On the fifteenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, an arsonist set fire to the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce in Florida. The Islamic Center was the mosque attended by Omar Mateen, who massacred 50 people at the Pulse night club in Orlando three months ago.
One state over in Georgia, officials in Newton County, which has “places of worship” exception to zoning regulations designed to “make things easy for anyone who wanted to build a church,” cancelled a meeting in which they expected to approve the building of a mosque.
The reason for the cancellation was that a “self-described militia group from a nearby county posted a video on Facebook threatening to demonstrate outside the meeting with guns drawn.”
Now, no one remotely acquainted with BreakPoint or the Colson Center can reasonably accuse us of being indifferent to the threat posed by militant Islamists. We’ve talked here about it often, including the persecution of Christians around the world, the global struggle with Islamic terrorism, and the worldview of those seeking to kill so many.
Having said that, let me be clear: Christians should oppose and condemn those recent actions in both Florida and Georgia for several reasons. These reasons fall into two basic categories: principled and pragmatic.
The principled reason was articulated clearly, just recently, by Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention. As Moore reminded us “religious liberty is not a government ‘benefit,’ but a natural and inalienable right granted by God. At issue is whether or not the civil state has the power to zone mosques or Islamic cemeteries or synagogues or houses of worship of whatever kind out of existence because of what those groups believe.”
“When Christians say,” Moore continued, “that freedom of religion applies to all people, whether Christian or not, we are not suggesting that there are many paths to God, or that truth claims are relative.”
On the contrary, “We are saying that religion should be free from state control because we believe that every person must give an account before the Judgment Seat of Christ.”
And, as Chuck Colson said on this broadcast seven years ago, “The reason that Christians place such a high value on human freedom is that freedom itself is part of the creation account in the Bible. God made humans in His image. He gave us free will to choose to love, follow, and obey Him, or to follow our own way.”
I would add that if our goal is to bring people to a saving encounter with the living God through the person of Jesus Christ, we should take note of the fact that the explosion of Christianity in Africa, China, and the rest of the “global south” occurred after the end of colonialism. In other words, Christianity took off only after it ceased being associated with coercion and exploitation.
And the pragmatic reasons for standing for the religious rights of Muslims are even more straightforward: by remaining silent, or even worse, supporting efforts to limit the religious freedom of non-Christians, we confirm our opponents in their skepticism about our motives. “Religious freedom for me but not for thee” reinforces the narrative that Christian arguments for religious freedoms are, at best, a kind of selfish pleading, and at worst, a grasp for power.
And even if we don’t care about appearing to be principled, we should at least care about the kind of precedent being set. As Ed Stetzer said recently on BreakPoint This Week, a government that will stop a mosque being built in Georgia will have no problem stopping a church from being built in Vermont.
You don’t have to be a novelist to imagine the scenario in which the tables are turned on us. And notice I’m talking here of “freedom of worship” not “freedom of religion.” If a society can deny those with unpopular beliefs a place to gather, imagine what it can do with attempts to bring those beliefs into the public square.