As a Baptist (as I understand being a Baptist), to not stand up for religious freedom is to lose an integral part of my ground of being.
Quick history lesson: early 1639 saw the founding of the first Baptist church in the colonies in Providence by Roger Williams. Williams grew up in England working in the office of the chief justice of the King’s Bench, seeing firsthand the trials of religious dissenters. He lived in a part of London blocks from where Christians were executed for their understanding of their faith. More and more disenchanted with the rigidity of the Church of England, he left the country of his birth (quite probably also escaping imprisonment). Arriving in New England, Williams was disappointed to encounter a disconcertingly familiar rigidity in the thought and actions of the Puritans. In his own thinking the importance of democracy, of individuals (he was also anti-slavery and for the equal treatment of Native Americans), a complete religious freedom for all (including Papists, Turks, Jews, and atheists) along with the importance of the separation of church and state all began to coalesce. When he and some friends founded the new colony of Providence Plantations that would later merge with Rhode Island (thus becoming the longest named state in the union: Rhode Island and Providence Plantations), the first of the thirteen colonies to declare independence, this was all built into their law and charter.
As much as I appreciate Jon Stewart and Mark Erelli, isn’t it a minister’s place—a Baptist’s place to speak up? So to quote another Protestant (Martin Luther): “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise.”
Park51 is not a mosque at the World Trade Center, but what if it were? Far from a triumphal monument to a perverted Islam, it would represent the triumph of our country’s best ideals of tolerance and inclusivity and freedom over the forces of intolerance, exclusivity, and fear.
Or are we no longer willing to ante up to what it means to be who we say we are?