It is when a people forget God that tyrants forge their chains.
We are living in a day far beyond those when we heard the initial pleas for “tolerance” and “openness” with regard to sexual freedom. These voices have morphed. They now issue shrill and oppressive demands that, unfortunately, seem to be carrying the day. One such voice belongs to New York Times op-ed columnist Frank Bruni, who recently wrote of “Bigotry, the Bible and Lessons of Indiana.” The conflict between homosexuality and Christianity is still alive in many churches today, says Bruni, but these elements “don’t have to be in conflict in any church anywhere.” The tradition of deeming homosexuality as a sin, he says, has solidified in the thinking of many Christians, hardening their perspectives and attitudes on the issue. According to Bruni, their outdated viewpoint is a “choice” that elevates Scripture—“scattered passages of ancient texts”—over the enlightened understanding society has acquired on the subject of homosexuality. The Christian perspective also fails to see gays and lesbians as people who, though flawed like everyone else, have dignity like everyone else.2 Bruni then moves to make his primary point: Our conversations about religious liberty need to highlight the need to liberate “religions and religious people from prejudices that they needn’t cling to and can indeed jettison, much as they’ve jettisoned other aspects of their faith’s history, rightly bowing to the enlightenments of modernity.”3 The word “bowing” says it all! Mr. Bruni is speaking of using the government to force compliance among those he sees as unenlightened.
Hillary Clinton has expressed similar sentiments with regard to the issue of abortion. Speaking in New York City at the sixth annual Women in The World Summit, Clinton said “deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed” so women can have increased access to “reproductive health care.” One cannot dismiss the possibility she feels the same way about convictions that homosexuality is a sin, because she also said, “We move forward when gay and transgendered women are embraced as our colleagues and friends, not fired from their jobs because of who they love.”4
It’s important to understand that despite the façade of an early call to toleration and a live-and-let-live perspective, progressives didn’t begin talking this way only a few days ago. In 2009, Chai Feldblum was nominated by President Barak Obama to serve on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission [EEOC]. Obama appointed her to the position through a recess appointment in March of 2010, and she subsequently was confirmed by the U.S. Senate a number of months later. In 2013 the Senate confirmed her for a full five-year term. She is the first openly homosexual individual to serve on the commission.5 Her confirmations were controversial because of statements like this one, which Feldblum wrote in 2006: “Just as we do not tolerate private racial beliefs that adversely affect African-Americans in the commercial arena, even if such beliefs are based on religious views, we should similarly not tolerate beliefs about sexual orientation and gender identity that adversely affect LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender] people.”6 Also, “When questioned regarding a Christian employer’s right to hire an employee of his choice, Feldblum stated: ‘Gays win; Christians lose.’ Similarly, Feldblum, when questioned about how she would decide when religious liberty and homosexual ‘rights’ conflict, said she would have ‘a hard time coming up with any case in which religious liberty should win.’”7
So we see that talk against religious liberty has been around for a number of years, yet recently the rhetoric has increased in both volume and intensity. It’s intensified because of the HHS Mandate in Obamacare as well as the debate over same-sex marriage—and these voices may soon gain additional legal weight. Writing for the Christian Post, Wallace Henley states that if the United States Supreme Court finds a constitutional right to same-sex marriage this June, Christians may be treated in the United States as the early Christians were treated in the Roman Empire during the 1st century.8
Rome was a society where worship of pagan gods was commonplace. In the empire, it was a widespread practice to offer libations to pay homage to various deities. For example, an individual might pour oil or wine on an object or an altar in honor of a designated god or goddess. Christians, who had affirmed Jesus as Lord, steadfastly refused to do this. They wouldn’t call Caesar Lord, either, so they were widely accused of being atheists. They were given many opportunities prove they were innocent of the charge—if they would disown Christ, that would bring honor to the gods of Rome and appease their accusers. Many believers resisted and were thrown in prison, tortured, and/or executed.9
Several other things about the Christians irritated the Romans as well. Although not perfect, followers of Christ lived morally pure lives. Their lives therefore stood in stark contrast to the accepted ways of life among the Romans. This included resisting institutionalized practices that had moral components unacceptable to Christians, and the Romans hated the believers for refusing to be involved. Here is how Minucius Felix, a Christian apologist at the time, summarized the Romans’ objections: “You do not attend our shows; you take no part in the processions; you are not present at our public banquets; you abhor the sacred [gladiatorial] games.”10 Moreover, Christians opposed these practices that were common in 1st century Rome: suicide; abortion; the killing of infants; abandonment of infants; homosexuality; the degrading of women; and patria potestas, which, simply put, made the father a dictator in the family.11,12
We can look to the early Christians for guidance and wisdom on how to live out our faith in an inhospitable world. Not only did they remain faithful to Christ as they lived among individuals who disagreed with them, opposed them, and hated them, but they also remained faithful as they endured the wrath of a hostile government. Still, the church grew!13
These lessons from history are important for us today as we await the upcoming ruling on marriage from the U.S. Supreme Court. Should the U.S. Supreme Court “find” in the U.S. Constitution a “right” for same-sex couples to marry, we should first understand that it will have overstepped its authority and will have issued an illegitimate ruling. Mario Diaz is a legal counsel for Concerned Women for America. Mr. Diaz explains that in Obergefell v. Hodges, the marriage case before the Court, the question the Court has to answer isn’t “Does the U.S. Constitution permit same-sex marriage in all 50 states?” but “Does the Constitution require it?”14 Diaz declares, “Anyone can read the Constitution and see it does not deal with the issue of same-sex marriage in the least and, therefore, the Court should leave it to the states to establish their marriage policy.”15 But there is more. Diaz goes on to warn that if, in the end, the Justices decide to impose same-sex marriage nationwide by judicial decree,
they should…consider the ramifications of such a reckless decision. They will be effectively opening the door to the criminalization of Christianity. At the very least, they will be kicking the door wide open to the persecution of Christians (and other religious groups) who believe marriage to be an institution created by God, which they cannot re-define of their own accord. Christians simply have no choice in the matter.16,17
We already cited Wallace Henley’s observation that Christians are on the verge of being treated as were the Christians in 1st century Rome. Henley sees this as yet another step in a process that began with “marginalization” and continued with “caricaturization” and “vilification.” American society is vilifying Christians and Christianity right now. The next steps are “criminalization,” and finally, “elimination.”18 A Supreme Court ruling adverse to natural marriage will bring America across the threshold of criminalizing the Faith that made America both strong and free.19 In other words, it will not be long before people and institutions with principled objections to same-sex marriage will clash head-on with the law. For example, churches that do not recognize the marital rights of same-sex couples should be prepared to lose their tax-exempt status. With justification, conservative journalist Ben Shapiro predicts,
Once non-profit status is revoked for churches on the basis of supposed discrimination against homosexuals, those churches become private institutions engaged in commerce. Which means that they are regulated as common businesses under anti-discrimination law. Which means they can be shut down or fined for failure to perform same-sex weddings. The left says this will never happen. Which means we are a few years away from it happening.20
It might happen sooner than that! Who would have dreamed even thirty years ago that we would face a day when Christianity would be outlawed? Yet this is a very real probability in the days ahead. The oral arguments in Obergefell v. Hodges established this. When asked by Justice Samuel Alito if Christian institutions that refused to recognize same-sex marriage would have their tax-exempt status revoked, Solicitor General Donald Verrilli responded, “It’s certainly going to be an issue.”21
This includes religious universities and schools, which also will be targeted22—and with the legal leverage given progressives by federal recognition of same-sex marriage, the liberal elites will have almost unlimited power to demand compliance from every entity that resists. We are seeing parallels to this already with state governments in cases like those of Elaine Huguenin and Robert and Cynthia Gifford, to name just two of many.23 Given this, we cannot expect even that homeschooling families will be exempt from a federal mandate to teach that gay and lesbian sex are normal expressions of human sexuality.
These and other repercussions of a Supreme Court decision adverse to traditional marriage underscore the importance of a united stand to defend it. Accordingly, a team of Christian leaders has forged and is promoting a statement of resolve that you can sign and share with others. The team includes Dr. James Dobson, founder and president of Dr. James Dobson’s Family Talk; Mathew Staver of Liberty Counsel Action; and Rick Scarborough of Vision America. The Pledge in Solidarity to Defend Marriage notes that
marriage and family have been inscribed by the Divine Architect into the order of Creation. Marriage is ontologically between one man and one woman, ordered toward the union of the spouses, open to children and formative of family. Family is the first vital cell of society, the first government, and the first mediating institution of our social order. The future of a free and healthy society passes through marriage and the family.24
The pledge goes on to affirm that government has an obligation to support and promote natural marriage and has no authority to redefine it. It states that on more than one occasion in the past, the U.S. Supreme Court overstepped its authority and issued illegitimate decisions. For example, in Dred Scott v. Sandford in 1857, the Court ruled 7-2 that neither enslaved nor free African-Americans could be citizens of the United States, and that they therefore had no legal standing to sue in a U.S. federal court.25 Today, of course, we rightly view this ruling as illegitimate. It was just as illegitimate at the time it was issued. Why? Because the ruling violated a higher, timeless law that affirms the dignity of all human beings, regardless of race. If the Supreme Court rules that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to “marry,” it will have overstepped its authority once again, because it also will have violated a higher law. Marriage was designed and initiated by God (see Gen. 2:21-25). No human entity has the right to redefine it.
In conclusion, the pledge states:
Our highest respect for the rule of law requires that we do not respect an unjust law that directly conflicts with a higher law. A decision purporting to redefine marriage flies in the face of the Constitution and is contrary to the natural created order. As people of faith we pledge obedience to our Creator when the State directly conflicts with higher law. We respectfully warn the Supreme Court not to cross this line.
We stand united together in defense of marriage. Make no mistake about our resolve. While there are many things we can endure, redefining marriage is so fundamental to the natural order and the common good that this is the line we must draw and one we cannot and will not cross.26
The days ahead likely will be increasingly difficult for Christians and for the church. Even if the Supreme Court rules that states have the right to define marriage, the marriage debate isn’t over! The church, both individually and corporately, will have to contend for traditional marriage at the state level, where multiple battles must be waged. Neither is the debate over if the Court rules against traditional marriage.
Thus, either way, we must prepare for the probability that standing for the truth of marriage will be very costly. Advocates of same-sex marriage have many segments of society on their side—allies such as the media, business, and many government institutions.27 Moreover, many who personally oppose same-sex marriage are afraid to defend man-woman marriage because homosexual activists have bullied them into silence. Ultimately, it isn’t primarily institutions but individual hearts and minds that will need to be convinced of the truth about marriage. Wallace Henley writes that Christians and churches must begin to prepare now for what lies ahead: “Leaders should begin thinking about what will happen if non-profit status is lost. Christian institutions must embrace a Book of Acts strategy for corporate operation. Schools must train future church leaders in New Testament strategies.”28
How did the early church survive and even thrive in a hostile culture? Part of the answer is that these believers loved God above all else, and God blessed, sustained, and strengthened them. Alvin Schmidt observes, “The early Christians, during their first three hundred years of bloody persecutions, neither sought nor expected the government to support them in their religious activities. They only yearned for freedom to worship their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. They differed remarkably from the pagan Romans for whom religion meant being linked to a particular city or state.”29
As the pressure to bow in compliance to government edicts regarding marriage and sexuality intensifies, may we as 21st century believers also stand out in our culture as different from those who acquiesce. As we remain faithful to the Lord, perhaps He will use us to transform America, just as he used the early Christians to transform the then-known world. Relying on Him for strength, resolve, and charity toward all, let us pray and work wholeheartedly toward this end.
A condensed version of this article is available here.
2Actually, it is precisely because we as Christians believe homosexuals have inherent dignity as people made in God’s image that we are compelled to speak out against harmful behavior. See http://www.wordfoundations.com/2015/04/23/compassions-mandate/.
9Alvin J. Schmidt, Under the Influence: How Christianity Transformed Civilization, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 25.
10Quoted in Schmidt, 27.
17Note that the phrase “no choice in the matter” directly contradicts Frank Bruni’s contention (cited above) that opposition to homosexuality is an arbitrary “choice” made by Christians. Let us not miss the fact that these differing conclusions result from different assumptions made about God and whether or not He has revealed truth in His Word, the Bible.
For Further Reading:
‘We will not obey’: Christian leaders threaten civil disobedience if Supreme Court legalizes gay marriage
Man on Admission: Verrilli Reveals Taxing Truth
Alito Asks the Right Questions Which The Left Doesn’t Want Asked
Don’t Silence the 50 Million Who Voted for One Man-One Woman Marriage
Copyright © 2015 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.