Aaron Weaver, The Big Daddy Weave, in a recent post, accused Southern Seminary President Albert Mohler of peddling a false bill of goods to his readers: “selling fear and actively pushing this persecuted Christian identity,” as Weaver puts it.

How does Mohler supposedly do so? According to Weaver’s interpretation, by confusing British and American notions of religious liberty.

In a recent post, Mohler shared the experience of Dale McAlpine, a British street preacher arrested for preaching against homosexuality. As he concludes, Mohler warns of a day when similar actions might occur in America: “Do not think for a moment that this troubling development is of consequence only for street preachers in Britain. The signal sent by this kind of arrest reaches right into every church in every nation where a similar logic takes hold.”

In Weaver’s view, Mohler’s presentation does not present the full truth and by doing so, only serves to further the evangelical martyrdom complex.

For Weaver, American and England represent two entirely different fields of religious liberty.

Weaver is correct in his analysis of the two countries:

England does not have a codified constitution. There is no equivalent in England to the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Freedoms are found in statutory laws passed by Parliament. Religious freedom in England has always been treated as a right subject to legislative restrictions… Our First Amendment provides protections unparalleled in other nations including England. Congress cannot strip away our freedoms. We have a Constitution that protects Mohler’s right to speak out against homosexuality. The English do not . . . We’re talking about Apples and Oranges. Mohler would have his readers believe we’re talking Apples and Apples. Mohler is not ignorant of the fact that England has a different (and liberty limiting) church-state model than the United States.

Weaver assumes all along that it is the Constitution (particularly, the First Amendment) and the Constitution alone that will protect individuals like Mohler to speak out against homosexuality. I wish I had the belief in Constitutional purity like Weaver.

Weaver and I would agree on the concept of religious liberty or one’s right to speak out against homosexuality. Where we would disagree, I believe, is where incrimination is derived. Weaver believes that the American Constitution, in its unique form of liberty, protects individuals like Mohler. Mohler, if I am interpreting him correctly, believes that the Constitution can be and has been subtly eroded under the pretense of “protected classes”—though he never directly states such in his article.

The real coming tension in America is between cultural pressure, protected classes and Constitutional liberty. As American becomes increasingly post-Christian, there will be increased pressure to acquiesce on the issue of homosexuality.

Though religious liberty is allowed, there may come the day when religious liberty exists with the exception of speaking out against protected classes. And such, as Mohler argues, is implicitly evidenced by what occurred in England. Whatever pretense allowed for the incarceration of McAlpine—England’s Public Order Act—rest assured, where there is motive to silence dissent, legal positivism will rear its ugly head. As Mohler mentions, “The law allows the arrest and prosecution of anyone who, with intent to harass or cause harm, uses ‘threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour.'”

The issue boils downs to the ebb and flow of infringing upon “protected classes” within the purview of the Constitution.

Weaver thinks of these simply in Constitutional terms. I wish that were the case. But, as we’re all aware—especially over the debates surrounding judicial nominees—interpretation of Constitution is now a litmus test and different interpretations bring with it different exceptions.

Weaver is right when parsing the difference between English and American religious liberty legislation. But, to propose that Mohler is talking “Apples and Apples” when the real issue is “Apple and Oranges” is simply incorrect.

To blithely assert that America and her (Constitutional) interpreters will continue to maintain tolerance on this issue is naïve.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Posted by Andrew Walker

Andrew T. Walker is an Associate Professor of Christian Ethics at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.


  1. Enjoyed your post. A few quick comments:

    Sexual minorities are not the only group that enjoys protected status under the hate crime legislation that Mohler mentions. These “special rights” that Mohler alludes to are also afforded to individuals on the basis of race, color, national origins, disability and even religion. Last I checked, folks weren’t being hauled off to jail for using the N-word. The president of Criswell College is not going to jail for his use of the W-word over public radio airwaves. Provided they follow the law, a racist can still be as racist as they want to be. Racist literature and music are legal. All one needs is Google and a Credit Card to make a purchase. This is true despite the fact that racial minorities have enjoyed “special rights” since 1979 (See 18 U.S.C. Section 245(b)(2))

    As sexual minorities, homosexuals now enjoy those same “special rights” under The Matthew Shepard Act which expanded upon the 1969 law mentioned above. Westboro Baptist Church is still as hateful as they want to be. Pastors still enjoy their right to free speech. I heard a local HIspanic pastor preach against homosexuality on my local NBC affiliate just a month ago. Where’s the persecution? What evidence suggests that anti-gay religious speech is on the verge of being criminalized in the United States?

    You acknowledge the real differences between the two systems of government and the status of religious liberty in England the United States. Yet you assert that my Apples and Oranges conclusion is incorrect. No argument is made to back-up your assertion, however. I think by noting the real differences in our constitutional system vs. England’s statutory system the Apples and Oranges conclusion is warranted.

    Also, look at the positions of liberals concerning free speech. Liberals (and Baptists) like Hugo Black and Charles Evans Hughes are largely responsible for the broadly-interpreted Free Speech clause. The ACLU regularly defends the free speech rights of conservative Christians. Liberals have a long tradition of protecting all forms of speech even hate speech.

    Listen, I agree with Mohler that there are “emerging conflicts” between religious liberty and gay rights. As sexual minorities receive more rights such as marriage, there will be more conflicts that have to be addressed. America also had to deal with similar conflicts back in the late 1960s when civil rights legislation was forced onto a southern culture that actively resisted social change. These religious liberty issues were dealt with in a way that did little to limit the religious liberty of segregationists. Again, out of those conflicts, free speech survived.

    A couple of years ago, the Beckett Fund for Religious Liberty, a very conservative organization, discussed this topic of religious liberty vs. gay rights. From those discussions came the book titled Same-Sex Marriage and Religious Liberty: Emerging Conflicts. The contributors in that book (conservative, centrist and liberal) disagreed on many issues including solutions. However, they did agree on at least three points: (1) As sexual minorities are granted more legal rights, there will always be religious liberty issues that emerge (2) U.S. and Europe/Canada comparisons serve no real purpose because of the differences in forms of government (3) the criminalization of anti-gay speech is not a possibility.

    It’s a good book. A variety of perspectives represented. I think there is common ground to be found between conservatives and liberals who value religious liberty. Instead of playing on people’s fears and promoting this persecuted Christian identity, Mohler and other conservative evangelicals should be championing broadly-defined religious exemptions to nondiscrimination laws and other gay rights provisions. That would be more constructive.

    This is much longer than I intended. Again, I enjoyed the post.


  2. Andrew Walker May 7, 2010 at 4:44 pm


    Thanks for the great comments. I think there is actually a lot we agree on.

    First, the book you mentioned by the Beckett Foundation is now on my Amazon wish list, though it is a bit pricy.

    Two, my statement disagreeing with your analogy sprung, not necessarily from the difference in governance between England and America, but between the two foundations from which I think you and Mohler are arguing.

    Three, at the end of the day—and believe me, I hope I’m wrong—I still think there are exceptions that will be made to the First Amendment. You’re absolutely right about the superiority of the First Amendment versus other country’s restrictive view of liberty. Yet, here’s the rub for me: people who argued for racism theologically were DEAD wrong; whereas I see absolutely no weakening in evangelicals who will continue to argue against homosexuality theologically. Homosexuality and racism are entirely different debates. MLK expedited progress, but I think equality would have advanced in time as Southern Evangelicals saw the problems of their position theologically. Remember, we take our Bibles very seriously. Wink.

    Four, I’m with you: Let there be tension between religious liberty and homosexuality. I’m all for it. The tension serves the brilliance of the First Amendment and all that is good about being Baptist.

    I’m wrapping up in a bit of a rush. Gotta go.



  3. Phil Allcock May 8, 2010 at 2:20 am

    Interesting debate. As a current pastor and ex-lawyer in Britain, I have to say that Mohler is closer to the money.

    The constitutional distinction drawn is anachronistic. It might have been right a generation ago, but rights and freedoms in the UK are now determined by the Human Rights Act, which is in effect our constitution.

    There are real differences between the legal systems and the prevailing cultural moods of the two nations, but don’t for a minute think that things can’t change in the US. Don’t forget the role of judges in interpreting and applying the law. Inherent to any rights based constitution is the need to balance rights. That is the role of judges. Whether or not freedom of speech trumps equality/anit-discrimination legislation is a matter than can and will change as judges reflect as well as shape the consensus of society.

    PS Look up the case of Gary MacFarlane and the comments of Judge Laws in the Court of Appeal last month and you get a bit more insight into the trajectory over here.


  4. Andrew Walker May 8, 2010 at 7:59 am


    Great comments. You and I are coming from the same position.


Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *