Mixing Politics and Religion

If we (preachers and parishioners) don’t want to risk the ire of the government now, when it’s relatively easy and painless to do so, is there any chance we will risk the ire of the government when the government tells us that preaching on subjects like homosexuality constitutes criminal hate speech?

This past Sunday seven preachers in Tennessee were to join 93 preachers from other states in telling the IRS to stay out of their pulpits. And those who want to decry their stand need to be ready someday for even more government control of their pulpits.

Up until the 1950s preachers across America would often take politicians and candidates to task. And those in the pews expected them to. After all, they came to hear the truth and wanted to know what their preacher, presumably mature in the Christian faith and doctrine, had to say about the issues of the day from a biblical perspective. In fact, during the Revolutionary War, preachers in the colonies became known as the “Black Robed Regiment.” In fact, many believe that it was the preachers who stirred the flames of liberty by their fiery sermons about the policies of the King of England. Without them, we might still a part of England.

But Lyndon Johnson, at the time a U.S. Senator, put a stop to that kind of preaching in the 1950s, inserting a provision in the Internal Revenue Code that forbids not-for-profit organizations from “endorsing” candidates. That, coupled with the pronouncement a few years earlier by the U.S. Supreme Court that “religion and government” need to be “left free of each other,” has changed the church and its relationship to government and politics.

Today we have not only grown to accept the IRS’s “doctrine” as infallible instead of the Word of God, but it has been joined with what the apostle Paul called “itching ears.” We don’t want a preacher to go to meddling with what we think, even if it what we think may be wrong in God’s eyes. Loyalty to political party is more important than whether the positions of a candidate are righteous and just according to God’s definition of those terms. Instead too often a longing for preachers to “just tell me what I want to hear” or “just make me fill better about myself” fills the pews … and reaches the ears of preacher. And sadly too many preachers are more than happy to accommodate to avoid controversy.

I’m not sure I understand that since Christians are supposed to want to become like Jesus. He was pretty controversial, called out the “bad guys” even while offering them the opportunity for forgiveness, and made a big deal about “the truth.” After all, he told Pilate, under oath, that the very reason he came was “to bear witness to the truth.”

But here’s the real issue. If we (preachers and parishioners) don’t want to risk the ire of the government now, when it’s relatively easy and painless to do so, is there any chance we will risk the ire of the government when the government tells us that preaching on subjects like homosexuality constitutes criminal hate speech?

Personally, absent a move of God, which may be coming, I don’t think so. If we won’t stand for our right to get the government out of our pulpits now, we sure won’t do so if it means going to jail.

I know that some will say we shouldn’t risk going to jail because we can’t do the Lord any good sitting in jail where we can’t reach people for Jesus. Well, please don’t tell that to the “Philippian jailer,” described in Acts 16, who was saved during Paul and Silas’ stint in jail. He might just disagree.

It just might be that the preachers who are among that “great cloud of witness” and who “spoke to power” in their generation would be proud of these seven men in Tennessee.

Memphis Gay Rights Bill Withdrawn

Yesterday morning something took place in Memphis you won’t read about in your local paper. And it is something that may not have happened in any major American city. And The Family Action Council was there playing a leading role.

In case you missed it, several weeks ago Memphis City Councilwoman Janis Fullilove filed two measures with the Memphis City Council that, if enacted, would have established sexual orientation (homosexuality) and gender identity (transgenderism and cross-dressing) as new civil rights. One would have applied to Memphis City employees and the other to private sectors organizations, including churches and para-church organizations.

Here’s the story you won’t read: Yesterday, at the Personnel, Intergovernmental and Annexation Committee of the Memphis City Council, Councilwoman Fullilove withdrew both measures.

A representative for the Tennessee Equality Project, the statewide organization promoting the LGBT political agenda, spoke to the committee and later that day to the full City Council about why the measures had been withdrawn. Essentially they chastised the Council, claiming they “could not get a fair hearing.” This, it was said, was evidence that the City Council was itself discriminatory. They even pointed out one of the more liberal council members who, on this issue, was with us and called out the Mayor, saying that “the Tennessee Equality Project would not support Wharton” because he “broke campaign pledges to help gay, lesbian and transgender citizens.” This comment drew a sharp, public rebuke from the Mayor.

But the story would not be complete without pointing out that at the first hearing two weeks ago, supporters of God’s design for human sexuality filled the hearing room along with eight prominent Memphis ministers. At yesterday’s hearing, there were at least 12 ministers present, along with a room full of supporters for our side of the issue.

But make no mistake: This issue will come back again. Supports of the measures said so. Lord willing, we will be there on your behalf.

There is no reason that Memphis cannot be a model for every city in America for what can be done if we will all work together. I hope you will continue to help us move toward establishing a greater presence in Memphis … and expanding that type of presence to many other cities in Tennessee. If you can do so financially, now is a great time to make a gift because of a generous matching grant that will double the value of your partnership with us.

Pastors and Pro-Family Advocates Make Their Voices Heard

On Tuesday, August 10, the Personnel, Intergovernmental and Annexation committee of the Memphis City Council met to consider a resolution that would require all entities that do business with the city or use city facilities to agree to give special employment protections for sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.

Before the 8:30 am meeting ever started the 50 seat conference room was packed with over 60 concerned citizens, a vast majority of which were there in opposition to the law being proposed by Councilwoman Janis Fullilove. Several Pastors from across denominational and racial lines were amongst the crowd opposing the resolution. As the meeting got underway it was clear that the calls, letters and e-mails that had flooded city hall opposing the proposed law had made a difference. Miss Fullilove quickly amended her resolution to give exemptions to religious organizations and churches.

Our friends, Apostle Alton Williams of World Overcomers Outreach Church and Pastor Steve Gaines of Bellevue Baptist spoke on behalf of the other pastors present. Williams pointed out that the resolution still contained no exemptions for Christian-owned businesses and then pointed out several specific examples of religious workplace discrimination and litigation that laws containing sexual orientation have caused in the past. Pastor Williams’ presentation was a powerful reminder that whenever we attempt to give special “protections” to employees based on sexual preferences we inevitably set up a workplace environment that discriminates against Christians. Pastor Gaines, in the few minutes he had, informed the crowd that the city already had ample laws to cover all forms of workplace discrimination and new special protections were not needed. He also let those in attendance know that over the last several years the city has not had one complaint from any employee claiming discrimination over sexual orientation or gender expression. The Mayor’s office then gave the administration’s view that an ordinance or resolution that mirrored the county’s recent resolution – which did not mention sexual orientation in any way – would be their recommendation. In light of these developments, Miss Fullilove tabled her resolution until further notice.

While these were clear victories for the family, this debate is not over. An ordinance that Fullilove also sponsored, that would add sexual orientation and gender identity/expression as specially protected classes for city employees, just passed its first reading Tuesday night. It will be read one more time and then be up for a final vote on 9/14/10. We ask that all Memphians continue writing and calling the City Council in opposition. As many as can come to the Council meeting on Sept. 14th as possible, please do so. The meeting is at 3:30 pm. Plan to arrive at least 30 minutes early.

A special “Thanks” goes out to those that attended the committee meeting, especially the pastors that were there. The influence that the pastors had over the proceedings was mentioned several times at that afternoon’s full Council meeting. It should also be noted the strong yet peaceful and respectful way those on our side of this issue are handling themselves. We press on!

Federal Judge: Traditional Marriage Is Now ‘Unconstitutional’

On Wednesday, August 4, 2010, Chief Judge Vaughan Walker overturned the will of seven million California voters by declaring Prop 8, which define marriage as the union of one man and woman, “unconstitutional.” Although the decision was not unexpected by the Prop 8 Legal Defense team, Judge Walker’s opinions are especially strident.

Within Judge Walker’s 136-page written opinion were statements that the public communications on the “Yes on 8” campaign “insinuated” that parents and children should fear same-sex marriage and homosexuals. Based on the information we have received from our national allies who ran this campaign, his interpretation of the campaign is absurd.

Following are just a few of Judge Walker’s opinions:

No credible evidence supports a finding that an individual may, through conscious decision, therapeutic intervention or any other method, change his or her sexual orientation.

Same-sex couples are identical to opposite-sex couples in the characteristics relevant to the ability to form successful marital unions.

Proposition 8 does not affect the First Amendment rights of those opposed to marriage for same-sex couples.

Judge Walker used testimony from the plaintiffs’ witnesses to affirm his personal beliefs, and apparently slept through the cross-examination by the defense attorneys, who proved false every piece of “research”—like the statements above—these alleged expert witnesses put forth.

Judge Walker gave all sides until end-of-day Friday, August 6, to respond to a motion to stay the implementation of the decision pending appeal. A temporary “stay” has been issued until a decision has been made on the request for a more permanent stay. Essentially, at some point Judge Walker will have decide whether same-sex marriages should proceed in California. The legal defense team may need to seek immediate review from higher courts of appeal in order to keep new same-sex marriages from taking place.

Time to Stop the Hate!

Hate that threatens violence to those with whom we disagree is wrong. Calling everyone who disagrees with you “hateful” is also wrong. It is not hateful simply to have another point of view, as some would have us believe. Both discourage and stifle the public debate that is so necessary to our form of government working. It’s time for civil discourse, not hateful words or name-calling.

“Hate” is killing America. It is time for all persons of goodwill to say “no” to hate. An ordinance pending before Memphis City Council over whether the City should prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity/expression demonstrates why.

The ordinance, sponsored by Councilwoman Janis Fullilove, would prohibit City employment decisions from being based on homosexual behavior or gender identity/expression. There is also a companion resolution that would prohibit, in general, any discrimination among private-sector employers (including churches and para-church ministries) that want to use a city facility (city park or school gym) or if they provide any services to the city (for example, architects, construction contractors, etc).

Councilwoman Fullilove now reports that she has received four death threats and had a dead cat thrown into her yard. As one who has received a couple of death threats while serving in the state Senate, I know what that is like. It is wrong. It is hateful in the truest sense. It must stop.

What Hate Is

People like the Kansas pastor who, with his church members, goes around to military funerals and other events holding signs that say things like, “God hates fags,” has forgotten one of the two great commandments—love your neighbor. Loving your neighbor does not mean never saying anything to another. I submit that it is not very loving if you really think someone is causing or going to cause harm to themselves and fail to experience all God’s best for them, to remain silent and say nothing.

Jesus told the woman at the well, caught in adultery, that having sex outside of marriage is a sin. But note his words to those who wanted to stone her: He did not chide them for not appreciating and respecting her sexual choices. He chided them for not understanding that they, too, were sinners. Truth and grace must go together because Jesus is truth and grace.

Not to speak the truth to someone is not loving. Not to speak the truth as graciously as possible is also not loving. The people I’ve described above have forgotten that, “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, it profits me nothing.” It also doesn’t profit the hearer either.

It is time for the church to stand up and say “Stop the Hate!” And it’s time to say, “Let’s strive to speak the truth in love.” Let’s try to be truth and grace. Let’s try to find ways to speak to what we believe God calls evil and against God’s purpose for us in redemptive ways. The words of the prophets were hard, but also there was a message of hope in the context of a call to experience the wonderful grace of God’s forgiveness upon our repentance. Jeremiah was called “to root out and to pull down, To destroy and to throw down” (Jeremiah 1:10). But in the same breath, God called him to “build and to plant.”

What Hate Isn’t

But that is not the only “hate” that needs to stop. We are killing free speech and debate by calling anyone who opposes our values and ideas as “hateful.” It has gotten to the point that anyone who disagrees about how far the law should go in accepting or even promoting homosexual behavior is ipso facto “hateful” or “homophobic.” That’s just not true. We also recently saw the NAACP say that those who oppose federal deficits, national debt and bigger government are “hateful” because they must be racists. That’s just not true. Everyone who believes that Americans should oppose those who want to see Sharia law replace our Constitution and laws is not “Islamaphobic.”

This too is wrong. This too needs to stop. It is simply not true that everyone who disagrees about homosexual activity hates people who engage in homosexual activity. It is not true that those who support smaller government and oppose deficit spending hate people who believe otherwise.

In fact, throwing around the “hate” label on everyone who opposes your point of view stifles debate. It stifles the free flow of ideas. It stops debate on the merits.

In fact, over two thousand years ago Aristotle gave us the principles of logic we still adhere to today in evaluating a person’s argument. One type of argument that he said was fallacious (not logical) was the ad hominem attack. What that literally means is “to attack the man.” We say “killing the messenger.”

Today the tactic is to avoid debate on the merit and just discredit the messenger. If you can get people to believe the speaker is mean and hateful, then people will tend to discredit what is said and not listen.

This pervasive tact is killing free speech. And when you kill free speech (along with freedom of religion), you pretty much kill the democratic republic that depends on them for its health.

Hurtful Doesn’t Make It Hateful

The old saying is “the truth hurts.” And it does. How often has a friend confronted me about something and I didn’t like it but deep down I knew they were right? My conscience bore witness to the truth of what they said. But surely we’re smart enough and civilized enough to know the difference between when something is being said in order to hurt and offend and when there is simply disagreement.

(As an aside, I might note that if our “identity” is bound up in and tied into some extrinsic thing, we have set ourselves up to be hurt. If our sense of value is tied up in people accepting with whom we have sex, where we work, what level of education or material things we have, etc., we have set ourselves up to be hurt unnecessarily. I don’t mean to be preachy, but I am grateful for the good news of the Gospel that tells me it only really matters what God thinks about me and He thinks enough about me to suffer the penalty for all I’ve done or will do wrong in order to have a relationship with me. If we ponder that long enough and often enough, we can’t help but be overwhelmed by the offer.)

Anyway, the question is whether “both sides” of these debates will have the courage to stand up and say to those on “their side,” stop the hate. Will we have the courage to allow each other to say what each believes needs to be said and to stop calling each other names like a bunch of junior high kids?

That’s where I stand. Who will stand with me?