Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The First Freedom Under Assault

Support of universal religious liberty is a Baptist distinctive. Baptists may disagree as to precisely what religious liberty means (and man, do we disagree about that sometimes), but all Baptists are supposed to despise coercion in matters of conscience.

A couple of recent news items form good case studies for us in this topic.

First, consider the exclusion of Focus on the Family from "Faith Day" with the Atlanta Braves. Dobson & Co. were apparently booted for nothing more than the fact that they agree with the Bible and the vast majority of every human being who has ever drawn breath about the subject of homosexuality. Is this a violation of Focus on the Family's religious liberty?

I don't think so. The Atlanta Braves are absolute idiots for doing it, especially right in the heart of the South. Their actions reflect, in my opinion, either a meanspirited bigotry toward Focus or a sniveling cowardice toward radical homosexual activists. Some commentators have revealed their own bitterness in their response. I'm 100% with Focus on the Family on this. But I do not believe that anyone's religious liberty has been violated here.

The Atlanta Braves are a private enterprise. It is their prerogative to invite Focus on the Family or to disinvite them. It is my prerogative to shun them for their obvious liberalism.

Second, consider the strange reaction to one church's convictions about the role of women in church. The pastor of that church also sits on the city council in Watertown, NY. I'm not sure that it is wise for a pastor to serve on the city council, but it certainly is not unethical. The fact that the city mayor has commented as mayor criticizing this church for its beliefs is indeed, in my opinion, a violation of this church's and this pastor's right to religious liberty. No level of the government ought to be passing judgment on this church's internal theology and practices.

What is the difference between the two cases? One is the action of a free and independent corporation; the other is the action of a government official. In my view, that makes all the difference in the world.

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