Since I posted my opinion on the Ground Zero mosque, I’ve had conversations with many well-reasoned Christians who have come down on both sides. And I read a very articulate editorial by STan Guthrie of Breakpoint.
Stan’s point essentially is that resisting the building of the mosque at its exact location is within the preview of American religious liberty, because zoning commissions in municipalities everywhere make judgment calls every day. He said that prudence is what should mark these decisions. In this case, yes, technically they have a right to build a mosque there, but is it the most prudent thing, given the horrific atrocities, committed ostensibly in the name of Islam, on September 11th? Similarly, perhaps a community rises up against an adult bookstore or similar place of ill repute, because the location is in a family-centric area and the harm to the community is deemed greater than its benefit in tax dollars, etc. This is a good argument that I had not previously considered. I think I can agree with this as long as Christians are okay with this being applied to them when churches are not deemed prudent for an area (can’t imagine a scenario, honestly). I’m guessing Christians would whine about religious intolerance in this case.
But perhaps the strongest response comes from my good friend, Bruce Baker, a fantastic author and preacher and a very wise scholar in his own right. Bruce argues from a theological, rather than legal perspective:
Earlier in your post you agreed that Islam is a false religion according to the Bible. By stating this, you are in essence stating that the activities that occur within the Mosque would be sin. Actually those activities would be more than just sin (failing to conform to the character of God). The whole enterprise would be an affront to God and supplication of demons (Deut 32:16-17; 1 Cor 10:20). If it is true that “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people” (Prov 14:34 NIV) then the most patriotic thing believers could do would be to oppose this mosque or any other.
Bruce then continues that as believers, it is our duty to oppose anything that exalts itself against God. His argument is well-reasoned and backed up by much Scripture. He then argues that perhaps Christians should fight, through whatever means necessary, to prevent that mosque from being built.
I have a few thoughts regarding this. My first is that perhaps Bruce is right, especially on Old Testament grounds, where God raised up prophets to demand that their kings tear down idols and repent as a nation. In one sense, Bruce is right, because as Christians, we are still called to prophetically declare the truth of who God is, to faithfully declare the Scriptures in society. We should even advocate that our nation embrace God and reject idols.
On the other hand, in the Old Testament, God was dealing with one nation in particular, Israel, to create in them a special, called-out nation. The prophets prophesied to Israel, because Israel was in God’s cross hairs, they were exactly being dealt with in this way.
Today, God is not dealing with nation’s in particular, though he isn’t ignoring them either. God is dealing in and through the church, His Bride, His body, who are to be a called-out assembly. The prophetic message to rid ourselves of idols might be more applicable to the church, where we are to stay true to Jesus Christ.
Bruce also makes the statement that religious liberty isn’t in the Bible anywhere. And I believe he is right. However, I would say, especially given New Testament teaching, that you can’t definitively say that religious liberty is considered wrong, either. And I think of the ministry of Paul, who stood on Mars Hill. He didn’t necessarily tell them to tear down their idols. What he did, and what we should do, is to tell them that their idols are false, fleeting, and an offense against a holy God. This kind of prophetic preaching is important in every dispensation. You also don’t see Paul urge the church to fight against the building or creation of religions in the towns where he planted churches. That just wasn’t the mandate. The mandate was to proclaim the gospel and make disciples.
In fact, you might find an implied defense of religious liberty in Paul’s word to Timothy, on how he should pray for governments:
Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men,2 for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. 3 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior. 1 Timothy 2:1-3
In other words, our agenda should be that we pray for religious freedom, that governments leave us alone. Why? Because we believe the gospel is powerful and when preached, the Holy Spirit does the work of turning men from their idols to God.
I also think that church history is a good example of the danger of the close alignment of church and state, when Christianity is in the majority and wields power. Its not pretty. Even the Reformers, whom we greatly admire, advocated forcing Christianity down the throats of unbelievers, even dabbling in anti-Semitisim. You even had denominations fighting denominations. Sure, they were able to enforce purity, but at what expense?
Religious liberty is not perfect. It allows a gateway for false religion. But its better than the alternative. Tom Nelson of Denton Bible Church preached a fantastic sermon on the history of church/state. Worth listening to.
I think that Bruce and I largely agree. I think there are two strains of thought. There is the legal argument and the theological. The theological says we preach against false religion. The legal says we don’t fight against a mosque, preserving religious liberty. Does the theological move us to pursue legal means? I’m not sure they do, given the lack of such an instance in New Testament doctrine.