Religious Liberty for Muslims: A Baptist Tradition

Baptists have historically argued for the religious liberty of all people. As a group that was persecuted in their early days, Baptists have consistently argued for four hundred years that the civil government does not have authority over the consciences of citizens. Baptists have recognized that we either have religious liberty for all or not at all. If the government can take someone else’s freedom today, they can take yours tomorrow. Below is a list of quotes evidencing Baptists’ historic commitment to religious liberty. These could be multiplied many times over. The unique thing about the quotations below is not their advocacy of religious liberty for all, but that they specifically identify Muslims as deserving freedom to practice their religion freely. (Note: “Turks” and “Turkish” was used as an identifier of Muslims.)

“For men’s religion to God is between God and themselves. The king shall not answer for it. Neither may the king be judge between God and man. Let them be heretics, Turks, Jews, or whatsoever, it appertains not to the earthly power to punish them in the least measure. This is made evident to our lord the king by the scriptures.” Thomas Helwys, A Short Declaration of the Mystery of Iniquity (1612)

“It is the will and command of God that, since the coming of his Son the Lord Jesus, a permission of the most Paganish, Jewish, Turkish, or anti-christian consciences and worships be granted to all men in all nations and countries.” Roger Williams, The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution (1644)

Roger Williams also cited in a positive fashion that Oliver Cromwell once maintained in a public discussion “with much Christian zeal and affection for his own conscience that he had rather that Mahumetanism [i.e. Mohammedanism or Islam] were permitted amongst us, than that one of God’s Children should be persecuted.”

“The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians.” John Leland, “The Virginia Chronicle” (1790)

To add contemporary Baptist voices, I could add these excellent pieces by my friends Russell Moore and Bart Barber. These men and their arguments are right in step with the larger Baptist tradition of defending religious liberty for all.

 

 

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