Donald Trump made a number of hate-filled and inaccurate comments about Muslims, and proposed some extreme policies on the back of those comments.
This came to our attention in the United Kingdom because one of the things he claimed, entirely erroneously, was that parts of London were so radicalized that they had become no-go areas for our police and security services.
Our national response was as mocking as it was derisive. The mayor of London led the way, but on social media many joined in with the humor.
I know London well. I trained for ministry there, took my doctorate there, pastored my first church there, made, with my wife, our first home there, and saw two of our three daughters come into the world there.
My home has been elsewhere for 11 years now, but it is a city I still visit several times a year, a city that still has a significant place in my heart.
For all these reasons, I know that the truth about London was expressed far better by a young Muslim Londoner caught on camera as our police arrested someone who had attempted violence, pretending to represent Islam.
In a pure London accent, he called out to the attacker, “You ain’t no Muslim, bruv!”
London is an exhilarating and sometimes disorientating coming together of people of different national backgrounds and of different faiths.
London is also a city that is passionate that people come together without denying who they are.
London Muslims are truly Muslim and devoted to the peace of the city. London Baptists are also.
In London, the person who believes the two are impossible to hold together will be told, straightforwardly, “You ain’t no Muslim, bruv.”
It was with sadness, therefore, that I noticed Franklin Graham associating himself with some of Trump’s policy proposals, specifically the suggestion that the U.S. should close its borders to Muslims for an indefinite period.
Graham has spoken strongly about Islam before, calling it a “religion of violence.” I wish he had taken the time to understand Islam a little before speaking so publicly about it.
Yet, I am a Baptist, and so I believe passionately in freedom of speech, even if that speech is damaging and inaccurate.
Bill Graham is, alongside Martin Luther King Jr., among the greatest Baptist statesmen the U.S. has produced. I do not know if Franklin Graham claims to be Baptist, but his most recent comments are unacceptable to any Baptist.
The attack I referenced above happened in Leytonstone. Not far away from there is an older part of London called Spitalfields, where, in 1611, a religious radical suspected of violence and insurrection established a new congregation.
His name was Thomas Helwys. His congregation tiny – perhaps in single figures – but that church was the very first Baptist church in England and the origin of the Baptist movement across the world.
Billy Graham’s faith, and so I suppose Franklin Graham’s, can be traced, under God, back to those few believers in Spitalfields.
Helwys was soon imprisoned by the government. The immediate cause of his imprisonment, somewhat ironically, was a book he had written demanding the government grant religious liberty – not only to him and his followers, but to all.
As the most famous passage of that book has it, “man’s religion is between God and themselves … Let them be heretics, Turks [that is, Muslims], Jews, or whatsoever, it does not appertain to the earthly power to punish them in the least measure.”
Does Franklin Graham know that the faith of his father virtually began with a plea for religious freedom for Muslims in (what was then) the greatest city in the Western world?
It is not just Baptist beginnings, either. In the heady days of the U.S. revolution, a Baptist, Isaac Backus, was arguing the same point.
He objected to the newly independent states imposing compulsory church taxes to support the ministers of the majority, Congregational, churches.
From 1611 to 1771, Baptists stood for liberty of conscience, unfettered by the laws of whichever land they found themselves in. The story continues.
The great Edgar Y. Mullins, so long the president of Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, published his greatest work, “The Axioms of Religion,” in 1908.
He changed the language for a new era, speaking of “soul competency,” but the doctrine remained: Freedom to practice religion is the basic ethical demand of Baptist faith.
Today, Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, continues to insist on a belief that freedom of conscience is basic to Baptist public ethics.
On the call to close U.S. borders to Muslims, Moore – hardly a liberal – has written, “Anyone who cares an iota about religious liberty should denounce this reckless, demagogic rhetoric.”
I do not know if Graham “cares an iota about religious liberty,” but I know that he should, and that such care has been at the heart of what it is to be Baptist from a tiny illegal London congregation in 1611 to the upper echelons of the SBC in 2015.
Religious liberty for all is not about any compromise on the truth. Helwys died in prison for his refusal to surrender his Baptist faith; Backus strove mightily to unify the Baptist churches. Moore wrote in the same piece, “As an evangelical Christian, I could not disagree more strongly with Islam.”
These are people whose public commitment to the truth of the gospel deserves to be mentioned alongside Billy Graham’s.
Precisely because of their commitment to that truth, precisely because they believed in the present Lordship of Christ, they denied the right of anyone, specifically of any government, to proscribe any form of religious belief.
To Moore’s essay one last time, “A government that can shut down mosques simply because they are mosques can shut down Bible studies because they are Bible studies.”
Graham may feel secure against such persecution because of his friendship with the rich and powerful – or perhaps he is cozying up to the rich and powerful when they make vile suggestions like this to gain enough influence to become secure.
Baptists have learned through the years never to trust such promises or accommodations.
Backus spoke for us, “Truth … seldom has received, and I fear never will receive, much assistance from the power of great men; to whom she is but rarely known, and more rarely welcomed.”
When Graham speaks wrongly about Muslims, I regret it. When he unfairly demonizes Muslims, I grieve.
Now that he proposes denying Muslims their God-given right to freedom of conscience, I must, as a Baptist, attempt to call him on it directly.
To borrow the words of a Muslim citizen of a city I am proud to have called home, “Mr. Graham, you ain’t no Baptist, bruv.”
Stephen Holmes is a Baptist minister, presently employed as senior lecturer in Theology at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. A version of this article first appeared on his blog and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @SteveRHolmes.
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