The only real security that you can have for all your important rights must be in the nature of your government. If you suffer any man to govern you who is not strongly interested in supporting your privileges, you will certainly lose them.
—Founding Father Roger Sherman—
Some are turned away from Christianity because they see Christians as judgmental. Many more are turned away because they see them as pansies. Stop retreating and you might earn some respect.
—Mike S. Adams, university professor, author, free speech advocate—
Part 7 is available here.
A woman went to her lawyer and told him she wanted to divorce her husband. “Do you have grounds?” the lawyer asked.
“Yeah, we’ve got about two acres. We have our house on it, and a garden. It’s really nice.”
The lawyer tried again. “Do you have a grudge?”
“Yes. We have a two-car garage. We keep our cars in it, as well as the mower and some tools to keep the yard up.”
The lawyer couldn’t believe what he was hearing and decided to take yet another approach. “Does your husband beat you up?”
“It depends on what’s going on,” responded the woman. “Sometimes I get up before he does and sometimes he gets up before I do. Neither one of us is much of a morning person.”
Maybe a more direct approach will work, thought the lawyer. “OK” he said, “Let me ask you this. Why do you want to divorce your husband?”
The woman threw up her arms in exasperation and cried, “Well, you just can’t communicate with the guy!”
This story is both humorous and sad, but it also reflects the cultural divide that exists in America today with regard to rights and liberty. On one side you have the liberals—or the progressives, as they like to be called—vying for “equality” and “rights.” On the other side are conservatives who only want things we also could call equality and rights—but to each side, these terms refer to different things. I am not saying that progressives or conservatives are as ditzy as was the woman who spoke to her lawyer. I am saying that when you have a situation where the same words mean different things to parties on opposite sides of an issue, the impasse that likely already exists is strengthened even more.
When a God-fearing, religious individual who is, say, a baker or a photographer, wants merely to be able to politely opt out of an opportunity to do work at or for a same-sex wedding, he or she might say to the individual requesting services, “I’m sorry, I don’t do gay weddings. The business two blocks down the street does, and it would do a great job for you.” In explaining the decision, the business owner almost certainly would affirm, “I will gladly do business with gays and lesbians in other contexts, but I believe marriage is between a man and a woman. I have a right to follow my conscience and my religious convictions. It’s my First Amendment right.”
Well, the same-sex couple planning to “marry” may hear this explanation with their ears, but here is what many believe the vendor is really saying: I have a right to discriminate against you and to treat you in a manner different from my other customers. The customer concludes that hate has driven the vendor to refuse him or her the service requested. After all, what else could? Refusing to do business for a gay wedding can’t be tolerated, because everyone must tolerate—and here the definition of tolerate also means to affirm and even to celebrate—the lifestyle the ceremony is highlighting.
Why would a gay or lesbian individual respond this way? In a previous post, we observed (citations have been omitted),
[O]ne hundred years ago, people viewed homosexuality as a behavior. (By the way, this is exactly the way Scripture sees it and treats it.) Fifty years ago, society viewed it as a condition. Our culture today sees it as an identity. This is [a big] reason gays and lesbians have difficulty understanding Christians’ claim to “love the sinner but hate the sin.” A gay man believes, “If you hate homosexuality, you must hate me, because that’s who I am.”
Believers in man-woman marriage make a mistake when they fail to understand this perspective on the part of those working to incorporate the liberal perspective on rights into law and public policy. Understanding this point of view is not only foundational to showing genuine compassion; it’s also an essential part of effective efforts to secure conscience protections in the law. Having said that, we also must not be naïve. We have to understand that the progressive and conservative perspectives on rights and liberty cannot coexist long-term. One must emerge the winner; one must prevail over the other.
Despite what progressives believe, it isn’t hate that compels a Christian vendor to decline to do business for those wanting a same-sex wedding. Rather, it’s the vendor’s bedrock convictions about what marriage really is. Progressives make a mistake when they fail to understand this. A believer in man-woman marriage absolutely can respect gays and lesbians as persons and be a friend to them, yet disagree with them about the nature of marriage.
Cynthia and Robert Gifford are sterling examples of this perspective. Owners of Liberty Ridge Farm in upstate New York, they occasionally would allow their barn to be used as a wedding venue. Because of their religious beliefs, however, they turned down a lesbian couple who inquired about holding their same-sex ceremony at Liberty Ridge. The couple complained to the New York Division of Human Rights, which subsequently ruled the Giffords illegally had discriminated against the two women. The state agency levied a $10,000 fine on the Giffords, but that wasn’t all. It also ordered them to pay an additional $3,000 in damages and required them to implement classes to reeducate their staff on the definition of marriage. The content of the classes, of course, directly contradicted what the Giffords’ deeply held beliefs.
In November of 2015 when the Giffords appealed their case to a 5-judge panel at the New York Supreme Court, Cynthia said,
When the government tells you what to say and punishes you if you don’t, it’s very frightening. And all of us Americans should be scared about this, no matter where we stand on the issue.…We respect and care for everyone! We had an openly gay man working for us this past season. We’ve had a woman who’s transitioning to be a man. We don’t discriminate against anyone.
Do not miss what has happened here. Keep in mind that Liberty Ridge Farm is not only the Giffords’ private property, it’s also their home.1 Moreover, Cynthia and Robert Gifford don’t discriminate against homosexuals. They even had a gay man working for them! If progressives prevail in implementing their perspective on rights, you can be sure that government will intervene to take away conscience rights from otherwise law-abiding citizens, just as they are beginning to do now. If conservatives prevail, no one will be denied any service he or she seeks, but those who have deeply held convictions will be free to follow them without losing their businesses or livelihoods. Live and let live. Isn’t this what we’ve heard from gay-rights activists for decades? Now we see that their way is really a one-way street. Only the conservative perspective allows for a true live-and-let-live approach.
If progressives prevail in implementing their perspective on rights, you can be sure that government will intervene to take away conscience rights from otherwise law-abiding citizens, just as they are beginning to do now. If conservatives prevail, no one will be denied any service he or she seeks, but those who have deeply held convictions will be free to follow them without losing their businesses or livelihoods.
Let’s put it another way. To a large extent, at its core, this debate is about the nature of rights. If you haven’t yet read the previous post on two kinds of rights, be aware it contains information you must know to clearly understand the current debate. It is undeniable that progressives (not all, but at least some and perhaps most), are demanding that everyone agree with them and celebrate with them. Those who don’t join willingly will have to be coerced. This is how they acquire the positive rights they seek, “rights” that align with the contemporary, liberal view of rights. How different the conservative approach is! It isn’t just respectful of all, it’s consistent with the beliefs of America’s Founders. Religious business owners only want their negative rights to be honored, not just with regard to marriage, but also life. “If you don’t agree with abortion, don’t have one!” we’ve been told for years. Now pharmacists—even those with convictions against abortion—are being told they must dispense abortifacient drugs. And the Supreme Court, apparently, is all too willing to go along! This does not portend well for religious liberty!
A Horrific Event Rightly Sparks Outrage
An event from the early days of the civil rights movement is instructive for us with regard to these issues today. Have you heard of Emmett Till? Born in 1941, he was an African-American from Chicago. When he was 14 years old, he was visiting family in a small town called Money, Mississippi. As we might expect, the racism in the area was more intense than Till had encountered in Chicago, even though Emmett had been a student at a racially segregated elementary school in the Windy City. Till’s mother had encouraged her son to exercise caution, but his love of practical jokes caused him to make some very bad decisions.
On August 24, 1955, a Wednesday, Emmett was hanging out with some cousins and friends outside a store in the small Mississippi town. Emmett told his buddies he had a white girlfriend back home. Responding with disbelief, they dared him to go into the store and to flirt with the white woman behind the counter. On his way out of the store after buying candy, Emmett is reported to have spoken to her, saying, “Bye, baby.” The woman behind the counter was Carolyn Bryant, the store owner’s wife. She subsequently accused Till of making advances to her and of whistling at her as he strolled out of the store.
Several days later Roy Bryant, Carolyn’s husband, returned from a business trip. Outraged to learn about what had occurred, Bryant and a relative, J. W. Milam, went over to the home of Emmett’s great-uncle, Moses Wright, where the young man was staying. This occurred during the dark of night, at around 2:30 in the morning on August 28. They kidnapped Emmett, forced him into their car, and drove off. The men “beat the teenager brutally, dragged him to the bank of the Tallahatchie River, shot him in the head, tied him with barbed wire to a large metal fan and shoved his mutilated body into the water.”
Three days later, Emmett’s remains were found in the Tallahatchie River. His great-uncle was able to identify him only because the teenager had been wearing a special ring that once had belonged to Emmett’s father. History.com reports,
Authorities wanted to bury the body quickly, but Till’s mother, Mamie Bradley, requested it be sent back to Chicago. After seeing the mutilated remains, she decided to have an open-casket funeral so that all the world could see what racist murderers had done to her only son. Jet, an African American weekly magazine, published a photo of Emmett’s corpse, and soon the mainstream media picked up on the story.
Bryant and Milam were acquitted of murdering Emmett Till in September of 1955. Since they couldn’t be retried, they later publicly admitted they had killed the young man. The murder was even the subject of an interview in Look magazine in 1956. While the town initially supported the two men, after the Look article was published, Bryant and Milam were shunned by the community.
Emmett Till’s murder is considered to be an important catalyst for the Civil Rights movement in its early days. It occurred just one year after the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that racial segregation in public schools must end.
Also, biography.com notes that just one hundred days after Till’s death, Rosa Parks remained in her seat on a public bus in Montgomery, Alabama rather than surrendering it to a white passenger. Parks later said, “I thought about Emmett Till, and I couldn’t go back [to the back of the bus].”
What Needs to Happen
I need to be very careful here, because my use of the story of Emmett Till’s terrible murder easily can be misunderstood. How does the Till case relate to marriage? My point is not that all progressives have had vindictive and hateful motives like those of Emmett’s killers—even though some really do want to destroy marriage and have admitted as much. I’m sure in their minds, many believe they are contending for a noble cause. The harsh reality, however, is that the results of their efforts are extremely destructive—for families, for authentic liberty, for children’s well-being, and for societal stability.
With regard to the life issue, claims to support abortion for the “noble cause” of women’s health increasingly ring hollow. How can Texas lawmakers’ efforts to enhance women’s health standards when abortions are performed be considered an “undue burden”? Well, in making abortion safe for women, the law was deemed to make an abortion of any kind harder to obtain. Are abortion advocates really in favor of unsafe abortions? One has reason to wonder.
Mamie Bradley, Emmett Till’s mother, courageously ordered an open casket at her son’s memorial service to expose the horrific results of racism. She is a model for us! We need leaders in the conservative movement who will be as bold as she was, leaders who will highlight and expose the harmful effects of abortion, homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and all the “rights” flowing from same-sex unions, including parenting (see also this webpage). Fortunately, the number of such leaders for life has been increasing in recent years, but we now need a host of spokesmen who will uphold God-ordained marriage!
We have said that the debate over marriage is one about rights. This conflict pits those favoring limited government against those advocating increased government intervention. It is significant that the Supreme Court would, on the one hand, uphold government regulations requiring pharmacists to violate their conscience rights, yet, on the other, strike down regulations meant to protect the safety of women. We need no more evidence than this that the government has turned completely away from the Founders’ perspective on rights and is promoting the opposite of what they advocated. We’re facing tyranny because of it, and—again—we need leaders who are willing to expose this in all its ugliness!
Elections are important, and of course I believe we must elect leaders who will work diligently to return America to its founding principles (see the quote from Founding Father Roger Sherman at the top of this post). However, now more than ever, we need to see an uprising from the people themselves. It needs to be a godly uprising and a peaceful uprising, but it must be an uprising, the likes of which we haven’t seen since the Civil Rights era, and the likes of which gave birth to this country in the first place.
As Christians, we have been rightly concerned about the need to express love and compassion to those who disagree with us. Yet I fear we have let this concern overshadow our responsibility to speak prophetically. The quote at the top from Dr. Mike Adams bears repeating here: “Some are turned away from Christianity because they see Christians as judgmental. Many more are turned away because they see them as pansies. Stop retreating and you might earn some respect.”
Drastic Measures Required
Our Founders were eloquent, yet they were clear about citizens’ responsibilities when faced with living under an illegitimate government. This coming Monday we honor their commitment to these words and to the country they were so instrumental in founding.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.
The Founders went on to say (I’m paraphrasing here) that while no steps should be taken lightly, there comes a time to take action. I’m certainly not advocating overthrowing the United States government, but I do believe there needs to be a massive movement of the people to return our republic to its founding principles—again, much like we saw in the Civil Rights movement. Some laws must be peacefully resisted through civil disobedience.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail about how an otherwise law-abiding citizen could advocate breaking some laws, even as he or she obeyed others. King explained that “there are two kinds of laws: just laws…and unjust laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws, but conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.” Pastors must help their people understand these and a host of other related biblical principles. Government has authority, but not absolute authority. Because the state’s authority is delegated, government is capable of abusing its power. It must be held accountable. Christians have duties to obey God and government, but when these two duties conflict, they must obey God. (Here is a Bible study exploring the Christian’s duty before God to the state.) By the way, in a recent book, Dr. King’s niece, Alveda King, wrote of how her uncle would be an advocate for life and natural marriage if he were alive today.
Francis Schaeffer wrote, “It is time we consciously realize that when any office commands what is contrary to God’s Law it abrogates its authority. And our loyalty to the God who gave this law then requires that we make the appropriate response in that situation to such a tyrannical usurping of power.”
Pastors must be on the front lines of the effort to restore America to its founding principles.
Despite the potential cost, we also need more “ordinary people” who are willing to step up to the plate and stand true to their convictions, just as Cynthia and Robert Gifford, as well as others, have done. And we need to support these godly men and women and stand with them—praying for them, encouraging them, and giving to help them financially.
Of course, there are additional things we can do to set the stage for this movement.
- Pray that God would raise up leaders who will, in the likeness of the prophets of old, declare His truth to the masses.
- Do not let a legitimate desire to express compassion and love overshadow your duty to declare and live out the truth.
- Speak up! Share your convictions in appropriate ways with family members, friends, and acquaintances.
- Teach your children about worldviews and that the biblical worldview is the only one that aligns with reality.
- Learn about American history and the Founders’ views on government, liberty, and rights. Teach this history to your kids. WallBuilders is an excellent resource for you to use in this effort, as is WallBuilders Live!, the ministry’s daily radio program.
- Teach your children to respect governmental authority, but
- warn them about how government can abuse it. Government is inefficient, costly, and has an intoxicating effect on leaders and the public. Government may look like a benefactor, but it can offer only those resources it has taken from citizens and businesses through taxes and regulations. Despite appearances, government is not compassion, but force. Government’s good intentions often have very bad unintended consequences.
- Using this series of posts, educate yourself and teach your children about the difference between positive and negative rights, the perils of the former, and the liberating qualities of the latter.
- Resist government handouts. Never buy a lottery ticket. The lottery is legalized exploitation of the poor—and government is orchestrating it!
- Participate in the political process. Become informed about candidates, and vote according to godly principles.
- Take the pledge Franklin Graham is encouraging people nationwide to take on his Decision America Tour.
We are living in challenging times. Just today, June 30, 2016, the Obama administration made an important announcement about the military. It now will lift the ban on transgenders serving openly. Here is Tony Perkins’s take on this news, courtesy of the Family Research Council’s Washington Update
While terrorism’s latest victims overwhelm Turkish hospitals and airports everywhere lock down their security, our president is ensuring that America’s military will continue be too distracted and fractured to cope with any of these crises. In a move today—one that completes the administration’s long-term project of dismantling one of the latest bastions of American tradition—Defense Secretary Ash Carter officially welcomed the gender confused into the military’s fold at a press conference formally declaring open transgenderism in the ranks of the military. The world is facing some of the greatest evil ever unleashed on innocents and the President’s plan for combatting it is letting men dress like women (and vice-versa) in our fighting force? Is this his plan for striking fear in ISIS’s hearts?
Has our nation gone completely mad? Have its leaders? We have to point our country in the direction of recovery! Let’s elect wise leaders—yes—but let’s also initiate reform from the bottom up!
I do not believe God is through with America yet, but it’s hard to think of a time when prayer and repentance were more urgently needed than they are today. God’s people need to wake up, look up, and speak up!
Will you be a part of the movement to renew and reform America?
1One is reminded of the Third Amendment to the US Constitution, which forbids government from housing troops in private homes during peacetime. Many details between the two situations are different, but the significant similarity is the issue of government’s forcing private citizens to use their homes in a particular way.
Epilogue: The Duty to Warn
Update on the Emmett Till murder case
Copyright © 2016 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All Rights Reserved.
Top image credit: Norman Rockwell, “Freedom of Speech”
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