Religious Freedom vs. Gay Rights

The issue at the core of the controversy created by the religious freedom laws in Arkansas and Indiana is not simply about cakes for gay people. I have lived for extended periods of time in both Arkansas and Indiana and gay people have no trouble purchasing cake or otherwise getting served in places of business in either state.

No, the issue at the core of this whole thing is rooted in the fact that the “gay community” has been trying to force everyone to affirm their lifestyle. Furthermore, they have been trying to utilize the force of the state to do it — with a measure of success…

Arkansas and Indiana simply considered legislation to protect people who have a religious objection to the concept of gay marriage. You know, to keep them from becoming the targets of the kind of intimidation enumerated above.

But the issue has been deftly managed. It’s not portrayed as a protection for religious people. It’s portrayed as an attack on gays. There are Christian business owners in both states who have no problem providing goods and services to gays. It’s really not even an issue. The key difference here is the inclusion of a wedding into the mix. That changes everything.

weddingringsWeddings are inherently theological — to Christians anyway. They are a picture of the ultimate wedding between Jesus Christ and his bride (the church). Scripture speaks in depth on the roles of husbands and wives. It also speaks on the sinful nature of homosexuality. When you are asked to attend or participate in a wedding you are being asked to AFFIRM what is taking place. Your mere presence is tacit approval of the whole thing. So is your participating in peripheral ways… say, baking the cake or taking the pictures.

This is the whole reason weddings have that part about “If anyone knows why these two should not be joined in HOLY matrimony, let him speak now or forever hold his peace.” This is a problem for Christians because we are instructed in Scripture not to approve of sin (Isaiah 5:20, Romans 1:32).

Personally, I hate that the whole thing has blown up the way it has. But, there is only one reason it has… the gay community forced it. Had they not been so bent on forcing anyone and everyone to affirm their lifestyle (regardless of religious convictions) legislators in Arkansas and Indiana probably would not have felt the need to protect those with religious convictions.

This has never been about cake — sorry, that just doesn’t fly. There are way too many talented bakers in both states who would enthusiastically bake a cake for a gay wedding. This has been about intimidating people who do not support gay marriage into silence. It has been about destroying those who would not be silenced.

I saw a protest recently where signs were held up that said, “Jesus loves Gays!” and “What would Jesus do? He would bake a gay wedding cake!”

Jesus definitely loves homosexuals, no doubt about it. But he did so much more than bake a cake for them. He died to pay for their sins — even the sin of homosexuality.

Both sides could get along just fine if they would not try to use government force against the other. I don’t recommend using government force against homosexuals. I don’t think it’s irrational to expect to be treated in kind.

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The Modern Good Samaritan

modern_good_samaritan

Liberty depends on the Spirit of the Lord

2 Corinthians 3:17 “…where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”

In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul tells us where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty. Quick question: what do you think of when you think of “liberty”? Most of us think of being free from the unsolicited and unwelcomed use of force against us by others. Take a look at the following short video. It outlines the concepts of liberty in an easy-to-understand way…

Notice that many of the concepts of liberty as outlined in this video are also outlined in Scripture…

1. “You shall have no other gods before me.

2. “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

3. “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.

4. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

5. “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.

6. “You shall not murder.

7. “You shall not commit adultery.

8. “You shall not steal.

9. “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

10. “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” — Exodus 20:3-17

Notice how the second half of the 10 Commandments deals exclusively with respecting the rights of others (as outlined in the video). The violation of these rights is a direct assault on liberty. Notice, too, how the key to respecting the second half of the 10 Commandments is contained in the first half. A proper relationship with God will foster a proper relationship with our fellow man. You might say, “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”

See how that works?

Jesus even condensed these 10 commandments into 2 for us…

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend the whole Law and Prophets.” — Matthew 22:37-40

We live in a world where liberty is assaulted daily. Governments and criminals (but I repeat myself) murder, steal and enslave constantly. What is the answer? The Gospel. It is only through the proclamation of the Gospel that men are set free from their sin and enabled by the Holy Spirit to love God and, in turn, love others. Remember…

“Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”

Right and Wrong by C.S. Lewis

Government oversight of God’s Kingdom?

First-century Christians were persecuted by Rome as “enemies of the state” — a charge that would have been overlooked if those Christians had just been willing to share the loyalty they had for Christ with Caesar. Rome didn’t mind if you worshipped God, as long as you paid proper respect (i.e. worship) to Caesar, too.

Empire10To their credit, many of those early Christians would have rather died than share one ounce of the adoration, to which only God is entitled, with another. We know this because many of them did exactly that — they died at the hands of a secular government that demanded of them a thing they just could not give…

…their absolute loyalty.

It is a situation that has survived to this very day — Fast forward to the 20th century.

World War I put a fresh emphasis on the loyalty one “owed” to his or her nation state. That loyalty was absolute. You must answer your “nation’s call.” And, if answering that call costs you your life, well, that’s only appropriate — you owe it.

Later, with the rise of more and more totalitarian governments like Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, and Communist China, we see this demand on loyalty increase. And, just like their spiritual forefathers in the Roman Empire, Christians found themselves in a difficult position.

Communist governments closely monitored religion. Sermons were subject to state approval and censorship. Only state-sanctioned churches were allowed. You could participate in your chosen religion only as long as it did not interfere with your first priority — absolute loyalty to the state.

You see, everything was viewed only in light of its value to the state — including people. Christians were particularly dangerous, because they recognized something — someone — as greater than the state. Since that kind of attitude was intolerable, these Christians had to be dealt with. Those who refused government oversight found themselves in prison. Many were tortured. Many died. Just like in Rome.

This should come as no surprise, really. The 20th century theologian and writer, Francis Schaeffer, outlined this quite well…

“We must realize that the Reformation worldview leads in the direction of government freedom. But the humanist worldview with inevitable certainty leads in the direction of statism. This is so because humanists, having no god, must put something at the center, and it is inevitably society, government, or the state.”

Fast forward to the present.

china_church_stifled_1148038826_855986In China Christians are subject to the same kind of scrutiny as the Christians who lived in communist countries in Eastern Europe. There are state-approved churches. Other churches are outlawed because they have no government oversight. Everyone is expected to owe their loyalty first to the state — to Caesar.

At this point, American Christians frequently will say, “I’m so glad that isn’t true here.” Or “I’m glad we live in a free country where that sort of thing couldn’t happen.”

Really?

Please consider…

There are those who will look at evidence like this and say it’s not big deal. After all, we don’t have a state-approved church. We don’t have federal government officials attending services in order to scrutinize the content like they do in China.

No, we don’t. But, in China the Christians are actively resisting the encroachment of the state into the church. In America many of our churches freely and enthusiastically embrace statism in their services — openly glorifying another.

Dave Black, a professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, has cautioned against this kind of thing before…

“Our God is a color blind God. Our God is a dollar blind God. Our God is a status blind God. Our God is a nation blind God. To say or to imply that America is somehow a “holy nation” is, in my humble estimation, blasphemous. The household of God (to which I belong by God’s grace) is the only holy nation on earth. It includes in its membership all Christians of all ages, all nationalities, all levels of social strata, all levels of intelligence. The lesson is clear. From the moment of my conversion to Christ, and from the moment of your conversion to Christ, we have been in fellowship with every other Christian in the world, be they American or Ethiopian or Chinese or Iraqi or Iranian. The Bible tells us “we are all one in Christ Jesus” — and that includes our guest speaker this morning who came to us from southern India.

It is here, on the national level, that we are called upon to demonstrate to a lost world the reality of our fellowship. We are bound together by a unity that goes far beyond mere geography or nationality let alone hobby or personal interest or political affiliation or denomination. Only when we learn to see ourselves as this kind of a holy nation, only when we learn to treasure that kind of fellowship, only when we experience this kind of trans-national love, will we fulfill our vocation as saints.

Beware of the sin of nationalism, my friends. A Christian is a citizen of a heavenly commonwealth because he or she belongs to the holy nation of the people of God. This, and this alone, is the only Christian nation. Other nations may contain Christians, and they may be influenced to one degree or another by Christian principles, but there will never be a Christian nation except the people redeemed by the blood of Christ.”

I pray that God will grant the church in America the ability to recognize the sinfulness of nationalism and the courage to resist it. We are, indeed, citizens of a heavenly commonwealth — one that is NOT subject to the scrutiny of any earthly government.

Let’s act like it.

The Sin of Nationalism on Display

My last two posts have dealt essentially with the sin of nationalism. I find it ironic and providential that I just ran across the latest column of political commentator, Ann Coulter, where she masterfully — and unintentionally — illustrated my point.

Ms Coulter wrote a piece entitled, “Ebola Doc’s Condition Downgraded to ‘Idiotic,’” in which she soundly criticizes Dr. Kent Brantly for going to Liberia to treat Ebola patients in the name of Christ. A couple of her arguments include…

  • The $2 million spent on his care by the missions organizations that sent him overwhelmed any good he did while in Liberia.
  • His time would have been better spent trying to “open the eyes” of the influential in America because that would have done “more good than marinating himself in medieval diseases of the Third World.”

The underlying premise behind Coulter’s column is that American Christians should take care of America first. In fact, Coulter goes on to explain that Dr. Brantly’s primary motivations for going on a mission trip to Liberia were…

  • To avoid the criticism of being a Christian witness in the U.S. — “…American Christians go on ‘mission trips’ to disease-ridden cesspools [because] They’re tired of fighting the culture war in the U.S., tired of being called homophobes, racists, sexists and bigots. So they slink off to Third World Countries, away from American culture to do good works.”
  • To gain the prestige associated with being a foreign missionary — “Right there in Texas, near where Dr. Brantly left his wife and children to fly to Liberia and get Ebola, is one of the poorest countries in the nation, Zavala County, where he wouldn’t have risked making his wife a widow and his children fatherless. But, serving the needy in some deadbeat town in Texas wouldn’t have been ‘heroic.’ We wouldn’t hear all the superlatives about Dr. Brantly’s ‘unusual drive to help the less fortunate’ or his membership in the ‘Gold Humanitarian Honor Society.’ Leaving his family behind in Texas to help the poor 6,000 miles away — that’s the ticket.”

Thid-TatteredFlagAfter this, Coulter goes for the jugular… “Today’s Christians… are strangely timid for people who have been given eternal life. They need to buck up, serve their own country, and remind themselves every day of Christ’s words: ‘If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.’”

All of this is of paramount importance, you understand, because, according to Coulter, “America is the most consequential nation on Earth, and in desperate need of God at the moment. If America fails, it will be a thousand years of darkness for the entire planet.”

Whew!

Allow me to retort…

  1. The $2 million spent on Dr. Brantly’s care did not overwhelm any good he might have done. Everything belongs to God and He supplies us as needed when we are about His business, “And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” — Philippians 4:19
  2. God does not need to “open up the eyes” of the influential in America in order to accomplish His goals. He is in complete control, even of the influential… “The King’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes.” — Proverbs 21:1
  3. Christians are motivated to action by things much stronger than avoiding criticism and gaining notoriety… “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” — Romans 8:14
  4. Suggesting Dr. Brantly willingly went into a “disease-ridden cesspools” because he was too afraid to face being called names in the U.S. is just (I will censor myself here and use the word “silly”). The man literally risked his very life to treat Ebola patients. Coulter calls that “timid.”
  5. Coulter’s suggestion is for Christians to stop showing that kind of timidity, “buck up,” and “serve their own country” — this is the meat of the issue. Christians who follow the leadership of the Holy Spirit to the far reaches of this earth ARE serving their own country. I may have a U.S. Passport, but the United States is not my country. I belong to God’s Kingdom. Christ said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, them My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.” You see, those of us who are believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, have our citizenship in heaven.

I do agree with Ms Coulter on one point: America IS in desperate need of God. But never make the mistake of thinking God is in desperate need of America. His kingdom is quite secure.

May I Quote You?

While reading daveblackonline.com, I was reminded of one of my favorite quotes by C.S. Lewis in his classic, “The Screwtape Letters.” In this book a senior demon gives advice to his cousin, a junior demon, in the art of tripping up Christians. In this context, the following advice was offered…

CSLewis-PatriotismWhat an effective and time-honored tool of the enemy, indeed.

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