The pastor of a large church near Knoxville has resigned from the board of a Southern Baptist missionary agency because of the board’s support for the construction of a New Jersey mosque involved in a legal dispute.
Dean Haun, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Morristown resigned in November from the International Mission Board (IMB), on which he had served as a trustee. Haun objected to the IMB joining a friend of the court brief last May supporting the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge, N.J., in a religious discrimination lawsuit.
Haun told the Baptist Press that Southern Baptists and Muslims advocate different doctrines and that Scripture forbids “unholy alliances.”
“I understand the religious liberty aspect of the entire argument. But I do not understand why the International Mission Board, with our mission to reach the world for Christ, would have to jump into the fray of a mosque being built in New Jersey,” Haun said.
In December, a judge ruled that a local planning board violated federal law by requiring the mosque to include more parking than is required for churches and synagogues. The township, which is considering an appeal, maintained that more parking was needed because of the mosque’s unique traditions and worship times, including Friday afternoon prayers that would involve people arriving separately straight from work.
As a result of the internal dispute among Southern Baptists, the IMB revised its policies for filing amicus briefs. IMB President David Platt told the Baptist Press that “IMB leaders are committed in the days ahead to speak only into situations that are directly tied to our mission.”
The Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) also joined the court brief supporting the mosque. When asked by The Tennessee Star whether the ERLC was having second thoughts about the amicus brief, an ERLC spokeswoman referred The Star to what ERLC President Russell Moore has written previously about religious liberty.
In June 2016, Moore wrote a piece for his blog titled “Is Religious Freedom For Non-Christians Too?” In the piece, Moore wrote, “At issue is whether or not the civil state has the power to zone mosques or Islamic cemeteries or synagogues or houses of worship of whatever kind out of existence because of what those groups believe. When someone makes such a claim, that person is not standing up for Jesus and his gospel, but standing against them. To empower the state to command or to forbid worship is not fidelity to the Bible.”
Moore last year was criticized by many Southern Baptists for his strong criticism of President Trump in the months leading up to the election. While the mainstream media portrayed criticism of Moore as a recent development, in reality Moore has been controversial since becoming head of the ERLC in 2013. Conservative Southern Baptists and other conservative Christians believe he has made the ERLC more progressive, including on issues related to Islam and immigration.
Some Southern Baptist critics have begun talking about withholding funds from the ERLC to protest Moore’s leadership. Haun, the pastor who resigned from the IMB because of the mosque court brief, told the Star that his church has escrowed funds while deciding whether to continue supporting the IMB and the ERLC.
“By escrowing the funds it means that we still have the funds available to send if we decide to do so,” he said. “We did this so that we can make a non-emotional and prayerful decision about what our course of action will be. It’s very easy in a Baptist church to spend available money on other projects.”