
“You have some people who haven’t thought through that what our Baptist forebears were saying is right—that religious liberty is an image-of-God issue; it’s not a who-has-the-most-votes issue,” he said.
“That means we’re the people who ought to be saying the loudest: ‘We don’t want the mayor and the city council to say that a mosque can’t be in our town,’” he said.
“The mayor and the city council that can say that is a mayor and a city council … that has too much power. The government doesn’t decide that. We’ve got to be the people who are saying that.”
“And then secondly. we’ve had a lot of people who have cried wolf over situations,” he continued. “They’ve cried persecution when there is no persecution.
“So, you have kind of these fake senses of where we’re aggrieved, we are persecuted, because the lady at Wal-Mart says ‘Happy Holidays’ instead of ‘Merry Christmas.’
“What happens when that goes on long enough and it’s every single year the same sort of thing happens, then you wind up with people saying, ‘Well that’s what they always say.’
“So, they don’t pay attention to you when there really are serious restrictions of free exercise of religious liberty that are now coming upon us.”
Debates now are about sex
Most of the religious liberty battles Baptists fought in previous years were against efforts by the government to establish a state religion, Moore said. Today, he said, most are about sex.
Practically every day, Moore noted, he deals with issues such as Christian photographers being required to participate in same-sex weddings they believe are sinful, the Affordable Care Act that requires business owners to cover birth control methods they believe cause abortion and Catholic adoption agencies going out of business because they cannot receive public funding unless they agree to place children in same-sex households.