For American Christians, religious freedom is the hot topic of the day, but in they eyes of one Georgia Southern Baptist official, that liberty doesn't apply to Muslims.
Gerald Harris, who earlier this week sounded off about religious liberty at the Christian Index, is now facing the prospect of a Ramadan meal with local Muslims who have invited him in order to get to know them better.
The Georgia chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations has extended an invitation to Harris, asking him to participate in an interfaith dinner in Atlanta June 18, which is the end of the Ramadan fast that is a key tenet of the holy month observed by Muslims.
Harris told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that a prior family commitment may prevent him from attending the June event but said he plans to attend another one at some point.
"While Muslims around the world and in our own country are shouting ‘Death to America,’ should we be defending their rights to build mosques, which often promote Sharia Law and become training grounds for radicalizing Muslims?" Harris asked in his controversial column.
Defending the bold opinion, Harris suggested, "Islam may be more of a geopolitical movement than a religion." But even if it were a religion, in his eyes, "religious freedom for Muslims means allowing them the right to establish Islam as the state religion, subjugating infidels, even murdering those who are critics of Islam and those who oppose their brutal religion."
He went on to say that Americans "kept Communism in check" during the Cold War by "guarding our borders against those who wished to dismantle our way of life." Those comments begged the question: "Will we do the same when another political ideology endangers our future?"
The Georgian Baptist called out Russell Moore, leader of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, who co-signed a legal brief on behalf of a New Jersey Islamic community that is facing opposition over plans to build a mosque.
Moore, a frequent commentator on current cultural issues, was quick to fire back, invoking Roger Williams, a colonial Christian theologian, who, he said, "stood up for the right of an unpopular minority in early New England, the Baptists, not to christen their babies."
"[Williams] explicitly said such freedom ought to extend to ‘the most paganish, Jewish, Turkish’ consciences as well since we are not to extend God’s kingdom by the sword of steel but by the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God," Moore added.
Moore asserted that not guaranteeing religious liberty for all people, regardless of faith, would create an opportunity for the government to step in and exercise control over religion.
"When we say — as Baptists and many other Christians always have — that freedom of religion applies to all people, whether Christian or not, we are not suggesting that there are many paths to God," Moore wrote. "[W]e are saying that religion should be free from state control because we believe that every person must give an account before the Judgment Seat of Christ."
Despite Harris' strong criticism, CAIR-Georgia told the Journal-Constitution that they "look forward" to meeting with him, because "Americans who meet and greet their Muslim neighbors tend to hold far more tolerant and positive opinions about Islam."
But it appears it will take a little more convincing before the Baptist leader fully commits.
"I would be interested in finding out more about the Council on American-Islamic Relations," Harris said. "I’ve read about it. It professes to be for religious liberty. I would like to know if they would be willing to have a Christian church built in Mecca. That would be a demonstration of religious liberty, I think."
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