Article Jul 22, 2015

4 Things Christians Say When They Deny Religious Liberty to Others

A controversy is brewing over the proposed construction of a muslim cemetery, mosque and training center in my town of Farmersville, Texas. Many local residents have expressed opposition to the project and have called upon our city government to block the construction of the facility. The relevant meetings took place while I was out of town, so I do not have first-hand knowledge of the situation.

However, I understand from others that some of those who have voiced their opposition have been Christians. And perhaps there are many more Christians who aren't sure what position to take. As a pastor, I have something to say to the members of my church and the Christians in the area regarding how Jesus expects us to respond to the religious nature of this controversy. When Christians say that the city of Farmersville should block the construction of an Islamic facility in our town, we're saying a lot more than we think we are saying.

1. We are saying that we have very little confidence in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Paul wrote in Romans 1 that he is not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ because it is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe. I preached from this text just a few weeks ago. I believe that this sentence in the book of Romans is an important and timely message for us. I don't believe that I have to supplement the power of the gospel with the authority of the Farmersville City Council because I am confident in the power of God in the gospel. The god who needs Mayor Helmberger to come to his rescue is not a very big god (and I mean no offense to the mayor by saying so).

Those who want the power of the government to block the construction of Islamic facilities in Farmersville are doing things the muslim way, not the Christian way. They're doing things the Iranian way, not the American way. Muslims co-opt the apparatus of the state and use it to stack the governmental deck in favor of their faith and against competing faiths with which they disagree and which they perceive as dangerous to their muslim way of life.

Personally, I think the reason why there is no religious liberty in North Africa and the Middle East is because Islam is a weak faith. The personal allegiance of the followers of Islam in those nations is not strong enough to keep them in the fold; therefore, the government must threaten them with death if they convert and must force out all other influences. They have no confidence in their faith. It is too weak to stand a fair hearing in an open marketplace of ideas.

I think better things of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and so should you if you are a Christian. City ordinances are not the power of God unto salvation. Planning and zoning recommendations are not the power of God unto salvation. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation. It has survived for two thousand years without the coercive arm of government to sustain it. C. H. Spurgeon said this about the word of God:

The Word of God can take care of itself, and will do so if we preach it and cease defending it. See you that lion. They have caged him for his preservation; shut him up behind iron bars to secure him from his foes! See how a band of armed men have gathered together to protect the lion. What a clatter they make with their swords and spears! These mighty men are intent upon defending a lion. O fools, and slow of heart! Open that door! Let the lord of the forest come forth free. Who will dare to encounter him? What does he want with your guardian care? Let the pure gospel go forth in all its lion-like majesty, and it will soon clear its own way and ease itself of its adversaries.

Jesus lived in an Israel occupied by the Romans. The Roman Empire was not disposed well toward Christianity. It deliberately promoted Roman mythology in Israel. Some Jews were trying to organize to force the Roman presence out of the Holy Land. Jesus pointedly, deliberately and explicitly rejected that approach. "My kingdom is not of this world," Jesus said. He placed His confidence in the spiritual work of the gospel, which is more powerful than any political movement, to throw off the yoke of Roman occupation.

I believe that Jesus' actions and statements regarding the Roman presence in Israel give us the pattern for our response to situations such as the one that we face today. If I am wrong, then I ask you this question: Which story or teaching from the New Testament supports your approach? For my part, I only find that kind of action in the gospels and the book of Acts being carried out by the heathen. The mob in Nazareth tried to kill Jesus. The mob in Ephesus fomented a riot to try to defeat Paul. The mob in the Jerusalem temple tried to kill Paul. So, who is our model—Jesus and the Apostles or the heathen in the New Testament?

2. We are saying that we don't care about the spiritual lostness of people as long as they aren't too visibly active in our neighborhood.

Show me a way to eliminate all mosques everywhere by convincing everyone in the world that Islam is a false religion, and you'll have my support. What does it mean if I object to the construction of a mosque in Farmersville but make no protest against the construction of a mosque in Plano? What does it mean if I harshly object to having an Islamic training center in town but it doesn’t bother me that my next door neighbor is an atheist?

If we have constructed a comfortable bubble in our cities that isolates us from the world around us and prevents us from being grieved over the fact that people all over the world live next to Islamic training centers, then I say let God do whatever is necessary to tear that bubble down. The victory doesn’t matter if we achieve the relocation of a muslim center with the same number of adherents who are just as committed as they were before. The only result is that we don't have to look at them.

“Out of sight, out of mind” is not actually a proverb from the Bible. It is certainly no way for Christians to feel about the presence of false religions in the world. But if we decide that lost people everywhere are our business, then we can be thankful when God brings those lost people to our doorsteps. We just broadened the opportunity for how many of our local Christians can participate in cross-cultural evangelism! Winning the lost to Christ is our mission, right? How does it advance that mission for us to make sure that they are farther away from us? It seems to me that it only makes sense to keep them away if we actually have no intention whatsoever of sharing the gospel with them.

3. We are telling the government that we think they ought to choose between religions they like and don't like and then use city government to make life impossible for the religions they don't like.

This is a particularly foolish time for us to be articulating that point of view so persuasively. We're less than a month past a Supreme Court decision in which four justices warned us about serious threats to religious liberty that are coming our way. How can we argue at the national level that we believe in religious liberty for all people while at the local level we're running Muslims out of town? Christians are going to City Hall seeking to become religious oppressors. I tell you, my friends, whatever the city government does against an Islamic training center today, they'll be doing it against Bible-believing, Bible-preaching churches in twenty years.

The First Amendment is a good thing. I'm in favor of religious liberty for all Americans. This means that anywhere I can build a church, Muslims can build a mosque. Anywhere I can put a Baptist campground, Muslims can build an Islamic training center. If I didn't affirm that, I'd be saying, "I want religious liberty for me but not for anyone else." Fair-minded judges are not going to be disposed favorably to that self-centered bit of doctrine. Like our spiritual and national forefathers did, we need to take a stand for everyone’s religious liberty. Doing so will tell a watching world that we're not just looking out for our own interests, but that we really do believe in the First Amendment's guarantee of religious liberty for all Americans.

4. We are telling the world that we do not trust God to take care of us.

Some of what drives the opposition is a fear that Muslims will stream out of the training center with dynamite strapped to their chests so they can blow us up. There are elements of that point of view that don't make much sense to me. Last year, drunk drivers killed more Americans than have died in all the phases of the global war on terror combined. But when Farmersville legalized alcohol sales a few years ago, there was no organized protest that I recall. This opposition lacks lacks logical sense. But, then, fears often do.

Why are we so fearful? Why are the followers of the God of David, the shepherd-boy who stared down Goliath of Gath, so fearful? Why are the followers of the God of Elijah, the prophet who called down fire from heaven and shamed the prophets of Baal, so fearful? Why are the followers of the God of Peter, the apostle whom an angel released from prison the night before his execution, so fearful? What does fear say about our faith? Is that the message we want our community to receive?

Rather than react in fear and hostility, the Christians of Farmersville need to be asking ourselves, "What are the best things I can be doing today to pave the way for me to share the gospel with Muslims in Farmersville?" Make no mistake about it: That is our mission. When Jesus gave it to us, it came with a promise: "Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age." We have a promise from Jesus, and we do not need to be afraid. Let's tell people about that, and let's act in such a way that the message doesn't get lost in the midst of all the bad things we are saying through our actions.