Panel on religious liberty focuses on opportunities to advance gospel

AUSTIN  The recent political season left many Christians and Americans of various faith backgrounds questioning the nation’s future on issues of religious liberty, making a panel on the subject at the SBTC Annual Meeting in Austin, Nov. 14, especially relevant.

Among the panelists was Erik Stanley, an attorney for the Alliance Defending Freedom. Stanley was among council that defended a group of Houston pastors whose sermons were subpoenaed in 2014 following their opposition to a city ordinance allowing people of the opposite sex to use each other’s restrooms.

The case, which garnered national attention, reflected how many government officials at the local, state and federal levels view religious freedom, Stanley said.

“(They) seem to have this idea that religious liberty is just not that important today,” he said.

“Things like what happened in Houston alerted people,” said panelist Kie Bowman, pastor of Hyde Park Baptist Church in Austin. “When it starts getting that close to home, it moves from political theory to this is where we live.”

But despite these apparent threats to religious liberty, Stanley said churches have great opportunities to advance the spread of the gospel, but Christians cannot back down in such matters.

“Now is not the time to let up. We have to continue to speak about the importance of religious liberty today,” Stanley said. “We are locked in a great battle right now over how religious freedom is going to be handled in this country. Is there going to be room for people of faith to exercise their right to live their faith and to share their faith freely, or is that going to be silenced and squelched?”

Jeff Iorg, president of Gateway Seminary in California, said his state is on the “leading edge of what’s happening in our country, in terms of opposing religious conviction,” but he encouraged Christians to resist a response to panic and antagonism as such cases move across the country.

“What I would challenge you to do is to move beyond that fairly quickly and recognize the incredible opportunities for ministry that are presented to you. We still have the same gospel and the same responsibility to make disciples,” he said.

Iorg also urged pastors and leaders in Christian higher education to train up young people to fight on the front lines of religious freedom battles.

“We need people that are in business and finance and law and politics that represent who we are and bring those values to the table in those settings.”

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