Standing for the Rights of Others: Southern Baptists and a New Jersey Mosque

Photo by Frank van Leersum

The International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention has been doing some backpeddling after rather heroically coming to the aid of a Muslim community in New Jersey which was facing unfair zoning requirements in their efforts to build a mosque.

You can read more on the story here as reported by Christianity Today.

After the IMB and the SBC's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission filed an amicus brief (along wth 16 other groups) in support of the mosque, they faced some backlash from IMB trustee Dean Haun who deemed the amicus brief an "unholy alliance" and said:

"If we defend the rights of people to construct places of false worship, are we not helping them speed down the highway to hell?"

There's so much about that statement that should send chills down your spine.

So, I read that yesterday.  And then today, I read about a friend of mine, a Chicago church planter who's church was also being unfairly treated by a city zoning board.  His case was almost identical to the situation of the mosque in that the religious group was being blocked by city officials in the name of inadequate parking.  It quickly reminded me of one of my own church plants that recently had to deal with the same thing here in Chicagoland.

Now, let's leave aside the question of whether a pastor from rural Tennessee is in the best position to comment on the kind of urban zoning pressures that those of us in big cities have to deal with.  But, beyond commenting, Haun actually resigned from the IMB board and then apparently lead his church to suspend their giving to Southern Baptist Missions.

And then it gets even more concerning.

The IMB responded to the criticism by changing their processes for filing legal briefs.  Essentially, they have taken the position of siding with Pastor Huan's Morristown, Tennessee priorities and agreeing to never do it again.

A few points to consider:

1. Denying justice and equal treatment under the law to anyone is always wrong.

Because ... it's ... denying ... justice!

The second a Christian says that it is okay to deny a Muslim equal treatment under the law, that Christian forms an unholy alliance (to use Pastor Haun's phrase) with the perpetrators of injustice.   Just read a little Bonhoffer.  German Christians who failed to prophetically stand against the unjust treatment of Jews ... Russian Christians who failed to prophetically stand against the unjust treatment of Roma or Muslim people ... American Christians who failed to prophetically stand against  the unjust treament of African slaves ... anyone remember these things?

Pastor Haun, injustice is a highway to hell too!  Ethnocentrism and Islamophobia are false religions! You and your church have positioned yourself on the side of NOT defending the rights of others -- the side of injustice.

2. If you don't speak up for the rights of others, you will have no credibility in speaking up for your own rights.

This was the rationale of the IMB when they filed the brief:

[Our] specific interest in the brief arises out of our belief that all peoples of the world have the right to religious liberty, including the freedom to embrace the gospel. This is what we believe and why we take the gospel to them, despite situations that pose great risk. A public record by IMB of supporting freedom of religion for all people in the United States—regardless of their beliefs—gives IMB workers overseas a credible foundation from which to advocate for freedom of religious exercise in countries that are hostile to Christianity, penalize those who convert, or make it difficult for a new church to own or rent property for worship. … IMB’s call on the government of these other countries to support the religious freedom of their citizens will ring hollow if, in the USA, we only support freedom of religion for Christians.

And this is absolutely correct.  It is not only the just to defend the rights of everyone to religious liberty, but it simply makes sense.  Pastor Haun may not want to venture as far as Yemen or China or Nepal where the rights of Christians to plant churches and worship freely are not always as certain as they are in Morristown, Tennessee, but perhaps he can take a Megabus to Chicago and talk to the pastor of Immanual Baptist Church about their struggle over parking ordinances.  If we fail to defend the rights of a Muslim group in New Jersey, what have we to say when the City of Chicago denies a religious use permit to a Southern Baptist Church over the exact same issue?  What right have we to expect Muslim nations to give relgious liberty to those who wish to follow Jesus if we do not ourselves champion religious liberty as a universal right.

This isn't complicated theology... it's Golden Rule stuff (Mt. 7:12).

3. A Kingdom worldview is not afraid of the spread of non-Christian religions.  

Are you not yet tired of Christians who bemoan the opening of a new Mosque or Hindu temple in their communities? Do you not yet understand just how ungodly is that all too common "there goes the neighborhood" response to peoples of other faiths moving into town?

How long are we Christians going to be so stupid?

A Biblical worldview knows that the Kingdom of God is coming and that the gospel of that Kingdom must be proclaimed as a testimony to all people groups before then end (Mt. 24:14). When the nations move into town, we should be throwing parties because it means new opportunities to share the love of Jesus with those who don't know him.

very tired of Christians who get all panicky when they see a Mosque or Hindu temple being built in their communities.  To me, this is dumb and reflects a worldview that does not understand the Bible.  A Biblical worldview knows that the Kingdom is coming and that the gospel  of the Kingdom will be preached as a testimony to all peoples and then the end will come (Mt. 24:14).  When I see a mosque or temple being build, I rejoice because I know it means a new opportunity to share the love of Jesus with people who don't know him.

But people like Pastor Haun seem to be afraid of Islam.  They are afraid that "false religions" will take over their country.

Such people need to be reminded that this world is not their home and that the country they should be seeking is an eternal one.  Whatever happens to the USA is pretty darn irrelevent from the perspective of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom will come and reign forever.  No religion can ever overcome it, delay it or alter its course .  When the Muslims and the Hindus and the Buddhists and others come to town... when they come to Morristown ... that is cause to rejoice and to extend welcome.  It is a sign of the Kingdom and the coming of the new age.

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