Last October, I wrote the following piece in reaction to several legal developments that threatened religious freedom. Recent debate over an Indiana law that would have afforded people of faith a day in court--and required the government to demonstrate a compelling public interest before requiring someone to use their creative gifts to endorse something they don't believe to be right--reveals even more clearly that freedom of religion has now taken a back seat to sexual libertarianism. These developments demonstrate that a new state religion has emerged, empowered by a far-left fundamentalism to silence dissent, shut down debate, and punitively affect people whose conscience runs counter to the sexual revolutionaries of the day. I'll leave it to the reader to decide whether what I've written below is now more substantiated than it was even 5 months ago.
Religious Freedom in America is dying. Though this has been stated often, and ignored just as often, rolling one's eyes at the statement doesn't make it less true.
The biggest irony here is that the vehicle being used--possibly in an unintentional way--to kill religious freedom is the very vehicle everyone in the country was assured would not affect it--laws that now codify our current sexual revolution, and are most visible in cases involving abortion and LGBT rights.
Those who favor these laws have for years assured Christians that these changes in the law would not in any way affect religious freedom, or infringe on the consciences of those who believe these actions to be sinful. Many of us responded by saying that these moves would in fact affect religious liberty--perhaps in an irreversible way. Turns out, we were right.
A number of recent examples point clearly to this fact, most recently a California law that now requires churches with group health plans to cover abortion services. And just last week, there was the debacle surrounding the Mayor's office in Houston, Texas, which in response to statements and petition drives from area churches sought to subpoena sermons and other correspondence. Though I sometimes find myself in disagreement with Ecclesia Pastor Chris Seay, I found his open letter to Houston's Mayor to be a perfect combination of humility before Caesar, and bold confidence in the God who rules above Caesar. You should read it here:
Additionally, my friend Tim McKnight, who teaches Missions at Anderson University in my home state, has written a thorough and accurate post on the history of religious liberty, the role of Christians in securing it, and the way it has been turned on its head over the past few decades. You can read that one here:
In light of so much happening at once on this front, I expect those of no faith to believe and behave as they do. But I've been particularly disappointed in what seem to be many misinformed Christ-followers who greet these developments with a shrug and a question of "what's the big deal?"
Well, to doctors, insurance administrators, bakers, photographers, coordinators and venue operators who have been sued and threatened with fines and jail time by the government, its a VERY big deal. Earlier in the year, I wrote on the issue of gay weddings to encourage Christ-followers in those professions to consider serving gay couples as an expression of the love of Christ, but in that same article, I was also clear that such service should not be rendered by orders of the compelling influence of Caesar.
And now, continued threats of fiscal and criminal punishment have been leveled for the first time at ordained ministers who refused to officiate at a gay wedding, merely because they operate a "for profit" wedding chapel. The message in this one case is clear: Religious freedom only applies if you are "non-profit."
Yet from the other side, people of faith are told that even as a "non-profit" your free speech is limited. Rather than deal honestly and straightforwardly with the honest differences we have, the far-left have sought to silence the voice of the church by categorizing certain moral issues as "political," and consequently threatening the church's tax-exempt status for speaking on issues that for centuries have been understood to be the clear domain of faith communities.
In short, the two-sided approach to killing religious liberty is clear: Punish "for-profit" entities for living their convictions, punish "non-profit" ones for speaking publicly about their convictions, and do both from a position of power wherein government presumptuously monopolizes the conversation, and silences dissenters. This is intellectual and political cowardice at its worst. And when taken together, recent events reveal three clear trends that, if not stopped, threaten the very existence of religious freedom in America.
Followers of Jesus who don't see these trends want to be compassionate--especially toward our LGBT neighbors, and like them, I want to see the church continue on its present learning curve so that these image-bearers of God are increasingly treated with the dignity and respect they are owed as human beings. But those who shrug their shoulders at concern over our current sexual revolution in the west and its more recent effects on our legal system are looking past some rather ominous shifts. In particular, this current revolution has resulted in the following:
1. It turns religious freedom on its head. The First Amendment to our Constitution places no limits on individuals, or even corporations--be they for-profit or non-profit--in regard to religious liberty. Quite the contrary, the Constitution actually limits Congress. I find it incredible that government at any level presumes the right to instruct people of faith--individually or corporately--as to what they can and cannot say inside their houses of worship, and what they can and cannot do (or refuse to do) outside those houses of worship. Rather than adhering to what the Founders of this country called our "first freedom," they are by legislation and judicial fiat establishing a state religion, and that religion is sex. But what I find more incredible are those who claim to follow Christ who seem to be OK with government attempts to be Lord of the conscience.
2. It defines marriage as a "right." I have dealt before with the misconception of marriage as a "right" here, yet I must admit the highly effective message discipline practiced in recent years by those who use deceptively beautiful phrases like "marriage equality." Those who aggressively favor homosexual unions have been largely successful in couching their agenda in the verbiage of "civil rights." If interracial marriage is permitted, for example, then what is wrong with allowing two men or two women to be wed to each other? In responding to this question, evangelicals have too often accepted the premise of that question. Rather than speaking of who does and does not have a "right" to marry, we should continue to point out that no one--not even heterosexual couples--have a "right" to marriage. Historically, this institution has been viewed as a status of privilege, and this truth is functionally proven by the fact that although a clerk of court may be forced by law to issue a license, no public official--minister, notary public, or judge--is required to perform the ceremony(at least, not until now). Marriage is not a "right."
Consequently, a marriage license is not a statement of "tolerance," but affirmation. Through a marriage license, the public via their local government is saying "this is a good thing, not only for this couple, but also for society as a whole, which has always benefited from strong families that have a strong marriage as their anchor." It's one thing to ask for equality in public accommodations, or housing, or employment. These are rights that should belong to any human being created in God's image and likeness. But when the homosexual community asks for the privilege of marriage, they are asking for more than mere "tolerance," and we are seeing proof of this in the civil and criminal cases that are now unfolding before us.
3. It illustrates the results of postmodern thought. Philosophical postmodernism can only ultimately lead to one place: nihilism. And, we are seeing the results of that slide before our very eyes. The ironic foundation of a radically relativistic epistemology comes full circle when those who find themselves in the majority seek to impose one view of what "tolerance" means to them on everyone else using the power of the state. This is precisely what we are witnessing in our current environment, which says to people of faith "keep it to yourselves, keep it in your church buildings, synagoges or mosques, and don't dare try to apply it outside those realms," and calls such restriction "religious liberty."
In the end, this isn't about the homosexual community. Its not about "tolerance" and its not about protecting a vulnerable class of people. Its about a guiding philosophy that is currently taking us on a dangerous, agenda-driven trajectory. The next issue could very well involve your own church, and/or your own pastor. It might even involve you merely seeking to follow your own convictions as a follower of Jesus, and facing fines or even imprisonment for doing so. Followers of Jesus asking "what's the big deal?" need to be cured of their ignorance, pull their head out of the sand, and join pastors like Chris Seay in speaking out before its too late.