November 20, 2013

Religious Liberty Extolled to Evangelical Scholars

Christians contending for religious liberty today have a long tradition on which to reflect, all the way back to the Apostles, including St. Paul, who appealed to King Agrippa for legal protection, recalled Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore.

Moore, who heads his church’s social witness arm, was speaking at a November 20 lunch for religious liberty hosted by the Chuck Colson Center at the Evangelical Theological Society’s annual meeting in Baltimore.

Rejecting that religious liberty for all equals secularization or moral relativism, Moore said legal protections for all faiths guard against a “golden calf” of excessive state power.

“When we stand and say to the state you have no authority to govern our conscience we are fighting for the Gospel,” Moore declared. “A religion the government establishes will be a religion the government doesn’t fear.”

As the threats become “more and more stark,” Moore emphasized that not simply religious freedom and thought but also the natural right of “how we freely live out our convictions” is at stake. And Christians are called to defend this right for all persons.

Moore warned against “cynicism” and “fear-mongering,” urging persistent advocacy for liberty that allows for an open “Mars Hill conversation” in society where Christians and others freely advocate their views.

“The worse thing to going to jail is capitulating,” Moore concluded of defending liberty.

Joining Moore was Timothy George (pictured above with author), dean of Beeson Divinity School in Alabama, who linked religious freedom to Christian understandings of the image, character and mission of God in Jesus Christ.

“God wishes to be adored by people who are free,” said George, quoting the recent Pope Benedict. He urged remembering that the “price of religious freedom is not given cheaply or lightly.”

Ryan Anderson of the Heritage Foundation followed George, citing threats to religious liberty by Obamacare’s HHS contraceptive/abortifacient mandate, same sex marriage, and sexual orientation “non-discrimination” laws.

“The publisher of the Bible is not religious enough to qualify for an exemption,” he noted of the HHS mandate’s non protection for religious publishers like Tyndale Publishing. “If Christians haven’t been jealous to defend freedom then how will secularists do so?

Anderson noted the Sexual Revolution’s “view of reality is very different from the biblical view.” He cited Catholic law professor Helen Alvare’s reference to “sexual expressionism,” which demands government and social approval.

Tom Farr (an IRD board member) of Georgetown University’s Berkley Center followed Anderson, citing a “global crisis in religious liberty,” with 75 percent of the world lacking protection. Christians are the most globally harassed group, targeted in over 130 countries. He lamented a “loss of understanding of what religious freedom is,” even in America. And he pointed out that globally religious freedom typically facilitates economic growth, social stability, and less violence.

Several hundred evangelical theologians and students attended the lunch.

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