Don't oppose Islamic center, Baptist pastor tells congregation

by Gregory Tomlin, |
Residents of Farmersville, Texas, gather July 6, 2015, to protest the construction of an Islamic cemetery, mosque and Islamic training center on land adjacent to the city. Plans for the cemetery were approved in May, but since word has spread in the town of further development. Bart Barber, pastor of First Baptist Farmersville, says opposition to the site demonstrates a lack of faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and would have implications for Christians' religious liberty in the future. | FARMERSVILLE TIMES/Facebook

FARMERSVILLE, Texas (Christian Examiner) -- A Baptist pastor in a small Texas town is trying to dissuade his congregation from protesting the construction of a Muslim cemetery, mosque and Islamic training center next to the town.

Bart Barber, pastor of First Baptist Farmersville, sent the message to his congregation after controversy erupted July 6 at a city planning and zoning commission meeting.

According to The Farmersville Times, a large crowd gathered in the meeting hall and other residents were left standing outside the building during the discussion – in spite of the fact the proposal for the development was not on the agenda.

More than one month before, at the commission's May 28 meeting, city planners approved the concept plan for the Islamic cemetery with little discussion. It now moves on to the city council for clearance.

In the month since the May meeting, however, word of the Islamic Association of Collin County's plans spread in the town, drawing significant opposition because of Muslim burial practices and beliefs radical Islam could take root at the 120-acre site near Lake Lavon. Residents now believe a mosque and Islamic training center will soon be established next to the cemetery.

Because I am confident in the power of God in the Gospel, I don't believe that I have to supplement its power with the authority of the Farmersville City Council. It's not a very big God who needs Mayor Helmberger to come to His rescue (and I mean no offense to the mayor by saying so).

Barber, who was in California at a conference hosted by Alliance Defending Freedom, told his church in a blog posting he believed he needed to talk to church members about "how Jesus expects us to respond to the religious nature of this controversy."

"I am your pastor. It is my job—a job given to me both by Christ and by you as a congregation—to advise and shepherd you on spiritual matters. It's is not my job always to say just what you want to hear. Stay far away from the pastor who would never offer a word of correction to you—such a pastor loves himself more than he loves you, and he won't risk rocking his own boat to try to help you grow spiritually. I don't ever want to be that pastor," Barber said.

He then told the congregation that opposing the cemetery, mosque and whatever other developments occur would send unintended messages to the community, to Muslims and to non-believers in general. Chief among those, he wrote, is the unintended consequence of demonstrating a lack of confidence in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

"Because I am confident in the power of God in the Gospel, I don't believe that I have to supplement its power with the authority of the Farmersville City Council. It's not a very big God who needs Mayor Helmberger to come to His rescue (and I mean no offense to the mayor by saying so)."

"Those who want the power of the government to block the construction of Islamic facilities in Farmersville are doing things the Moslem way, not the Christian way. They're doing things the Iranian way, not the American way. Moslems co-opt the apparatus of the state and use it to stack the governmental deck in favor of their faith and against competing faiths with which they disagree and which they perceive as dangerous to their Moslem way of life," Barber wrote.

"Personally, I think the reason why there is no religious liberty in North Africa and the Middle East is because Islam is a weak faith. The personal allegiance of the followers of Islam in those nations is not strong enough to keep them in the fold; therefore, the government must threaten them with death if they convert and must force out all other influences. They have no confidence in their faith. It is too weak to stand a fair hearing in an open marketplace of ideas."

"I think better things of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and so should you, if you are a Christian. City ordinances are not the power of God unto salvation. Planning & Zoning recommendations are not the power of God unto salvation. The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation. It has survived for two thousand years without the coercive arm of government to sustain it."

Barber also wrote that opposing the mosque would cast a poor light on the church's concern for lost people who are not like them.

"If we have constructed a comfortable bubble in Farmersville that isolates us from the world around us and prevents us from being grieved over the fact that people all over the world live next to Islamic training centers, then I say let God do whatever is necessary to tear that bubble down. It is no victory that matters if we achieve the relocation of a Moslem center with just as many adherents who are just as committed as they were before, but at least we don't have to look at them," Barber wrote.

"Out of sight, out of mind, is not actually a proverb from the Bible. It is certainly no way for Christians to feel about the presence of false religions in the world."

Barber claimed allowing the development would provide easy access to cross cultural missions for the congregation. In that way, Jesus' command to "go into all the world" may just mean driving down the rural highway to the edge of Lake Lavon.

He also argued church members should consider the impact opposing the mosque would have on other religions if the city government were to choose between religions. It is, he wrote, a "particularly foolish time" for Christians to be campaigning for such governmental action – less than one month away from a Supreme Court decision on gay marriage which imperils religious liberty.

"Tell me, please, how do you expect us to argue at the national level with a straight face that we believe in religious liberty for all people while at the local level we're running the Moslems out of town on a rail?" Barber asked. "I'm spending all week this week studying and collaborating with the top lawyers in the United States in the field of religious liberty. We're trying to figure out how to preserve for our children and grandchildren the freedom to follow Christ. Meanwhile, back home, Christians are going to City Hall seeking to become religious oppressors."

"I tell you, my friends, whatever the city government does against an Islamic training center today, they'll be doing it against Bible-believing, Bible-preaching churches in twenty years. Mark my words. And if you tell the City of Farmersville today that you want them to have and to exercise this sort of power, your objections on that day are going to ring pretty hollow."

Lastly, Barber said the fear of Muslims tells the world "that we do not trust God to take care of us." He wrote that stereotypes of Muslim suicide bombers at every turn are in play in the fears expressed by many, but he argued that the Bible is replete with examples of courage and confidence in God's protection and grace.

"Why are the followers of the God of David, the shepherd-boy who stared down Goliath of Gath, so fearful? Why are the followers of the God of Elijah, the prophet who called down fire from Heaven and shamed the prophets of Baal, so fearful? Why are the followers of the God of Peter, the apostle whom an angel released from prison the night before his execution, so fearful?"

"We have a promise from Jesus, and we do not need to be afraid. Let's tell people about that, and let's act in such a way that the message doesn't get lost in the midst of all the bad things we are saying through our actions," Barber wrote.

Barber's views are not shared by at least one other minister in the town. During the protest July 6, the Farmersville Times reported David Meeks, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, expressed his opposition to the cemetery and any future plans. He cited verses from the Koran which prohibit Muslims from taking Jewish and Christian friends, as well as passages which command them to murder and rape.

"Our history is full of Islamic problems," Meeks said. "They are at war with us."

Barber has been the pastor of First Baptist Farmersville since 1999. He writes for SBC Voices and is also a member of the leadership council with the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. Barber is also former first vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention and currently a trustee at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

Barber also recently said he did not oppose the building of a mosque near Ground Zero, the site of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, that claimed the lives of 3,000 Americans. Muslims, he said, should be able to build a mosque anywhere Christians can build a church.