No place for religious tests

Published 9:46 pm Friday, December 11, 2015

By Dr. Thurman R. Hayes Jr.

I had sort of promised myself that I would not mention Donald Trump again in this column. Frankly, he’s not worth the time or the energy. But after what he said on Dec. 7, I feel a moral obligation to speak out.

Trump called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”

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Ironically, Trump made that statement on Pearl Harbor Day, a day on which we honor the bravery of the thousands of American sailors and soldiers who died on Dec. 7, 1941. That was a day on which freedom was attacked, and many died for it. It was a day to honor our military.

Trump has already dishonored our military by saying of former prisoner of war Sen. John McCain: “He’s not a war hero. He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.” That despicable statement should have been enough to get him out of the race, but perhaps his outrageous statement on Dec. 7 will do so.

Immediately after Trump’s statement, Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore, head of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, said, “Anyone who cares an iota about religious liberty should denounce Trump’s reckless, demagogic, rhetoric.”

Moore wrote, “The United States 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 for holding their religious convictions.”

Moore went on to say, “Make no mistake. A government that can shut down mosques because they are mosques can shut down Bible studies because they are Bible studies. A government that can close the borders to Muslims simply on the basis of their religious belief can do the same thing to 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.”

I believe we should be far tougher in screening potential terrorists from getting into our country, and far tougher on ISIS overseas. In fact, I believe the reason Trump’s “get tough” talk has had appeal is that our president has been so weak on the subject.

But the answer is not to impose a religious test on people. Once that starts, all of us, Christians included, are threatened.

Baptists were perhaps the earliest and most vocal champions of religious liberty in colonial America. They knew what it was like to be persecuted for their beliefs, and they wanted this nation to be different. In fact, the influence of Baptists like John Leland was a decisive factor in leading James Madison and Thomas Jefferson to be advocates of religious liberty.

My denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, has a confession of faith called “The Baptist Faith and Message.” Article XVII is entitled “Religious Liberty.” It reads, in part, “The state has no right to impose penalties for religious opinions of any kind.”

There are those who would love to strip evangelical Christians of our freedoms. If we allow them to do it to law-abiding Muslims, it is only a matter of time before they will come for us.

Dr. Thurman R. Hayes is senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Suffolk. Follow him on Twitter at @ThurmanHayesJr.