WASHINGTON -- The most basic liberties enshrined in the U.S. Constitution are today “confused, contorted, and sometimes even condemned,” said Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, to Christian leaders gathered Thursday (May 3) for the National Religious Broadcasters’ First Amendment Lunch in Washington, D.C.
“Religious freedom, freedom of speech, and the freedom of the press – along with the other rights recognized and respected within the Bill of Rights – are all threatened even as other rights are marginalized,” the prominent evangelical leader added during the event on Capitol Hill, sponsored by In Touch Ministries and held on the National Day of Prayer.
“Even more distressingly, a new regime of invented rights threatens to replace the rights that are clearly enumerated within the text of the Constitution,” he added.
Speaking to specially invited guests who were in Washington for events related to the National Day of Prayer, Mohler shared how religious liberty “becomes fragile in a secular age,” as do all liberties.
Religious liberty, he said, is viewed today by some as “problematic and out-of-date” and “injurious to human freedom, sexual liberty, transgender liberation, and a host of new imperatives.”
Some contend the freedom of religion is no longer a right, but a privilege, he said.
Mohler quoted a 2016 official report from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in which the chairman, Martin R. Castro, wrote, “The phrases ‘religious liberty’ and ‘religious freedom’ will stand for nothing except hypocrisy so long as they remain code words for discrimination, intolerance, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, Christian supremacy or any form of intolerance.”
“The commission’s report included both religious liberty and religious freedom in scare quotes as if they are merely terms of art — linguistic constructions without any objective reality,” Mohler noted. “We are now witnessing a great and inevitable collision between religious liberty and newly declared and invented sexual liberties.”
The Southern Baptist theologian went on to share past statements that predicted the inevitable conflict, and recent events that illustrate how the collision is now taking place.
Before concluding, Mohler encouraged Christian leaders to hold on to the truths expressed in the Declaration of Independence, and to defend these truths “that should be, but often are not, recognized as self-evident.”
And to the generation of young people who are committed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ but assume that the defense of religious liberty is political, Mohler said they also need to be committed to the free propagation and voicing of the Gospel, without which sinners will not hear the Gospel.
“We’re in a fight that’s worth fighting,” Mohler said. “And we understand that as we contend for the freedom of religion, and the freedom of speech, and the freedom of press, again, we’re doing this not just for ourselves and for our children; not just for our churches, but for the world.”
“Let’s pray that God will give us wisdom to hold these truths in perilous times,” he concluded.
Dr. Steve Gaines, president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee, tweeted after the event Mohler’s address was the “greatest word I’ve ever heard on religious liberty. Grateful for him.”
Gaines, who is also an NRB member, gave the benediction at the event.
NRB’s initiative to counter online censorship
Dr. Jerry A. Johnson, president & CEO of NRB, thanked Mohler for “really ringing the bell” in defense of First Amendment freedoms and noted challenges to free speech today are similar to those that resulted in the founding of NRB nearly 75 years go.
In response to evangelical preachers being taken off network radio in the 1940s – even though they were among the most popular – broadcasters banded together to defend their rights, eventually leading to their return.
Today, Johnson noted, there is a similar kind of revolution in communication, as witnessed with the widespread use of mobile devices in everyday communication.
“If being taken off radio 75 years ago was a violation of First Amendment principles, being taken off of this today is a violation of First Amendment principles,” he said, holding up his phone.
For this reason, NRB launched its Internet Freedom Watch initiative, which monitors the suppression of Christian and conservative views on the internet by private companies, and is pressing those companies to acknowledge and address online censorship.
There is a “systematic” suppression of Christian and conservative content online, he said.
While big tech companies including Facebook, Twitter, and Google have not yet responded to NRB’s calls for policy change, more lawmakers on Capitol Hill have begun to acknowledge the issue, with some pressing Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg last month with questions proposed by NRB. Furthermore, the House Judiciary Committee last week held a hearing on online censorship featuring two victims of online censorship – Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and social media commentators Diamond and Silk.
“What we want to talk about is demanding, appealing, expecting nothing less than a true community, an open community,” Johnson stated.
“Facebook uses the word community, but what they’re creating is an echo chamber. We want a level playing field. We want a town square for the world of ideas,” Johnson continued before making the case for a First Amendment standard.
“Why not adopt a standard that we all understand. It’s a fair standard. It’s an American standard. Why shouldn’t these companies just say, ‘We’re going to follow the First Amendment?’” Johnson proposed.
“This is what we’re calling for.”
National Day of Prayer
Also making remarks was Dr. Ronnie Floyd, president of the National Day of Prayer, who offered a word of greeting and led the gathering in prayer for the nation and the NDP events around the nation.
“Today, all over this country, already thousands have gathered in all kinds of ways, in all kinds of places, on the National Day of Prayer,” said Floyd, who is also senior pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas and an NRB member. “What an opportunity it is that on this day we’re able to gather in this great city, forwarding the importance of prayer in America.”
He highlighted how prayer is “a gift that the Lord has given us,” and how “we just need to be thankful.”
Floyd noted that the theme for the 2018 National Day of Prayer is “Unity,” and stressed its importance in America, recalling that Ephesians 4:3 – the verse upon which the theme was based – calls on believers to make “every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”
“Unity is supernatural and only happens through the power of God,” Floyd said. “And because we believe in the power of prayer that beseeches the heart of a merciful God who is sovereign over all affairs, I’m thankful today that when I pray, I have the confidence that God is able.”
He concluded his remarks by reminding Christian leaders that “a divided church cannot call a divided nation to unity.”
“And we as the Church of Jesus Christ need to model what true Christian unity is just as Jesus prayed for us to experience that together in John 17,” Floyd said before leading the lunch event in prayer.
National Day of Prayer leaders Vonette Bright, Shirley Dobson, Dr. Tony Evans, Dr. Jack Graham, and Anne Graham Lotz have been featured at NRB’s First Amendment Lunch in previous years, along with keynote speakers Dr. Charles F. Stanley, Sen. Ted Cruz, Dr. James Dobson, Dr. Robert George, and Sen. Rand Paul.
Editor’s note: This story was updated on May 4 to add comments by Dr. Ronnie Floyd and Dr. Steve Gaines.
By NRB Staff
Published: May 3, 2018