Christianity,  Politics

There Went Religious Liberty…

Albert Mohler takes a hard-hitting look at Nicholas Kristof’s cavalier dismissal of religious liberty in the wake of the new healthcare mandate. Mohler’s critique is important because Kristof’s column is emblematic of a sentiment that has become quite common among the American left. For them, religious liberty is no longer an inalienable right, but something that can be abridged when it comes into conflict with the secular state.

Neither Kristof nor any other American liberal I know of supports throwing Christians to the lions (yet), but they are laying the intellectual and legal ground for it whether they realize it or not. That is why the President’s healthcare mandate deserves the continued attention of every American who cares about preserving religious liberty in this country.

It would be foolish for American Christians to write-off this controversy as just the latest chapter in the culture war. It is not. This is a watershed moment for religious liberty in our country that may cause our obligation to Caesar to collide with our allegiance to Jesus. If that happens there will be practical implications for all of us that will go far beyond the present controversy about the healthcare law.

Christians, I urge you not to take your eye off the ball in this discussion. The Lord commands us to pray for our leaders so that we “we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Timothy 2:1-2). If we are going to pray to that end, we ought also to take up the stewardship we have as citizens of a democracy. In other words, we need to press our democratic privileges while we have them in order to roll back this mandate. That means staying engaged in the process, voting, writing letters to Congressmen, or speaking out in whatever public forum you have.

Don’t let the pundit class lull you into thinking this is an arcane dispute about contraception or the GOP horserace. That is a red herring. This is about whether or not our government will force Christians to obey a law that conflicts with their most deeply held beliefs. The stakes are really high in this one.

“First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, in order that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.” –1 Timothy 2:1-2


  • Don Johnson

    There is no question there is a major worldview clash. The liberals simply do not understand why there is any fuss and then they try to marginalize the fuss. They have no categories for what is happening from our worldview, we are just being stubborn.

    I agree with Denny that the stakes are very high on this issue. The liberals simply do not get it and until they at least understand where we are coming from, they will continue to not get it.

  • Nathan

    Denny, I think you’re for religious liberty only when it serves your purpose. You are pro-marriage only when that marriage looks like a Christian marriage on the surface. If a union doesn’t look Christian enough, you expect a secular government to not even recognize its existence.

    • Denny Burk


      I’m not sure what you are talking about. I am pro-marriage whether or not the individuals are Christians. Marriage is a creation ordinance, and it should therefore be honored regardless of the faith of the ones being married. All marriages are sacred.


      • Nathan

        I realize you’re being purposefully obtuse, but I suppose this means…

        1) you accept same-sex marriage because all marriages are sacred


        2) you reject religious liberty because you want to enforce a specific definition of sacred marriage disregarding religious observances which don’t accept what you deem to be a creation ordinance.

          • Nathan

            I get it.

            God says marriage is X, so Denny is pro-marriage because his views are totally in line with the way God set up the world (at least as far as marriage is concerned).

            What I don’t understand (and Denny has not made clear in this post about religion liberty or anywhere) is why a secular nation MUST follow the way that God set up the world. You see, if you allow religious liberty, then you shouldn’t be surprised when people follow their non-Christian Gods into non-Christian practices, nor should you begrudge them of that freedom.

            Allowing people to practice any (or no) religion is allowing them to break the first and greatest commandment upon which hangs all the others, including godly marriage ordinances.

            Of course, I draw a line somewhere, which one ALWAYS has to do when defining liberty. I draw the line based on a different rule than Denny. He has failed to explain why marriage is different than baptism, tithing, Sabbath observance, unclean foods, honoring ones parents, Communion, unclean speech, etc. etc…

            I don’t want the government keep any of those sacred because THEY’LL GET IT WRONG!

          • Jason

            OK, cool, thanks for the clarification.

            Certainly a secular nation doesn’t have to do anything that its purty ol’ heart wants to do, and I know many people think that that is the issue (the less well read liberal friends of mine default to “theocracy”, which, they think is like calling someone a racist, it’s a way to end the conversation. Except with me:D), but it really doesn’t have to be the issue at all.

            To explain: all laws are based on moral assumptions and assumed values that flow from those assumptions. Now, unless “secular” means anarchy (and I don’t think that’s your point) some laws need to be in place and enforced. With this in mind, there is no reason to NOT have Christian ethics as the foundational reasoning behind the laws.

            But then we need to consider the purpose of the law. For instance, consider laws against sodomy. What is the purpose? To keep people from doing something in private, which seems to be a permissible notion, but certainly, building car bombs in private is, at the very least, conspiratorial. But, again, two consenting persons seems a reasonable boundary here (there is nothing magical about consent or the number 2) in a secular society, even if one believes that there are natural law proscriptions against it. As well, say that you want to allow for the husband and wife in the matter, even if, again, you think there are proscriptions against it, because to make this illegal may allow for a window to much greater intrusion. This little ditty is just off the top of my head, if you see problems, point them out, because I would much rather think clearly about it.

            So, here, even though one may believe that sodomy, particularly homosexual sexual relations, is morally wrong according to a Christian ethics standard, to enact a law against it would potentially allow the government an opening to grave intrusions into the lives of persons abiding by any sort of ethic. This could be said, from my perspective, to be a poor use of Christian ethics.

            Now, say that one would want to encourage monogamous heterosexual marriage. Why would this be the case? From the atheist, materialist perspective, one could forcefully reason that homo sapiens has evolved to this point in this form for some unknown reason, so heterosexuality is greatly preferred from an evolutionary perspective. Merge this with the clear logic that children benefit most from a stable family system. Even with no religious consideration at all, stable, monogamous, heterosexual parents are clearly selected, and, thereby, it is worthwhile to encourage it. There are clearly a lot more points that can be offered here, but I am already long winded.

            So the secularist who follows the above reasoning sees that traditional Christian marriage bears these characteristics and applies societal pressures to maintain them.

            So tightening up divorce laws, depending on the state statutes, and making marriage beneficial beyond its self-evident benefits, would encourage the unit that is the most atomistic and necessary for a stable, morally self regulating society. As well, applying this ethic in this way would implicitly discourage the slow, otherwise inevitable normalization of ethics that are not biblical by providing positive reinforcement for those behaviors that are clearly preferred. Additionally beneficial is that those who are of a mindset opposed to this ethic (i.e.: persons of a liberal persuasion of most sorts) need not be socially ostracized or the victims of what could legitimately be said to be bigotry, because the law would rely on the encouragement of the positive, and negative reinforcement when the positive is flouted directly.

            All of this falls well under the “general welfare” clause, because it would be establishing a foundation for the entire society, thereby, truly “general”.

            There is simply no better demonstration of this sort of thinking than the following


            There is a lot here to disagree with, which is fine, but, again, an ethic underlies all laws. If a person cannot explain the foundation of their own ethic, which is certainly the case for those who are for homosexual marriage.

    • yankeegospelgirl

      I don’t believe in “different kinds of marriages.” Whenever I discuss gay “marriage,” I put “marriage” in scare quotes. There is no such thing as marriage apart from the union of one man and one woman. And until very recently that was taken as a matter of course in our culture.

  • Paul

    what’s possibly offensive here, Denny? If you don’t want me to comment here anymore, just say so. But to say that I’m wrong here is to say that you’re walking around with blinders on. And to say that it’s a point that shouldn’t be made is to say that you want others to walk around with blinders on. Not exactly the stance that an educator should ever take.

  • Kamilla


    Anyone who has read Kristof’s “Half the Sky” (written with his wife Sheryl WuDunn) will not be surprised at his disdain for Christianity, sincerely held orthodox Christian belief in particular). This is just another illustration of why Christians were foolish to uncritically embrace what could have been a *very* good and helpful book.

    This is nothing new from him. I am glad, though, that you and Dr. Mohler and others continue to shine the light on this. Ross Douthat had an excellent, if only tangentially related, column yesterday as well.


  • PuritanD71


    We are living in dire times that our American forefathers would be screaming!

    Yet, talking with friends, there seems to be little interest in what is happening in our country. Some feel overwhelmed; others have never engaged. I think that Neil Postman’s Entertaining ourselves to Death is coming to fruition.

    Peggy Noonan had a good article at WSJ that there seems to be an increase of the lack of interest to the governance of our nation than to (fill in the blank: NFL, Grammy awards, etc).

    We definitely need to pray and pray indeed.

  • Justin F

    If you feel that this law violates your religious freedom, then by all means you have the right to protest it. I just don’t think this is the hill to die on. A couple of my frustrations with this ongoing issue as follows, and btw these are written by a life-long member of SBC churches. So don’t think I’m totally ignorant on this (just mostly).

    1) I think that ultimately it accomplishes little. Even if religious groups get their way, people will still buy birth control with their paychecks or FSA which they are paid from their company. These companies are still funding birth control indirectly through their employees. The difference is whether the funds are earmarked in the benefits or not (and whether the companies can wash their hands of the situation). But this does not decrease the use of birth control, except in instances where people can’t afford it (which is what Kristof’s article is emphasizing). So the people who can least afford children, are now at higher risk of pregnancy. So just don’t have sex? I don’t think I could.

    2) Doubling down on the pill=abortion will continue to alienate the SBC from the more moderate pro-life voices. You can disagree with their perspective, but if you want to get things done in politics you need a coalition including people that you can work with on most but not all issues. Getting some “pro-choicers” on your side would be nice too, but the continued demonetization of pro-choice and liberals on this blog will make it hard for them to want to work with you.

    3) Final frustration due to space constraints. I don’t remember the SBC being concerned about other questionable areas that their money was spent on (except perhaps Disney World). Where is the outrage on products from child labor in Africa, or blood diamonds? Are SBC members totally satisfied with how their money has been spent by the department of defense? How does Walmart achieve such low prices? Our economic system has a number of ethically questionable areas, and I’m just as guilty as anyone of participating in it. But I get tired of people pretending that they are above it all. It used to be easy to claim ignorance, but that’s a tough excuse to make in the internet age. These other issues are also literally matters of life and death, why does birth control get all the press?

    To close I will again ask this question, and I am still waiting for a response. How do we reduce the demand for abortion, not just stand at the gate and deny people the pill or a procedure?

    • Kamilla


      If I may respond . . .

      To your second point, it would be good to read the SCOTUS decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey which makes the link between birth control and abortion clear. Recent history makes this clear as well – you can look back and see that the demand for legalized abortion tracks with the legalization, availability and use of birth control (A point I make in my own blog post linked above).

      The point about blood diamonds, etc, is a rather silly red herring. No one is trying to mandate the SBC provide blood diamonds or conflict-free diamonds free of direct expense to their employees. Even a wall-played point about inconsistency does not negate he primary point – that the HHS mandate is a gross and unprecedented violation of religious liberty.

      Lastly to your first point, I am not SBC myself. But from where I sit the SBC folks as well as other Evangelicals are increasingly opening their eyes to the problems of the practice of birth control – both theologically and from the stand point of women’s health. If men like Mohler and Burk do not stick their necks out, that movement will stop dead in its tracks.

      You might want to take note of the current state of ill-health of the Anglican communion. Back in 1930, the Lambeth conference was the first Protestant body to approve the use of birth control (and even then it was only to be used within marriage for *serious* reasons). Prior to that, no Christian denomination or governing body had sanctioned the use of birth control.

      Quite frankly, on the vast majority of issues I can’t see how the “help” of pro-choicers would be any help at all.

  • Paul

    Ha! Denny published the wrong comment, so instead of the well thought out one about how religious liberty needs to apply to all, or it will apply to none, he publishes the one about my wondering why he wouldn’t publish the original one in the first place.

    So, to quickly state it again: don’t complain about your own religious freedom being chipped away at while you stand back and watch Muslims being harassed, harangued and all but wondering if they’ll have any religious freedom at all. Kind of hypocritical.

  • Jason


    “I think that ultimately it accomplishes little.”

    I don’t think you’re following the debate very closely. This is about the government telling everyone that they have to do this. Your meandering concerns are, at best, a secondary matter. Your concern over the rest of that stuff is meaningless in this context because if the government can tell people what they must do over this, then all of your concerns can be state proscribed or approved to you and for you, as well. You and Paul are missing the point of the debate entirely.

    And how DO you reduce the demand for abortions? Answer your own question. We’re all waiting.

    • Justin F


      Why are you being so antagonistic? You’ve cyber stalked me all over Denny’s blog. You’ve not really engaged my points at all. You’ve dismissed them while treating me like an idiot. If you want to make people feel welcome on this blog (since you know it is a Christian blog), you need to be more polite. You need to learn to disagree not being condescending.

      Yes I’ve followed this topic extensively. I get that it’s about “religious freedom”, I’m just not impressed that the larger church has banded together across denominational and protestant/catholic lines just to protect itself. It took the church trying to protect itself to unite. Again, I’m all for religious liberty, I think it should be protected. If you feel threatened then protest. I just don’t find it to be a noble enterprise. And again, if the goal is to reduce abortions, this legal effort isn’t doing much.

      My other meandering points? Really? Child slavery and child soldiers? The link is that evangelicals seem really concerned about where there money goes in this birth control issue, but not other more direct evils. I think you just re-enforced this.

      And with my final question. I’m trying to open a discussion on this point, I’m not pretending to have all the answers. So no, what do you think we should do? I seriously want to know what others think. I think a big contributor to abortion is economically linked, and that should be looked into to see if it can be addressed.

      Lately, Jason. If your next responses are not more civil and conversant (instead of dismissive and condescending) then I will be ignoring your comments from now on. I’m not going to waste my time if you won’t take the time to honestly engage my posts in a real dialogue.

      • Jason

        Justin F,

        Now you seem ready to engage the issue.

        As far as I can tell, you have two points which you have tried to make in different ways.

        1. “Lots of different people believe lots of different things about lots of different stuff.” Which is, of course, true. But then you take the illogical leap of assessing the entire venture in this particular matter as morally and ethically “gray”. This does not in any way follow, as I pointed out (which is addressing your point, you must have missed this) because one cannot say anything about the commensurate nature of the arguments until you deal with the substance of the arguments. You insist that you have explored this elsewhere, but your reticence in this particular forum belies your purported mastery of the subject which, according to legend, is hidden deep in Denny’s blog. I don’t believe that you have explored this in any depth, otherwise your latent points would subsist of something much less amorphous and illogical (which accurately describes your thinking on this, stop crabbing about it and just think a little bit more about how to connect “disparate points of view” with “it’s all relative” with something other than an imaginary straight line.)

        2. “My stuff is more important.” Again, though your concerns are not unimportant, if the government can declare one’s concerns to be unimportant, which is the case in this matter, then the government can declare that your concerns are unimportant, as well. This is a hill to die on because, if not here, then you are no longer free to choose which hills to die on. I mentioned this as well, which is, again, me addressing your point, which you missed the first time.

        There is nothing wrong with reducing abortions, certainly, but there are plenty of ways to do this which do not in any way address the flawed reasoning behind abortion illogic in the first place. For instance, upon what do you base your concerns about child slavery? The value of the child. But if you fudge and wobble on this particular matter, not only have you acquiesced on the value of a child, you have subordinated your right to assert your civic concern to the government. If your concerns happen to parallel the concerns declared to be concern-worthy by the administration, great, if not, then your concern must remain private, that is, “I am personally against it, but I would never force my opinions on child slavery on someone else who might choose to own or sell child slaves.”

        “I get that it’s about “religious freedom”, I’m just not impressed that the larger church has banded together across denominational and protestant/catholic lines just to protect itself.”

        This is incredibly confused. If you get that, then how is it that you attribute the importance of a proper reaction to nothing more than the “larger church…protect[ing] itself”? Only if you don’t think that the first amendment is important, which I think is the case and is born out in your tangential, postmodern meanderings.

        This matter has vastly greater ramifications than just this or that egregious moral evil, this makes all religiously or otherwise oriented societal, ethical, moral, civic, et. al., concerns subsidiary to the concerns dictated by the government. This is why I say you miss the point entirely.

        “So no, what do you think we should do?”

        This is your idea, you asserted that it would be more fruitful, but you have nothing to share on the matter? How could you know if it would be fruitful if you haven’t any notion about how to implement your own proposition? How seriously should we take your assertion that your way would be more fruitful, if you lack even one idea as to how to begin to make this happen?

        “I think a big contributor to abortion is economically linked, and that should be looked into to see if it can be addressed.”

        Thinking on the matter is certainly not enough if you don’t know if the original proposition is factual, much less accurate. Perhaps start with knowing that your presuppositions comport with reality, and then move on to addressing the matter.

        • Justin F

          Well Jason, you got me. You’re right. I’m totally ignorant. None of my posts have been well thought out. I’m surprisingly dumb. It is only by your consistently belligerent and condescending attitude that I have now seen the light. I am drowning in a sea of post-modern angst with not a shore to anchor to. If only I had your rock solid and unshakable truth.

          Maybe someday. Happy Valentines day, and good night.

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