ERLC's Moore defends religious freedom for Muslims

ST. LOUIS (BP) -- Russell Moore offered a ringing defense of religious freedom for all, including Muslims, during the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission's report Wednesday (June 15) to the 2016 Southern Baptist Convention.

When questioned by a messenger how a Southern Baptist could defend the right of Muslims to build mosques, the ERLC's president said it was not a difficult decision.

"What it means to be a Baptist is to support soul freedom for everybody," Moore said.

"[W]hen you have a government that says, 'We can decide whether or not a house of worship is being constructed based upon the theological beliefs of that house of worship,' then there are going to be Southern Baptist churches in San Francisco and New York and throughout this country who are not going to be able to build," Moore said.

The Gospel -- not just self-interest -- is at stake, he told messengers.

Having a government with "the power to outlaw people from assembling together" and confessing their beliefs "does not turn people into Christians," Moore said. "That turns people into pretend Christians, and it sends them straight to hell.

"The answer to Islam is not government power. The answer is the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the new birth that comes from that."

Many messengers greeted Moore's comments with a standing ovation.

John Wofford, pastor of Armorel (Ark.) Baptist Church, had asked Moore at the conclusion of the ERLC's prepared report how someone in the SBC could defend Muslims' rights "to construct mosques in the United States when these people threaten our very way of existence as Christians in America."

The ERLC and the International Mission Board defended religious freedom for all in a May friend-of-the-court brief in support of a Muslim community in New Jersey that has been prevented by the local government from building a mosque.

Moore told the convention the ERLC is "active in speaking up for the invisible" -- who include, he said, unborn children and their mothers, a young girl trapped in sexual slavery in Thailand, Syrian refugees, foster children and families in Southern Baptist churches with special needs children.

One way the ERLC advocates for "the invisible," Moore said, is through its Psalm 139 Project, which raises funds to provide ultrasound technology to pregnancy help centers. He announced the gift of a sonogram machine through Psalm 139 to Thrive St. Louis, a Christ-centered pregnancy help ministry. The machine, provided in partnership with Focus on the Family, will be placed in a new mobile unit to be operated by Thrive. During Moore's presentation, a Thrive mobile unit was unveiled before the messengers.

"Our message is this: Children, including unborn children, aren't disposable," Moore told the convention. "Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. And our message to the person who has experienced abortion is Jesus Christ."

In the last year, the ERLC, he said, has:

-- Dissented from last June's Supreme Court legalization of same-sex marriage by providing resources for churches, reaffirming its commitment to the biblical meaning of marriage and seeking to aid those harmed by the sexual revolution.

-- Worked to eliminate federal money for Planned Parenthood after its trade in aborted baby body parts was uncovered last year. "Planned Parenthood denies the dignity of children and women, our neighbors, our brothers and our sisters even to live," he said, "and they should not receive one red cent of government funding."

-- Combatted an "ugly uptick in racial bigotry" by speaking on behalf of Christian unity and working to model a community of brothers and sisters "who are reconciled to God and reconciled to one another."

-- Stood alongside GuideStone Financial Resources and other Southern Baptist institutions to defend religious freedom in the Obama administration's abortion/contraception mandate. "The government has the audacity to argue before the Supreme Court that these ministries misunderstand their own faith, that they can deliver these drugs without disobeying God," he told the convention. "I for one just don't believe that the federal government understands what it means to be Baptist better than [GuideStone President] O.S. Hawkins does."

-- Begun efforts to support legislation to provide protection in response to the administration's May transgender directive to public schools and to host events to help churches address the issue. "Brothers and sisters, John the Baptist was arrested for saying Herod could not have his brother's wife," he said. "Today, some would be ridiculed for saying that Herod cannot be his brother's wife."

The ERLC, Moore said, also cosponsored the first Evangelicals for Life conference in January in Washington, D.C.; published its initial volumes in the "Gospel for Life" book series; and partnered with SBC seminaries to prepare students to address challenging ethical issues.

Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.
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