Religious Liberty as the Foundation for Pro-Life and Pro-Family Policies

Just over three weeks ago, I spent several days in Salt Lake City attending the World Congress of Families IX. I was privileged to speak during one of the plenary sessions on the closing day of the congress. The title of my session was “Religious Liberty as the Foundation for Pro-Life and Pro-Family Policies.” Video from my session (and many others) is now available on the WCF YouTube channel.

As part of my presentation, I noted that there are three distinct areas where we can see the influence of religious liberty in support of pro-life and pro-family policies. These three areas are marriage, healthcare, and education.

In my conclusion, I noted the following:

At the end of the day, religious liberty sets the foundation upon which we can build the best pro-life and pro-family policies. However, these policies are not simply going to come about because a nation has religious liberty protections. Such policies are still dependent upon people of faith exercising their beliefs in the public square to give a convincing argument for why God’s design for life and family is the most beneficial for the good of society. It is when people of faith practice their faith in a society that respects their right to freely exercise such faith that we will see the most effective pro-life and pro-family policies.

I was honored to be a part of the program for the World Congress of Families. The mission of WCF is to “provide sound scholarship and effective strategies to affirm and defend the natural family, thus encouraging a sustainable and free society.” This was the first congress held in the United States. I attended my first congress in Warsaw, Poland in 2007.

On a personal note, it was fun to “teach” a little Baptist history to such an ecumenical group. In fact, most of the questions I received throughout the rest of the day related to church history. It reminded me how little people know about the history of Christianity and how important it is to continue teaching our history as Christians (and Baptists).

The Threat to Religious Liberty from Inside the Church

prayerEven in our truncated news cycle where this hour’s breaking news is yesterday’s story in a matter of minutes, the issue of religious liberty has maintained a lingering presence in the American consciousness for most of the last few months. From the rhetorical flourishes of the Obergefell v. Hodges decision and dissents to the jailing and release of a county clerk in rural Kentucky for refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses, much has been made of this “first freedom.” While we typically think of threats to religious liberty coming from an increasingly secular culture, the most dangerous threats actually originate from within the church.

The first threat to religious liberty from inside the church is ignorance. Like many Christians, I have found myself struggling to articulate a biblical basis for this freedom. There is no passage of Scripture to which we can turn and read, “Thou shalt not infringe upon the religious liberty of your fellow citizens.”

What should we do, then? Should we dismiss religious liberty as an American invention that conveniently serves those of us who sometimes find ourselves outside of the mainstream culture? This should not be the case if we remind ourselves of the historical and biblical basis for this freedom and overcome the ignorance that threatens to undermine it.

The Anabaptists cited several texts of Scripture to support their claims for religious liberty. Matthew 13:24–30 is Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the tares. In this parable, we see that an enemy has sown bad seed amongst the field of wheat. Rather than pulling up the tares and risk destroying some of the wheat, the farmer tells his slaves to allow the wheat and tares to grow up together. It is at the time of the harvest that the tares will be thrown into the fire and the wheat will be stored in the barn. For the Anabaptists, this was evidence that there would be people who would arise in the community and even the church that were sown by the enemy. These are heretics and heathens who do not belong but are allowed to remain so that the true believers will not be harmed by their removal. This does not mean that believers neglect to share the Gospel with these individuals, but that the true judgment is left up to God. It is not the job of the government to judge and remove these people for their unbelief. God will judge them, and His judgment is final.

We also see the biblical foundation for religious liberty in the government’s role of ensuring civil peace, not doctrinal purity. This particular teaching can be found in Romans 13:1–7. Notice some key concepts about government that we see in this passage. First, government is ordained by God. It is God who has given government its authority. It does not have any authority that He has not given it. Second, we are to submit to the government’s authority because we submit to God. Refusing to submit is to oppose the ordinance of God. Third, government functions within the scope of authority God has granted it. The government is a minister of God for those who do what is good. It exacts punishment on those who do what is evil. This is not a theological function but a civil one. Its role is to keep peace and restore order when that peace is violated.

The final biblical foundation for religious liberty we want to consider is that we have the right to persuade others of the Gospel. In Acts 18:12–17, we see that Paul is brought before Gallio and accused of disturbing the peace in Corinth. Notice the specific charge: he is accused of persuading people to worship God in a way contrary to the law. Before Paul can even defend himself, Gallio dismisses the case. He is not concerned with Jewish laws or customs of worship. Paul is free to do as he pleases, persuading men to follow Christ. The Jews exact their revenge on Sosthenes, but the government official is unconcerned about the religious dispute that is brought before him. In the very next chapter, Paul spends months in Ephesus speaking out boldly, reasoning, and persuading people to follow Christ. When he can no longer do so in the synagogue, he moves to a public forum. Over and over, we see the apostles reasoning and persuading men to follow Christ. No one is coerced to confess Christ on threat of his/her life or livelihood. People are free to accept or reject Him.

These biblical principles set a foundation on which we build the idea of religious liberty. Implicit in the text of Scripture is the idea that government has a specific function. It cannot tell people what they are to believe about God. At the same time, the church does not have the authority to use force in converting unbelievers. Therefore, both heathen and believers coexist in this world until the day of God’s judgment. It is our duty to warn, exhort and persuade these unbelievers with the Gospel, but we cannot force conversion upon them.

The second threat to religious liberty originating inside the church is arrogance. This is the idea that Christianity (and particularly conservative, evangelical varieties) is guaranteed protection while all other forms of religion are not worthy of protection against unwarranted government intrusion or restrictions. This attitude stems from an arrogance that has been developed since the days when proto-evangelicals, and Baptists in particular, were not the favored denomination.

Recent examples of this threat have been seen as some Christian leaders have attempted to block the building of houses of worship and cemeteries by religious groups that do not garner the political favor of the citizens in those locales. The fear in some of these cases is that a particular religious group will gain a majority in the government and begin to restrict the liberties of others. As long as the liberty being granted does not infringe upon the liberty of other religious groups, then such restrictions can only be classified as arbitrary. Any attempt to have a government entity impose arbitrary restrictions against a religious group that happens to find itself out of favor with mainstream citizens at this time will result in restrictions against our own religious preferences in the future.

If this type of arrogance is not corrected, then we as evangelicals—and Baptists in particular—will face the consequences of our own arrogance. The tables will turn when our religious preferences are not the preferences of the culture. In fact, that has already begun to happen. However, when we appeal to religious liberty claims to protect our own consciences, our appeals will ring hollow because we fought for discrimination against others when their time had come. This may actually be the most significant challenge to religious liberty in our day, and we are the source of that challenge.

Should we be concerned about the infringement of religious liberty from a secular government and culture? Certainly. But we also need to address the threats to religious liberty coming from our own camp—inside the church. This is a battle on two fronts. We must be prepared to stand for religious liberty both inside and outside the church.

*This post originally appeared at Theological Matters, the blog of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Adrian Rogers: Prince of Preachers

Two of my worlds will collide later today. The days of my youth growing up at Bellevue Baptist Church will intersect with my current ministry at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. When I heard that SWBTS had secured the Adrian Rogers library, I was excited. Today that library will be dedicated on our campus.

There is much I could say about the influence of Adrian Rogers on my life. He was my first pastor. I learned how to follow a sermon by listening to his carefully articulated and cleverly alliterated points projected by his uniquely resonant voice. He captured my mind with his intellect and my heart with his passion.

In the days following his death, I wrote my reflections on what he meant to me as a pastor. The two memories I shared then I still cherish today.

As a 16-year-old, I had been called to ministry but did not know what to expect. At the advice of my parents, I scheduled a meeting with the pastor. It was a Wednesday night when Dr. Rogers was not preaching, so I skipped the youth Bible study and went to his office. I figured that I would get about 15 minutes of his time before he had to move on to “more important things.” Instead, he gave me all the time I wanted. I walked into his office, where he was sitting on the sofa with his feet propped up on the table in front of him. He asked me what was on my mind and we talked for nearly an hour.

I don’t remember all his advice on that day more than 21 years ago, but I do remember one item in particular. He asked me if I had any preaching opportunities coming up. Since I was leading a Bible study at my school in a couple of weeks, I responded with an excited “yes.” He asked me what text I had chosen, and I told him Romans 1:16.

I can still vividly remember his response. He leaned his head back, looked toward heaven, and gave me a perfectly alliterated four-point sermon for my text. Only then realizing what he was doing, I asked him to repeat it and grabbed my Bible and a pen and wrote the sermon outline in the margin next to Romans 1:16. I “preached” that sermon a couple of weeks later and fell into the long line of preachers who not only tried to emulate Dr. Rogers but who also tried to preach one of his sermons.

My other memory came just months before he passed away. As a student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, I was given the opportunity to pick up Dr. and Mrs. Rogers at the airport in April 2005 as he was flying in to preach for a chapel service. After a few weather delays, their flight landed shortly before midnight, and my wife and I were greeted by a notably energetic Dr. and Mrs. Rogers.

We got in the car and started heading toward the school when Dr. Rogers asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up. I gave him a couple of answers, and then I heard that famous voice speak up from the back seat of the car and say, “Well, my dear boy …”

For what seemed like an hour but was probably only 10 or 15 minutes, he described the joys of the pastorate and the impact someone can have by spending years in one church pouring himself into the people as their pastor. I could tell that he had spent his life doing what he thought was the most important role he could ever have.

During that drive to campus, he asked me about some of my professors, specifically wanting to know who I had taken for preaching. After telling him about my preaching class with Dr. Stephen Rummage, I attempted to compliment him by saying that the best preaching class I ever had was listening to him preach every week at Bellevue. The car got silent, and I halfway expected a response along the lines of “that’s too kind.” Instead, I got a glimpse of the humor many others had told me about. After a few moments of silence, he said, “You’re right. That probably was the best preaching class you could ever have.” That memory still makes me chuckle more than a decade later—but he was right.

My life has been forever shaped by the ministry of Dr. Adrian Rogers. After spending a few years in seminary, I realized that I knew what expository preaching looked like long before I knew what the words meant. I witnessed what it meant to be a man of integrity in the pulpit, even in the face of trying times and difficult circumstances. And, personally, I learned the impact that a man can have on a young preacher boy just by taking a few moments out of his schedule to sit down and talk.

I am so thankful that Southwestern Seminary will be the home of his library. I look forward to perusing the books and notes from which he developed the sermons I heard from my childhood until I left home for seminary. Adrian Rogers impacted my life in ways that I cannot even articulate. I am grateful that my students at Southwestern will be able to get a glimpse of this man I greatly respected and admired.

“C’mon, Ref!”: The Culture of Disrespect in Sports

Photo: Greg Gibson/YouTube

If you follow sports, you have probably seen the video of two high school football players intentionally tackling a referee in the closing minutes of their game last week. Two defensive backs for John Jay High School (San Antonio) were captured on video targeting a referee in retaliation for ejecting a teammate earlier in the game. Both players have been suspended from the football team, and an assistant coach has been placed on administrative leave for supposedly telling his players “that guy needs to pay for cheating us” in response to calls made (or not made) by the referee.

In response to this incident, Dale Hansen provided his characteristically straightforward commentary on the culture of disrespect in sports. Hansen is the sports anchor for WFAA Channel 8 in Dallas/Fort Worth and made a name for himself in 1986 by breaking the story about SMU paying football players. In his “Dale Hansen Unplugged” segment, he states:

It’s part of the American culture in sports now; we have been teaching our kids for a long time that the men and women who referee our games aren’t worthy of our respect. It’s bad enough we yell at the ones who are among the very best at what they do . . . but then we scream at the ones who give up their free time to work a Little League game, too.

And our kids have been watching.

A lot of people are shocked by what those two kids did. I’m almost shocked it doesn’t happen more.

Hansen is right. We have lost respect for those who work hard to keep order in our favorite pastimes. Sports referees are probably some of the most hated and derided people in the American sports landscape.

Hansen’s commentary made me think about two things. First, it took me back to my days as a baseball umpire. I mostly worked games of 9- and 10-year-olds. This is around the time that kids first learn to pitch the ball themselves. The task was doubly difficult because I was usually the only umpire on the field—requiring me to call balls and strikes as well as outs on the base paths—and very few kids could get the ball over the plate. In my attempt to be generous to the pitcher without undermining the integrity of the game, I often received the scorn of the spectators. Of course, my goal was to be consistent for both teams, but try telling that to a parent whose 9-year-old just struck out looking at a pitch that was close enough to hit. What makes it worse is that apart from a few tournaments, I typically umpired church league games. At one time, I turned to a youth minister whom I knew in the stands and asked him to take care of a problem parent from his son’s team. On another occasion I stopped a coach from running out of the dugout on the other side of the field to argue a call that I made 6 feet away from the play. Needless to say, my career as a baseball umpire in college was enough to confirm I didn’t want to pursue it as a career.

Second, Hansen’s commentary has made me stop and think about what I say when I watch sports with my own children. How many times have I complained about an official’s call in front of my kids? Referees and umpires spend years making their way to the highest levels of sports only to have us armchair officials call balls and strikes with the benefit of computer-generated pitch trackers and determine if it was a catch with the aid of multiple camera angles in slow-motion replay. What are we telling our kids when we intentionally disrespect the people who serve in the role exercising authority over the integrity of the game? At the very least, we are telling them that those in authority do not deserve our full respect. At worst, we are saying that officials should be the target of ridicule and blame.

Are there bad officials in sports? Certainly. Accusations have been made against the high school football referee that he directed racial slurs at some of the players. This has been disputed by the referee, and we will probably never know the truth about that. What we do know is that two players used a violent act to retaliate against a referee. But even in the face of a bad call, we must not resort to violence.

What is the Christian response to this situation? While the Bible doesn’t address how to behave around referees at sporting events, it does provide principles for us to apply regarding authority. In 1 Peter 2–3, we read about a few different relationships of authority that give us food for thought. First Peter 2:13–15 reads, “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.” While this applies directly to the relationship between citizens and government, we can apply the principle to all forms of authority. We should submit ourselves to those in authority because this is the will of God. In the world of sports, those authorities include coaches, managers, owners, and most importantly, referees.

The other biblical principle we can apply comes from Romans 12:17–18 (and a similar statement in 1 Peter 3:9). Paul writes, “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” What should we do when we are wronged? Return evil with good. Respect what is right. Even when it is just a game, we can apply this principle.

Honestly, I’m a little worried that Dale Hansen is right. He said, “A lot of people are shocked by what those two kids did. I’m almost shocked it doesn’t happen more.” Are we going to see more violence against sports officials? Have we created a culture of disrespect for referees and umpires? If our kids are paying attention and if our kids imitate our own words and actions—and they do—I’m afraid that we have no one to blame but ourselves for this culture of disrespect. And it is not just in sports.


Dale Hansen, “Hansen Unplugged: On tackling a ref,” WFAA, 9 September 2015.

Jordan Heck, “John Jay coach suspended, reportedly told players ref ‘needs to pay,’” Sporting News, 8 September 2015.

Fort Worth Locals for Life Rally—September 23

Perhaps you have seen the recent Planned Parenthood expose videos and they made you sick. Perhaps you have received a devastating diagnosis about your unborn child and struggled with your doctor’s recommendation to abort. Perhaps you have listened to the political rhetoric about abortion and walked away unsatisfied. Have you ever wanted to do something to support the pro-life cause but didn’t know how? If that is you, then don’t miss a unique opportunity in Fort Worth, TX on September 23.

The Locals for Life Rally will be held on the campus of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary on Wednesday, September 23 at 6:00 p.m. Locals for Life was started by a group of ladies that wanted to do something to promote life in light of the growing controversy over the Planned Parenthood videos. These ladies envision a place where pro-life advocates can gather and see all the various local ministries and organizations that work in the pro-life arena. They also want a chance for Christians to pray for these ministries. Finally, they want to provide a point of contact for those who desire to volunteer and support these ministries.

The evening will consist of a time of prayer, testimonies, and encouragement. Some of the speakers include Anthony Moore, pastor of The Village Church Fort Worth; Konni Burton, Texas State Senator from District 10; and Matt Krause, Texas House of Representatives from District 93. There will also be testimonies from real people who made tough decisions for life in the face of very difficult circumstances.

Check out their website at and follow their updates on Facebook at If you want to get involved or donate to support the rally, visit the website and click the “Contact Us” link.