Muslims and Baptists Together (Calvinists too)

Barry Hankins observes that Baptists are beginning to understand the experience of Muslims in the United States:

what if Baptists, like Muslims, wanted to live by a different set of laws than the state of Texas or the United States? Funny you should ask, since in the run up to the Supreme Court’s gay marriage case, the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission (CLC) urged churches to insert in their bylaws a clause specifically defining biblical marriage. Anticipating the Court’s ruling, expected in June, CLC writer John Litzler said that if gay marriage becomes legal, this “will affect the relationship of all Texas Baptist churches in their dealings with local, state, and federal laws.”

Under current civil rights law, churches should be exempt from a redefinition of marriage. But no one can be sure where this issue may go in the future. . . .

So, what does the CLC warning to Baptists on gay marriage have to do with Sharia law? It’s simply this: Muslim leaders acknowledge that their religious practices are at odds with some facets of American law. Baptists are beginning to realize the same thing could happen to them. Under Sharia law, a panel of Muslim clerics wants the right to say to mosque members, “American law may say you can divorce or have an abortion, but Sharia says ‘maybe not.’ ” Likewise, Baptists want to be able to say, “American law may say gay marriage is legal, but it will not be practiced in a Baptist church. Baptists live by a different moral code.” Of course the individual Muslim or Baptist can choose to leave the mosque or church. Neither Sharia law nor Baptist bylaws can be enforced by the state.

It has been a long time since Baptists have had to live with this sort of tension between their theology and their nation’s civil law, but it was once the norm. As my new book Baptists in America: A History shows, for the first two centuries of their history Baptists were outsiders. In order to practice their faith they had to violate laws. Their colonial governments said they had to pay religious taxes. They refused.

In point of fact, all Christians have had to live with differences between civil and ecclesiastical (or canon law) since the disestablishment of churches in Massachusetts in 1833. Blue Laws might close down all businesses but the state wasn’t going to make you go to the evening service. State laws about divorce may have reinforced Christian notions about marriage but finding a church to let you out of a marriage (unless you’re Ted Kennedy) was much harder once upon a time in the church than in the legislature.

2k would have helped Christians set their expectations for public life appropriately. But from Dwight Eisenhower to Barack Obama, Christians have loved the fusion of religious and national identity. Should we thank homosexuals for reminding that we seek a better country?

12 thoughts on “Muslims and Baptists Together (Calvinists too)

  1. He seems to assume that there is only one interpretation of Sharia and that Muslim law is to be observed privately (and not enforced by civil coercion). Are we all equally certain that American Muslims are content that Sharia should be implemented and practiced privately, without coercive state sanction? I’m not confident about that.

    The Islamic Supreme Council of the United States is conciliatory toward non-Muslims and critical of the Wahhabi Movement but they concede that the violent, Wahhabi Movement is global, aggressive and reads the Holy Qu’ran quite differently (“literally”) than they do. In other words, it’s not clear that that the view of Sharia advocated by the ISCUSA is the dominant understanding of Sharia in the US. It clearly does not reflect the dominant understanding of the implications of Sharia globally. The ISCUSA sounds a bit like turn of the 20th-century moderates and liberals bent on explaining why modern Americans need not be obligated to what Scripture actually says.

    To the degree there is ambiguity about the status of Sharia in the US, about its implications for civil life, the analogy between Islamists and Baptists (or most evangelicals) seems tenuous. Though many evangelicals may have enjoyed the last vestiges of Christendom few have advocated the strict enforcement of religious law. A better analogy might be the theonomists/reconstructionists in our own circles. They have at least theorized about such enforcement of the Mosaic civil codes and penalties—though few have done anything violent toward bringing about its enforcement. There was some Theonomic/Reconstructionist enthusiasm for the Posse Comitatus movement in the late 70s/early 80s.


  2. As a Protestant in a majority Catholic city, I never understood existentially why Christians thought they were special.

    Did I mention that I was the only paedobaptist in Campus Crusade?

    Good stuff DG. And hi Clark! I like your podcast!


  3. Scott, fair point on theonomy.

    My sense of Muslims and Sharia — it depends on when Muslims immigrated. If after the U.S. began to assert itself in the Middle East — post 1950 — then Islam may be more aggressive.


  4. Stan Hauerwas remembers what it was like to grow up in Texas when the Baptists were in charge of Christendom. It’s not the Christendom Stan hates, it’s the Baptists

    Methodist and Anglican clergy handing out grace, and controlling what happens in the high school, Stan would be cool with that….


  5. Great post; the moderate and conciliatory position (thanks Scott for the information) is indeed the position and practice of most Muslims, and the very place where friendship and natural evangelism (loving your neighbor) can take place for Christians worldwide. 2K and understanding the covenants is huge, and without it, you have a very unstable platform in which to reach out to Muslims.


  6. Thanks Scott! I will watch. Once anyone shows even just a little kindness to a Muslim, a new world of friendship and dialogue opens up, even with those who might be a little hostile initially. Not a formula, but a general pattern. Of course I’m speaking of ministering in the U.S. and Canada, but I’ve heard it is the same in their own countries from those who serve on the mission field there.


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