Russell Moore on Religious Liberty

 

Keynote Address

Acton University 2017

Russell Moore heads the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission for the Southern Baptist Convention.

His after dinner keynote at Acton University hit the power chords on the issues of freedom of conscience in a free society.

What follows is a combination of brief notes and my observations/commentary.

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Many secularists today encourage us to keep our beliefs out of the public marketplace of ideas. They have no place to put things like:

…being motivated by religious conscience…

We get the feeling that we have other motivations, such as some kind of power grab which they need to block.

We have two challenges before us:

  1. Internal. Helping religious-minded people understand why religious liberty matters. Is the state God? The final authority? What limits the state’s sovereignty? The first amendment starting with religious freedom shows a “priority of conscience” which limits the state.
  2. External. Helping secularists understand that freedom to believe is more than private thinking. It is a freedom to act in spiritually motivated ways. Helping secularists better understand spiritual motivation.

Some thoughts/points:

  • Is “majoritarianism” the solution to everything? Winner takes all?
  • Can those with exclusive truth claims exist with others? Of course, they tend to be the best at it because of clarity. Exclusivists (with deontological postulates) who believe in religious liberty don’t want to coerce others to believe what they believe. A coerced Christian message (or Gospel) is not a Gospel at all.
  • Growing secularism forces us to self-define. This is a good thing. But we have to do the work of making it happen. Intellectual laziness comes easily.
  • We don’t have more atheists today. We have more HONEST atheists.
  • A majoritarian view of politics is a problem, secular OR religious. 
  • The temptation to use state coercion (force) to eliminate OR establish religion runs totally counter to our founding DNA in America. The founders clearly opposed both. De facto elimination (from the public square) of anything supernatural is an intellectual gutter ball. The tension (and there is indeed tension) must be held, and common sense must prevail in case-to-case situations.
  • The state does not have the capacity or authority to referee between truth claims. Eliminating the Design Argument from classrooms is over-reaching.
  • Advocacy for religious freedom is an offensive (literally) act. We can’t just play defense.
  • Those of us who are religiously motivated need to claim the power to have honest discussions in the public square.
  • The state does not settle every issue. No one believes that the state does NOT equal “highest truth.”
  • A state that can pave over conscience can do anything.
  • People with vague beliefs and no real church/God often over-identify personally with a political movement (right or left).
  • We don’t want to be persecutors OR to be persecuted.
  • There is something more important than Caesar. Caesar is not God. 

 

 

How Far Does Religious Freedom Go?

 

According to the First Amendment, do we Americans have the right to freedom of worship? Or something more: freedom of conscience and freedom to ACT upon that conscience…..

Sam Gregg, Director of Research at the Acton Institute in Grand Rapids, kicked off the 2017 Acton University with a plenary talk about religious freedom and truth.

Some of his main points:

  • The agenda of secularists is to soften freedom of religion into “freedom of worship.” In other words, you can praise God behind closed doors of the church, but don’t bring this into public life. Full freedom of religion is:
    • Liberty to search for and teach the full truth
    • Liberty to act according to this truth
  • “Power corrupts and power point corrupts absolutely.” Thus, no power point. But hey, he only had one day notice as the main speaker was not able to be here because of weather delays.
  • Religion/Truth/Freedom is being replaced with Caesar/Lies/Slavery
  • “Progressive theologians who read way too much Karl Rahner….”
  • In 2016, 96,000 Christians were killed (!) for their faith. One every six minutes. We must remind people of this persecution, which for whatever reason is not covered by the mainstream media.
  • Secularists are trying to marginalize and stigmatize our teaching.
  • Why should we accept that happiness = hedonism? Why should we accept a dictatorship of relativism?
  • Be careful when you take government funds. It comes with a leash. Tell Pharaoh to keep his money.
  • We must always remember that there is such a thing as truth and religious liberty without a search for truth is not helpful. Religious freedom means liberty to search for the truth free of coercion from the government in any direction.
  • Without freedom from government in searching for truth, we cannot have free assent. Without free assent we cannot have true faith.
  • Martyrdom (not always deadly–sometimes just social) must become a real option again.

My thoughts:

  • Gregg seems to be good at playing a “Home Game.” I would be interested in hearing his “Away Game” when he’s not among like-minded people.
  • “Thomas Jefferson was not a Christian.” I beg to differ. Jefferson was the biggest proponent of Natural Law on earth at the time, and a great admirer of Aquinas. Of course, he was not a conservative Evangelical. but he insisted on grounding our natural rights in the “Creator” as he penned the Declaration. If you aren’t conflicted about Jefferson, you aren’t paying attention. Was he a Christian? Yes and no.
  • “Muslims, Jews and Christians have a different concept of God.” Yes and no. Sure their view of God is different but there is only one God; only one God of Abraham, and many Christians waffle on this monotheism. Not sure if Gregg is waffling or not. There’s only one mailbox with “God” on it. One Creator, one creation. False gods? How does that square with one God? Do the false gods exist? Sure, our VIEW of God varies. But I don’t believe that God is all that impressed with our constructs, which theologians tend to glorify.