Pre-ruling panel discussion explores impact of Hobby Lobby case and threats to religious freedom
NEWS | Meredith Flynn
After the Supreme Court’s June 30 ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby, many Christians celebrated the decision that opens the door for “closely held” companies to refuse to cover abortion-inducing drugs in their employee health care plans.
“A great day for Religious Liberty!” tweeted Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd, with the hashtag #hobbylobby.
“This is as close as a Southern Baptist gets to dancing in the streets with joy,” wrote Russell Moore, president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Moore presented an award to the Green family, who owns Hobby Lobby stores, during the SBC Annual Meeting in June. The Greens filed suit against the Department of Health and Human Services two years ago over what has become known as the abortion-contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act.
“… We simply cannot abandon our religious beliefs to comply with this mandate,” CEO David Green said then.
The Hobby Lobby case has brought new visibility to religious liberty issues. But Texas pastor Robert Jeffress told Fox News “the victory will be short lived.”
“…People of faith are going to increasingly come into conflict with governmental mandates that violate their personal faith,” said Jeffress, the pastor of First Baptist Church, Dallas, according to a report by The Christian Post.
Imperiled religious liberty was the focus of a panel discussion in Baltimore during the Southern Baptist Convention last month. Religious freedom is a critical issue for churches, panelists said, but it’s still flying under the radar for most of them.
Moore and the ERLC hosted the conversation that include pastors Rick Warren and David Platt, and Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leaders Conference. The panel focused on the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court case but also veered into other questions concerning religious freedom.
The panelists’ main point was clear: All church members must be aware of issues that threaten religious liberty, standing firmly in a Gospel that compels Christians to stand up for their religious freedoms, and for that of others.
Before the Court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby, Moore said the verdict would be one of the most significant decisions affecting religious liberty in years. The case and several others, like the Washington florist who was sued when she declined to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding, have raised awareness about religious freedom and threats to it.
But religious liberty isn’t just tied to current events or cases. It has ancient roots.
“Before religious liberty is a political issue or a social issue, religious liberty is a Gospel issue,” Moore said during the panel discussion. People come to Christ when the Word of God addresses their conscience, he explained. An uncoerced conscience.
“We don’t believe that the Gospel goes forward by majority vote,” he said. “We believe that the Gospel goes forward by the new birth, and so we need freedom in order to do that.”
Refusing to fight for religious liberty now, Moore added, will be highly detrimental to future generations. “If we shrug this off, what we’re doing is consigning future generations, and we’re consigning people’s consciences, to a tyranny that we are going to be held accountable for.”
There are also ramifications for Christians living and working in contemporary society. Platt, pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala., said during the panel discussion he felt convicted about how many of his church members are aware of how their freedoms could be threatened.
People in churches “need to know it’s coming,” Platt said. “It’s going to affect every person in every profession in the church. This is not just for certain groups.”
One lesson from the Hobby Lobby case, Moore said, is that threats can simmer under the surface for a long time before they bubble up. “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 bureaucrat’s pen…By the time the issue gets to you, you have not even seen how it has already advanced.”
Perhaps because so many flagrant violations of religious liberty happen in other countries, the issue can seem like what Moore termed “other people’s problems.” That’s why it’s key to champion freedom not just for Americans, or Christians, the panelists said. “If it’s them today, it’s us tomorrow,” Warren said of other religious groups facing threats to their freedom.
Concerning religious liberty in America, the panelists talked about voting as one area that can breed complacency. If you preach sanctity of life and biblical marriage and religious liberty on Sunday, Rodriguez said, but then vote in a way that runs counter to those things on Tuesday, isn’t that hypocrisy? “Our vote must be a reflection of my Christian worldview belief.”
One other cause for a lack of concern, Platt said, is a lack of urgency. Many church members aren’t taking risks for the Gospel, he said. Faith doesn’t cost anything for many of us. But, he said, “When you believe in a resurrected king, you speak about him all the time, and whatever he says you do, no matter what it costs you in the culture.”