One evening last week, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention hosted a panel discussion on religious liberty in a banquet hall just blocks from the U.S. Capitol building. Offering their perspectives were leaders from four prominent faiths: Evangelical Christianity, Catholic, Mormon, and Muslim. Phillip Bethancourt of the ERLC served as the moderator for the panel discussion which hosted: Dr. Russell Moore (Evangelical), Archbishop William E. Lorie (Catholic), Elder Dallin H. Oaks (Mormon), and Sheikh Hamza Yusuf (Muslim). The panel, at the Washington Court Hotel, focused primarily on reasons for religious liberty from the perspective of the aforementioned faiths.
Dr. Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, welcomed the attendees with a few thoughts about religious liberty and the ever increasing balancing act between government protection for religious liberty and government coercion. True religious liberty is “the ability to have genuine conversation about the core of human identity without the interference of government coercion,” explained Moore.
Moore, a leader among Evangelicals and Southern Baptists, articulated this idea further. He offered a practical example of Southern Baptist defending the right of Muslims to have a mosque in their community, even in the Southern Bible Belt. In light of Southern Baptists fighting for more religious liberty protection, he posed the question, “Are we being consistent?” According to Moore, the fight for religious liberty must be holistic, if indeed it truly represents a fight for freedom of religion. Ultimately, “religion that needs cultural or governmental pressure behind it is religion that has lost faith in its deity,” stated Moore.
Sheikh Hamza Yusuf, an America Islamic scholar and co-founder of Zaytuna College, articulated a Muslim perspective on religious liberty. Yusuf stated that the normative tradition of Islam is religious liberty: “Every religious tradition is to be treated with human dignity.” He said this was because “people are either your brother in faith or in humanity.”
Archbishop William E. Lori of the Archdiocese of Baltimore explained that according to the Catholic faith, “Catholics are to use our freedom to serve the common good.”
Elder Dallin H. Oaks, member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Latter Day Saints, presented the Mormon perspective on religious liberty. Oaks said that “whatever freedom we claim…we extend to others,” in response to a question about why we should pursue religious freedom for all people.
The panel of religious scholars resoundingly agreed to support religious freedom for all people.
Religious freedom has become a new front in the culture wars. Media, politicians, and presidential candidates are increasingly leaving the issue by the wayside. Faith, something so diverse and cross-cultural yet tied to the very core of human flourishing, is being attacked on every side. The modern-day fight for religious liberty is just beginning.
Dr. Moore concluded the panel discussion with wise words, “We need to be the type of people that live with the statements we make and the silences we have.” As for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, silence doesn’t seem to be a viable option.