BALTIMORE — Religious liberty will be the new civil rights issue, the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez and Pastor Rick Warren declared at a Southern Baptist Convention panel on Monday.
"While ending racial inequality emerged as the civil rights issue of the 20th century ... religious liberty will be the civil rights issue of the next decade," declared Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.
Rodriguez encouraged all Christians to fight for religious freedom and religious pluralism, or else, "the voice of religious liberty will be silenced."
"Today's complacency is tomorrow's captivity," he added.
Following Rodriguez's comments, Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, said he agreed that religious freedom is the next civil rights issue.
"I believe in pluralism. I do not believe in relativism. Big difference," he added, because "in a free market world, the Gospel's gonna win."
Rodriguez and Warren were on a panel called "Hobby Lobby and the Future of Religious Liberty," hosted by the SBC's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. They were joined on the panel by ERLC President Russell Moore and Dr. David Platt, pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham. ERLC's Phillip Bethancourt moderated.
Warren argued for a "free market" of ideas where everyone is welcome to share their views and try to convince each other that their views are correct.
"Everyone should be at the table, sharing their ideas," he said. "I do not believe in coercion, I do believe in persuasion."
Moore agreed. He recalled being on a panel with a Muslim woman and arguing that each of them should try to persuade the other that their religious views are correct. An audience member accused Moore of arrogance for holding that position.
"Why don't you stop dehumanizing [the Muslim woman] and instead say, 'I worship God my way, she worships God her way?'" the man insisted.
At that point, Moore recalled, he turned to the Muslim woman and asked her, "Do we worship the same God?"
"Who is your God?" she asked.
"My God is Father, Son, Holy Spirit incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ," he answered.
"Absolutely not," she replied.
Moore then turned to the audience member and asked, "Why do you want to impose your religion on us?"
The audience member, Moore explained, was insisting that Moore and the Muslim woman hold his view of religious belief, which is that the religious differences between them do not matter.
"If you don't fight for the right to be able persuade each other and to have those meaningful differences," Moore explained, "it means that somebody is imposing some generic, mush religion on top of you. So we have to say we want to fight for everyone's religious freedom."
Moore's story illustrated, Platt noted, that Americans have "a misguided notion of tolerance in our culture" because "to disagree" is "considered intolerant."
"Tolerance itself implies disagreement," he explained, because one does not need tolerance for those they agree with.
"To remove those disagreements, to try to minimize those differences, not only violates both of our consciences but misses the whole point," he said.
Warren agreed, adding that the "definition of tolerance has changed" from "I treat you with respect and dignity even when we disagree" to "all ideas are equally valid."
"That's nonsense," he said, "some things are true, some things are not true."
The topic of the panel was the pending Supreme Court decision on the Obama administration's birth control mandate for two Christian-owned companies — Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties. Most of the discussion addressed religious freedom issues broadly, rather than the specifics of the case.
Even though the panelists expressed many concerns about the future of religious freedom in the United States, Moore said he thinks the Supreme Court will protect the religious freedom of the companies in the case.
But if the Supreme Court does side with the administration, he added, "the Gospel is not lost. If the United States crumbles away, the Gospel is not lost."
He is working to make sure "we stay out of jail," but "there is one thing worse than going to jail — it is staying out of jail and losing the Gospel," Moore said to much applause from the audience.
"It may take some pastors going to jail," Warren said. "I'm in."