Transcript: Hobby Lobby and the Future of Religious Liberty

By Staff
Jun 11, 2014

Image credit: Paul LeeImage credit: Paul Lee


Note: The following is a transcript of the ERLC panel discussion on "Hobby Lobby and the Future of Religious Liberty," which featured Russell Moore, Rick Warren, David Platt, and Sam Rodriguez. The panel was held on June 9, 2014 at the Southern Baptist Convention in Baltimore, Maryland.

PHILLIP BETHANCOURT:  Let me welcome you tonight. If I have not had the chance to meet you previously, my name is Phillip Bethancourt with the ERLC. Tonight we are here to talk about the issue of religious liberty. This is our panel discussion on Hobby Lobby and the future of religious liberty and I would like to give Dr. Moore a chance to introduce our panelists for us this evening.

RUSSELL MOORE:  Thank you all for being here, really glad to have you all here tonight and I have wanted to have three friends with us that I love working with together on all sorts of issues and so I want to introduce you to them. Sitting right next to me is David Platt, who is of course, pastor of the Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama. Author of the book Radical. And next to him is Rick Warren who is pastor of Saddleback Community Church in California, Southern California. He is the author of The Purpose Driven Life, which is, I think, the second best selling book in the history of human kind. Glad to have Pastor Rick with us tonight, and Sam Rodriquez who is President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. Sam and I have worked on so many things this year and are true kindred spirits. I love this guy; love working with him. He described his mission one day as Billy Graham plus Martin Luther King, Jr. with some salsa on top, and I thought, I can go with that. So we are really glad to have these good friends with us tonight to talk about this very important topic.

PHILLIP BETHANCOURT:  You are going to find some great resources on that seat there with you, if you notice those we have some information about the ERLC and one of our special initiatives is Psalm 139 Project where we raise funds to place ultrasound machines in crisis pregnancy centers across the country and there are also some free books there. You see a brand new book on same-sex marriage in the future and then you have access to our e-book that Dr. Moore has compiled a list of questions in ethics where he addresses some of the hottest cultural issues going on in our day and age with a gospel-centered perspective. It is a unique joy. When you came into the room you got a question card and if you want to submit a question for tonight or to get a head start on submitting a question for our group tomorrow with Dr. Moore and Matt Chandler, where there is Q&A, I want you to fill those questions out as we go and about half-way through the event we are going to collect those cards right down the middle here and to motivate you to do that, we are going to be giving away a brand new ERLC logoed Louisville Slugger bat, one of very few of its kind and if you fill out a question card you will be entered to win that so give us your questions and have the chance to knock one out of the park tonight. Now Pastor, would you mind opening us in a word of prayer this evening?

RUSSELL MOORE:  Sure. Father what we have gathered here to talk about this evening is no small matter. It is so important to the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. We pray that you would give us wisdom. You said if we lack wisdom to ask you and that is what we are asking for. We pray that we find clarity and charity and that together we would be all that you want us to be and that we would be able to share the gospel because of the freedom that we have seen fought for centuries now maintain. We pray this in Jesus name. Amen.

PHILLIP BETHANCOURT:  Well, Dr. Moore, I want to start with you. We could have talked about any number of cultural issues tonight. Why did you want to focus on religious liberty and with that, give us a little bit of an overview of what religious liberty is.

RUSSELL MOORE:  The reason why I wanted us to talk about religious liberty tonight is, first of all, because it is imperiled and second of all, because I don’t think many people in churches feel and understand how it is imperiled. That’s one of the reasons why tonight we didn’t bring in a team of attorneys, although we have great and heroic attorneys who are working in all sorts of ways on religious liberty. I wanted to focus our attention on calling the churches to recognize the important of religious liberty because before religious liberty is a political issue or a social issue, religious liberty is a gospel issue. The gospel comes to people conscience to conscience as the Word of God addresses consciences and calls them to Christ, which means that we don’t want to coerce people’s consciences in any way. We don’t believe that the gospel goes forward by majority vote; we believe that the gospel goes forward by the new birth and so we need freedom in order to do that. Secondly, because I find that there are a lot of people who shrug off religious liberty issues for all sorts of reasons but one of the primary reasons is because we don’t understand where we fit in the story of the Bible. So a lot of people assume well, we are standing in the place of Jesus, standing before Pilot, who cares whether or not we have our rights and our liberties taken away? Jesus went as a sheep to the slaughter and so should we. What people aren’t recognizing there is that they are not only standing in the place of Jesus, they are also standing in the place of Pilot because the scripture says, Romans 13, “the God holds Caesar accountable for the use of the sword.” In a Democratic Republic, that means ultimately the people are held accountable so the question is not just are we going to be persecuted? The question is are we going to be persecutors? So if we shrug this off, what we are doing is consigning future generations and we are consigning people’s consciences to a tyranny that we are going to be held accountable for. So we need to deal with this issue not only in terms of the courts, not only in terms of state legislatures, not only in terms of the United States Congress, not only in terms of the White House, but in terms of local congregations of people who are being prepared and equipped to know what it means to carry out a free church in a free state and that’s going to have everything to do with what our children and our grand children are going to be facing in the next few years.

PHILLIP BETHANCOURT:  So Rick, is there a difference between the idea of the freedom of worship and the freedom of religion?

RICK WARREN:  Oh yeah, well absolutely. In fact, this is the subtle subtlety that we are seeing the government say, don’t talk about freedom of, freedom of religion, talk about freedom of worship. The Constitution doesn’t guarantee freedom of worship; it guarantees freedom of religion, which is the freedom to practice. If I only have the freedom of worship, then that means the only freedom I have is inside a building one hour a week, I don’t have the chance to build my business on my convictions, raise my family on my convictions, train and educate my children, all of these issues. The first amendment, religious freedom is called America’s first freedom for intentional reasons. The first phrase of the first sentence of the first amendment of the Constitution is freedom of religion. In our constitution, freedom of religion comes before freedom of the press. It comes before freedom of speech. It comes before freedom to assemble. It comes before the right to bear arms. Why? Because if I don’t have the freedom to believe and practice my beliefs, I don’t need the freedom of press. If I don’t have the freedom of conscience to live as I believe God is telling me to live, then I don’t need freedom to assemble. If I don’t have the freedom to think and believe and act on those beliefs, I don’t need freedom of speech or freedom of the press or even any of these other freedoms. This is America’s first freedom because it is fundamental. Now, if the Constitution is redefined, which is what is happening today, to be only about freedom of worship, then that means you don’t have the freedom to actually practice your belief, and we are seeing that today. You see when you get to issues like, well, let’s just go down the list. When a church is zoned out of a community that’s freedom of religion being stifled, saying you can only have church in certain areas—when you can’t have a Christian club on a campus that is a freedom of religion issue. When I say I want to build a business and I want to be able to build my business on my Christian convictions and say, for instance, not provide abortions, that’s a freedom of religion issue. So it is much more than simply what people consider church and state and we can get back to that in a minute.

PHILLIP BETHANCOURT:  So David, what have you noticed, do you find that the people at your church or in churches you are around, just the common average lay person in the church, do they see religious liberty as a big deal? I mean, is this something that you find people concerned about? Or is it something that they don’t really understand or wrestle with or think a whole lot about?

DAVID PLATT:  I do think there is an ignorance, that’s a strong term, but I think it is true. When it comes to the importance and significance of this issue and particularly, as I pastor in Alabama, we are almost blind in some ways to some of the battles that are being waged by brothers and sisters in other parts of our country in unhealthy ways that we need to combat, I mean, as I was just soaking in everything Dr. Moore was just saying, I was freshly provoked in exhortations that I need to be giving to the church that I pastor to realize what is at stake here? It goes all the way back to, it is a gospel issue. We say but do we realize, do we really believe that we were created by God with the freedom that God has given us to choose whether or not to follow him? Obviously, He is sovereign but under his banner of his sovereignty, there is human responsibility that is fundamental. Authentic belief requires authentic choice and

RICK WARREN:  Love requires authentic choice.

DAVID PLATT:  Exactly, and so anyway, I don’t think, I think there is a complacency that even cases like the Hobby Lobby Case and other cases are hopeful in the sense of bringing to the attention, I have said before, I don’t want to be an alarmist but maybe I do—we need to be alarmed about this issue in a way that I don’t think that all the people I pastor are alarmed. I think they are woken up some last summer with Supreme Court’s decision on marriage and the Hobby Lobby picture has now woken us up some more but they need to know it is coming. It is going to affect every person in every profession in the church. This is not just for a certain group. This is going to affect them. So we need to feel a greater sense, the importance of it.

PHILLIP BETHANCOURT:  Sam, do you think that Christians should only be concerned about the religious freedom of other Christians?

SAM RODRIQUEZ:  No. Let me segue way a little bit from David’s comment. Today’s complacency is tomorrow’s captivity. The quintessential antidote, the firewall against secular totalitarianism is religious liberty and religious pluralism. Stevie Wonder could see that. My point is, what ending racial inequality emerged as the Civil Rights issue of the twentieth century, I am convinced not out of emotional exuberance, religious liberty will be the Civil Rights issue of the twenty-first century. It is something so legitimate and authentic, the commitment, the need for a strong multi-ethnic kingdom culture firewall that stands committed to defending the rights of all, of every single religious group, not just Christians, but the Jews and the Muslims and every single other religious faith narrative, everyone here, of course appreciates the Judo-Christian value system upon which this nation stands, but we need to fight for religious pluralism, for religious liberty across the board. If not, the voice of religious liberty, religious freedom, conscience will be silenced in the twenty-first century. It is up to what this generation engages, our generation will determine whether or not my twenty-year-old son and my eighteen-year-old daughter studying at Biola, whether or not my children will be able to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ in the next twenty to twenty-five years. So, there is a great sense of urgency.

RICK WARREN:  You know, can I say something about this?

PHILLIP BETHANCOURT: Yeah.

RICK WARREN:  Phillip, I absolutely agree with Sam, I have written on this too that I believe that religious liberty is the Civil Rights issue of the next decade.  Absolutely. And part of the reason is because we live in a pluralistic society today and because of that, I believe in pluralism, I do not believe in relativism. Big difference. Okay? In other words, I believe in a free-market world the Gospel is going to win because it has the better story to tell. Okay? So I am not afraid of a free market. Everybody should be at the table and be able to share their ideas. I do not believe in religious coercion, I do believe in religious persuasion and what some people want to do is that want to outlaw religious persuasion. Now, they don’t even want you to be able to persuade people, so it’s very important, if a Rabbi, let me just give you an example. When the HHS mandate came out that Catholic churches and Catholic schools and Catholic hospitals were going to have to do contraceptives. Now, I don’t have a problem with contraceptives, but I respect anybody’s right to say this is what I believe God doesn’t want me to do, so fine, I support you in that. So I stand in 100% solidarity with the Catholic Bishops Conference saying you have a right to not offer contraceptives. It’s not like they are illegal. You can get them anywhere; they are even free, so why would you force somebody who has a conviction against it to sell it. But it’s not illegal. For instance if they made a law that said every Jewish deli in Manhattan now has to sell pork, I would be down there with that Rabbi protesting because he has a…pork is not illegal. You can get it anywhere, okay, so why are you forcing a guy who says it’s immoral for him to do it? For instance, Muslims don’t drink any alcohol. If they made a law that said Muslims must now sell alcohol at all of their restaurants, I’m going to be there with the Muslim helping that guy because if it is them today, it is us tomorrow. So that’s an important thing to realize we are really in this together.

RUSSELL MOORE:  And that’s a good point about there are many people who assume, if I’m fighting for religious liberty for everybody, that means that I am saying that everything is relative and that their differences don’t matter. It means exactly the opposite. I was on a panel one time with a Muslim woman and I was talking about the fact that religious liberty means that I ought to try to persuade her that Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and that no one comes to the Father except through Him and she ought to try to persuade me that there is no God but Allah and Mohammad as his prophet. And there was a guy in the room who came to the microphone and said, that is so arrogant, why don’t you stop dehumanizing her and instead say, I worship my God my way, I worship God my way, and she worships God her way. And I turned to her and said, do you think we worship the same God? She goes who is your God? I said my God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ. She said, absolutely not. So, this guy is saying why do you want to impose your religion on her? I turned to him and said, why do you want to impose your religion on us? Because his idea is the differences that you two have over Jesus are so meaningless they don’t matter. So if you don’t fight for the right to be able to seek to persuade one another and to have those meaningful differences that means somebody is imposing some generic mush religion on top of you. So, we have to say we want to fight for everybody’s religious freedom. We are not just, because we have a voting majority; we are not going to outlaw and to zone that mosque out of existence. We are not going to shut down that synagogue in the community because we just said we have confidence in the gospel, we don’t need a government bail out for it, it is the power of God into salvation.

DAVID PLATT:  Doesn’t this hit on the misguided notion of tolerance in our culture where to disagree just all of a sudden you are labeled “intolerant.” As opposed to realizing that tolerance itself implies disagreement, like you and this woman you were on the panel with, I and other friends of mine who have very different beliefs tolerate one another because we disagree with one another and to remove those disagreements, to try to minimize those differences not only violates both of our consciences, but misses the whole point. So, all of a sudden if you say Jesus is the only way to God, you are labeled intolerant of other people, as opposed to having a culture where we do have this free market place of ideas where we are tolerant of one another, loving toward one another, serving one another, even amidst disagreement.

RICK WARREN:  You know, what has happened, as David was talking about, is that the definition of tolerance has changed. Tolerance used to mean “I treat you with respect and dignity even if I violently disagree with what you believe.” I treat you with respect; I treat you with dignity, even though we may totally disagree. Today, tolerance means all ideas are equally valid, that’s nonsense. All ideas are not equally valid. Somebody could say the moon is made of rock, somebody could say the moon is made of cheese, they are not equally valid. Some things are true, some things are not true. So, the other thing is our society has fallen for two myths. One myth is the myth that if I disagree with you, I don’t love you—that I’m a hater. If I disagree with you, I hate you. Well, that’s nonsense. Nobody agrees with you, not even your wife. I mean, is it possible to disagree on a lot of things and still be in love? Of course. I’ve been married for thirty-eight years, so you don’t have to agree on everything to love somebody. That’s a myth. The other one is that if I disagree with you, then I am afraid of you. I’m not phobic of you. I’m not afraid of you and I don’t hate you, I just disagree with you. This is an important distinction that the society is trying to say, well, you don’t really love and you are actually a hater if you disagree.

PHILLIP BETHANCOURT:  Before we jump into discussing the Hobby Lobby case, I want to come back to you, Sam. Just a few minutes ago you made the case that religious liberty is the civil rights issue of our day. I think many people in the culture see gay rights as the primary civil rights issue of our day, so how would you distinguish between why you think religious liberty is a more significant civil rights issue?

SAM RODRIQUEZ:  Like the elephant in the room, right? Well, we launched a campaign called Imago Dei Campaign with this crazy radical new idea that had never been heard before, I’m being sarcastic here. That every single human being carries the image of God, therefore, in and out of the womb, by the way, therefore, we should treat everyone, even when we disagree with Biblical love and human God-ordained, God-given, God-recognized respect, even when we disagree. Now that campaign drew a lot of attention because we recognize every single group out there by their very own nomenclatures and descriptors, self assigned or otherwise. Religious liberty, this idea, oh, let’s just be frank, the question is whether or not you believe that every single human being carries the image of God, yet you refuse to sacrifice on the alter of political or cultural expediency. If you refuse to drink the proverbial Kool-Aid, and you continue to believe the Word of God is the Word of God, and you believe that marriage is a sacred God-ordained institution between one man and one woman, does that make you homophobic? And that’s the question that has to be answered. And right now popular culture is saying, popular culture is saying if you believe a marriage is an institution ordained by God as a sacred union between one man and one woman, you are in a de facto if not in a de jure manner, homophobic. That is the attempt to silence the voice of Biblical truth. That’s why today’s complacency is tomorrow’s captivity. I do believe religious liberty is a greater civil rights issue than the LGBT agenda or drive for those rights. As Christians, we need to repudiate all vestiges of homophobia, without a doubt. We need to recognize the image of God in every single human being but we should never ever under any circumstance water down the Gospel or sacrifice truth on the altar of political or cultural expediency; our job it not to put smiles on people’s faces. It is to make sure they get crowns on their heads. It is to make sure people are saved and they recognize Jesus Christ is Lord. So I do believe religious liberty trumps because at the end of the day, Uncle Sam may be my uncle, but he will never be my heavenly Father.

PHILLIP BETHANCOURT:  David, you mentioned the way that Hobby Lobby has in some ways put a face on the issue of religious liberty and Dr. Moore, if you will get us started as we discuss this Supreme Court case, can you just give us a brief overview of what is at issue here? What’s on the line with religious liberty and kind of in a nutshell what is happening with this case?

RUSSELL MOORE:  Well, this is a Southern Baptist family in Oklahoma. They have a family business they started from the ground up and they are actually going to be with us here at the Southern Baptist Convention during the ERLC report on Wednesday. The Green family, Hobby Lobby, and Naghmeh Abedini, Saeed Abedini’s wife, he’s imprisoned in Iran right now, are both going to be present with us. We are going to have a time of prayer for them for both of their families and for everybody that they represent. This family said we do not want to be coerced by the government to provide technologies and pills that we believe cause abortions. It is our deeply held conscience belief and we do not want to be forced to do this. The government says you have to do it or we are going to fine you out of business. That’s what the Supreme Court case is about. Ultimately what the Supreme Court case is about is exactly what Rick mentioned at the very beginning, the question of whether or not there is simply religious belief, freedom of belief so that you can go into your church, sing your hymns, pray your prayers, and then leave as long as it doesn’t effect anything else that you do during the week; just freedom of worship without freedom of practicing your religion. The Green family really courageously said to this drive to pave over their consciences, no. And in doing that what they were doing is essentially the exact same thing that our Baptist forbearers were doing in the Revolutionary era when they were being told the exact same thing. You go back and you read all of these letters from the Revolutionary era and these Baptist preachers and evangelists were being told, all it is a little bit of money, all you have to do is go down to the courthouse and register to preach and get a license to preach and you will be able to do that, and the Baptist preachers went to jail rather than do that because they said the issue isn’t how much money it is, the issue is who is Lord. And if you have authority over the conscience, you are setting yourself up as Lord over the conscience and we will not submit to that. That’s what’s happening with the Green family right now and so the United States Supreme Court is deciding whether or not in this country there is the freedom to descent and the freedom to accommodate these conscientious objections in the governing of people’s lives and the running of their businesses. It is going to be a tremendously significant and important case for every single one of your churches and your ministries. This will have everything to do with everything that your church does for the next one hundred years. So, we need to be praying for this specific Supreme Court case because it is not just about what happens in the Supreme Court, it is about what happens in vacation Bible School, it is about what happens in Sunday School, it is about what happens in your congregation, in your church for a long time to come.

PHILLIP BETHANCOURT:  And in the member’s of the church as well who are just like the Green family and all kinds of different professions and vocations.

RICK WARREN:  You know, Phillip, it is important that we realize that what they are trying to do right now is rewrite history. America has two sets of founding fathers—the political fathers and the Pilgrim Fathers. The Pilgrim Fathers precede the political fathers by a hundred and fifty years in 1640, 1643. The first Americans came here for religious liberty. It is the whole reason our country was founded. It is what makes our nation different than any other nation. No other nation was founded as the number one purpose was religious liberty. These were people who wanted to come and worship God in their own way so this is the foundation; this is not some site issue. It is the foundation of why our nation was founded. They founded it for religious liberty. What they are doing today is they are trying to redefine the meaning of “separation and church and state.” Now, the phrase “separation of church and state” is not in the Bill of Rights, it is not in the Constitution, it is not in the Declaration of Independence. It is in a letter that Jefferson wrote to the Danbury Baptists, but the phrase, “separation of church and state” today means the exact opposite of what Jefferson meant it to mean. Jefferson meant it to mean we are going to keep the government from infringing on the church. It do not about we are going to keep the church from infringing on the government. It was “I’m going to protect you.” Jefferson wrote two famous letters. One of them was to the Danbury Baptists and the second was to the Methodist episcopals of Connecticut. The first one in it, he explains to the Danbury Baptists, we are going to protect you from the state religion of Anglicanism becoming the state religion and there will be separation of the church and state. Now, let me explain what that meant. Jefferson wrote that letter on a Friday night when he explained separation of church and state. On Sunday, as was his custom, he went to church in the U.S. capital. There was a church planted in the capital building and met in the capital building for six years, so obviously when he writes separation of church and state, he didn’t even have a problem with the church plant using a government building for church and the congress was going to church in the capital building. So he writes this on Friday, separation of church and state, Jefferson was in no way a Christian, no way he was a Christian. He has his own brand, but he did go to church. He did go to church. And he went as many other founding political fathers did, so his idea had no conception that a church meeting in a government building would be a problem. It meant the exact opposite. We are going to protect the church from the government. His second letter, I owned for many years because I took it off the market and it was a letter, hand-written by Jefferson, to the Episcopal Methodists of Connecticut in which he said, “There is no provision dearer to our nation and to our constitution than that which protects the freedom of conscience.” It is about as clear as you can say. He is going nothing is more important than the freedom of conscience, the freedom to believe and practice your beliefs. By the way, when this whole thing, I’ve known the Greens for some time, I wanted them to have it so they now own that letter—a great family owns it.

PHILLIP BETHANCOURT:  Sam, what do you think is at steak with this court case? What’s on the line here?

SAM RODRIQUEZ:  Whether or not we would be able to practice and act upon our religious beliefs in the public square. I agree, it is about marginalizing, I don’t think there is an attempt to kill religious belief, I think that would be a bit of hyperbole, I think that’s not the objective—it is to marginalize, to limit religious practices to the confines of what takes place Sunday morning. But the moment that ideology, that belief, that world view engages what we do Monday through Saturday, that’s the threat because it is a culture of moral relativism and cultural objectiveness and spiritual apathy but this is me and this is a little bit controversial, but it would be the first time I would say anything as controversial, but that’s a joke by the way, the number one problem we have right now is actually a lukewarm church. It is the silence of the church, it is the apathy. It is the fact that we don’t want to be called bullies, but we are being bullied and we are acting like the prophet hiding from Jezebel because we are afraid of the consequences of those in governmental authority. There is this thing called American exceptionalism, you know what that is? American exceptionalism is this radical idea that it is God over man and man over government in that pecking order and when government grows, man and God have to get out of the way and that’s what’s makes it exceptional. The very future of American Christianity in the 21st century is at stake, even though I don’t even believe that to a great degree because we are not Google, we are not Microsoft, we are not Ford, we are part of the church of Jesus Christ and the gates of hell shall never prevail against the church. Regardless of what happens. Never the less, I do believe there is a lot at stake here, so it is up to this generation to respond with prophetic courage and conviction, just like Dr. King stood up with great courage in the 20th century to fight against inequality and to end segregation, I think it is time to see a movement with love, with civility, with truth, recognizing the image of God in every single human being, a movement till we merge defending the varied religious liberty rights that we have.

PHILLIP BETHANCOURT:  Dr. Moore, we are probably just a week or two away from the ruling coming out. What do you think is going to play out? How do you think the court is going to rule?

RUSSELL MOORE:  Well, this isn’t a word of prophecy, but I think we are going to win this Supreme Court case, I really do. And the reason I think that is because the first amendment guarantees are so clear in the history of this country and because something called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act passed in 1993, huge bipartisan majority in the Congress, signed by President Clinton, makes it very clear about the rights of conscience and freedom of religion. I think we are going to win the Supreme Court case. But I think the larger question is we have to learn something from this case, which is that many people assume that religious liberty violations come with shock and awe, with tanks coming in. And religious liberty violations typically happen this way, with a bureaucrats pen and they start with other people’s problems, as we’ve mentioned already tonight where people are able to say, ahh, that doesn’t apply to me because that’s this Catholic adoption agency happening or it doesn’t apply to me because this is a circumcision ban that applies to Jewish people and doesn’t apply to our church and by the time the issue gets to you, you have not even seen how it has already advanced. So we need to recognize this is something the means we can’t just be teaching and preaching in our churches about religious liberty, about freedom of conscience on special Sundays, Fourth of July, Citizenship Sunday, and those sorts of things. We need to do exactly what the apostle Paul is doing when he uses his Roman citizenship and he appeals all the way up, he says, I’m going to go all the way to Caesar over these issues because he recognizes this is not about him. Whatever happens to him is going to bind all sorts of other people and so love of neighbor means that he is going to appeal for those citizenship rights and what does he do?—he does this. He preaches the gospel of Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul is standing there in front of Agrippa and says, I am a Roman citizen and then he turns around and he says I want to declare to you that Jesus of Nazareth isn’t dead anymore. This has not happened in a corner and I would that you become as I am except for these chains. We need to be the sort of people who are advocating for religious liberty and at the same time preaching and proclaiming the gospel all the way. If we loose this case, the gospel is not lost. If the United States of America crumbles away, the gospel is not lost. I am spending all of my time right now making sure that we stay out of jail but there is one thing worse than going to jail and that is staying out of jail and sacrificing the gospel of Jesus Christ.

RICK WARREN:  And this issue may take just as it did with Martin Luther King, it may take some pastors going to jail.  I’m in. I willingly said it, I’m in. Now here’s the question. Who is the authority in the United States? Romans 13 tells us to submit to all authority. Who is the authority in the United States? We don’t have a king. In a democracy the people are the authority. You are the authority. So there is not like somebody up here saying, I’m making the laws and you’ve got to submit to them. In a democracy, the people are the authority and they have the right to elect and to kick out and to do laws and so this whole idea as Sam was talking about it earlier, sitting back and being passive, is not the way to go, not in a democracy because Russell made the point, use the leverage of your citizenship as Paul did.

RUSSELL MOORE: I think what we ought to be concentrating on is the fact that what we are having, there is increasingly in American society, people who assume because they really don’t understand religious motivations, so they assume that every motivation must really be economic or it must be political and so that religion is just there. And what’s happening is, I was with a gathering of people from all different sorts of religions just a few weeks ago talking about this issue and about religious liberty and there was an elderly rabbi in the room, and he said “what people are really asking is, are you willing to stand with this when it costs you?” That’s the real issue. So the most important thing that has to happen for religious liberty is not first and foremost what happens in the Supreme Court, although that is important, it is getting rid in our churches of a dime-store prosperity gospel that says that Christianity is giving you everything that you’ve ever wanted and heaven at the end so that we can raise up children and grand children who recognize we are Americans but we are not Americans first, we are part of the global body of Christ, the people of God, which means that we will render unto Caesar that which belongs to Caesar but we will not render unto Caesar the conscience that is to be given to God and until we teach children and grand children and great grand children that message, we are not going to be able to maintain.

RICK WARREN:  We have dual citizenship.  Every Christian should carry a green card. Okay? I’m kidding.  And as Peter said, we most obey God rather than man. We just have to do that.

DAVID PLATT:  Here’s where I’m just really convicted even listening to this conversation or especially when I think about the people God entrusted me to lead as a pastor because I fear maybe one of the reasons we have been complacent on this issue is because many members in our churches are not taking the risks with the gospel that we need to be taking on a daily basis and proclaiming it. It is not costly for many of the members in our churches now because we have privatized Christianity ourselves. We have in so many ways, limited, to what we do in a building on Sundays. So government doesn’t have to do that for us. We’ve done that ourselves to where so many members in our churches aren’t proclaiming the gospel Monday through Saturday. We are not sharing the gospel at work and as a result it is not costly for them at work. So, as Pastor Rick is saying, I’m in and I’m with you. I want to raise up an entire body, an army of church members who are in regardless of what happens in this case who are saying I’m going to give my life. Privatized Christianity is impossible. To have privatized faith of a resurrected King, so if you believe in a resurrected King, you’d speak about him all of the time and whatever he says you do, no matter what it costs you. In the culture, when we start to live like that, then cases like this will become all the more, we will realize how important they are. Hopefully we will be prepared regardless, so if this case, for example, doesn’t go one way, that our consciences are moved and our mission is unshakeable and we can continue to proclaim the resurrected King no matter what it will cost.

RUSSELL MOORE:  I heard a really wise man say one time the most important question for the next generation of the church is when we say “we” who comes to mind first? He says is our demographic group, is it our national group, or is it who we are as the people of God so that that Christian kid in Alabama who is fifteen years old realizes that he has more in common with an 87-year-old Christian woman in Sudan who doesn’t speak a word of English than he does with the 15-year-old kid who is sitting next to him in the school who doesn’t know the Lord. One of the things that may happen in days to come as the church in America starts to experience secularization is that we may be driven to where we should have been all along in identifying with our persecuted brothers and sisters all around the world in a way that can transform our own churches, I think, in ways that are good.

DAVID PLATT:  Here’s what frightens me along those lines, the goal of persecution is to silence witnesses. So that’s the goal. I mean, our brother is in prison in Iran because he is witnessing. Not because he’s being a nice person, like we need to be nice people. These proclaiming the gospel, that’s why he is in jail. That’s why our brothers and sisters are persecuted around the world. All too often, with the way we are living as Christians in our country, we are siding with the persecutors. We are silencing our own witness and so do identify with our brothers and sisters is to proclaim the gospel along side them regardless of the cost.

SAM RODRIQUEZ:  Religious liberty is not a political issue, first and foremost. That was stated previously.

RICK WARREN:  And certainly not a partisan issue.

SAM RODRIQUEZ:  Well, it’s not a donkey or an elephant issue, right? It is a lamb issue. There is a disconnect when we preach something on Sunday and then if our voting motif is not reflected on Tuesday, meaning, again I probably won’t be invited again but it is what it is, I’m in Sacramento anyway so it wouldn’t matter. If I preached a life platform on Sunday and a Biblical marriage and a religious liberty, all of the wonderful things that we believe in, and then on Tuesday I vote in a way that runs counter to what I preach on Sunday, maybe I’m wrong, maybe it’s because I was born in New Jersey, isn’t that hypocrisy to a _____? So there has to be continuity, our vote must be a reflection of my Christian worldview belief. I don’t vote because I am American or better yet, I am a brown or Hispanic or not because I am Hispanic, charismatic or automatic, I vote because I am a Christ follower. I am a born-again Christian and my vote should reflect that. So we need to hold accountable those that we elect in public office, we need to hold each accountable to where they stand on religious liberty. Even on this Hobby Lobby case the Supreme Court will render, where do you stand? And we need to hold them accountable because if we don’t hold them accountable at the end of the day it is just like the national socialist party in 1939 and in 1941, it’s discontinuation of an ideology that I can separate my Christian world view by Dietrich Bonhoeffer sort of admonition to us for our day and age, and we can somehow be Christians here but not engage in situations and circumstances that require my Christian prophetic witness. So I do believe, even though it is not political issue, donkey or elephant, be we need to hold our public officials accountable for where they stand on religious liberty.

RUSSELL MOORE:  One of the problems with that is that sometimes people don’t understand what they are doing as Christians when they are voting. Paul says that Caesar wields the sword. What we are doing in a Democratic republic when we go into the voting booth is handing somebody a sword. Somebody says I am going to be using the sword of justice in this way and you are authorizing that person to do that. So, it is not simply that these elected officials are acting in ways that they are going to be held accountable for, you and I say we are empowering you to do that and one of the difficult things with the religious liberty, and this is the case with the HHS mandate, for instance, with Hobby Lobby, this wasn’t even passed by the Congress, this mandate. The regulatory structure that enabled it was passed by the Congress but then happened so slowly and in this massive bureaucracy that by the time it hits people don’t even see and recognize that that is going to be the case. So we have to be informed enough to say to people when they are running for office, what are you going to do in this situation in that situation? I think one of the best examples I’ve ever seen of that was you, Rick, with the Saddleback Civil Forum with Senator McCain and Barack Obama where you actually asked the questions, what will you do in these various situations and I think we have to start asking those sorts of questions all the way down to the local level.

RICK WARREN:  Well, the church should be at the center of it. I just want to reiterate what David said, your relationship to Christ is personal but it is never private. It is personal but it cannot be private. The most important thing in the world cannot be private. You have to share it and you have to decide who you want to impress. As some of you know, I’ve debated Piers Morgan and others many, many times on these issues on CNN and stuff like that. At one point, you know, he was trying to wear me down as if a pastor is going to change his mind on a moral issue. “Because more people are doing it today than yesterday.” Really? And at one point he said, so why not? I said because Piers, I fear the disapproval of God far more than I fear your disapproval and the disapproval of society. He was speechless. What can you say to a guy like that? When you say it on national TV, I’m not afraid of your disapproval, I’m not afraid of society’s disapproval. I am living for an audience of one and that gives you the boldness to go on and say this is always right whether….actually I’m kind of glad that cultural Christianity is dying. If you know anything about history, anything about church history, the church is never strongest when it is in the majority—it has never been; never, ever been. It is always when it is in the salt and light mode and when the church gets in bed with government guess who gets pregnant? The church does. Let’s drop that metaphor. That comment was by David.

PHILLIP BETHANCOURT:  We’ve spent the evening so far thinking through religious liberty in general and issues related to domestic religious liberty. I want to turn out attention to talking about international religious freedom. Before we jump into questions related to that, if you have question cards filled out, please pass those to the middle and some ERLC staff will come and pick those up. We will do that give away in just a few minutes when the evening ends. David, I want to start this question with you, so when Rick was at Georgetown University not long ago, he made the comment that 75% of the people of the world live in societies without religious liberty. So you’ve had the opportunity to travel the globe, be in places where that is exactly the case and you’ve even found some ways to try to bring that experience back to the American church to what you do with Secret Church and things like that. Walk us through what you’ve seen in terms of your first-hand encounters with the issues related to religious liberty internationally.

DAVID PLATT:  I think it is important to remember when we hear that this looks different in different places. And it comes from different angles. So persecution is sometimes governmental, persecution is sometimes social. We have brothers and sisters who when they place their faith in Christ or consider putting their faith in Christ, their biggest concern is not what the government is going to do to them, their biggest concern is what their family will do to them or how they are going to be isolated in the village. I mean, just recently when I was in Nepal, I mean in these villages we were in, Tibetan Buddhist villages, these particular ones, if someone begins, there was a family, there was a couple who began considering the claims of Christ and they were told if you follow Christ, you will no longer be able to get water from the source, which is life for them, so you can’t get water. They continued considering and they received more threats, and then finally they put their faith in Christ and within two weeks they were stoned. The problem is there was not governmental protection for that couple and so it’s not that it’s totally disconnected from the government but it’s family. Now there are other places where it is direct government. If you do this, if you share the gospel with a Muslim in this culture then you will be put in prison. If that person converts to Christianity they could take them. Or it could be in some other places Hobby Lobby type restrictions, so if you are a church then you are not going to have any chance of getting any building anywhere. So, there is less of your kind, it is still persecution, but it is not life threatening in the same way that it is for the couple getting stoned. It looks different shapes, different ways but it is prevalent all across the world among our brothers and sisters.

PHILLIP BETHANCOURT:  Rick, why do you think it is that at times the American church can seem apathetic towards persecutions happening internationally?

RICK WARREN:  Oh, I just think that it’s true of all of us that we are very parochial. We only see our group. We are just not that interested in everybody else in other places. We try to teach our church to have a global vision as well as local. Saddleback is the only church in America, in fact, it is the only church in history that has gone to every nation in the world. We set a goal, we have a Peace Plan to promote reconciliation and plant churches and equip leaders, assist with the poor, care for the sick, educate the next generation. We said we will be in every nation by the end of 2010. I didn’t even know how many nations there were so I had to look it up. There are 197 nations in the world. There were 196, Sudan just split, so there are 197 nations. There are 195 nations in the UN. The only two nations not in the UN are Serbia and Taiwan. So, I said, we will have planted a church in every nation. I sent out 23,869 of our members over a ten-year period to go to every nation. You know what I discovered? That the number one sin in the world is racism.  It can be racism on tribe against tribe, religion against religion, it is that we are better than you, and you can see it every where in the world and you go into any culture and you will find them making jokes about somebody else. I think the bottom line is to just say there is a little racism in every body, we just have to be Christ-like and over come it because it is my nature to think that anybody who is different than me is wrong or not everything different is demonic.

PHILLIP BETHANCOURT:  That’s a good word. So Dr. Moore, when it comes to international religious freedom and how it relates to American experiences of infringements on religious liberty, some of the comments that will be made is to say, you know, America has it way better than most countries do so we shouldn’t be that concerned about religious liberty or they will say, hey the church has thrived under the deepest persecution so we should welcome that. How would you respond to those kinds of comments?

RUSSELL MOORE:  Well again, we’ve got a model here in the Books of Acts of somebody who is not afraid of persecution, who is willing to go to jail, who is willing to be stoned to death, who is willing to be, “I will go to Rome and I will be executed” who, at the same time, is pleading for and advocating for his own liberty and for the liberty of others. So, it is an act of neighbor love. One of the best things the United States of America can do for the nations of the world is to safeguard the American inheritance of religious liberty. I think often of the situation of Neboth, when Ahab is coming to take his vineyard and his response is “far be it from me that I should give up my father’s inheritance.” That is something that we as citizens ought to safeguard not because we are cordoning ourselves off from everyone else but because in the providence of God, at this point in time this nation is helping to demonstrate to other people, you really can have religious liberty, you really can live together in a free society and we have to safeguard that and to help to use every bit of influence that we can in order to advocate for those who are being persecuted around the world. Which means, first and foremost, exactly what the book of Hebrews says, “Remember the brotherhood around the world who is being persecuted. Remember those who are in prison.” We need to know the name of Saeed Abedini. We need to know the situation of our sister in Sudan who is at the point of potentially being executed for apostasy and for adultery because she is married to a Christian man and she is not married to someone of the Islamic faith. We need to remember these people to be praying in our congregations for them and to see this little evidence, this ability that God is given to see just a little bit of a living cloud of witnesses around us right now of those who, as Peter says of Sarah, “Do not fear that which is frightening.” So we need to see that and to build up our own faith as we recognize these are people who are willing to face death because they really believe that on the other side of death is Jesus Christ. I think we need to make that very clear all the time in our churches and in our contents.

PHILLIP BETHANCOURT:  So before we wrap up I want to ask two final questions. The first one is to you Rick. So when people talk about the future of religious liberty in America, especially as it relates to the Christian churches, some of the types of things that people are concerned about losing, are things like minister’s housing allowance, or tax-exempt status for the church, or the inability to hire according to their religious convictions in a religious organization, or maybe a concern that churches may have to start allowing same-sex weddings to be performed in their congregations or even ministers having to perform those types of things. So, when Christians are looking to the future of where religious liberty is heading in America, how should they think through some of those hypotheticals?

RICK WARREN:  Well, the first thing is to simply become very aware and sensitize the issue and start noticing it all around you because it is all around you. It is in the paper literally every day and, for instance, if your school district makes a law that a little girl who is Muslim can’t wear a scarf to school, you go, oh, that’s no big deal, I don’t like those things anyway, well then tomorrow you’re daughter can’t wear a cross and your son can’t carry a Bible, so you better stick up for that girl who needs to wear a scarf. That is religious liberty. We have to just look at it at the micro level because that is something that everybody can do. There are other groups and there are good groups out there that are taking on the big issues, the Hobby Lobby. I agree with Russell, I don’t think that we are going to lose on this one because a year and a half ago on the Hosanna-Tabor Law a Lutheran college fired a woman because she didn’t believe what they believed and the Justice Department was told, go persecute them, go, not persecute, prosecute them and get her re-instated and they took it to the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court voted 9-0 in favor of the Lutheran School. So even conservatives and liberals can agree on this one—you don’t touch religious liberty, it is the foundation of our society.

PHILLIP BETHANCOURT:  Okay, so our last question to you Dr. Moore. So it seems to me that often times in America, the clash with religious liberty is between religious liberty and sexuality—often times that is the case whether that is with HHS on the contraceptive side or with same-sex marriage and as you know in the fall we are going to be hosting a conference on the gospel Homosexual and the Future of Marriage. Will you tell us briefly about that conference and then also help us tie that together with tonight’s event about why is it that religious liberty and sexuality are often at odds with each other?

RUSSELL MOORE:  Well right now, that is exactly the case in almost every case it is the sexual revolution meets religious liberty and the sexual revolution is determined to win. That’s what’s happening right now. It has been other issues in the past in our countries history but right now that is where sexual revolutions, high church tolerates no descent. That’s where we are right now in this culture. What we want to do is to spend some time equipping churches leaders to deal with questions, not only religious liberty questions but the bigger questions behind that that they haven’t had to address in previous years. For instance, I just had to deal this week with a pastor who was saying, I have a 15-year-old boy, lost 15-year-old boy, unbeliever, he started coming to church, this 15-year-old boy identifies as a girl. He wants to be called by a girl’s name. He wants to be called with female pronouns. This pastor’s question is I want to win this kid to Christ. If I refuse to call him Tina, am I cutting off my opportunity to witness to him? On the other hand, if I do call him Tina, am I furthering his confusion and pushing him further toward the direction that he is already going? Now, that pastor is asking a question that nobody at the 1970 Southern Baptist Convention was asking. So we have to recognize that we are living in a culture that is changing very, very rapidly and so all sorts of things that we previously assumed the people understood, they understood what we are talking about when we said them, they do not understand. So, in order to stand up and say take up your cross and follow me, we are going to have to do what Jesus did, which is to come in and say let me clarify what that means for you, to take up that cross and follow me. So, we want to spend some time talking about that, about what that looks like to equip people who are going to be able to stand valiantly for Christ and with the truth of the gospel so that ultimately we cannot simply win arguments but so that we can win people to Jesus Christ.

PHILLIP BETHANCOURT:  Well, as a few closing comments, we want to thank you for being here tonight. If you enjoyed this conversation we will be posting this on ERLC.com in the coming days. You can look for it there; share it with your churches. I want to remind you to take those items with you in your seat and come join us tomorrow at five o’clock with Dr. Moore, Matt Chandler, we will be fielding your questions and talking about the issues that you see coming down the pipe-line and the name that I received to win our bat tonight is a guy by the name of Justin Abercrombie. Is Justin here with us tonight? Okay, Justin, you can come on up and grab that bat. We will congratulate him. We also give a word of appreciation to our panelists this evening. Thank you very much gentlemen. We will have one last comment from Pastor Rick and then you will be dismissed.

RICK WARREN:  If you are a pastor and you are trying to think through how to articulate these, I’ve got a sermon I’d be happy to send you and it is called “Courageously Standing for the Truth,” and it deals with the three biggest hot buttons in our society. What Russell said is true. Most non-believers agree with most of the Bible. You can get up and say, care for the sick. We are all in favor of that. Take care of the poor. Oh, yeah, we like that. Live with integrity. Yeah, love everybody. Treat everybody equal. But the moment you start dealing with sexuality you’ve got a problem because there is the sanctity of life and there is the sanctity of marriage and there is the sanctity of sex and if you don’t know how to preach on those, I’d be glad to help you out. So write me, PRW@Saddleback.com or PastorRick@Saddleback.com and I’d be glad to send you that sermon, but it is a model of how to deal with those thorny issues.

PHILLIP BETHANCOURT:  Great, thank you. Good night.

RUSSELL MOORE:  Thank you.

Further Learning

Learn more about: Culture, Citizenship, Religious Liberty,

You May Also Like

Preaching homosexuality: Four kinds of churches

By Dean Inserra - Feb 14, 2014 - (6)

NOTE: Dean Inserra will be one of the speakers at the ERLC National Conference: “The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage.” The conference is designed to equip Christians to apply the gospel on these issues with convictional kindness in their communities, their families and their churches.

Read More

High court debates legislative prayer

By Tom Strode - Nov 6, 2013

The U.S. Supreme Court again has ventured into the confusing arena of church-state relations by holding oral arguments regarding prayers before legislative meetings.

The high court heard arguments Wednesday (Nov.…

Read More