Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Keeping Muslims out and shutting down mosques

A certain presidential candidate is getting a lot of attention because he advocates closing the borders of the United States to Muslims. He is, thankfully, being condemned from nearly every direction, it seems. Other candidates from his own party as well as other leaders from his own party have denounced his plan.

But what about the anti-Muslim comment made last month by the same candidate? It was about three weeks ago, in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris, that the same candidate proposed closing mosques in this country. In fact, he said that we would "have no choice" but to shut down some mosques. That comment got some attention, but I don't think it made as big of a splash as this latest one.

In the space of about three weeks, a leading presidential candidate has offered two proposals for addressing terrorism that destroy the notion of religious liberty. Baptists have traditionally proclaimed that if all are not free then none are free. We cannot shut down the houses of worship of any religious group or close our borders to members of any religion and still claim to support religious liberty for all. And if we don't advocate religious liberty for all then we don't support religious liberty at all.

One of the very first Baptists, Thomas Helwys, wrote the very first treatise on religious freedom in the English language in 1612. Helwys wrote, "Let them be heretikes, Turks [i.e. Muslims], Jewes or whatsoever, it apperteynes not to the earthly power to punish them in the least measure." John Leland was a Baptist minister and a leader in the struggle for the Bill of Rights in this country. He was one of a few from the revolutionary era writing that religious tolerance was not enough. According to Leland, "all should be equally free, Jews, Turks [i.e. Muslims], Pagans, and Christians." From our earliest days, Baptists have singled out Muslims as they have advocated religious freedom for all.

My primary interest in this matter is not my desire for the success or failure of any particular candidate for office. My passion is for religious liberty which is a God-given right, not a governmental gift or privilege to be taken away from any individual or group for any reason. If our fears drive us to reject the cherished, God-given right of religious freedom then the terrorists win.