NASHVILLE (BP) — Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore has renewed his criticism of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, drawing a wave of media attention for denouncing the businessman’s proposal to temporarily prevent all Muslims from entering the U.S.
“Anyone who cares an iota about religious liberty” should denounce Trump’s “reckless, demagogic rhetoric,” Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, wrote in a Dec. 7 blog post that had been shared 17,000 times on Facebook by the morning of Dec. 9. In addition, the post was republished by The Washington Post and The Christian Post.
Media outlets across the country reported on Moore’s comments, and he appeared on CNN Dec. 8 to discuss Trump.
A Dec. 7 press release from Trump’s campaign said the candidate is “calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” The release cited a Center for Security Policy poll that surveyed 600 Muslims in the U.S. this summer, according to the group’s website, and found 25 percent believed “violence against Americans here in the United States can be justified as part of the global jihad.”
Moore wrote that government has “a limited authority” and “cannot exalt itself as a lord over the conscience.”
“The government should close the borders to anyone suspected of even a passing involvement with any radical cell or terrorist network,” Moore wrote. “But the government should not penalize law-abiding people, especially those who are American citizens, for holding their religious convictions.”
Baptists long have regarded religious liberty as a Bible-based principle, Moore wrote, noting that Revolutionary-era Baptist preacher John Leland — for whom the ERLC’s Washington office is named — specifically defended the religious liberty of Muslims.
“Make no mistake,” Moore wrote. “A government that can shut down mosques simply because they are mosques can shut down Bible studies because they are Bible studies. A government that can close the borders to all Muslims simply on the basis of their religious belief can do the same thing for evangelical Christians.”
See the full text of Moore’s blog post below.
On CNN, Moore said Trump’s proposal sounds more like “a science fiction movie released for Christmastime” than rhetoric from “the presidential race for the office held by leaders such as Washington and Lincoln.”
Moore continued, “The freedom of religion is not a government grant. Donald Trump did not give it to us, and he can’t take it away. God gave us freedom of religion and conscience.”
Some voters likely support Trump “because he is giving an appearance of strength and toughness over a president who seems not to know what to do,” Moore said. But Trump’s proposal to protect America by asking people, in effect, to “hand over [their] freedoms” is “a bad bargain.”
“What we need is to have somebody deal with the repressive regimes and structures in the Middle East, and protect the homeland from terror, and do it within the framework of the U.S. Constitution,” Moore said.
Amid discussion of Trump’s latest comments, Moore tweeted a link to an op-ed he wrote for The New York Times in September, arguing “evangelicals and other social conservatives” must “repudiate everything they believe” to support Trump. He noted Trump’s apparent character flaws, his support of gambling, his past support of abortion rights — though Trump now says he is pro-life — and his “slurs against Hispanic immigrants.”
“We should … count the cost of following Donald Trump,” Moore wrote. “To do so would mean that we’ve decided to join the other side of the culture war, that image and celebrity and money and power and social Darwinist ‘winning’ trump the conservation of moral principles and a just society.”
David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.
Is Donald Trump right about closing the border to Muslims?
By Russell Moore
Donald Trump is at it again. This time, the Republican presidential frontrunner suggests that the United States should close the border to all Muslims — including Muslim-Americans traveling abroad. Anyone who cares an iota about religious liberty should denounce this reckless, demagogic rhetoric.
Trump, of course, is a master at knowing and seizing a moment. The country is reeling from a terrorist attack by two Islamic radicals. Moreover, the president seems to many to have little plan to eradicate the threat of the Islamic State from building a massive caliphate in the Middle East and exporting terror all over the world. Enter the Man in the Trump Tower with a plan to “get tough” by closing the borders to Muslims, all Muslims, simply because they are Muslim.
As an evangelical Christian, I could not disagree more strongly with Islam. I believe that salvation comes only through union with Jesus Christ, received through faith. As part of the church’s mission, we believe we should seek to persuade our Muslim neighbors of the goodness and truth of the Gospel. It is not in spite of our Gospel conviction, but precisely because of it, that we should stand for religious liberty for everyone.
The Revolutionary-era Baptist preacher John Leland repeatedly included “the Turks” in his list of those included in the sorts of religious freedoms he was demanding from the politicians of his time (including Thomas Jefferson and James Madison). This was despite the fact that there were virtually no Muslims to speak of in the colonies or in the new republic. Leland included them specifically and intentionally anyway. He wanted to make it clear that his concept of religious freedom was not dependent on a group’s political power. He chose the most despised religious minority of the time, with no political collateral in his context, to make the point that religious freedom is a natural right bestowed by God, not a grant given out by the government.
The governing authorities have a responsibility, given by God, to protect the population from violence, and to punish the evildoers who perpetrate such violence (Romans 13:1-7). The governing powers, as with every earthly power, have a limited authority. The government cannot exalt itself as a lord over the conscience, a god over the soul.
The United States government should fight, and fight hard, against radical Islamic jihadism. The government should close the borders to anyone suspected of even a passing involvement with any radical cell or terrorist network. But the government should not penalize law-abiding people, especially those who are American citizens, for holding their religious convictions.
Muslims are an unpopular group these days. And I would argue that non-violent Muslim leaders have a responsibility to call out terror and violence and jihad. At the same time, those of us who are Christians ought to stand up for religious liberty not just when our rights are violated but on behalf of others too.
Make no mistake. A government that can shut down mosques simply because they are mosques can shut down Bible studies because they are Bible studies. A government that can close the borders to all Muslims simply on the basis of their religious belief can do the same thing for evangelical Christians. A government that issues ID badges for Muslims simply because they are Muslims can, in the fullness of time, demand the same for Christians because we are Christians.
We are in a time of war, and we should respond as those in a time of war. But we must never lose in a time of war precious freedoms purchased through the blood of patriots in years past. We must have security and we must have order. But we must not trade soul freedom for an illusion of winning.