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.


Anonymous said...

Sorry, Bart, but I could not disagree with you more strongly. The founding fathers could hardly have imagined in their advocacy for and legislation of religious liberty, that these rights should be extended to religious zealots who advocated carrying out modern-day, high tech, military attacks for the purpose of annihilating a city or a nation with airplane hijacking, bombs, chemical warfare, etc. Do you believe that America should extend religious liberty to groups who, as part of their belief system, advocate the physical destruction of the US and Israel?

Building a mosque at Ground Zero will not speak to the strength of Christianity. It would accommodate, acknowledge, even glorify the corrupt system of beliefs of those who carried out the attacks on defenseless citizens. It would odiously disrespect and denigrate those who died and those who survived the terror brought to our shores by those who hate religious liberty.


r. grannemann said...

Excellent anaylsis.

Religious liberty everywhere should be a chief goal, something to the advantage of a Gospel only accepted freely without force or threats.

Bart Barber said...


I am in favor of Muslims enjoying all and only the freedoms that I enjoy as a Christian. I do not have the right to organize airplane hijacking, bombs or chemical warfare in my preaching. Were I to do so, I would run the risk of being arrested, not for my theology, but for my sedition.

If we're going to make Manhattan a zone free of animosity toward the United States and Israel, then preventing the construction of this mosque will not be enough. After all, just up the island is the headquarters of the United Nations! Anti-US and anti-Israel politics are located throughout Manhattan and can be tied to many, many other institutions besides Islamic mosques.

Religious liberty is important. I reserve the right to preach content that government officials might deem to be critical of our own government's policies, both foreign and domestic. If I plan to retain that right for myself, then I am obligated to extend it to others as well.

Anonymous said...

“I am in favor of Muslims enjoying all and only the freedoms that I enjoy as a Christian.”

There would be virtually no debate around this issue if Muslims reciprocated your sentiment above. US military chaplains who serve our troops where they are deployed in the Middle East remove the cross insignia from their uniforms to avoid offending Muslims. If Muslims in the US showed the same sensitivity to the residents of New York City, the proposal to build a mosque on Ground Zero would never have been put forward.

Muslims from both within and without our borders have indiscriminately killed and maimed defenseless US citizens and residents on our soil. In this extreme case, I think national security trumps religious liberty.


bapticus hereticus said...

Katie: … [1] no debate around this issue if Muslims reciprocated … [and] [2] national security trumps religious liberty.

bapticus hereticus: Two thoughts. [1] On constitutional issues the US doesn’t ‘do’ because another ‘does’, the US ‘does’ because that is who it ‘is’. [2] As a baptist, I can’t go there.

Anonymous said...

"Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safty , deserve neither Liberty nor Safty...."

Benjamin Franklin

Anonymous said...

There are hundreds of thousands of churches, synagogues, cathedrals, kingdom halls, Mormon temples, Christian Science reading rooms, as well as mosques across this land that attest to a fact the whole world already knows – people in the US enjoy religious liberty.

New York City would be better served, in my opinion, to continue zoning the land where the twin towers stood as commercial. I would oppose building a Mormon temple as well as a SBC megachurch on the same site, although neither of those two buildings would incite the same outrage and offense.


Howell Scott said...


I appreciate your take on this issue. I agree that Baptists should defend the religious liberties of all Americans, even those we may vociferously disagree with, like Muslims or Mormons for instance.

I wrote about the Ground Zero Mosque last week at In interacting with the arguments of the liberal elites, I try to show that their reliance on "tolerance" and religious freedom are being used as a convenient cover in this case.

No one believes that a Southern Baptist megachurch would be likewise "tolerated" anywhere near Ground Zero. That the Manhattan Board would give its stamp of approval (although not needed for construction) to the mosque shows how corrupted our ideals of religious freedom have become.

Baptists must continue to defend the first amendment rights of all, even if we may at times "hate" doing it. Thanks for letting me dialogue with you on this issue. God bless,


Bart Barber said...

Katie & Howell,

I think we're talking about two different ideas here. Howell has referenced at his blog a comment by a "liberal elite" suggesting that a mosque be built into the actual WTC site itself. I'm no more in favor of that idea than he is. That, however, is not the big idea behind this controversy.

Cordoba House would be constructed a couple of blocks away from the WTC site. I count four Christian churches that would be as close or closer to the WTC site (Trinity Church, of "National Treasure" fame; St. Peter's; St. Paul's Chapel; and John St. UMC). Also as close or closer to the WTC site is the Battery Park Synagogue.

So, just to be clear, the discussion is about whether The Cordoba Initiative folks ought to be able to build a mosque CLOSE to the World Trade Center site.

Finally, let me say that I'm uncomfortable with cities employing zoning regulations to stifle religious congregations. We've seen cities in the Dallas area try to employ zoning regulations to prevent the planting of new churches (because churches take properties off of the tax rolls). Again, the question to ask is what we would be saying if the same actions were taken against our own congregations.

Katie, you mention that Muslim nations do not reciprocate with regard to religious liberty. I agree entirely. I believe that our way is superior to theirs—practically superior and certainly morally superior. The Muslim infringement of religious liberty that occurs virtually everywhere that Islam gains hegemony…well…it's just one of the greatest evils of our day.

They don't reciprocate. They're evil for not reciprocating. I agree.

I just don't see how the solution to that problem is for us to lose religious liberty here (by removing religious liberty from Muslims) just because they don't have it over there. Bad problem; worse prescription.

Bill said...

The bottom line is: Do private citizens have the right to build a mosque on private property in the United States? Suppressing religious freedom is what other countries are about, not the US.

Protecting freedom often means sucking it up when people use that freedom in ways we don't like.

Dave Miller said...

Don't know how I missed this, but excellent analysis. Essential to our freedom is the defense of the freedoms of those we disagree with or are offended by.

Christiane said...

"The attacks of September 11 cannot be characterized as Islam attacking Christianity."

That is a very responsible statement.
Unfortunately, it is not shared by some fundamentalist-extremist Christians OR fundamentalist-extremist Muslims.

But non-extremist Christian people and non-extremist people of the other two Abrahamic faiths would applaud your statement above as a responsible one , I think.

I do not consider fundamentalist-extremists (Christian or Muslim) to be people of faith in the God of Abraham. I think they are idolaters who worship at the altar of their own contempt and hatred for others.

I do believe that peoples of the three Abrahamic faiths to worship the God of Abraham.

Bart Barber said...


1. I appreciate your sentiment. Certainly, I would distance myself from the Westboro Baptist Church sort of folks, and I would insist that history contains instances in which hate masqueraded as Christianity.

2. I will, however, disagree with your terminology. I aspire to be precisely nothing other than a fundamentalist-extremist Christian.

a. A fundamentalist because there is no fundamental truth of Christianity that I do not aspire to embrace and practice.

b. An extremist because I aspire to go to every extreme in the pursuit of the privilege of knowing Christ Jesus.

c. A Christian because I hope to be adjudged by the world to be like Christ.

3. It is only by being a fundamentalist-extremist Christian that I have embraced my viewpoint on this issue. I have no desire to facilitate—or even to tolerate—Islam. If Christ had commanded me to "slay the infidels wherever [I] meet them," then that would be precisely the business that I would aspire to be about.

But Christ has commanded no such thing. Rather, he has commanded that I love my enemies and pray for those who persecute me. He has declared that His kingdom is not of this world. He has commanded that his servants not attempt to consign the tares to their punishments in this world, but to leave them standing alongside the wheat in the field of the world until the final judgment.

The fundamentalist-extremist Christian thing to do is to obey Him.

Christiane said...


Thank you for responding.
Yes, I do see your problem with terminology. Those 'labels' we all use don't really fit, do they?

When I think of an 'extremist-fundamentalist' Christian entity, I think of the Westboro Baptist Church.

When I think of an 'extremist-fundamentalist' Muslim entity, I think of the Al-Queda who attacked our country.

I am not sure we both see 'fudamentalist' in the same way. I see some effort among Christians who claim 'fundamental' faith to be faithful to the more orthodox teachings of mainline Christianity.
I would see you more as this type of a 'fundamental' Christian, Bart.
But 'orthodoxy' is not the same as what Westboro Baptist Church preaches. They are idolators, in my opinion.
As far as 'extremism' in Christianity in your view and in mine, there is perhaps this connection:
Christ is our 'all in all'.
We see Him from very different perspectives, I have no doubt, but from what I have read of your writings, you center on Him as your focus.

My own Church has many settings for those who give up everything of this world and follow after Him. Even for lay people, at the end of our services, we are commanded this: 'go, you are sent forth, to love and serve the Lord'.
No reservations allowed.

I will keep my terminology, but I can understand and appreciate yours also. I can't see you having any of the traits of a 'fundamentalist-extremist' from the Westboro cult. No way.

My 'terminology' refers to the perverted sickness found in those who seek out a 'religious' organization where they can act out hatred, contempt, and abuse towards their fellow men.
I am sure you would never be a part of that scene, Bart. I don't think you could be, now that your nature is in the process of conforming to Christ.

'Labels' are not always fair when we are on the 'other end' of that labeling.
I hope we both remember that.

Anonymous said...

Bart: ... history contains instances in which hate masqueraded as Christianity.

Bart: I have no desire to facilitate—or even to tolerate—Islam [and by definition, the Muslim].

Bart: ... Christ has commanded ... that I love my enemies....

-- bapticus hereticus

R. L. Vaughn said...

Bart, good post with good points. If we value religious liberty we support it even when it "hurts". Let us stand with our forefathers like Elder John Leland, who fought for religious liberty not only for Christians, but also "Jews, Turks, and pagans". (Probably not very politically correct terminology, but Leland fought for their liberty nonetheless.)

Tim Rogers said...

Brother Bart,

I believe Brother Bill had the best statement in this comment stream;
Do private citizens have the right to build a mosque on private property in the United States?
Would you not agree that the Imam, Feisal Abdul Rauf, who heads the Cordoba Institute is pushing the envelope by traveling to Saudi Arabia to raise funds to build this Mosque? He says he was born here and is an American. I would agree that Muslims should have the freedome to build Mosque as I should have freedom to build a Southern Baptist Church. However, I am not raising my funds from groups that desire to destroy the U.S. because we enjoy religious freedom.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure this link will work, but Charles Krauthammer has a great opinion piece in the Washington Post on this.


Bart Barber said...


I don't think it matters who funds the mosque. Do you believe that your church ought to be legally liable for the activities of everyone who contributes to your church? I doubt it.

If, however, one were to demonstrate that money were flowing in the other direction—that Cordoba House were funding terrorism—then that would be an entirely different matter.

Bart Barber said...

I disagree with Krauthammer and, oddly enough, I agree with President Obama.

Tom Kelley said...

Interesting post -- and even more topical now that President Obama has weighed in and this has become so much a part of the news over the past few days.

While I agree that we should not want government to hinder anyone's religious freedon, I would prefer that our President did comment on the "wisdom" (or lack thereof) of the choice to place a Muslim center og worship at this location. Having the right to do something doesn't mean it is the right thing to do.


Tom Kelley said...

Christiane said...
I do believe that peoples of the three Abrahamic faiths to worship the God of Abraham.

I'm sorry if this is too blunt, Christiane, but that is an absurd statement. Just because all three religions claim a historical connection to Abraham does not mean their claims are accurate or that their God is the same.

No devout Jew or Muslim who takes the teachings of their religion seriously would affirm that the God they worship is a Trinity. In fact, they would adamantly deny that God is any such thing, and they would assert that a Trinitarian view of God is heretical and idolatrous. It is simply impossible that all three religions worship the same God.

It would make as much sense to say that Buddhists or Satanists worship the God of Abraham as it does to claim that Christians, Muslims, and Jews do.


r. grannemann said...

I can't help feeling all the protest against the mosque is much ado about nothing. Certain politicians have jumnped in to stoke the flames for political gain, which only shows how unqualified they are for office. Our politicians have better things to do.

Obama was right in both his statements: 1) The Moslems have the right to build the mosque (which is of course true as long as they have zoning approval in New York). 2) He is not going to comment on the wisdom of building the mosque -- which he shouldn't because it's not Obama's call. It's the call of the New York zoning commission and the people of New York who vote on New York city officials.

I hope the plan to build the mosque isn't a statement of Islamic triumphalism (and I don't think it is). But even if it is, why should I care?

Christiane said...


I forgot that Southern Baptists do not recognize the unity of the Abrahamic faiths in the worship of the One God.

Technically, my Catholic faith believes in One God:
in three distinct Persons, yes,
but not three separate Gods.

So we consider ourselves included in the three great Abrahamic faiths, which all share a belief in the One God who communicated with Abraham, whose own descendents number among the three faiths.

(I also have heard that some Southern Baptists do not believe that the God of Abraham is the same as Allah, and believe that all Jews will go to hell.)

It's hard for me to remember all those divisions, Tom. I tend to focus more on what is 'shared'. And my Catholic faith has a profound respect for the people of Islam and for those of the Judaic tradition.

Alex said...

It is disappointing - perhaps telling - that after you have frequently blogged on the Camel Method relating to reaching Muslims your blog is completely silent on the actions of Pastor Terry Jones.

It is tempting to think that your passion for commenting on reaching Muslims wisely only extends as far as the borders of internal Southern Baptist politics rather than to the honor of the Lord Jesus Christ . . .

Bart Barber said...

Sorry to tempt you, Alex. I don't hope to be a source of temptation for anyone.

I'm willing to be that those whose souls are not filled with spite will notice that I have not blogged on anything at all since July 29. I have deliberately retreated from this medium, concluding that blogging is one of the less important things that I do and that it lowers the level of discourse by giving far too much of a platform to miscreants.

Thanks so much for giving me even more confidence in that decision.