Baptist leader blasts ‘civil religion’

Russell Moore, head of the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, weighed in on a panel discussion on faith, culture and religious liberty in the 21st century.

By Bob Allen

The Southern Baptist Convention’s chief spokesman on public policy said Oct. 10 that issues facing military chaplains are part of a larger trend in society to endorse “a bland, generic, nothing blob of civil religion over genuine religious pluralism and diversity in the public square.”

“There is a move to say we ought to see chaplains as being the carriers of the American civil religion in a way that seeks to counsel and to do some religious duties, but not to actually be Roman Catholics or Evangelicals or Latter-day Saints or Muslims or what have you,” Russell Moore, president of the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said in a symposium in Washington titled "Faith, Culture & Religious Freedom in the 21st Century."

russell moore mugRecently Southern Baptists adopted new guidelines requiring that chaplains “will not conduct or attend a wedding ceremony for any same-sex couple, bless a union or perform counseling in support of such a union, assist or support paid contractors or volunteers leading same-sex relational events, nor offer any kind of relationship training or retreat, on or off of a military institution, that would give the appearance of accepting the homosexual lifestyle or sexual wrongdoing.”

Critics said the policy — issued in response to the military ending its “don’t ask don’t tell” ban on openly gay service members and the Supreme Court striking down the Defense of Marriage Act defining marriage as only a legal union of a man and woman — restricts Southern Baptist chaplains from doing their duty to serve all members of the military and not just those of their own faith.

Moore, an event co-sponsor, said Christians should support freedom for all religions and not just their own.

“One of the mistakes people made in the past is this kind of majoritarian understanding, maintaining our own rights without diligently fighting for religious liberty for all persons," he said. "Evangelical Christians need to be the first people in any given community to stand up and say, 'We don't want the mayor to have the power to keep a mosque out of here simply because it’s a mosque.’”

The ERLC co-sponsored the event held at Georgetown University with the Manhattan Declaration, a movement of Orthodox, Catholic and Evangelical Christians opposed to abortion, same-sex marriage and perceived threats to religious liberty.

The group’s 2009 manifesto, signed by several Southern Baptist leaders including Moore, says Christians are under no moral obligation to obey unjust laws.

“Because we honor justice and the common good, we will not comply with any edict that purports to compel our institutions to participate in abortions, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide and euthanasia, or any other anti-life act,” the document states. “Nor will we bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriages or the equivalent, or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality and immorality and marriage and the family.”

“We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar’s,” it says. “But under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is God’s.”

The topic of civil disobedience arose during the panel discussion in the form of a question about whether a Christian county clerk should refuse to sign a marriage license for a same-sex couple.

“I wouldn’t discipline, in a congregation, someone who is signing paperwork in a state where same-sex marriage is legal,” Moore said. “I would someone who is advocating same-sex marriage, working to eradicate a biblical definition of marriage.”