“NASHVILLE — A leader of the Southern Baptist Convention has withdrawn from a coalition that supports the rights of Muslims to build mosques in their communities.
Richard Land, the head of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said he heard from many Southern Baptists who felt the work of the Interfaith Coalition on Mosques crossed the line from defending religious freedom to promoting Islam.
“I don’t agree with that perception but it’s widespread and I have to respect it,” he told The Associated Press.
The Coalition was formed last year as an initiative of the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish group that fights discrimination. Its first action was to file a friend of the court brief opposing a lawsuit that sought to stop a planned mosque in Murfreesboro, about 30 miles southeast of Nashville.”
In his resignation letter to the ADL, Land wrote that “while many Southern Baptists share my deep commitment to religious freedom and the right of Muslims to have places of worship, they also feel that a Southern Baptist denominational leader filing suit to allow individual mosques to be built is ‘a bridge too far.’’
In other words, defending the theoretical right to religious liberty is fine. But defending it in actual practice is “a bridge too far.” The sad part is, Land knows better. In his heart and in his head, he clearly knows better, and in the Baptist tradition the individual conscience is given great authority. But rather than defend what he knows to be right, Land has chosen to surrender and by doing so legitimizes religious bigotry.
Here’s one example of the “widespread perception” that drove Land out of the coalition. The author is Buster Wilson of the American Family Association, who finds great fault with Land for daring to join “an initiative that is fighting FOR the rights of Muslims to build mosques in America”:
“… along with joining this group who has the sole purpose of making the way clear for Muslims to advance their religion in America with the building of mosques without harassment, he has also taken a stance in FAVOR OF the building of the larger mosque by the Muslim community in Murphreesboro, TN…. Yes, we too uphold the religious freedoms for all Americans. BUT, we do not JOIN up with an organization to encourage the building of Mosques, Free Thinker’s Societies, Mormon Temples, etc, etc, etc. just because they had that RIGHT as Americans. … I will not get involved in helping make the way more readily open for them to advance the cause of their false gospels.
“And that’s the line that (I) feel Richard Land has crossed. He has joined a group is now filing court briefs to HELP Muslims get mosques built in this country. Fight for their RIGHT, but don’t help them advance a “gospel” that is no gospel at all and will send people to hell.”
The Baptists have a long, proud tradition of defending the boundary between church and state. The famous letter in which Thomas Jefferson described “a wall of separation between Church & State” was written to a group of Baptists in Connecticut fearful that their religious freedom might be compromised by that state’s majority Congregationalist church. To this day, Georgia’s state constitution contains a provision barring the diversion of government funds to religious groups, a legacy that can be traced back to 18th century Baptists insistent on drawing a stark line between church and state.
It is only in the past 30 or 40 years, as Southern Baptists have found themselves in a position of political power rather than weakness, that they have taken such a 180-degree turn from the traditions of their creed. Even Billy Graham, a man I’ve long admired for honestly trying to live the faith that he preached, recently acknowledged that the seductive appeal of power had at times led him astray.
“I also would have steered clear of politics,” the 92-year-old Graham said in an interview with Christianity Today. “I’m grateful for the opportunities God gave me to minister to people in high places; people in power have spiritual and personal needs like everyone else, and often they have no one to talk to. But looking back I know I sometimes crossed the line, and I wouldn’t do that now.”
These days, even acknowledging the line exists is refreshingly old school.
– Jay Bookman