BALTIMORE — Religious freedom is being threatened in the U.S. and around the world, but that should only strengthen the faithful in their resolve, the head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s commission on ethics and religious liberty said Wednesday.
Speaking on the second and final day of the SBC’s national meeting at the Baltimore Convention Center, Russell Moore said members shouldn’t “call it a comeback” because the history of the Baptist faith is rooted in persecution.
“We’re living in a time right now in which religious liberty is imperiled at home and around the world,” said Mr. Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “It is time for us to remember that we have been here before. The Gospel came to us in letters written out by apostles from jail cells. I think over the last 200 years or so, Baptists in this country have gotten awfully used to being out of jail. Because of that, sometimes we take religious liberty for granted, sometimes we forget to remember those around the world who are being persecuted.”
According to a Pew Research Center study, thousands of Christians in more than 100 countries were subjected to some form of persecution in 2012, the most recent year for which data were available.
“The [commission] is committed to being a stalwart defender of religious liberty around the world, especially at a time when the religious liberty of American citizens is being threatened to a degree not seen since the Revolutionary era,” the commission’s report stated.
One of the biggest threats, according to the report and Mr. Moore, is the impending ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court on the birth control mandate in the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. It requires for-profit businesses to include contraception services in their health care plans for employees.
“The [commission] labored hard in the public square, stood in the court system filing briefs,” Mr. Moore said. “We worked in the United States Congress to speak out for all human life, including the unborn, for protection of these little ones endangered by the culture of death.”
Mr. Moore took time to honor Hobby Lobby President Steve Green with an award for his ongoing fight against the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate. Based in Oklahoma City, the arts-and-crafts retailer has filed a lawsuit that is being considered by the Supreme Court.
Mr. Green was given the John Leland Award for Religious Liberty “because of his showing the conscience of the business owner belongs to God and not to any government, and this is for reminding us that religious freedom is a gift from God, our birthright, not a grant from the state,” Mr. Moore said.
The commission also honored Saeed Abini, an American pastor who has been imprisoned in Iran since 2012 for preaching the Gospel.
According to the report, the commission’s major goals are to help churches apply moral and ethical teachings of the Bible, help churches communicate and advocate any concerns in public life, support churches in their “moral witness in local communities,” and help churches and Southern Baptists promote religious liberty.
The commission collaborated with several groups, including the International Mission Board, in raising awareness in America and around the world about “hunger and human needs,” the report said.
The commission also is working on an initiative called Canon and Culture: Conversations on Christianity and the Public Square. The commission is looking to host an annual conference with a focus on “cultivating relationships within the SBC academic community.”
The group also recently launched an information website, and is working to increase its presence online and on social media.