Archives For religious freedom

Religious Freedom vs. LGBT Rights

Greg Strand – July 18, 2014 5 Comments

John D. Inazu, associate professor of law at Washington University School of Law, an expert on the First Amendment freedoms of speech, assembly, and religion, wrote an insightful and, I believe, accurate assessment of religious freedom: “Religious Freedom vs. LGBT Rights? It’s More Complicated.”

Inazu raises the question of whether Christian colleges can remain Christian. Can they continue to uphold what they believe to be the biblical view of marriage and require certain ethical/moral behavior of their students that align with biblical teaching?

Gordon College is in the midst of a firestorm at present because of a letter signed last month by President Michael Lindsay. In this letter signed by many other Evangelicals they request that President Obama include a religious exemption in an upcoming executive order which bars federal contractors from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. In essence Lindsay, and the other signers, are desiring to retain the ability to require employees to embrace and live by a Christian sexual/moral ethic. The backlash to Lindsay and Gordon College have been strongly negative. This reflects the changing cultural mores in belief and response.

In this article Inazu helpfully explains how we got here and the “legal, social, and political dimensions of the current landscape.” Most importantly, he notes that “we must recognize that arguments that seem intuitive from within Christian communities will increasingly not make sense to the growing number of Americans who are outside the Christian tradition.”

Based on the present legal and cultural landscape, Inazu provides three predictions of what is ahead. I include them in full.

Prediction #1: Only religious groups (by no means all of them) will impose restrictions based on sexual conduct. That is in stark contrast to the many groups that make gender-based distinctions: fraternities and sororities, women’s colleges, single-sex private high schools, sports teams, fitness clubs, and strip clubs, to name a few. It is perhaps unsurprising in light of these observations that views on gender and sexual conduct have flip-flopped. Thirty years ago, many people were concerned about gender equality, but few had LGBTQ equality on their radar. Today, if you ask your average 20-year-old whether it is worse for a fraternity to exclude women or for a Christian group to ask gay and lesbian members to refrain from sexual conduct, the responses would be overwhelmingly in one direction. That trend will likely continue.

Prediction #2: Only religious groups will accept a distinction between “sexual conduct” and “sexual orientation,” and those groups will almost certainly lose the legal effort to maintain that distinction. Most Christian membership limitations today are based on conduct rather than orientation: they allow a gay or lesbian person to join a group, but prohibit that person from engaging in conduct that falls outside the church’s teachings on sexuality. These policies—like the one at Gordon College currently under fire—are not limited to gays or lesbians; all unmarried men and women are to refrain from sexual conduct. The distinction between status and conduct from which they derive is rooted in Christian tradition, and it is not limited to sexuality: one can be a sinner and abstain from a particular sin.

But many people reject the distinction between status and conduct. And in a 2010 decision,Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, the Supreme Court also rejected it, viewing distinctions based on homosexual conduct as equivalent to discrimination against gays and lesbians. I have argued in a recent book (Liberty’s Refuge: The Forgotten Freedom of Assembly) that the Court’s reasoning is troubling in the context of a private group’s membership requirements. But it is the current state of the law.

Prediction #3: Fewer and fewer people will value religious freedom. Although some Christians will respond to looming challenges with appeals to religious liberty, their appeals will likely face indifference or even hostility from those who don’t value it. The growing indifference is perhaps unsurprising because many past challenges to religious liberty are no longer active threats. We don’t enforce blasphemy laws. We don’t force people to make compelled statements of belief. We don’t impose taxes to finance training ministers. These changes mean that in practice, many Americans no longer depend upon the free exercise right for their religious liberty. They are free to practice their religion without government constraints.

Additionally, a growing number of atheists and “nonreligious” Americans have little use for free exercise protections. Even though most Americans will continue to value religious liberty in a general sense, fewer will recognize the immediate and practical need for it to be protected by law.

This final prediction is deeply unsettling, because strong protections for religious liberty are core to our country’s law and history. But those protections have been vulnerable since the Court’s decision in the peyote case. And they will remain vulnerable unless the Court revisits its free exercise doctrine.

Inazu believes that “religious exceptionalism will see diminishing returns.” Rather, he suggests that we consider the notion of pluralism which “rests on three interrelated aspirations: tolerance, humility, and patience.” These are, he believes, “fully consistent with a faithful Christian witness. And in this age, they are also far likelier to resonate than arguments for religious exceptionalism. The claim of religious exceptionalism is that only believers should benefit from special protections, and often at the cost of those who don’t share their faith commitments. The claim of pluralism is that all members of society should benefit from its protections.”

With what do you agree? With what do you disagree? In light of the legal and cultural landscape, what would you suggest as a way forward? How do we remain in the world but not become of the world? How are we salt and light (remember that Jesus says we are!)?

Christian faithfulness and the spread of Christianity were and are not dependent on laws or culture. The recurring refrain that Luke records of the early church, which is vital for us to remember today, is the following:  “And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly” (Acts 6:7; cf. 9:31; 12:24; 16:5; 19:20; 28:31). Our humble prayer: Lord, by your grace and for your glory, do it again.


Religious Freedom

Greg Strand – July 17, 2014 4 Comments

This is the time of year we think of the freedoms we have in our country (recently celebrating the 4th of July). We are grateful that we live in a country with freedoms. We acknowledge that as Christians we are citizens of two kingdoms, the heavenly and earthly, and though the heavenly trumps the earthly, we also live in the world even though we are not of the world. God has ordained government for the present time which is the context in which we live out our Christian lives faithfully on our way to the celestial city.

The Manhattan Declaration, a statement drafted by many representing numerous denominations and religious affiliations, identified three crucial moral issues in our day for which there ought to be a strong convictional stand: the sanctity of life, the integrity of marriage (biblically and traditionally defined as between a man and a woman) and religious freedom.

Timothy George, one of the drafters of the Manhattan Declaration, recently wrote about why religious freedom is one of the most pertinent issues for Christians today: “Let Religious Freedom Ring: Why It’s One of the Most Pressing Issues Today.” He writes,

Religious freedom is not merely political; it is pre-political. As a fundamental, “unalienable” right, it existed before the state. Religious freedom did not begin in modern times; it began when God brought humanity into existence. Rooted in the biblical understanding of human dignity and freedom, religious freedom is a part of what it means to be created in the image of God.

A just government is called to recognize and protect the religious freedoms that have been built into human nature by God. Christians know—even if secular theorists deny it—that religious liberty is grounded in the very character of God as revealed in the Bible, and in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ himself. But we do not claim religious freedom for ourselves only. It applies to all persons everywhere. That is why we affirm, on the authority of the Bible, religious freedom for all, even as we are prepared to defend such freedom in public life through arguments drawn from reason as well as revelation.

What do you think? Do you agree? Is this one of the more pressing issues for Christians today? How ought Christians address it?

Our next year’s EFCA Theology Conference, January 22-24, 2014, will address the theme “Christian Faithfulness in a Changing Culture”. It will be hosted by Christ Community Church in Leawood, KS.

We live in a postmodern, post-Christian day, which we have known for some time. For most this statement has been made intellectually. With the moral and cultural sea-changes, and the speed with which they are happening, parallel with a moral tsunami, many are for the first time beginning to feel and experience palpably some of the implications of what we have for many years only known abstractly or experienced vicariously.

These shifts require a different way of thinking, engaging, and speaking, without compromising the Word of God or Christian faithfulness.

We hope to include various topics addressed from a biblical, theological, historical and pastoral perspective:

  • Church History: we are today more like the early church than we have been since the days Constantine made Christianity legal in 313.
  • Church: what it means for the church to be missional, in the sense that its primary nature is missional, by virtue of its very being (1 Pet. 2:9-10).
  • Bible: there are significant questions pertaining to the inerrancy of the Bible, and to hermeneutics, both critical issues for us who affirm the ultimate authority of the Word of God.
  • Kingdom: this is a significant debate with numerous questions about what the kingdom means and how it is ushered in and its relation to the church, and how Christians ought to engage in culture and what Christians can expect of culture, among many other related matters.
  • Culture: though Christian fumes remain, and though we were never a Christian nation, we were a nation that was strongly influenced by Christian principles, but that has and continues to change drastically and rapidly, and the “intolerance of tolerance” is one of the key marks of this culture. During these changes, the twin temptations are to move in an accommodationist (liberal) or a separatist direction.
  • Contextual Theology: this is driving a lot of theologizing that is being done today, which often results in the culture being the lens through which the biblical text is interpreted rather than the other way around, which leads to biblical revisionism and liberal theology.
  • Religious Freedom:  this is narrowing more and more, and the focus is on freedom of worship and freedom from religion, not freedom of religion, and this has profound implications on Christians living in the world but not being of the world.
  • Persecution: Christianity is the most persecuted religion in the world, and though it includes death in some Islamic countries, it also refers to other kinds and forms of persecution. But rather than engage in a victim mentality, which Evangelicals are prone to do, we must know that this is the precise manner and context in which the gospel transforms, seasons with salt, illumines with light, etc.

In sum, we need to figure out how to live the Christian life with faithfulness in a post-Christian day.

I have considered doing a pre-conference on Trinitarian Theology. This is an important issue for Evangelicals to know and understand, as there are many changes taking place in Trinitarian theology, and not all are good!