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Resolution Concerning The Persecution Of Religion In Russia

We, the members of the Southern Baptist Convention, assembled in Birmingham, Alabama, May 13-17, 1931, representing four million white Baptists of the Southern States of the United States of America, desire to set forth and proclaim the following pronouncement concerning persecution by the Russian Soviet government of the various religious communions on account of their religious opinions.

First, we hold that religion is primarily a matter of the relation of the individual soul to his Creator. Therefore, the approach of the soul to God must, of necessity, be voluntary and untrammeled. One cannot act for another because one does not know another’s conscience and cannot bear another’s responsibility. If it be said by the Soviet government, or others, that there is no God, our reply is that such declaration does violence to the self-consciousness of the human mind and heart which abundantly testifies to the human spirit that there is a supreme being, the Creator of the universe and all things therein, and that men are responsible to him for their conduct.

No earthly government has any right to require its citizens, or subjects, to be religious, or to estop them from religious convictions and activities. Any effort to do so is the essence of oppression and tyranny. Religious freedom is a right, not a grant. It is the gift of God, not a concession from men. It is a law of life, and not an enactment of human statutes.

In the second place, we contend that the verdict of history, experience, and observation certifies that religion does not imperil but greatly improves citizenship. It is altogether false and slanderous to say that one’s loyalty to conscience and to God renders him a disloyal or undesirable citizen. There cannot be the most intelligent and capable citizenship without freedom of conscience and mind for the expression of individual character. Any effort to repress his individual free spirit is a blow at the very source of life. Such an attempt is inimical to human progress, subversive to the rights of conscience and hopelessly vain, and futile because it contravenes the law of God and denies the deepest needs of the soul.

We are not concerned with the particular form of civil government which any state may see fit to adopt, provided only that the government shall not claim the right to dominate the spirit, or determine its attitude on religious and moral questions. The true purpose of government is to protect the citizen in his natural and spiritual rights, to further his development and not to exploit him. The state has no religious function and, therefore, the state has no authority over the individual citizen in such matters, and the claim of such is usurpation, oppression, tyranny, toward the citizen, and irreverence, insult and well-nigh blasphemy toward God.

Third, we hold that the Russian Soviet Government in its persecution of religion, as expressed in the closing of churches, discrimination against ministers of religion and their families, punishment and imprisonment and exile of religious teachers, the suppression of religious literature, and the limitation of free speech and of the freedom of assembly and the support of anti-religious teaching in the state schools, is not only violating the inherent rights of humanity but is hindering its own national development and endangering its safety and solidarity as a nation.

In good friendship toward all the Russian people we bear this testimony to the Soviet government because necessity is upon us: because fundamental human rights have been invaded, and the conscience of men outraged; because persecution for conscience sake is an anachronism in this day of intelligence and progress: because such a course on the part of any government brings it into reproach in the family of nations, and lifts up an insurmountable barrier to the normal development of its own citizens. When men are oppressed and wronged for performing their conscientious duties to God it becomes a matter of concern to all the world. Liberty-loving citizens throughout the earth are shocked and grieved to hear that people are sorely persecuted in Russia on account of their religious opinions. Conscience has a right to speak. Justice must have a voice.

We appeal to the Soviet government in the name of reason, justice, conscience, humanity and God Almighty, that she fully recognize and cheerfully accord to all her citizens and subjects the indefeasible rights of conscience in all matters of religion.
L. E. Barton