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Panelists: Religious liberty not just for Christians

Micah Watson (left), C. Ben Mitchell (center) and Andrew Walker discuss issues related to religious liberty in a recent chapel service. (Photo by Anne Richoux)
Micah Watson (left), C. Ben Mitchell (center) and Andrew Walker discuss issues related to religious liberty in a recent chapel service. (Photo by Anne Richoux)

JACKSON, Tenn.Nov. 5, 2013 – Two Union University professors and a guest speaker helped chapel attendees Oct. 30 navigate the issues surrounding religious liberty, emphasizing the importance of religious freedom for all people.

Hunter Baker, associate professor of political science and dean of instruction, served as the panel moderator. Participants in the panel were Andrew Walker, director of policy studies at the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission; C. Ben Mitchell, Graves professor of Moral Philosophy; and Micah Watson, associate professor of political science and director of the Center for Politics and Religion.

Baker began the discussion by talking about the word solidarity, a buzzword made popular on campus by Greg Thornbury, former vice president for spiritual life and dean of the School of Theology and Missions.

“There will be many Christians under pressure to compromise their convictions,” Baker said. “Whether you agree or disagree with an underlining policy, the question is, ‘Will you demonstrate solidarity with your brothers and sisters to protect their religious liberty or their freedom of conscience?’”

As they responded to Baker’s questions, all three panelists emphasized the importance of liberty for all religions, not just one particular faith or institution.

Walker also mentioned solidarity, acknowledging that while Christians have disagreements with other religious traditions, they still have an obligation to lobby on behalf of all religions.

“We [as Christians] ought to be advocating for the right for any religion to set up where they want to set up, for the same logic and precedent would apply to any of us,” Walker argued. “Solidarity is a theme that has drawn together a multi-faith front on religious liberty -- we all recognize that with encroaching secularism, it’s time that all individuals of faith band together and confront and eventually refute the new sexual orthodoxy.”

Mitchell expanded Walker’s argument by describing religious liberty as something that covers both a liberty of conscience and of practice.

“Human beings made in God’s image ought not to be coerced in conscience or in practice to do things they don’t want to do,” Mitchell explained. “Loving our neighbor compels us to try to protect others. You should be free to exercise your conscience and I should be free to die for my conscience if necessary.”

Watson and Walker both mentioned the importance of connecting the gospel to religious liberty.

“The gospel is powerful enough to handle itself in the public square without state support,” Watson said. “It’s not just about [Christians] and our rights, so we want to defend everyone’s conscious right to think about these things without having pressure put on them.”

Walker agreed, saying that Christians often fail in “connecting religious liberty to the gospel. We don’t hold these positions just to hold them statically and in a vacuum. The end is Christ, so Christians have a vested interest in truth-telling.”

The panelists also discussed the Health and Human Services mandate, the limitations of religious liberty and Christian organizations that have faced strict regulations on state and private college campuses.

But these challenges, Walker said, present Christians with a unique platform: “We have an opportunity as Christians, in whatever context, to act in a way that isn’t angry or protesting, simply saying ‘Jesus is Lord, we think you’re wrong, but we’re moving on.’”

Video of the panel discussion is available at new.livestream.com/uu/chapel/videos/33539393.

By Jenaye White (’15)

Media contact: Tim Ellsworth, news@uu.edu, 731-661-5215

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