As a transplanted Southerner living in the high desert of New Mexico, I am constantly trying to disciple the church flock on the finer points of our cherished Baptist distinctives. Every time that we have a potluck fellowship at church, it gives me another opportunity to teach these Southwestern folks about the cherished Baptist Bird.
The first few times that I mentioned this, some of the ladies — who clearly were not from the South — gave me quizzical looks. It was then that I proceeded to explain to them that the official Baptist Bird, at least where I grew up in the South (and yes, Florida was still considered part of the “South” when I grew up), was none other than chicken. Fried. And lots of it!
I’m making inroads with the folks in the church kitchen for our Wednesday night meals, but they still insist on serving non-fried chicken in enchiladas with green chili sauce poured in liberal amounts over the top for good measure. Maybe my teaching isn’t as good as I think it is. Go figure.
Now, some may be thinking, “What does the Baptist Bird have to do with Kentucky mosques?” I’m glad you asked. It seems that the town of Mayfield, Kentucky has finally approved a zoning request for a Muslim worship space in a vacant storefront. A group of Somali Muslims, most of whom are employed (here it is) at a local chicken processing plant in the area, were granted the right to convert a storefront into a place for Muslim prayer and worship.
It took three tries for this group of Somali Muslims to have their zoning request approved. First approved, then rejected, and finally approved, this became yet another test case for religious liberty and tolerance in the wake of the more (in)famous Ground Zero mosque controversy in NYC.
While some Baptists, including yours truly, do not love the idea of a mosque near Ground Zero (even though there is widespread acknowledgement that the Muslim group in NYC has every right — constitutional and zoning — to build the mosque in the proposed location), the case of the Mayfield “mosque,” at least for Baptists, should be different.
Why? Because the Somali Muslims in Mayfield, whether they realize it or not, support Baptists by processing chickens that are no doubt used in potlucks and dinners on the ground throughout Baptist churches in America. If they support our expression of religion (fellowship and eating — Acts 2 — look it up), it is only right that we support them in their expression of religion.
For those that either do not have a sense of humor or do not appreciate my humorous take on this important matter, please be assured that my above arguments were made with tongue firmly planted in cheek. Obviously, there are even more important reasons than the Baptist Bird for supporting the Somali Muslims’ right to open a prayer center in Mayfield, KY.
What better reason than fried chicken could there be for Baptists to support Muslims in Mayfield? Why, the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights, of course! The First Amendment protects the rights of all people to freely exercise their religion — or no religion at all — without fearing that the government will apply a different set of rules to a “minority” religious group just because it does not happen to like the religion that is being exercised. Such appeared to be the case in Mayfield, KY.
When a group of Somali Muslims requested a zoning change so that they could use an empty storefront for a place of worship and prayer, the local zoning board initially approved their request. After some of the residents heard about the proposed “mosque,” they demanded that the zoning board rescind the zoning change. A concern for parking at nearby businesses was the primary reason given why people did not want the Muslims to use the vacant building. Religious animus toward this Muslim group may have also played a role, but whatever the real reasons, the zoning board did in fact rescind their original approval.
As you might imagine, the ACLU then got involved. It was not long before the zoning board, on the third try, finally approved the zoning change, thus allowing the Muslim group to move forward with their plans for the worship space.
The Mayfield Muslim misstep illustrates the continuing debate involving Baptists and others regarding religious liberty and tolerance in an increasingly pluralistic and post-Christian culture. While we may not agree theologically or doctrinally with Muslims or some other religions, Baptists must always be careful to defend the religious freedoms of those who are in the minority. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that Baptists were not part of the protected majority, but rather found themselves belonging to a persecuted minority. And, believe it or not, we could be in the minority again someday.
It’s hard to imagine, but see how you might feel if the shoe were on the other foot. Baptist churches are just about on every corner in Kentucky and other places in the South. However, there probably aren’t that many Baptist churches (at least of the SBC kind) in places like Dearborn, Michigan which boasts a rather large Muslim population.
Baptists would be a distinct minority in that community. As a member of a minority religion in Dearborn, how would you feel if the same thing happened to a new Southern Baptist church start that happened to the Somali Muslims in Mayfield? Would you think that the zoning board was just doing its job or would you somehow feel that they were discriminating against those “Baptists?”
Religious liberty and our First Amendment rights are some of the most precious freedoms that we enjoy in this country. The protections afforded to us in the First Amendment to the Constitution are to be cherished by all, but most especially by Baptists.
Even when we may disagree on how to interpret the First Amendment in specific situations, may we be forever clear in our belief that the free exercise of religion is for every American, not just Baptists. That’s one distinctive we Baptists should all agree on. Oh, and fried chicken too!