Religious Liberty: A Crystal-Clear Message?

It would be wonderful if President Trump’s executive orders wouldn’t battle one another. As seems to be the case with everything our new president does, we get great news along with not-so-great.

I won’t diminish the great news. The latest in his series of executive orders is a win for religious liberty. Neither do I believe it attempts to write a new law or extend presidential authority beyond proper constitutional limitations. This EO merely establishes what already is ensconced in the First Amendment to the Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Let’s rejoice over the following assertions in the EO (H/T to Erick Erickson’s wording on his Resurgent website):

  • It tells the entire federal government to respect federal statutes and Supreme Court decisions that make clear the free exercise of religion applies to all people, of all faiths, in all places, and at all times—that it is not merely the freedom to worship.
  • It notes that religious organizations include all organizations operated by religious principles, not just houses of worship or charities. And it follows the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in saying that religious exercise “includes all aspects of religious observance and practice,” not just those absolutely required by a faith.
  • It instructs all agencies of the federal government, “to the greatest extent practicable and permitted by law,” to reasonably accommodate the religion of federal employees, as required by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
  • It instructs the secretaries of health and human services, labor, and treasury to finally grant relief to the Little Sisters of the Poor and others who weren’t exempted from the Obamacare abortifacient and contraception mandate.
  • It instructs the secretary of health and human services to ensure that all citizens have the ability to purchase health care plans through Obamacare that do not cover abortion or subsidize plans that do.
  • It instructs the secretary of health and human services to ensure that the federal government does not discriminate against child-welfare providers, such as foster care and adoption services, based on the organization’s religious beliefs.
  • It adopts the Russell Amendment and instructs all agencies of the federal government to provide protections and exemptions consistent with the Civil Rights Act and Americans with Disabilities Act to all religious organizations that contract with the federal government or receive grants.

That’s a tremendous list of assurances. As I’ve said, I will give credit where it is due, and this deserves our entire approbation.

So then why did Trump, the day before, allow an Obama executive order to stand that prohibits “discrimination” against gays when giving out federal contracts? While that may sound good to many, what it did was discriminate instead against Christian organizations that seek to aid the poor via contracts with the federal government. Those organizations would have to deny their basic beliefs about sexual morality and marriage before they can have an equal place at the table.

How does allowing that Obama dictate to continue mesh with this new EO on religious liberty, in particular that last provision that supposedly protects religious organizations seeking a federal grant?

Of course, my argument is that Christians shouldn’t try to get federal money at all. Let’s not intertwine our faith with government authority. Let’s not become dependent on funding from government to accomplish what God has called us to do.

Yet, it would be nice if the new administration wouldn’t send out conflicting signals. The message needs to be crystal clear. This whole matter of liberty of conscience is kind of a mess right now in our society.

I’ve noted before that Trump doesn’t really grasp the problem most evangelicals have with the LGBT agenda. He has no real issue with that agenda. We need to continue to pray that his understanding of Christian morality will become sharper over time.

Carson, Islam, & the Constitution

Ben CarsonBen Carson says he wouldn’t support having a Muslim for president and the politically correct world explodes in outrage. He says Islam and the American Constitution are at odds and he’s decried as some kind of constitutional ignoramus.

Time to step back and breathe. As many have noted, he made the quite valid point that anyone who is devoted to Sharia law as the basis for one’s personal life and for how a society should operate is not in sync with the government established under our Constitution.

A truly devout Muslim does follow Sharia law, and anyone who believes that law should have priority over the laws of this nation under the Constitution clearly should not be in high office, president or otherwise.

ConstitutionYes, the Constitution does not place a religious test on officeholding. Yes, anyone, Muslim or whatever, is free to run for president or Congress. We have at least one Muslim congressman right now. But anyone who tries to change our constitutional republic via Islamic law is sabotaging the very nature of the republic.

Under Islamic law, you can forget about religious liberty. You can forget about quite a few of our liberties. They would no longer exist. Therefore, I know that I would oppose any individual running for office who would want to move the country in that direction.

All of this, though, was more of a “gotcha” question than anything. How many Muslims are currently running for president? Right. The question was designed simply to trip up Carson and try to make him into a bigot.

Carson should have been more clear what he meant in his original statement, but since then he has come out and clarified, saying essentially what I have just written. I commend him for not bowing to the hollow cries of outrage and for sticking to the truth about the nature of Islam and the nature of our constitutional republic.

Now, let’s get on to the real issues.

Moral Courage . . . & the Lack Thereof

At first, I was grateful that more states were taking a stand for religious liberty. No one expected the firestorm that has resulted. It has become a “gay-rights” agenda item. Whoever would have thought that our First Amendment guarantee of “free exercise of religion” would attempt to be undermined in this manner? Aided and abetted, of course, by a media sympathetic to the homosexual New Totalitarians. Suddenly, this is more important to the media than real threats:

Threat

Disappointing as this may be, I expect it from the activists and their media allies. What is more disappointing is the lack of moral courage being exhibited by Republican governors on this issue. Mike Pence, in Indiana, and Asa Hutchinson, in Arkansas, both have histories of moral courage.

Asa HutchinsonI’ve never met Governor Pence, but I have met Governor Hutchinson, back in 2000, when he was a congressman. He was one of the House Managers who argued for Bill Clinton’s removal from office during the impeachment trial. I interviewed him for my book Mission: Impeachable. I know he is a committed Christian, and I honor him for his stand for Christ. I just wish he would now extend the kind of courage he displayed back in the Clinton impeachment trial to the current controversy.

This has become a witch hunt. Have you been following the account of a small pizza shop in Walkerton, Indiana? Most people don’t know where Walkerton is, but I do. It’s just a few miles from my hometown. I have relatives—a grandmother and an uncle—who are buried in the Walkerton cemetery. It’s a very small town, just above 2000 people, but is now embroiled in this controversy without ever intending to be.

A reporter, seeking out some business somewhere that might “discriminate” against homosexuals, entered Memories Pizza in Walkerton and asked the owner if she would serve homosexuals. She is a dedicated Christian—there are even Scripture verses on the walls of the business—and she said she would serve pizza to anyone. Her only reason not to do so would be—hypothetically, of course, since this has never happened—if a homosexual couple wanted her to cater pizzas for their wedding.

Memories PizzaWhat happened? News stories popped up everywhere about this “hateful, bigoted” business. One headline blurted outright that the business would not serve homosexuals, which was a complete distortion of what the owner said. Notice the misleading statement in the photo on the left: “Restaurant Denies Some Service to Same-Sex Couples.”

Death threats followed on Twitter immediately. One person even asked who would go with her to burn down the shop. The latest is that the pizza business may have to close down.

The only redeeming feature of the story thus far is that more than $50,000 has been raised to help the owner who has been unwittingly caught in this homosexual agenda/media hype trap.

Moral courage. She is showing it, and I honor her. When will the politicians do the same? The latest rumor is that there is a movement afoot within Republican circles to remove opposition to same-sex marriage from the party’s platform. My ties to the party are becoming more tenuous over time because of this tendency to go with the cultural flow and the loss of principle.

Moral courage. May those of us who say we stand on our Christian faith be the examples that others may follow, despite the threats and intimidation. God wants to work through us, but we have to give Him something to work with, don’t we?

A Prediction

Are Indiana Republicans getting ready to cave on religious liberty? While I always like to wait and see, the signs are ominous. The law passed by Indiana is not only innocuous, it doesn’t even guarantee religious liberty—it only provides a basis for making an argument for it if one is being pressured to violate one’s conscience. Yet, because of all the artificial furor stirred up by homosexual activists, it appears that Governor Mike Pence and the legislature are prepared to water it down further. If that happens, it’s a victory for the New Totalitarians.

Burning at Stake

This is a sad time for religious liberty.

I’m going to make a prediction. No matter what happens in Indiana, the hysterical New Totalitarians won’t be mollified. This is a well-orchestrated strategy that goes beyond a demand for acceptance in society; it won’t stop until everyone who disagrees with them is punished. No one will be allowed to say homosexuality is wrong, sinful (the worst word imaginable), or even misguided.

First, the Supreme Court will come out in favor of same-sex marriage as constitutional. Never mind that the Constitution doesn’t give credence to any such idea; it’s the trendy new thing, and the New Totalitarians will win this one, wiping out all state laws that reject the progressive wisdom.

Second, their guns will be trained on institutions that seek to retain Biblical morality. They will begin by reopening their case against Hobby Lobby and other businesses run by Christians. They won’t stop until legislation is passed that declares they must bow to laws deceptively labeled as “anti-discriminatory.” At that point, Christian businessmen will have to decide where they stand with respect to their integrity and devotion to God.

Third, they will demand that pastors of churches perform same-sex wedding ceremonies or lose tax-exempt status. How many churches will refuse to do so and remain faithful to the One they profess to worship and obey?

Then the New Totalitarians will come at the educational institutions that proclaim Christian faith. They will be told they must change their beliefs and policies on homosexuality or lose their participation in the student loan program. How many of those institutions of higher learning will decide to go with the flow of the culture and deny their Lord? They will frame it as necessary to be able to continue their mission. At that point, I will question whether they have any mission left to fulfill.

Have you noticed that all the anger and venom is being directed against Christians, and not Muslims? Why might that be? Perhaps they know Christians won’t rise up and behead them. It’s safer to attack the Christians.

Is there any silver lining to this? I see one. If all this transpires as I am predicting, it will certainly separate the true believers from those who have only a superficial attachment to Christian doctrine and practice. We will be able to see more clearly who is on the Lord’s side and who is faking it. Maybe that’s a good thing.

Meanwhile, we need to prepare ourselves. If you still cling to the belief that America remains a Christian nation, it’s time to rethink that. We were founded on Christian beliefs, to be sure, but Christian faith is now a distinct minority point of view, and we have to understand that. We are now counter-cultural and must adjust our approach to our culture and our government accordingly. We can no longer assume we hold majority views.

Pray that we proceed in God’s wisdom and in His strength.

Christians in the Military: Under Attack

Wes ModderNavy Chaplain Wes Modder is in trouble for holding to his Christian beliefs. Modder is a decorated chaplain who has performed his duties for nearly two decades. Just last October, he was praised in a performance review as being the “best of the best” and a ”consummate professional leader ” who greatly exceeded standards in the vast majority of categories.

So what happened?

He is now accused of disrespect toward those he counsels. Why? Because he tells them the truth: homosexuality is sinful, out-of-wedlock sexual activity is sinful, and getting pregnant while unmarried is sinful. It all has to do with that little word “sin.”

Now, anyone who knows basic Biblical views on sexual morality won’t be shocked by Modder’s beliefs and that he would counsel military personnel to avoid such activities. He’s been counseling in this manner for his entire career. Why the accusations now?

It all began after a “married” homosexual man was assigned to be his assistant. They conversed on the topic of homosexuality; the assistant then filed a complaint against Modder. He found a handful of sailors Modder had counseled who were willing to go along with that complaint. Now Modder faces dismissal from the service.

Under Barack Obama, this is now the state of the U.S. military. Christian beliefs that fly in the face of the current political correctness now put one’s job in jeopardy.

I can hear the voices now: he must have been abusive or this is only one incident and you can’t draw conclusions based on this. First, there is no evidence of abusive language or behavior. If that has been his pattern, why has it never surfaced before? Why now, only after a homosexual man filed the complaint? Second, this is just one more example of what is becoming a rising tide of intolerance toward Christians in our country. If you think this is merely an isolated incident, you are not paying attention.

Chaplain Modder is being represented by the Liberty Institute. May true justice be done. May Chaplain Modder be exonerated fully. May our dearly won religious liberty be preserved.

Houston, You Have a Problem

We’re about to turn a corner on religious liberty in America, and it’s a chill wind that greets us.

Quoting from the story:

Annise ParkerThe city of Houston has issued subpoenas demanding a group of pastors turn over any sermons dealing with homosexuality, gender identity or Annise Parker, the city’s first openly lesbian mayor. And those ministers who fail to comply could be held in contempt of court.

Wait a minute. Houston? Texas? One of the most conservative states in the nation? Well, statewide, yes, but, as usual, the cities lead the way toward the new progressivism. Funny how those policies called progressive always seek to overturn religious liberty.

Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a law firm that specializes in protecting religious liberty, has filed a motion to stop the subpoenas, but why are we even at this place?

The controversy began when the city council, back in June, passed what it calls a “non-discrimination” ordinance that allows, among other things, men to use women’s restrooms and vice versa. It is “equality” run amuck. And any Christian pastors who speak out against it or the homosexual agenda that drives it are now in the legal crosshairs.

First AmendmentAs a spokesman for the ADF notes, “Political and social commentary is not a crime. It is protected by the First Amendment.”

That’s why this is such a chill wind; it seeks to stifle all political disagreement and the religious beliefs that are the basis of that disagreement. If ever anything were a clear violation of not only the original intent of the Constitution, but the specific wording therein, this is it.

Why subpoena sermons? To shame pastors publicly who speak out against homosexuality. To try to marginalize them and the Biblical message that homosexuality is a sin—a view, of course, that is quickly becoming forbidden in America. They want to “out” these pastors as so-called “anti-gay bigots.”

Many of us warned this day was coming. This ordinance is only the first shot in this particular battle of the culture war. There are those who say there is no culture war, that those of us who speak of it are blowing things out of proportion. Look around you. The forces against the Biblical worldview are building up their arsenals. It’s only going to get worse.

Yet we cannot allow these attacks to put us on the defensive. We have the message of life, and it’s never been more needed than now. As opponents of Christian faith become emboldened, we must not cower in fear. God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind. We need to work with Him, guided by His Spirit, to meet this challenge.

Marginalizing Christian Faith

When I was in college I often attended meetings of the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. I found it to be an intelligent group of Christians who were devoted to understanding the faith and communicating on a level appropriate to the college population. Although most of my Christian activity was connected to my church, I always appreciated the influence of InterVarsity.

InterVarsity Logo

Now comes news that the California system of state colleges and universities has denied official student group status to InterVarsity throughout the state. The problem? InterVarsity won’t allow non-Christians to serve as leaders of the group. That stance is considered “discriminatory.” A Christian group wanting only Christians to lead it? How horrible!

Yes, we’re now in the twilight zone.

What does this mean, in practical terms, for InterVarsity? It means the organization, since it is no longer accepted as a legitimate student group, won’t have free access to campus facilities. It will have to pay for that access, which will cost thousands of dollars per year. It also will no longer have status to speak with professors and students like other campus organizations. In other words, it is considered outside the pale, not welcome on any of those campuses.

Religious liberty continues to be undermined in this country. The attacks are becoming more transparent. They will be couched in “nondiscriminatory” language, but they are attacks nonetheless. And behind it all is a strident, purposeful anti-Christian agenda.

If Christian colleges and universities think they are safe, they need to think again. I’ve noted this before, but it bears repeating. At any time, the federal government can say to Christian colleges, “Follow our rules or lose all student loan funding.” One of those rules will be to stop “discriminating” against homosexual “orientation.” If that happens, we’ll find out rather quickly which Christian colleges are truly Christian and which use Christian talk as window dressing.

Under the Obama administration, the pressure will continue, but in states like California, it won’t matter who is president; some states will take it upon themselves to marginalize Christian beliefs. I’m reminded of the exhortation of the apostle Paul to Timothy:

For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him; if we endure, we will also reign with Him; if we deny Him, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself. . . .

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.

That call to faithfulness reaches down to this present generation. Will we heed the call?