Of course it is.
During the 2016 primary season I criticized several GOP presidential candidates GOP presidential candidates for talking about religious liberty as if it were something that only applied to their own kind–evangelical Christians.
I am happy to see that Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, has gone on record defending religious liberty for all Americans. Check out his piece “Is Religious Freedom For Non-Christians Too?”
First, what does it say about American Christianity, or perhaps more specifically American evangelicalism, when a leader of the largest Protestant denomination in the country has to remind people that religious liberty applies to non-Christians.
Second, Moore writes:
One thing we need to be very clear about is that religious liberty is not a government “benefit,” but a natural and inalienable right granted by God. At issue is whether or not the civil state has the power to zone mosques or Islamic cemeteries or synagogues or houses of worship of whatever kind out of existence because of what those groups believe. When someone makes such a claim, that person is not standing up for Jesus and his gospel, but standing against them. To empower the state to command or to forbid worship is not fidelity to the Bible.
When he refers to religious liberty as a “natural and inalienable right granted by God” it sounds less like a theological/biblical statement and more like a recitation of Thomas Jefferson’s political philosophy in the Declaration of Independence. Is religious liberty a “natural and inalienable right granted by God” because Jefferson said so?
Does the Bible teach the kind of Jeffersonian liberty that Moore is talking about here? Can someone point me to a Biblical defense of religious liberty? (I am not trying to be cynical here–I am really interested in learning more about this. I am sure that there is a lot written on this topic–what is the best stuff?).
Religious liberty, it seems, is a relatively new idea in Western Civilization. For example, what should we make of all the so-called Christian nations throughout history that did not separate church and state or promote the religious liberty of their people? Did these states fail to conform to biblical ideas about religious liberty?
While there are strong arguments to be made for religious liberty based on Enlightenment ideals, natural law or reason, or even Catholic social teaching about the dignity of all human beings, I am interested in learning more about those who have made a robust theological and biblical defense of this belief and how such a defense relates to the fact that there were moments in Christian history when the church thrived in cultures where there was little or no religious liberty.