Southern Baptists Back Away from Backing Muslim Mosques

Islamic Society of Basking Ridge
The proposed mosque
Trustee scuffle over ‘unholy alliance’ leads IMB to leave ERLC’s side on religious freedom fights.

The trouble started last May, when several arms of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) reached out a legal hand to a Muslim community in New Jersey, publicly supporting their right to build a mosque.

The International Mission Board (IMB) and Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) were 2 of 18 religious groups that filed an amicus brief decrying the Township of Bernards’ zoning board decision that required the proposed mosque to have more parking spaces than Christian or Jewish places of worship.

The town’s reasoning: since Muslim services are held on Fridays, people would be coming after work instead of together as families, and therefore more spots would be needed. But when the Muslim community offered to split the services, or use ride-sharing or overflow arrangements, the board still denied their application.

The amicus brief, which was also signed by the National Association of Evangelicals and the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, argued that “such unequal treatment of the mosque in this case represents a potential threat to the free exercise rights of each of the amici represented here and is a affront to our nation’s commitment to religious liberty for all.”

On New Year’s Eve, a judge agreed.

Less than a month later, IMB trustee and Tennessee megachurch pastor Dean Haun resigned with a year left on his term.

“I love our IMB leadership and our missionaries and their work across the globe. I am not a rabble rouser and my heart is not to take down the IMB,” Haun told the Baptist and Reflector, the newspaper of the Tennessee Baptist Convention and one of the SBC’s oldest state papers.

“[But] if we defend the rights of people to construct places of false worship, are we not helping them speed down the highway to hell?” he said. “I want no part in supporting a false religion, even if it is in the name of religious freedom.”

He called the amicus brief an “unholy alliance” with a false religion, and accused the SBC agencies of overstepping their bounds, reported Baptist Press. He wasn’t the only one to object; the IMB came under enough fire to defend itself on the Frequently Asked Questions portion of its website.

The IMB explained:

[Our] specific interest in the brief arises out of our belief that all peoples of the world have the right to religious liberty, including the freedom to embrace the gospel. This is what we believe and why we take the gospel to them, despite situations that pose great risk. A public record by IMB of supporting freedom of religion for all people in the United States—regardless of their beliefs—gives IMB workers overseas a credible foundation from which to advocate for freedom of religious exercise in countries that are hostile to Christianity, penalize those who convert, or make it difficult for a new church to own or rent property for worship. … IMB’s call on the government of these other countries to support the religious freedom of their citizens will ring hollow if, in the USA, we only support freedom of religion for Christians.

Haun’s 2,800-member church also voted to hold on to funds that were earmarked for the SBC’s Cooperative Program (CP), which finances state and national missions, including the IMB, the ERLC, the North American Mission Board, and the SBC’s six seminaries.

The congregation is “praying about their long-term response,” Baptist Press reported. (Amid debate over the merits of using CP funds as a political bargaining chip, giving so far this fiscal year is about 3 percent above budget, but slightly lower than what was given to the CP by this time last year.)

Haun’s congregation may be pacified by the IMB’s latest move, which was to tweak its policy.

“As a result of discussions among IMB trustees and staff over recent months, we have revised our processes for our legal department filing any future amicus briefs,” IMB president David Platt told Baptist Press. “IMB leaders are committed in the days ahead to speak only into situations that are directly tied to our mission.”

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SOURCE: Christianity Today
Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra