The Way that Religious Liberty Ends

December 8, 2015

Walk down any street in America today and you can find a person who doesn’t own a Bible, has never attended a church, doesn’t pray, and has never enrolled in even an undergraduate course in religion, but who feels no qualms whatsoever about declaring authoritatively to you what Jesus would or would not do about some pressing modern issue. At the end of that street, of course, you’ll likely find a church with a preacher in it who has never served in the military and speaks only English but will gladly declare to you what ought to be the finer details of American international diplomacy. I’m tempted…greatly…often…to be that second guy. But I know how often I have to bite my tongue when I encounter that first guy, and sometimes that reins me in just a little when I want to spout off about the latest item on the front page of the Wall Street Journal.

In particular, I find that some aspects of our immigration policy are complicated and difficult for me to understand fully. How ought we to reform our immigration laws— laws that almost no one defends as they are presently written and enforced? If we open our gates wider for legal immigration, should we award most of those opportunities to Central Americans and Mexicans when there are teeming masses of Africans, Asians, and Eastern Europeans who are merely farther away, but not any less needy or desiring? How much of the problem will, for example, building a wall solve as opposed to locating and deporting those who have entered the country legally but have simply refused to leave on time? Are Syrian Muslim refugees the ones with the greatest need, or ought we to be giving more attention to the plight of Libyan Christians fleeing the Muslim Brotherhood or Nigerian Christians who are fleeing Boko Haram? Does it help or harm Syria’s chances of overcoming ISIS if the population abandons the nation to them? I don’t know the answers to these questions, and to speak frankly, if I’m going to do what God has called me to do, I don’t have time to find the answers to these questions.

That’s why I don’t write more than I do about immigration and foreign policy. I’m trying to learn to say less about matters outside of my particular passions and training. And yet, my comparative ignorance notwithstanding, I find that I cannot remain entirely silent about immigration questions. About the highly complicated parts, I’m still determined to listen more than I speak, but when we talk about immigrants, refugees and other folks, the Southerner in me recognizes as “furriners,” some of what we’re saying is really not that complicated and is certainly not right. For example…

It is not American to give up our essential liberties every time we’re frightened. Benjamin Franklin famously wrote “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” What liberties are more essential than the religious liberty enshrined in the First Amendment? None come to mind. Why, then, are we so ready put religious liberty on the auction block even in the face of comparatively small dangers?

In an interview with Stuart Varney, Donald Trump expressed a willingness to let the government close down mosques in order to fight Islamic terrorism. Trump supported the registration of all Muslims with the government (requiring people to register their religious beliefs with the government is something Baptists explicitly opposed and successfully abolished in seventeenth-century England). Then on December 7th, Trump called for the United States to impose a religious test for immigration and even tourism, banning all Muslims from entering the United States.

Trump has to this point dominated polling for the Republican presidential primaries, so we know that his hardline willingness to end American religious liberty is not unpopular. Indeed, Public Policy Polling found that 27% of Republican primary voters want to shut down every mosque in the United States, with another 35% of the Republican electorate willing to think the matter over. Stop and let that sink in for a moment: 62% of the voters in my political party (the party of small government!?), are at least open to the idea of empowering Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John Kerry to decide which religious viewpoints are dangerous to the United States and then shut down all of the religious groups who espouse those viewpoints. What’s more, although padlocking our meetinghouse would no more shut down FBC Farmersville than imploding one of Trump’s casinos would end gambling and fornication, some people out there actually seem to think that bulldozing mosques would hamper rather than accelerate the spread of Islam.

Folks, there is nothing complicated about this: Anyone who needs more than a nanosecond to decide that it would be a bad idea for the government to be empowered to shut down all of the mosques in the country is not worthy to be called an American, much less to lead America. In fact, these people don’t deserve to be called Republicans, either. Let us see what the intellectual fountainhead of the Republican Party, Abraham Lincoln, thought about this sort of thing:

As a nation we began by declaring that “all men are created equal.” We now practically read it “all men are created equal, except negroes.” When the [Know-Nothing political party gets] control, it will read “all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics.” When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty—to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.”

So this is the way religious liberty ends. Democrats dislike it because it is inconvenient for the sexual revolution. Republicans dislike it because it interferes with hating Muslims. And thus the nation goes about selling its birthright for such fetid porridge as a bowl of hatred, fear, and lust. Americans would never do such a thing. Are we really Americans? In the next few years, I suppose we will find out.

But the more important question for us to consider is this one: Are we really Christians? I’m not talking about whether you’ve received the gospel and are going to Heaven; I’m talking about whether you are Christlike—whether you are a Christ-ian—a “little Christ.” Jesus’ own select group of apostles included both a Roman collaborator (Matthew) and a man sworn to overthrow Roman rule (Simon the Zealot). Jesus brought into his circle people with vastly different political and religious viewpoints and then transformed them. Within thirty years of its founding, the church was a transnational, transracial, transcontinental family of believers. Would such a Savior as this say the kinds of things Donald Trump is saying? Trump is absolutely convinced that Jesus would support just this kind of thing.

But we all know how much time Donald Trump has spent in church.

Bart Barber
Bart Barber is the pastor First Baptist Church of Farmersville, Texas.