Panelists: Religious liberty benefits more than Christians

Religious liberty panel
Ben Mitchell, right, has served as University Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs for three years, but will transition back to a full time faculty role in July. | 2013 file photo
Religious Liberty panel
At left, Micah Watson, director of the Center for Politics and Religion and associate professor of political science, speaks to students, faculty and staff during a religious liberty panel in chapel. Other panel participants pictured are, C. Ben Mitchell, Graves professor of Moral Philosophy, center, and Andrew Walker, director of policy studies for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. | Photo by Anne Richoux

On Oct. 30, two Union professors and a guest speaker helped chapel attendees navigate  issues surrounding religious liberty, emphasizing the importance of religious freedom for all human beings.

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

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.”

Janie Owen, a junior social work major, attended the chapel and thought the topics were especially relevant for Union as a Christian institution.

“I think it’s important for Union for two reasons: one, because of our Baptist heritage, and secondly, going into the future the kind of institution we are,” Owen said.

“For our status as an institution, religious liberty issues will increasingly threaten us in the future.”

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 on 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 potential 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.’”

Image courtesy of Cardinal & Cream|Cardinal & Cream
About Jenaye White 38 Articles
Jenaye White, class of 2015 public relations alumna, is former managing editor of the Cardinal & Cream. A native of Paducah, Ky., White is now a publicist at Lifeway Christian Resources. She enjoys trying new coffee, playing her guitar and her favorite 'once-a-year' hobby is snow skiing. Follow her on Twitter: @jenayewhite