Saturday, April 2, 2011

Resolution on Religious Liberty

Here is a draft of a resolution I plan to submit to this year's Committee on Resolutions for the Southern Baptist Convention:


WHEREAS, Jesus declared “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world then my servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, my kingdom is not of this realm” (John 18:36), indicating that Jesus has not authorized any earthly realm to pursue aims related to His kingdom by resort to physical coercion; and,

WHEREAS, Jesus taught in Matthew 13 in the parable of the tares and the wheat that He has not authorized the removal of the tares from the field of the world until the end of the age, knowing that the persecution of men for cause of religious conscience always results in damage to the wheat as well as to the tares; and,

WHEREAS, the Apostle Paul has reminded us that “the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh” (II Corinthians 10:4), indicating both the wrongfulness and ineptitude of all attempts to win spiritual battles by resort to physical coercion, which is not “divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses”; and,

WHEREAS, Southern Baptists, along with other Baptizing churches and other members of the free church tradition have historically used our influence as citizens to advocate for complete religious liberty for all people; and,

WHEREAS, the United States of America is presently involved militarily in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya, the governments of which deny their citizens religious liberty; and,

WHEREAS, the government of the United States of America, through the United States Agency for International Development, campaigned on behalf of constitutional revisions in Kenya to implement Sharia law among Moslems in Kenya; and,

WHEREAS, Sharia law makes conversion away from Islam a civil crime subject to punishment as severe as capital punishment; and,

WHEREAS, Said Musa was convicted in Afghanistan of a crime and sentenced to death before being exiled from his country for his having converted to Christianity from Islam; and,

WHEREAS, the United States of America enjoys tremendous influence in world politics; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, that we, the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting June 14-15, 2011, in Phoenix, Arizona, affirm complete religious liberty as God’s plan for all human beings; and, be it further

RESOLVED, that we believe that the military forces of the United States of America, whenever they place American soldiers into harm’s way, should number among their primary objectives the provision of complete religious liberty to all peoples; and, be it finally

RESOLVED, that Sharia law or any other separate system of legal jurisprudence is entirely incompatible with religious liberty and with the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America.


Steve Weaver said...

Very good!

Nathan Finn said...

Well stated, Bart. I will not be in Phoenix this summer because of a family commitment, but consider me a public supporter of this resolution.


Anonymous said...


Would you expand on this part, if you have the time and the inclination, please:

"RESOLVED, that we believe that the military forces of the United States of America, whenever they place American soldiers into harm’s way, should number among their primary objectives the provision of complete religious liberty to all peoples";

Thanks, if you can help.

Bart Barber said...

Thanks, Steve and Nathan.

Bart Barber said...


Gladly, I will do so.

I would not call upon the United States of America to go to war or otherwise use military power solely to spread religious liberty around the world. Such a campaign would (a) contradict the opening paragraphs of the resolution and (b) fail to satisfy the principles of just-war theory that have been around since Augustine of Hippo.

So, our nation does not bear the responsibility for going around the world and guaranteeing that every nation provides religious liberty. We are not the policemen of the world, and God has not given us authority over all of the world politically.

However, whenever and wherever the United States does go to war or otherwise act militarily, if we do so either to prop up an existing regime that does not provide religious liberty or to establish a new regime that does not provide religious liberty, then our nation has become responsible, to some degree, for denying religious liberty to people.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, we insisted that the US-supported governments there be democracies, although democracy has not been the traditional system of government in either Iraq or Afghanistan, nor is democracy the cultural preference of the region. So, why did we establish democratic governments there? Because democracy is a core principle precious to Americans. We would not have sent our soldiers to create another dictatorship. Having put our soldiers on the line, we were at least going to try our best to establish a democracy there.

Anything else, our public would not have accepted, regardless of what an expert in Foggy Bottom might or might not recommend.

So, why don't we feel the same way about religious liberty as we do about democracy? I'm saying that we should feel the same about religious liberty. I'm saying that, when we put American blood on the line, if we're fighting already, we ought to fight to give people religious liberty. It is a core value precious to Americans, too.

David R. Brumbelow said...

Good resolution, I'm for it.

Our American government should speak loud and clear about the importance of religious liberty; especially in countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Pakistan.
David R. Brumbelow

Big Daddy Weave said...


A few questions:

In your view, what was the primary purpose of the constitutional revisions in Kenya?

How should the American military go about ensuring religious liberty? I agree that we can do more. But, at the end of the day, the military can only do so much, right? The nature of freedom is that sometimes sovereign nations will limit freedom. We shouldn't reward those nations. But look at Iraq. They exercised their newfound freedom to limit the freedom of others.

Also, about the last Resolved, do you also believe that the existence of Beth din and other rabbinical courts for settling family law issues (divorces, etc.) and financial legal disputes are incompatible with the First Amendment? What about the religious liberty of those - whether Muslim, Jewish, or Amish - who wish to submit themselves to a religious court?

We do have a long history in the United States of religious courts that settle legal issues. The decisions of these religious courts are of course recognized if the parties involved have signed a binding arbitration agreement.

Bart Barber said...

Good afternoon, Dr. Weaver:

Thanks for stopping by and for the questions.

1. The re-establishment of Kahdi courts in Kenya was neither the most touted nor the most controversial feature of the Kenyan constitutional revisions, which featured a transition to a Prime Minister form of government.

2. I agree that the military can only do so much. As I suggested in my response to Christiane, I believe that we should treat religious liberty much as we treat democracy. Sovereign nations can vote themselves out of democratic government, too. But we make it our unambiguous and open ambition to establish democracy in other nations when we become involved militarily. I believe that we should do the same with regard to religious liberty. I do not hold our government responsible for the results—we've had many misfires trying to plant democracy, too (see "Castro, Fidel"), but it seems to me that religious liberty is no longer something we even try to export.

3. I do not oppose the existence of religious "courts," but I do oppose the recognition of such courts by the state. As I understand our law (and correct me if I am wrong, for you have studied further in this field than I have), parties are free to pursue alternative forms of mediation by mutual consent regardless of whether the arbitration is religious or irreligious, but the rulings of religious courts cannot deprive a person of his or her constitutional rights. Beth Din, therefore, enjoy neither advantage nor disadvantage in comparison to other forms of mediation. In Kenya, the Kadhi courts are established by the constitution (and these Islamic courts are the only religious courts established by the constitution) and vested with the authority of the state.

Bart Barber said...


But you raise a good point—that my last paragraph doesn't quite say what I've said in my reply to you. I need to work on the wording. Thanks for helping me to write better.

Big Daddy Weave said...

I must take a moment to correct you, Rev. Dr. Barber. I'm currently only a Phd candidate - still have to finish up this dissertation. Didn't want to pull a James White...

I'm finally beginning to see a little more emphasis among advocacy groups (and scholars) to study the relationship between religion and foreign policy. That's an area that has been neglected for far too long. I wasn't impressed with Bush's approach to international religious freedom.

And I've been quite disappointed my Obama too. Most recently, I'm frustrated with Obama's pick for international religious freedom ambassador. What a joke.

The Donald has been getting a good bit of buzz for his comments on China. The theft of intellectual property should be a big deal. But human rights violations and denial of basic religious freedom is a much much bigger deal. I wish someone would talk those evils perpetuated by the Chinese government.

And it would be great if more light was shed on the oppression that religious minorities continue to face in the countries we still occupy. A few articles each year about the State Department's Intl Religious Freedom Report just doesn't cut it.

Don't expect the media to ever help raise awareness. Most media outlets have dumped their religion reporters and those who cover foreign policy issues often ignore the religion angle or don't give much substance.

Bart Barber said...

I thought you were done, Aaron. Perhaps I should reply, paraphrasing the immortal words of George C. Scott/George Patton, "[Baylor] has their schedule; I have mine." ;-)

Your last comment gives me the opportunity to clarify that this is not a partisan gripe on my part. Afghanistan and Iraq are Republican wars; Libya is a Democratic one. The approach on this issue is much the same.

I just wish that we were confident enough in this marvelous approach (religious liberty) to be a little more zealous in promoting it as a worldwide solution. My eschatology does not permit me to believe that we will ever bring about on our own a worldwide religious peace, but there is righteousness in laboring toward something good, even if the odds are long against your success.

Big Daddy Weave said...

I'm wrapping up my third year in the phd program - should be done with the dissertation by the end of 2011. My wife is pregnant and I've got a nice grad fellowship here that lasts until 2012. So, I'm in no immediate hurry to finish early and start that job hunt just yet :-)

I spent a few days in Nashville back in February at the Southern Baptist Historical Library & Archive. A little weird being at SBC hq but, by far, my best research trip. A++ archive and staff.