For most of us religious liberty in America is an abstract matter that allows us to declaim profusely and vigorously in matters that never touch us personally. We can talk and blog about it without leaving our comfortable pastorates. We can preach about it from our secure pulpits without risking anything save boring our congregation to death.
Not so for our Southern Baptist pastor colleague and SBC Voices contributor, Bart Barber.
Seems that some controversy has unfolded in his fair town of Farmersville, Texas about a proposal to build a mosque, Muslim cemetery, and Islamic training center. The proper approvals have been given by planning authorities but final municipal approval is still pending. In the period following planning approval residents have been stirred up to oppose it.
Muslim cemetery: Residents want it dead is the cleverly titled article in the local newspaper.
Bart, pastor of the First Baptist church in the town, blogs plainly if not succinctly that residents who oppose it, including presumably some in his own congregation, are dead wrong:
Barber is right, of course, and the others are wrong. Here are a couple of paragraphs from his blog article:
Tell me, please, how do you expect us to argue at the national level with a straight face that we believe in religious liberty for all people while at the local level we’re running the Moslems out of town on a rail? I’m spending all week this week studying and collaborating with the top lawyers in the United States in the field of religious liberty. We’re trying to figure out how to preserve for our children and grandchildren the freedom to follow Christ. Meanwhile, back home, Christians are going to City Hall seeking to become religious oppressors.
I tell you, my friends, whatever the city government does against an Islamic training center today, they’ll be doing it against Bible-believing, Bible-preaching churches in twenty years. Mark my words. And if you tell the City of Farmersville today that you want them to have and to exercise this sort of power, your objections on that day are going to ring pretty hollow.
As for me, I think the First Amendment is a pretty good thing. I’m in favor of Religious Liberty for all Americans. That means anywhere I can build a church, the Moslems can build a mosque. Anywhere I can put a Baptist campground (which is pretty much a Christian training center, and we have one on Lake Lavon already), Moslems can build an Islamic training center.
The pastor of another church in town, self-identified as a “conservative Southern Baptist” church, is vehemently opposed to the proposal. The Farmersville Times reporting,
Pastor David Meeks of Bethlehem Baptist Church also spoke and expressed his strong opposition to the cemetery.
“The Islamic faith bases their beliefs on the Koran. I have a copy in English right here and I just want to take a moment in my allotted time and read from it,” he said. “O ye who believe, take not Jews or Christians as friends. They are friends one to another.”
Meeks went on to say that in the Koran more than 100 times, there are references to murder, killing and even rape.
“Our history is full of Islamic problems,” Meeks said about Muslims in America. “They’re at war with us.”
A Koran quoting Baptist pastor? Let us pray about that. The brother is an alarmist who is unfamiliar with our Bill of Rights. Perhaps he should expand his reading beyond the Koran.
I appreciate, greatly, the defense of religious freedom offered by Bart Barber. I also appreciate that some more timid and less convictional Southern Baptist pastors would find a way to finesse this as a local issue because there could be a personal cost in taking such a strong position.
God bless Bart Barber for standing up in a concrete way on an issue that most of us will encounter only in the abstract.