Franky Schaeffer and Russell Moore on Religious Liberty

Mark Tooley is the president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD).
Mark Tooley is the president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD).

This past Summer chronically angry Franky Schaeffer, the "atheist who believes in God" who's made a career of denouncing his late theologian father Francis Schaeffer, issued an "open letter" to Evangelicals imploring them to abandon their defense of religious liberty.

Opposing the Obamacare HHS contraceptive/abortifacient mandate and defending religious groups' ability to uphold theological and moral standards were really just "a bad set of choices they were duped into making in order to serve a purely political agenda masquerading as a 'religious liberty' issue," Schaeffer claimed. "They've been had," having been "manipulated" and "duped by neoconservative Roman Catholics and a few others, into a war where they're just cannon fodder in a larger political battle."

Evangelicals "have now become willing co belligerents of the far-right GOP leadership seeking to discredit Obama," Schaeffer explained. "That is all this 'religious liberty' shtick has really been about." For Schaeffer, and others, preventing the state from dictating moral and theological standards to religious institutions is only "shtick" over which clueless Evangelicals are politically exploited.

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Schaeffer's cynical claim was in my mind this evening as I listened to Southern Baptist public policy advocate Russell Moore, speaking to the Christian Legal Society here in Boston, observe that "most of our opponents [on religious liberty]…don't really believe that people are motivated by religious conviction." Instead they "assume there must be some motivation of economic benefit or political power."

Moore noted the "Gospel informs us that there are limits to every earthly power including the power of the state." And a government that claims to be "final arbiter of conscience is TOO big and can do ANYTHING." There needs to be a generation that "fears God more than political and economic marginalization," Moore implored," not "wringing our hands with fear and worry." After all, Jesus Christ remains alive "no matter what the U.S. Supreme Court does."

Saint Paul wrote that God armed the civil state with the sword of justice, Moore recalled, and in the American republic it is the sovereign people who wield this sword. "Will we be persecutors?" he wondered. Will the American people "consign future generations to persecution" or will robust religious liberty survive?

The Apostle appealed to King Agrippa and the Roman authorities not ultimately out of concern for his own rights but for the well-being and liberty of future generations, Moore concluded. So too should we defend what is precious that others today and through future decades can live without fear of a state that inhibits free thought. "The one thing worse than being hauled off to jail is a Church not willing to go to jail," Moore warned.

"Statecraft" is often more important to many because it seems more "real than the invisible authorities," Moore earlier noted. Likely irritable skeptics like Franky Schaeffer will continue to obsess over secular statecraft and minimize the more permanent invisible authorities. But religious liberty and freedom of conscience for all is sacred both on earth and in heaven.

Prior to joining the IRD in 1994, Mark worked eight years for the Central Intelligence Agency. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and is a native of Arlington, Virginia. A lifelong United Methodist, he has been active in United Methodist renewal since 1988, when he wrote a study about denominational funding of pro-Marxist groups for his local congregation. He attends a United Methodist church in Alexandria, Virginia. Follow Mark on Twitter @markdtooley.

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