By / Aug 19

The award-winning novelist Salman Rushdie remains in critical condition after he was attacked while waiting to speak at a cultural center event in upstate New York. 

Hadi Matar, a 24-year-old from New Jersey, allegedly stabbed Rushdie 10 times, striking the writer in the neck, stomach, right eye, chest, and thigh. A preliminary law enforcement review of Matar’s social media accounts shows he is sympathetic to Shia extremism and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. In an interview from jail, Matar said, “I don’t like [Rushdie] very much. He’s someone who attacked Islam, he attacked their beliefs, the belief systems.” 

The threat to Rushdie

Rushdie has been threatened with assasination since the publication of his 1989 novel, The Satanic Verses. The book sparked controversy because it portrays a fictional retelling of the birth of Islam’s key events that imply Mohammad, rather than Allah, was the source of the revelations in the Quran. Muslims believe that, in the original Arabic, the Quran is a divine book (and not merely divinely inspired). 

At the time of its publication, the novel was banned in 13 countries with large Muslim populations including India, Pakistan, and South Africa. A year later the Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran’s Supreme leader, issued a fatwa (a legal ruling in Islamic law) saying the book was blasphemous and calling on “all brave Muslims” to kill Rushdie and his publishers. A bounty of over $3 million was offered for anyone who killed Rushdie. 

A number of Muslims responded to the call for violence. The novel’s Japanese translator was stabbed to death in 1991. The Italian translator was beaten and stabbed, but lived, and the Norwegian publisher was shot three times, but survived. A Nobel-prize winning Egyptian author who had defended Rushdie also survived being stabbed in the neck by a Muslim extremist. 

Rushdie tried to have the fatwa lifted in 1989 by apologizing and saying, in part, “I profoundly regret the distress that publication has occasioned to sincere followers of Islam.” The next year he signed a declaration affirming his Islamic faith and asking his publisher to neither issue the book in paperback nor to allow it to be translated. The actions failed to appease his critics.

Rushdie, an Indian-born British citizen who is now a citizen of the U.S., was put under police protection by the British government for nine years and spent many years in hiding. In early 2005, Khomeini’s fatwa was reaffirmed by Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in a message to Muslim pilgrims making the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. But Rushdie had been living openly in New York for the past few years and had believed he was no longer under immediate danger.

When threats to religious freedom cross international borders

The attack on Rushdie emphasizes the need to continue promoting ​​religious freedom around the globe, and shows why religious freedom and freedom of speech are inextricably connected. But it also shows that threats to religious freedom easily cross international borders.

Rushdie was born into a Muslim family but later became an atheist. According to Muslim tradition and law, the penalty for apostasy from Islam is execution. This poses a threat to former Muslims wherever they live, even outside of Islamic countries. 

Because of advances in transportation and communication technologies, the global world has become increasingly less segmented and isolated. The result is that refugees fleeing religious persecution can find themselves targeted wherever they live. Over the past few decades there has been a rise in what has been called transnational repression, specifically harassment, surveillance, and intimidation of people who have fled countries where individual freedoms are denied. As the human rights organization Freedom House notes

Far from being a foreign problem, transnational repression impacts the lives and freedoms of people living in the United States. It violates their right to privacy, free expression, and free movement. The violence and harassment directed by authoritarian governments is not just a problem for the targeted individuals. Hindering their rights and freedoms has direct consequences for the quality of America’s democracy and institutions.

Baptists have a long history of promoting freedom of religion and expression. As the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 states, the Christian ideal includes “the right to form and propagate opinions in the sphere of religion without interference by the civil power.” In the past, though, Southern Baptists have tended to assume this applied primarily to the civil power within a nation. But as the Rushdie incident reveals, we also must push back against the interference in the sphere of religion by civil powers outside our own borders. In an increasingly open world, transnational repression could become one of the greatest threats to religious liberty in this century. 

By / Jun 21

What does the future of Christianity in America look like? Better yet, what will the global religious landscape be like in a couple of decades? As secularism broadens its appeal and more and more people are religiously unaffiliated, we may find ourselves struggling to answer these questions. Or, we may simply be fearful of the answers.

A recent report titled “The Future of World Religions: Population Growth Projections, 2010-2050,” published by the Pew Research Center, outlines more than six years’ worth of data collection, coalescing their research into a document projecting the world’s religious makeup in 2050 and the trends that lead there. While the authors of this report are quick to admit how fickle some of these projections may be (due to potential factors like war, famine, disease, and others that cannot be accounted for), nevertheless, there is much in “The Future of World Religions” that should grab our attention. 

Here are three takeaways from the Pew Research Center’s report.

1. More religious, not less

If you are paying attention to Western religious trends, you may assume that the global religious trajectory is consistent with what we seem to be experiencing in the U.S., a wayward procession toward secularism. But you would be wrong. Even now, if we were to peer out beyond our own geographic context (and some would argue, even within our own), we would find that the world is not becoming irreligious but more religious. Pew researchers project that this will not only continue, but will surge in the coming decades.

“Atheists, agnostics and other people who do not affiliate with any religion (the report refers to this group as ‘the unaffiliated’) – though increasing in countries such as the United States and France,” the report states, “will make up a declining share of the world’s population.” Of course, because the global population is forecast to increase by 35% from 2010 to 2050, the raw number of religiously unaffiliated people is projected to increase, as we would expect among virtually every religious group. However, “their share of the global population is projected to decrease” from 16% in 2010 to 13% in 2050.

What this means, fundamentally, is that people, despite our technological advancements and “progress,” still possess a deep-level “ache” that goes unrelieved without some sort of transcendent remedy. There are questions that atheism and/or secularism (or any other false worldview, for that matter) simply cannot answer. Religion is not losing global influence. On the contrary, it is growing, and picking up steam. And while religious adherence grows among many faith traditions, Islam is projected to grow most rapidly. 

2. The continued growth of Islam

“By 2050, the number of Muslims will nearly equal the number of Christians around the world.” 

There is not a religious group that is projected to experience more rapid growth in the next several decades than the Muslim population, both worldwide and here within the United States. From Middle East-North Africa to the Asia-Pacific to Europe and North America, Islam is forecast to grow both numerically and in its share of each region’s total population. If Pew’s projections hold, Christians (31.4%) and Muslims (29.7%) will make up a nearly identical percentage of the world population, totaling an estimated 60% of all people on earth

While Christians will undoubtedly find this news distressing, we should view these predictions not as something to fear but as an opportunity. After all, these are projections, not certainties. Who’s to say that Christians can’t win to Christ those who are searching, those who are spiritually hungry, and those who are seeking a remedy for their “aches” rather than losing them to another religion like Islam or to the hopelessness of atheism? Despite all the evidence to the contrary, what if the church set out to upend these projections?

What would this take? Well, for one, we’d have to stop all the in-fighting and get serious about the Great Commission. And, certainly, we’d have to take the Great Commandments, the very words of Jesus, seriously — to love God with all that we have and love our neighbor as ourselves. And if we can do that, Lord willing, the Pew Research Center might just have to make significant amendments to their report. 

3. Christianity’s net losses

By far, the most distressing projection included in Pew’s report as it relates to Christianity is what they call the “Projected Cumulative Change Due to Religious Switching, 2010-2050.” According to their projections, no religious group will lose more adherents to “switching,” or leaving one’s faith tradition for another belief system, than Christianity.

“Over the coming decades, Christians are expected to experience the largest net losses from switching. Globally, about 40 million people are projected to switch into Christianity, while 106 million are projected to leave, with most joining the ranks of the religiously unaffiliated” (emphasis added). If you do the math, that is a projected net loss of more than 66 million people, exponentially more than any other group represented in the report. 

While the report isn’t concerned with answering this question, it would be negligent of us not to ask “why?” Is it because those leaving will have found Jesus’ teaching “hard” (John 6:60) like we read in John’s account of the gospel? Is it because we will have practiced some sort of Pharisaical hypocrisy, driving them away from the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 23:13-15)? Or, will they have “gone out from us” because “they were not of us” (1 John 2:19)? Regardless, this projected seismic “switch” will be a tragedy if we do not resolve to prevent it. 

The thing about projections is that they don’t come true until they come true. May we work with all the strength God gives us to see to it that these 66 million who are expected to desert Jesus never actually do. 

Perseverance in the face of projections

Regardless of what any report might project, the church of Jesus Christ is assured of its perseverance. 

Will Christianity always maintain its majority in global population numbers? I don’t know, maybe not. Will American culture continue to secularize? According to this report, it looks that way for the next 30 years or more. Does this put Christianity and Christ’s church in jeopardy of ceasing to exist? By no means!

The first-century church, under the threat of its Roman overlords, would not have been on the favorable end of any projections. I am certain that Christianity’s eventual extinction would have been the recurrent prediction in that day. But here we are, continuing to persevere, because we do not live by the words and projections of man, “but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). And the Word that has proceeded from the mouth of God has clearly stated that not even “the gates of hell will prevail” against his church (Matt. 16:18). 

We should take Pew’s projections seriously, but let’s not allow them to drive us to despair. Instead, let’s be driven to carry out our mission. Those hungering for some sort of transcendent answer to their aches, those flocking to Islam, and even those disillusioned by their experience of Christianity — whatever the source of that disillusionment —let’s echo the words of Philip in the gospel of John when he said to Nathaniel, “Come and see” (John 1:46). And let’s bring them to Jesus.

By / Feb 16

Today, the French parliament will vote on a controversial religious law called, “the Law to Uphold Republican Principles.” This 459-page bill has received dramatic public interest, and over 1,700 proposed amendments have been filed to the bill. The intent of this bill is to “combat the threat of Islamist radicals,” whom French President Emmanuel Macron has called “the enemy of the Republic.” 

In October 2020, French middle-school teacher, Samuel Paty was beheaded by the father of one of his students after discussing the freedom of expression in his classroom. Mr. Paty gave his students a chance to leave the classroom before showing them the cartoon at the heart of the 2015 attack on the Charlie Hebdo newsroom, which satirically depicted the Prophet Mohammed. 

Mr. Paty’s murderer posted a photo and message on Twitter addressed to French President Macron. Within minutes, police identified and killed the perpetrator of Mr. Paty’s murder. This attack comes after multiple terrorist attacks over the past six years, including the Charlie Hebdo attack, an attack during Bastille Day, an attack at a Christmas market, and a stabbing at the Nice cathedral. Since 2015, more than 250 people have been killed in these attacks. 

Mr. Paty’s murder has inspired the introduction of this new bill by French lawmakers that takes aim at the spread of radical Islam within the country. 

Some Muslim leaders support the legislation, including the French Council of the Muslim Faith, a large French Muslim organization, which called the bill “useful, [and] necessary to fight those who want to instrumentalize associations” in ways that undermine French society. The secular, progressive Foundation for Islam said that the bill is “unjust, but necessary.” These statements from Muslim organizations illustrate the real challenge radical Islam presents for France, even for the Muslim community. 

What are French evangelicals saying about this bill?

French evangelicals have been critical of the bill. The National Council of Evangelicals in France (CNEF) has been working to highlight the problems the bill would create. Clément Diedrichs, general director of CNEF, told Christianity Today, “It’s definitely a serious situation. Laïcité [the French concept of separation of church and state] should protect the free organization of religious groups, but this law will allow the prevention of religious expression in society.”

Although the bill is not targeted at French Protestants or Evangelicals, they do have legitimate cause for concern. France’s Interior Minister, Gérald Darmanin, said earlier this month that “Evangelicals are a very important problem,” qualifying later in the interview that evangelicals are “obviously not [a problem] of the same nature than the Islamism that makes terrorist attacks and deaths.” Darmanin appears to take issue with those who believe the law of God is supreme over any other man-made law. As Darmanin said in a separate interview, “We cannot discuss with people who refuse to write on paper that the law of the Republic is superior to the law of God.”

Ultimately, the bill raises questions central to the French conception of secularism—the idea of laïcité—which is focused on public neutrality on religion and the place of religion in the public square. To simplify and translate this complex idea into American terms, laïcité is similar to the U.S. Constitution’s Establishment Clause: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” By strengthening the separation of church and state, this bill would force religion even further from the public square. Diedrichs, the CNEF leader, said, “We have a unanimous position that recognizes the potential risks this law represents for religious liberty. No one is content with this law.”

Indeed, French evangelicals have raised a number of concerns with the bill. The bill would create a requirement that churches re-register with the government every five years, increasing the possibility that a church’s registration may be denied. In addition, churches and ministries would be required to publicly declare financial support from outside of France, including support of missionaries and direct support to churches from overseas. It should be noted that French evangelical churches are overwhelmingly self-supported. For evangelical families, permission to pursue home-based education would be required every year, and parents would not be permitted to choose to homeschool because of religious motivation.

Why is this bill a concern?

There is no question that France faces a difficult situation with the presence and spread of radical Islam and that efforts to curtail extremism are warranted and needed. Still, the “separatism” bill would create new restrictions on the rights to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion and would strengthen the French conception of separation of church and state in significant and harmful ways. Article 1 of the Constitution of France states: “France shall be an indivisible, secular, democratic and social Republic. It shall ensure the equality of all citizens before the law, without distinction of origin, race or religion. It shall respect all beliefs.”

France’s leaders should honor its own principles and its international commitments by ensuring that freedom of thought, expression, and religion are maintained for all peaceful religious communities. The Bible teaches that government authority is granted by God (Rom. 13). But government authority is limited and does not include the right to restrict religious beliefs or override a person’s conscience.

It appears that this bill would do just that, reversing the proper order of the law of man and the law of God in the process. Christians should oppose this clear example of government overreach that would trample upon the consciences of millions of French citizens and pray this bill does not pass as introduced. The ERLC will continue to monitor this bill and work with our partners in France and in Europe on these important issues. 

By / Aug 24

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey announced that he will convert the longstanding landmark in Istanbul, the Hagia Sophia, back to a mosque after being a museum for over 80 years. This announcement follows Turkey’s Council of State’s decision to annul the 1934 presidential decree that originally designated the structure as a museum and a new presidential decree that transferred authority of the Hagia Sophia to Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate. 

What is the Hagia Sophia?

The Hagia Sophia is the enduring architectural marvel that has stood as a significant landmark in Constantinople, or present day Istanbul, Turkey, for almost 1,500 years. It was originally constructed under the authority of Byzantine Emperor Constantius in 360 A.D. to be a basilica. The first construction of the Hagia Sophia was covered by a wooden roof and burned to the ground in 404 A.D. by political rioters. It was rebuilt in 415 A.D., but the second construction also burned down during the Nika revolts. In 537 A.D., the third and final Hagia Sophia was constructed, and it remains to this day.

For the Orthodox Church, the Hagia Sophia became the center of church life, faith, and ceremonies celebrating the new emperors. It was a pivotal part of Byzantine culture and politics for almost 900 years. During the Crusades, Constantinople was under Roman control for a short time, but the Byzantines reclaimed the city and repaired the damage done to the Hagia Sophia.

In 1453 A.D., the Ottomans conquered the city of Constantinople and renovated the Hagia Sophia into a mosque. Much of the original Orthodox mosaics and art found in the Hagia Sophia were covered by Islamic calligraphy and other art. The Hagia Sophia remained a mosque until 1935, when it was formally converted into a museum, operated by the government, that displays artifacts and art from every period of the church’s history.

Why is this controversial?

Given the Hagia Sophia’s history under different religions and rulers, there are multiple groups today that consider the landmark an important part of their history. Turning the Hagia Sophia into a museum honored all of the religious ties to the church and symbolized civil engagement between Christianity and Islam. It was even designated as a World Heritage Site in 1985 by UNESCO. The conversion from museum to mosque is a disruption of the peaceful status quo of the Hagia Sophia’s diverse history that has stood for nearly a century. 

Religious and political leaders that value the Hagia Sophia as a cultural site have stated that it is best left as a museum due to the highly contested nature of the building. For many years it has been a symbol of pluralism and served as an inspiration of awe for all who have seen the magnificence of the Hagia Sophia. 

Surrounding President Erdogan’s announcement, the ecumenical patriarch of Istanbul, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the Russian Orthodox Church, and the foreign minister of Cyprus have spoken out against the decision to convert the Hagia Sophia back into a mosque because of the division and discord it will bring in the Republic of Turkey. Secretary Pompeo argues that Turkey should continue to represent its diverse history through the Hagia Sophia and that it should remain accessible for all people to enjoy and engage. 

Why is this important?

Deciding to remove Christian Orthodox heritage and history from the Hagia Sophia is damaging to the relationship between Christians and Muslims in Turkey, and it will be devastating for Christians who still consider the Hagia Sophia as a sacred space for worship. This landmark of peace and inspiration for many religions is now being used for one religion alone to the exclusion of the rest. This change disrespects the Orthodox Church and the faithful who visited the Hagia Sophia to worship.

What happens now?

On Friday, July 24, thousands of people gathered at the Hagia Sophia to participate in prayers at the historic Muslim house of worship for the first time in 86 years. Erdogan promised that the Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque is a place that “people of all religions can visit” and that it will still be a place that serves all believers. The artifacts previously displayed in the Hagia Sophia will be moved to another building in a separate museum. Going forward, the Orthodox Church will have to grapple with its history being removed from the Hagia Sophia and being further marginalized in the Republic of Turkey.

ERLC Intern Mary Beth Teague contributed to this article.

By / Jan 3

Following Christ is more than an intellectual assent. At the ERLC Leadership Summit, Afshin Ziafat shares his story of what it meant to leave the Islam faith to follow Christ. We hope that you’re encouraged to follow Christ more faithfully because of Afshin’s testimony

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By / Jul 19

Note: This address was originally given at the Idara-E-Jaferia Islamic Community Center in Burtonsville, Maryland. 

Introduction & Thanks

Good evening. Thank you for having me here tonight for this intriguing and important discussion of the rights of our neighbors. It is an honor to be with you. It may be helpful for you to know something of my connection to this event. For over a decade now, I have had the privilege of being friends with Rahat Husain, a member of the Islamic community. I can’t remember when and where Rahat and I first met, but our discussions have always been meaningful and significant. Whenever we do get together, I am grateful that we are able to have consequential and cordial conversation about the differences in our faiths.

Let’s dive right into the topic that is before us. I want to make two related points in thinking about the rights of our neighbors. I don’t have time to address everything I assert, so if something strikes you as interesting and you want to circle back to it, let me encourage you to make a note and bring it up in the time of Q&A.

First, I want us to see the need for rights, and then I want us to see the need for love. To do that I want us to consider a conversation that Jesus had with a religious lawyer. This conversation is recorded in chapter 10 of Luke’s Gospel. That is in the New Testament portion of the Bible. As a Christian, I hold that the Bible is the God’s totally trustworthy and true Word.

To set the scene, we should understand that a critical moment has taken place in Jesus’ life and ministry. In Luke chapter 9, Jesus has revealed that he is going to Jerusalem to die for the salvation of sinners. Jesus is traveling and walking on the road that leads to his death. On this road he is teaching and healing and interacting with all sorts of people. Please listen as I read from the New Testament about one of Jesus’ interactions on the road to his death from Luke 10:25-37.

25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put [Jesus] to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 [Jesus] said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And [the lawyer] answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And [Jesus] said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” 29 But [the lawyer], desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when [the priest] saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when [the Samaritan] saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day [the Samaritan] took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 [The lawyer] said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

The Need for Rights

I wonder if you hear the need for rights and the need for love in this reading from the Bible. The need for rights and the need for love seems obvious enough, doesn’t it? A man gets beaten up on a road. That’s not right, and several rights were violated. Jesus’ parable is also pretty realistic too. This kind of thing happened on that road from Jerusalem to Jericho. People were often beaten and robbed on that road.

This is kind of thing happens in our world too, doesn’t it? I mean, we can think of this happening to a man traveling from Burtonsville to Baltimore, can’t we? When we read this story and see this kind of thing play out in our world, we think to ourselves or we should think to ourselves, “This man deserved to have his rights of life, liberty, and the security of his person protected.” It seems to me that we as human beings instinctively know that rights are a necessity in our world. I hope that is something we can all agree on. Deep down in our consciences we know that rights are needed, but why are they needed?

The answer ties directly to what Jesus says and what we just read in Luke 10. In fact, it ties into the story of the Bible from the very beginning. In the very first chapter of the Bible, in the Torah, in Genesis chapter 1, we learn that God created the world and everything in it. God is the author of life, and he told us in Genesis 1:26 that he made man in his image. He even made the first neighbors when he made Adam and Eve.

Because man bears the image of God, when our fellow man is attacked, God, by extension, is attacked. When we fail to love our neighbor, we actually fail to love God. Indeed, the reason we fail to love our neighbor is because we have failed to love God. If we are honest with ourselves, we will confess that our neighbors need rights because we are sinners. We have failed to love God with all that we have and all that we are. We have broken God’s good commands just like our first parents, just like Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden.

When Adam and Eve sinned and rebelled against God, when they decided to love themselves instead of loving God, the perfect loving relationship between the first two neighbors in world history crumbled. Adam blamed Eve for his sin. Tell me, when spouses start blaming one another in a marriage relationship, is that a happy relationship? No. When Adam and Eve sinned against God, not only did their love for God fail, but so did their love for one another. Because this was true for Adam and Eve, it became true for the rest of humanity. How could it not, with everyone descending from Adam and Eve?

Why do our neighbors need rights? Frankly, our neighbors need rights because we are sinners who love ourselves more than we love God. Everyone is a sinner, and we know this because we not only see it in the news and in our neighborhoods, but also because we see it in our own hearts. We have not loved God with everything that we have and are.

We also know from the Scriptures and from our own consciences that God his holy, just, and good. Because God is holy, just, and good he cannot allow sin to go unpunished. God must punish sin, and so all of humanity stands in danger of facing his eternal punishment against our sin in hell. Our sin demands an eternal punishment because we have sinned against the one eternal God. We deserve an eternal death for our sin. So what are we to do? This is where I’d like us to come back to Luke 10 to remember afresh that conversation between Jesus and the religious lawyer about loving our neighbor. This is where we see the need for love.

The Need for Love

Remember that the conversation first began with the lawyer wanting to test and trap Jesus. Does seeking to trap Jesus sound like the lawyer really wanted love his neighbor when he asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Luke told us the lawyer wanted to justify himself. He loved himself. Jesus then told that parable about what loving your neighbor really looks like. Do you remember how Jesus concluded it? Jesus said to the lawyer, “You go, and do likewise.” Jesus was not telling the man how he might go and earn eternal life. We cannot earn salvation through good works, so what was Jesus telling the man?

Jesus was telling this man, “You don’t love God or your neighbor.” We know that this man did not love God and his neighbor because in the parable, Jesus didn’t make the religious figures the hero. He made the hated Samaritan the hero, and when Jesus asked him, “Which one proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” The lawyer couldn’t even bring himself to say the word, “Samaritan.”

Friends, not a single one of us here tonight has perfectly loved God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Not a single one of us here tonight has loved our neighbor as much as we have loved ourselves. The only way that we can receive eternal life is by recognizing that Jesus was the only one who ever perfectly loved God with all of his heart, soul, mind, and strength. And Jesus loved his neighbor more than life itself. We see the supreme display of Jesus’ love for God and neighbor in his death on the cross. On the cross Jesus took the sins and the punishment due to them for all of those who would ever turn from their sins and trust in him alone for salvation. Three days after his death, God the Father, raised Jesus from the dead vindicating him and proving to us all that his love for God and neighbor was perfect.

We can’t earn eternal life through our love of neighbor. Only Jesus can give us eternal life because only he perfectly loved God and neighbor. Only Jesus can give us eternal life, because he is the only one who conquered death to secure it. We need his love, and the good news is, that he invites us to receive his love through turning from our sin and placing our faith alone in him for salvation. There is salvation in no other name but Jesus, so put your faith in Jesus.


As I conclude, I want to stress that we are indeed called to love our neighbor, and part of that love means protecting his rights. But hear me clearly, we can only love our neighbor, because we have first been loved the Good Neighbor, Jesus Christ. It is in response to Jesus love that we properly love our neighbor, and that love will cost us something.

Jesus showed us that in the parable of the Good Samaritan, where the Good Samaritan gave up his resources, his time, and his money. You see, actually loving our neighbor and protecting his rights actually burdens us and costs us something. Jesus taught us this in the parable of the Good Samaritan, but ultimately, he taught us this in his death. He gave up his right to a fair trial, his right to due process, his right to the protection of his person, and ultimately his right to life. So that the wounds that you and I have been inflicted with on the road of this life might be healed. May we love God with all that we have and all that we are, and may we love our neighbors as ourselves, because we see and believe that Jesus first loved us. Thank you for the privilege of speaking to you tonight, I look forward to our discussion.

By / Jun 10

Note: The following letter was written by Jason Duesing, provost at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; Thomas White, president of Cedarville University; and Malcolm Yarnell, professor of systematic theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

We are compelled by conscience to respond publicly to a June 6 public editorial penned by a revered Southern Baptist newspaper editor. Before reading our fourfold response, please allow us a preliminary word to our brother in Christ and to the general reader:

First, to our brother in Christ, please know that we write as those who share your concerns about the imperiled present and future state of our culture and society. As Southern Baptist churchmen like you and as leaders in higher education, we have a long-standing appreciation for your work and witness at The Christian Index.

Second, to the general reader, please know that we agree with the editor’s effort to inform readers of teachings within Islam that are not fully known in the public square. We appreciate the editor’s attempt to raise questions requiring further exploration. Moreover, we recognize, support, and will heartily defend the right of the editor to express these views.

However, while we appreciate the intended tone of the editorial, we do disagree with the tenor for the four following reasons:

First, we believe, as Americans, that our Constitution guarantees the “first freedom” among all human freedoms, the freedom of religion with all of its benefits. For Christian Americans to question whether Muslim Americans qualify for religious freedom is essentially a question about whether all Americans are under the protection of the first and fourteenth amendments. We believe that all Americans, including Muslims, are granted, as an inalienable human right, the freedom of conscience to worship God as they believe best.

Second, we believe, as Baptists, that questioning whether Muslims deserve religious liberty is foreign to the historic Baptist understanding of biblical faith and practice. From the Reformation to the present, Baptists have been leading advocates for the separation of church and state and the freedom of religion for all citizens. In a supplement to this letter, we include quotes from the first continental Anabaptists and from the first English Baptists in order to demonstrate that religious liberty is foundational to our faith.

We note that Thomas Helwys (the English Baptist pastor to whom most scholars trace Baptist origins) specifically included “Turks” (i.e. Muslims) as possessing religious liberty from God. There are also quotes from leading American Baptists such as Roger Williams, Isaac Backus, and John Leland, each of whom was instrumental in shaping American Baptist life as well as American political thought.

Third, we believe, as Southern Baptists, that universal religious liberty is a non-negotiable aspect of our denomination’s theology. In that light, we have included a portion of the Baptist Faith and Message in the second appendix below. We have also included one of our most recent denominational resolutions supporting religious liberty. The Southern Baptist Convention has adopted dozens of religious liberty resolutions since our inception in 1845, and this resolution, from 2011, specifically supports the freedom of Muslims to build mosques.

Fourth, we believe, as Evangelical Christians, that it is inappropriate to question whether Muslims should retain the right freely to practice their religion. We understand that granting such rights to some forms of Islam might one day lead to the threatening of Christians in our worship. However, we trust God will honor our faithfulness to proclaim and practice his Word for his glory and to the best of our ability. Moreover, we believe any attempt to inhibit religious liberty will only prove to be a hindrance to reaching these precious men and women, created in God’s image, with the saving gospel of Jesus Christ. As those who believe in the exclusivity of Christ for salvation and who know that one cannot be coerced to believe and be saved, we want religious freedom for all human beings, while there is still time before the day of final judgment.

We ask our brother and we ask all Baptists, as well as other people interested in human freedom, to join us in preserving the first freedom, freedom of religion, and in rejecting any restriction of its universal application.




Editors, First Freedom: The Beginning and End of Religious Liberty, Revised edition (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2016)

Examples of Baptist Advocacy of Universal Religious Liberty

“A Turk or a heretic is not convinced by our act, either with the sword or with fire, but only with patience and prayer.”

Balthasar Hubmaier, Concerning Heretics and Those Who Burn Them (1524)

“For men’s religion to God is between God and themselves. The king shall not answer for it. Let them be heretics, Turks, Jews, or whatsoever, it appertains not to the earthly power to punish them in the least measure.”

Thomas Helwys, A Short Declaration of the Mystery of Iniquity (1612)

“It is the will and command of God that (since the coming of his Son the Lord Jesus) a permission of the most paganish, Jewish, Turkish, or antichristian consciences and worships, be granted to all men in all nations and countries; and they are only to be fought against with that sword which is only (in soul matters) able to conquer, to wit, the sword of God’s Spirit, the Word of God.”

Roger Williams, Plea for Religious Liberty (1644)

“In all civil governments some are appointed to judge for others, and have power to compel others to submit to their judgment: but our Lord has most plainly forbidden us, either to assume or submit to any such thing in religion.”

Isaac Backus, Appeal to the Public for Religious Liberty (1773)

“Every man must give an account of himself to God, and therefore every man ought to be at liberty to serve God in that way that he can best reconcile it to his conscience. If government can answer for individuals at the day of judgment, let men be controlled by it in religious matters; otherwise, let men be free.”

John Leland, The Rights of Conscience Inalienable (1791)

Our Southern Baptist Theological Commitment

“The state has no right to impose penalties for religious opinions of any kind. The state has no right to impose taxes for the support of any form of religion. A free church in a free state is the Christian ideal, and this implies the right of free and unhindered access to God on the part of all men, and the right to form and propagate opinions in the sphere of religion without interference by the civil power.”

Baptist Faith and Message (2000)

“Whereas, The rapidly changing religious diversity in the United States makes it important to reassert what Baptists have affirmed historically about complete religious liberty for all persons and a free church in a free state; and whereas, this conviction is grounded in the teaching of our Lord Jesus who declared that His Kingdom is “not of this world” (John 18:36), and therefore He has not authorized any earthly realm to advance His Kingdom by the power of the sword; and whereas, the transformation of the heart comes through the action of the Holy Spirit (John 3:3-8), and thus cannot be legislated or forced; and whereas, efforts to confront spiritual matters with carnal, coercive means are both morally wrong and counter-productive (2 Corinthians 10:4; Ephesians 6:12); now, therefore, be it resolved, that the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, June 14-15, 2011, restate our long-standing view that religious liberty is an inalienable human right, rooted in the image of God and possessed by all human beings; and be it further resolved, that we affirm that this freedom entails the civil liberty to convert to another religion or to no religion, to seek to persuade others of the claims of one’s religion, and to worship without harassment or impediment from the state; and be it further resolved, that we oppose the imposition of any system of jurisprudence by which people of different faiths do not enjoy the same legal rights; and be it further resolved, that we deny that any government should use any coercive measure—including zoning laws or permits—to restrict religious speech or worship, based on the theological content of that speech or worship; and be it further resolved, that we call on the United States government to maintain complete religious liberty for all Americans, as guaranteed in the First Amendment to the Constitution.”

On Religious Liberty in a Global Society, Resolution of the Southern Baptist Convention, June 14-15, 2011

WHEREAS, Popular movements calling for greater freedom and democracy are afoot in nations such as Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Pakistan, Iran, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia, the governments of which deny their citizens religious liberty; and

WHEREAS, Many others in the Islamic world are denied the right to convert from Islam, because Sharia law makes such conversion a crime subject to penalties as severe as capital punishment; and

WHEREAS, Others around the world suffering under totalitarian regimes are denied the right to worship freely; and

WHEREAS, The diplomatic, economic, and military engagement of the United States of America in some of these countries brings with it a unique responsibility to promote religious liberty; and

WHEREAS, Advocacy for religious liberty is crucial not only abroad but also at home; and

WHEREAS, The rapidly changing religious diversity in the United States makes it important to reassert what Baptists have affirmed historically about complete religious liberty for all persons and a free church in a free state; and

WHEREAS, This conviction is grounded in the teaching of our Lord Jesus who declared that His Kingdom is “not of this world” (John 18:36), and therefore He has not authorized any earthly realm to advance His Kingdom by the power of the sword; and

WHEREAS, The transformation of the heart comes through the action of the Holy Spirit (John 3:3-8), and thus cannot be legislated or forced; and

WHEREAS, Efforts to confront spiritual matters with carnal, coercive means are both morally wrong and counter-productive (2 Corinthians 10:4; Ephesians 6:12); now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, June 14-15, 2011, restate our long-standing view that religious liberty is an inalienable human right, rooted in the image of God and possessed by all human beings; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we affirm that this freedom entails the civil liberty to convert to another religion or to no religion, to seek to persuade others of the claims of one’s religion, and to worship without harassment or impediment from the state; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we oppose the imposition of any system of jurisprudence by which people of different faiths do not enjoy the same legal rights; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we deny that any government should use any coercive measure—including zoning laws or permits—to restrict religious speech or worship, based on the theological content of that speech or worship; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we call on the United States government to maintain complete religious liberty for all Americans, as guaranteed in the First Amendment to the Constitution; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we petition our political, diplomatic, and military leaders to make religious liberty for all people a priority in decisions of foreign policy and international aid; and be it finally

RESOLVED, That we pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world who are now persecuted, imprisoned, or facing execution for their testimony of faith in Jesus.

By / Dec 15

Afshin Ziafat spoke at the 2015 ERLC Leadership Summit on “The Gospel and Racial Reconciliation.”

Ziafat is the lead pastor at Providence Church in Frisco, Texas. 

By / Apr 2

From the 2015 ERLC Leadership Summit on “The Gospel and Racial Reconciliation”