Thursday, July 29, 2010

Preserving the First Freedom for Others As Well As Ourselves

I hope to resume my Great Commission series soon—the culmination of my hectic summer is at hand.

Furor has arisen over plans to build a thirteen-story mosque named Park51 (initially named Cordoba House) in Lower Manhattan in the vicinity of Ground Zero. Because the 9-11 attacks were inspired by Islam and were carried out entirely by devout Muslims, many people have objected to the idea that a mosque could be constructed in the neighborhood consecrated by our most recent date to live in infamy.

I'm in favor of there being no mosques anywhere. Islam is a false religion. The Islamic Allah is a false god. Mohammed was a false prophet who misled people. I do not agree with what the Qur'an says about Mohammed. I pray for the day when every mosque has been abandoned, replaced by a church (who clearly call themselves a church) populated by Christians (who clearly call themselves Christians).

But if we're going to have a mosque anywhere on Planet Earth, I can't think of any better place for there to be one than in the vicinity of the spot where the World Trade Center towers once stood. The attacks of September 11 cannot be characterized as Islam attacking Christianity. Islam was certainly attacking, but Christianity was not the target. Airliners were not flown into church meeting houses. Hong Kong may be more Christian than New York City is.

Rather, our recent War on Terror is best understood as a war between those who despise religious liberty and those who champion it. Both the Bush administration and the Obama administration have lacked some something that they needed to characterize it in this manner—insight, honesty, courage? But this is the nature of the war nonetheless. We may largely disagree with Islamic theology. Let's face it: We may be suspicious of Muslims in our midst. But we still welcome Muslims to live among us while practicing their faith openly and building their mosques anywhere that we Christians might be able to build a church.

I can't think of any edifice that might more clearly exemplify this commitment on our part than the construction of an enormous mosque right where the shadow of the twin towers ought rightly to be falling. I also think that it speaks of the strength of Christianity. Islam is so weak that they have to threaten people with death if they convert. They can only keep adherents if their followers are terrified to leave. The gospel of Jesus Christ is strong enough to hold people even without the intimidation that comes from bullying and threats.

It might also serve as a good reminder to us, for we need to renew our own commitment to religious liberty. Today's Baptist Press feed included an article denouncing the Obama administration's covert support for the pro-abortion modifications to the Kenyan Constitution. The meddling of USAID and the State Department in internal Kenyan politics was a prominent topic when I visited Kenya earlier this summer. I even fielded a question in my Church History class related to the proposed constitutional changes.

As bad as the abortion provisions are, and as unseemly as it is for USAID to be pushing Kenya toward abortion, I think that Baptist Press buried the lead a bit in their reporting (and they did better than the rest of the press). The new constitution proposed for Kenya is a disastrous step backwards for religious liberty, establishing Sharia courts for the noisy Islamic minority in Kenya. It seems strange that our nation would, on the one hand, shun the construction of a single mosque in our own country while, on the other hand, we pressure a small African nation that presently enjoys religious liberty to adopt constitutional modifications that weaken religious liberty in that country and initiate the first step toward Islamic intolerance.

Baptists have a consistent history of defending religious liberty for four centuries. Where others have merely sought to manipulate the government to obtain religious privilege for themselves (such as the more Reformed folks in Massachusetts Bay), Baptists fought for religious liberty for ALL. May we avoid the temptation to let hot-button issues distract us from the importance of defending the First Freedom for others as well as for ourselves.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Johnny Hunt Campaign

Johnny Hunt never did campaign much for the presidency of the Southern Baptist Convention back in 2008. He entered the race late. I had already supported one candidate (Al Mohler), seen health problems cause him to leave the race, and then embraced another candidate (Frank Cox, a really great guy who ought to be in more prominent leadership in the SBC) before Johnny Hunt had ever even thrown his hat into the ring at all. And of course, off-year elections like the 2009 convention do not provide for much in the way of campaigning, either.

The fact that Johnny Hunt did not campaign much for the presidency of the SBC, however, does not mean that Johnny Hunt is not a campaigner. In fact, although Hunt is no longer the president of the SBC, he seems to be as much or more in "campaign mode" today as at any time in the past several years.

If Johnny Hunt is not running for anything, what's he campaigning for? The Cooperative Program.

I follow Johnny Hunt on Twitter. He retweets a lot of content from other people, and he pats a lot of people on the back, but when Johnny Hunt has something to offer from himself, it often resembles this tweet from 4:42PM on July 7, 2010:

Why I support the CP? I luv church planting, our seminaries, deploying of missionaries, do more together than alone. Is your CP growing?

I don't see anybody who opposed Component #3 doing as much to be a booster of the Cooperative Program as is Johnny Hunt. I didn't like Component #3 much myself, and I include myself in the comparison—my Twitter feed hasn't done much to support the Cooperative Program. I don't think that tweets like this one from Hunt are self-serving at all. His presidency is already completed. The GCR has already passed. I see very little "political" reason for him to be tweeting this sort of thing. I think his motivation is no more complex than a love for the SBC and a desire to see us move forward together through greater support of the Cooperative Program. Johnny Hunt is a high-profile pastor whose church is now doing more through the Cooperative Program and who uses his online presence to say positive things about the Southern Baptist Convention and to encourage churches to support the SBC through the Cooperative Program. We could all learn from him to do more likewise.

So thanks, Johnny Hunt, for using the influence that God has given you to promote CP Missions. Personally, I think we all ought to remember that one pastor or one local church supporting the CP with his enthusiasm, his speech, and by his example is probably worth 1,000 pamphlets, videos, or denominational speeches doing the same.