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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Southern Baptists, Americanism, and Mosques


Christianity Today reports that Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, has quit the Interfaith Coalition on Mosques (ICOM), of which he is a charter member. The ICOM was created by the Anti-Defamation League as a response to the challenges against mosque-building since the Summer of 2010. What's interesting is that Land states that he did not quit because of a change in convictions, but because he needs to represent the views of the SBC. He writes, “While many Southern Baptists share my deep commitment to religious freedom and the right of Muslims to have places of worship, they also feel that a Southern Baptist denominational leader filing suit to allow individual mosques to be built is 'a bridge too far.'”
Let's look at that statement there. Basically, despite whatever conviction that Land holds, it matters not, because a number of Southern Baptists feel that he's promoting Islam? What if this was a commission on the study and prevention of HIV/AIDS? If a number of Southern Baptists felt that he was promoting homosexuality, would he quit then? This debate has been at the forefront of the news this past year, as we have seen protests against an Islamic and Cultural center in New York City, vandalism at a mosque construction site in Murfreesboro, TN, and other such protests and vandalism around the country. Why the sudden outcry against he building of mosques? A lot of the comments I've seen made by Christians this past year over the issue of building mosques have been downright unChristian and unAmerican. Yet, these very Christians are suggesting that it is unAmerican to allow the building of a mosque.
The First Amendment says the following:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Okay, so, could someone explain to me the law that prohibits the free exercise of religion? I don't see it. I've seen many articles and comments that Muslims cannot be good Americans. I've known quite a few Muslims who were very good Americans. I support their right to worship in their religion. It would be unAmerican and unChristian for me to do so. The apostle Paul respected the Greeks when he went into Athens and proclaimed that they were a very religious people, even acknowledging their "unknown god."  They respected him for it and wish to speak to him further. If we're going to stand up and say that Muslims do not have the right to build their mosque and worship there, then what right do we have to build a church building and worship there. Why not just ban religious worship entirely? Hindus are killing Christians in India, but where's the outcry against Hindu Temples?
I reference Southern Baptists in this issue since they are the largest denomination and that is who Land represents. I attend and am a member of a Southern Baptist church. What we do not need to do, and what I think Land has done, is to put our Southern Baptist identity above our Christianity. We do not need to put our Americanism above our Christianity. That being said, those who oppose those these mosques based on some idea of "creeping Sharia" are being unAmerican and unChristian. We should welcome this opportunity with open arms and proclaim Christ to Muslims, not hostility.
What's interesting to note is that Islam in America goes back to the very founding of our nation. The Treaty of Tripoli, with regards to the piracy off the Northern coast of Africa, states the following:
As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.
So, all this talk of us being a Christian nation is simply false. Yes, a lot of our founding fathers, were Christians, but a lot of them were also Deists, meaning which, they believed in God, but did not believe that God intervenes in worldly affairs. It was this Deism that framed our government. How should we, as Christians, respond and act, then? We should respond as Jesus, and subsequently Paul, did. Not with hate and misunderstanding. Jesus and the apostles always went into the synagogue first whenever they entered a town. They proclaimed Christ crucified and resurrected to the Jews. They were hated and often run out of town, but the Gospel was proclaimed. We are not proclaiming the Gospel by denying the right of a religious group to build a house of worship. The same could be happening to us. 
In summary, let us put aside our denomination (incidentally, I can find nowhere that that the Southern Baptist stance on mosque building is that they should not be built), and put aside our nationality, and proclaim Jesus Christ to those that don't know him. To not do so is to disobey Christ when he tells us to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them and teaching them all His commands (Matt. 28:18-20). We are mocking Christ when we deny others religious liberty for the sake of nationality or a false Christianity.