Nationally recognized evangelical Christian Russell Moore fought back criticism from Baptist leaders last week for his organization’s decision to file an amicus brief on behalf of a Muslim group that is attempting to build a mosque in New Jersey.
Moore, who serves as president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), gave an account for his entity’s actions at Wednesday’s annual Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in St. Louis, Missouri. A hot topic of discussion was the ERLC’s controversial decision in May to join a diverse coalition of organizations in an amicus brief that supported the efforts of the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge in its lawsuit pitted against a New Jersey township for denying its application to build a mosque.
Protesting the move to join Muslims on the legal brief, a number of messengers at the SBC annual meeting demanded that action be taken against the ERLC.
Specifically, a motion calling for the firing of SBC officials who support the building of mosques was requested by Messenger John Wofford of Armorel Baptist Church, which is located in Arkansas.
"I move that all Southern Baptist officials or officers who support the rights of Muslims to build Islamic mosques in the United States be immediately removed from their position within the Southern Baptist Convention," Wofford demanded at the meeting on Tuesday, according to The Christian Post.
Jerry Moss, who serves at St. Louis’s South County Baptist Church, joined Wofford in his call by proposing a resolution that would require the ERLC to remove its name from the friend-of-the-court brief filed on behalf of the Islamic group.
"God's Word, the Holy Bible, states not to be unequally yoked to an unbeliever," Moss contended. "The union seems to be an equal to the building of a golden calf, found in Exodus. The religion of Islam does not adhere to the same tenants and beliefs, or uphold the same freedoms as that of Christianity."
Even though both motions received seconds, each was eventually ruled out of order — with the explanation that their application would have overreached the authority of SBC and its messengers.
The point being debated in the motions was whether the ERLC and the International Mission Board acted appropriately by joining in the amicus brief in support of building a mosque in the case Islamic Society of Basking Ridge v. Township of Bernards, et. al.
Question and answer
Taking the opportunity to address the issue at the question-and-answer segment of ERLC’s report, Wofford inquired of Moore how he could justify supporting the building of the New Jersey mosque — especially with all of the militant Muslim attacks taking place of late.
Moore responded by arguing that religious liberty applies to those following all beliefs.
"What it means to be a Baptist is to support soul freedom for everybody," Moore answered — while people in the audience applauded.
The Christian leader under fire then addressed the crowd to make his point.
"Brothers and sisters, when you have a government that says 'we can decide whether or not a house of worship can be constructed based upon the theological beliefs of that house of worship,' then there are going to be Southern Baptist churches in San Francisco and New York and throughout this country who are not going to be able to build,’" Moore continued.
Right to build?
With many critics — in the wake of the jihadist Orlando nightclub massacre — arguing that a high percentage of Muslim mosques harbor, promote or endorse militant Islamic activity, the building of more mosques has become a hot topic of debate.
At issue in the New Jersey lawsuit is the rejection of an application submitted by the Islamic Society to Bernards Township. It was denied after the proposed building of the mosque received a great deal of local opposition last December.
"Residents cheered, applauded and were giddy with delight after the Bernards Township Planning Board on Tuesday unanimously voted down the application to build an Islamic mosque on Church Street," Patch.com reported. "The Islamic Society of Basking Ridge, Inc. had submitted an application back in September 2012 to build a 4,250-square-foot Islamic mosque on Church Street, a historic section of the township."
Joining the ERLC in the amicus brief were the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, International Society for Krishna Consciousness, National Association of Evangelicals, Sikh Coalition, South Asian Bar Association of New York and the Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of New Jersey.
The friend-of-the-court brief makes a number of arguments based on discrimination.
"A Muslim mosque cannot be subjected to a different land-use approval process than a Christian church simply because local protesters oppose the mosque," the legal document’s introduction reads. "Amici urge this court to grant plaintiffs' 12(c) motion for partial judgment on the pleadings because defendants have improperly applied different legal standards to a mosque simply because it is a mosque."
Arguments against the mosque and the ERLC’s support of such building projects are nothing new.
The Christian Index Editor Gerald Harris wrote a piece for his Georgia Baptist newspaper just days before the SBC’s annual meeting, pointing out that Muslims in America do not deserve the same religious freedom protections as Christians.
"While Muslims around the world and in our own country are shouting 'Death to America,' should we be defending their rights to build mosques — which often promote Sharia law and become training grounds for radicalizing Muslims?" Harris posed to his readers. "[I]t must be understood that to Muslims, freedom of religion means practicing Islam only. Muslims are compelled by the Quran to destroy all other religions by whatever means necessary so that Islam may be the only religion in the entire world."