Category: religious liberty

Freedom of Religion

By Charles Kiker

Freedom of Religion is the first of five topics in the very first amendment to the United States Constitution. It is the first freedom among many.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” There are two clauses in this promise: the establishment clause and the free exercise clause. While I do not believe these two clauses are contradictory, they are, I think intentionally, set side by side in tension.

The establishment clause, as it has been interpreted by the Supreme Court time and again, prohibits the state from sponsoring or favoring one religion over another. “Congress shall make no law. . . .” Some have interpreted this to mean that this clause applies only to the federal government, and not to state and local governments. At least one member of the Supreme Court, Clarence Thomas I think, favors this interpretation. According to that interpretation, the federal government cannot establish an official religion, but the states can if they wish. In Mississippi the state religion could be Baptist, the Southern Baptist version of course. And Utah could be officially Mormon, etc. But the 14th amendment, as interpreted by the Supreme Court, provides that the Bill of Rights applies to all citizens of all the states. (more…)

Do White evangelicals have a delusional persecution complex?

Fred Clark thinks white Christians who lament the loss of their religious liberty are delusional sociopaths.  Moreover, he says a recent study by the Barna Group confirms his worst fears.

Timothy George, pictured to the left, is singled out as a particularly delusional sociopath.

Timothy George is currently the dean of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University, a Southern Baptist School i Birmingham, AL.  Prior to that, George was a highly respected church history professor at Southern Seminary in Louisville and the leader of a new breed of Baptist Calvinists who would influence the theology of Al Mohler, the current president of Southern Seminary.

I have only met Dr. George on a single occasion.  He delivered a paper at Southern in the early 1990s and I was asked to give the response, probably because no one else wanted the job.  The Seminary was in the process of being taken over by conservative evangelicals and professors who publicly decried the revolution knew they would be summarily fired once the new crew, led by a thirty-three year-old Al Mohler, had the institutional reins firmly in hand.

Do men like George and Mohler qualify as sociopaths?  I don’t think so.   (more…)

Rogers: Obama and the two types of marriage

By Alan Bean

The gay marriage debate is gradually bringing clarity to a complex subject.  Americans oppose gay marriage for a variety of reasons.  Some believe they are forced to choose between accepting “the gay lifestyle” and the teachings of Scripture.  Others are primarily concerned about preserving strong traditional families.  And then there are those who, lacking any first-hand association with actual gay men and lesbians, allow unsympathetic, and often lurid, stereotypes to fill the void. 

People of faith sometimes fear that the legalization of gay marriage will force pastors and churches to go against deep personal and traditional conviction.  Not so, says Melissa Rogers.  After paying careful attention to the totality of President Obama’s remarks, she makes some crucial distinctions in this brief article originally published by the Huffington Post and the Associated Baptist Press.

Obama and two types of marriage

By Melissa Rogers
Friday, May 18, 2012

Melissa Rogers

In the wake of President Obama’s declaration of his personal support for the right of same-sex couples to marry under civil law, the nation is understandably focused on debating the merits of this position. Three related points from President Obama’s announcement, however, deserve our attention as well.

First, President Obama noted that there is an important difference between civil marriage and religious marriage. The state defines civil marriage, which serves as the gateway for a wide variety of government benefits, rights and privileges. Religious marriage, on the other hand, is defined solely by religious communities.

These categories may be fuzzy in our minds because current law not only respects the ability of clergy and religious communities to define and bless religious marriage, it also allows clergy to solemnize civil marriage. That’s why one often hears a minister conclude a wedding by saying, “By the authority vested in me by the state of X, I now pronounce you husband and wife.” (more…)

Baptist Preachers and Prison

My old Church History Professor is getting radical in his old age.  Bill was fresh out of Boston University when he came to Southern Seminary in Louisville in 1975.  I was in his first class.  A decade later, he was head of my PhD committee before leaving Southern for Samford University and then Wake Forest where he eventually became Dean of the Divinity School.  For years, the urbane Baptist scholar has been drawn to Black Baptist churches, so maybe he’s been radical all along.  AGB

For cause of conscience

By Bill Leonard
Thursday, May 10, 2012

Bill Leonard

In 1611, as they prepared to leave Amsterdam and return to England, members of the earliest Baptist congregation wrote a confession of faith, asserting that when members of the Body of Christ “come together” they “may and ought … to Pray, Prophecie, breake bread and administer in all the holy ordinances, although as yet they have no Officers, or that their Officers should be in Prison, sick or by any other means hindered from the Church.”

Those dissenters took it for granted that their “officers,” compelled by conscience, might ultimately end up in jail. Imprisonment was ensured for Thomas Helwys, the principal author of the 1611 confession, after the publication of his treatise, A Short Declaration of the Mystery of Iniquity, probably the first English text advocating complete religious liberty.

Arriving in England in 1612, Helwys was soon arrested and sent to Newgate Prison. Helwys scholar Richard Groves notes the possibility that a “handwritten document found in the Library of the House of Lords,” may have come from the Baptist leader. It states: “A most humble supplication of divers [various] poor prisoners and many others the king’s majesty’s loyal subjects ready to testify it by the oath of allegiance in all sincerity, whose grievances are lamentable, only for cause of conscience.”

Across the centuries dissent for “cause of conscience” has propelled innumerable Christians into “divers” prisons. It still does. (more…)

Will Obama soon be dragging Christians to jail?


Southern Baptists have walked a long and winding road on the subject of race.  In the 1950s, SBC conservatives like WA Criswell, pastor of the 20,000 member First Baptist Church Dallas, denounced the civil rights movement as a communist enterprise.  Criswell denounced the Suprme Court as a “bunch of infidels” following the Brown v. Board of Education ruling in 1954. 

But by the mid-1960s, Criswell was confessing to a “colossal mistake” and admitting that his take on race relations had been deeply flawed.  This bold admission made it possible for other conservative Southern Baptists to hop on the racial harmony express by denouncing racial prejudice and inviting black pastors to speak in their churches once a year. 

Every year, Southern Baptists passed high-sounding pro civil rights decrees drafted by the denomination’s Christian Life Commission.  At the congregational level, conditions were far more complicated, of course.  Pastors and leading lay leaders didn’t shift from animosity to embrace in a mere decade.  On the other hand, they didn’t oppose the denominational rush to the center on the race issue.  Colorblind orthodoxy was too void of content to warrant strenuous opposition.

One might have expected that the SBC enthusiasm for civil rights would cool significantly after the nation’s largest Protestant denomination sent its moderate minority into wilderness exile in the 1980s and 90s.  Nothing of the sort.  In fact, the denomination’s new opinion leaders have made a point of apologizing for slavery and speaking appreciatively of civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King.

Bob Allen’s piece on Richard Land, president of the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, helps us understand this perspective.  Instead of denouncing civil rights leaders as crypto-communists, Southern Baptist leaders are arguing that they are facing essentially the same oppressive forces men like King confronted half a century ago. 

Land makes much of the fact that King’s famous letter to southern white clergy was composed from a prison cell.  If Barack Obama’s opposition to religious liberty continues unabated, Land suggests, Christian men and women of Christian conscience may soon be dragged off to prison for refusing to bend the knee to Caesar.

This is a very clever argument, especially in the wake of the Obama administration’s tone-deaf decision to force Catholic hospitals to provide contraceptive services.  This is a tough issue.  Catholic hospitals, after all, service non-Catholics.  On the other hand, common sense militates against forcing anyone to go against conscience in order to stay in business.  Men like Richard Land can argue that his Catholic friends are being oppressed for their faith just as King et al faced discrimination because of their race.

I’m not buying.  Barack Obama believes in religious freedom as much as Richard Land.  The difference is that Obama, speaking and acting as the president of all Americans, believes in religious freedom for Muslims and secularists as well as Protestant and Catholic Christians.

If Richard Land wants to claim the likes of Deitrich Bonhoeffer and MLK as his spiritual forebears, there isn’t much either man can do about it.  The dead have no opinions. (more…)