"On an issue as sensitive as this, knowing that Americans hold a wide range of views based on deeply held beliefs, maintaining our nation's commitment to religious freedom is also vital. How religious institutions define and consecrate marriage has always been up to these institutions. Nothing about this decision-which applies only to civil marriage-changes that."
-Barack Obama, June, 2013
"If you like your health care plan, you will be able to keep your health care plan, period."
-Barack Obama, on numerous occasions
"That's the good thing about being president. I can do whatever I want."
-Barack Obama, January, 2014
Every day there's another story in the news. Small businesses owned by Christians-bakeries, florists, a photography studio-incur the wrath of the government for declining to provide their services to same-sex "weddings."
It's one thing to crush ordinary, powerless individuals. But behind them stand Biblically-faithful churches that teach the sacredness of man-and-woman marriage, ordained by God, and the sinfulness of any homosexual parody of marriage. If the churches stand, will not "gay marriage" fall? A house divided against itself will fall. And can even a country as great as the United States find room for two totally contradictory systems of morality?
Many church, para-church, and social conservative leaders fear that it's only a matter of time before the government seeks coercively to impose its own moral system on the churches-presidential promises notwithstanding.
Last year, anticipating Supreme Court decisions that could have redefined marriage in America (but actually stopped short of doing that), a coalition of these leaders signed a declaration warning the Supreme Court that Christians will resist any such action.
"As a nation, we have lost our moral compass," says the declaration of the Freedom Federation. "As a result, we are losing true freedom. We affirm together that there is a moral basis to a free society. Though we live in a secular society, together we reject relativism and secularism."
Nine months, and several lower court rulings later-a judge in New Jersey, for instance, ordered last September that same-sex "marriage" must be performed in New Jersey-how do things stand today?
Chalcedon consulted three of the declaration's signers: Dr. Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; Dr. Richard Land, president of Southern Evangelical Seminary; and Robert Knight, with the American Civil Rights Union.
They Don't Trust the President
None of the three expected the government to keep its hands off the churches for long.
"President Obama has impressed few with his promises and his intention of keeping them," Paige Patterson said. "If he attempts to force such demands on the churches, we have a 2,000-year history of thriving under persecution. Those of no serious commitment will be driven away by the persecution. But the church purified will take whatever persecution comes and prosper in its devotion to Christ. In a land marked by religious freedom, even the president will find this step difficult to enforce."
"From his [Obama's] actions, it seems he thinks he has the power to do anything he wants," said Richard Land. "But by saying the government can redefine marriage, he is acting above his pay grade. God has already defined marriage-period."
"If you like your church doctrine, you can keep it," Robert Knight quipped. "Seriously, there is an unsaid assumption that he [Obama] has the power, right now, to force churches to perform same-sex marriages."
On a personal note, it feels strange to be writing this-that here, in the United States, called in its Pledge of Allegiance "one nation, under God," important, responsible persons in the Christian community actually expect the nation's government, led by a president whose promises they don't believe, to launch a persecution of the churches. And why? For the seemingly irrational purpose of forcing the churches to go against Scripture and recognize, or even perform, "marriages" of men to men, and women to women. What could be more bizarre?
The Arc of Persecution
"The Left long ago saw the homosexual movement as the most destructive cultural force they could unleash," said Robert Knight. "It's powerful. It challenges moral standards, the authority of Scripture, and truth itself. If homosexuality is normal, then there is no normal."
"America long ago abandoned the spiritual and moral principles that belonged to her founding," Dr. Patterson said. "I do not see the founders through rose-colored glasses like some do, but this is not the same land that greeted my birth 71 years ago."
The federal government, and also state governments, said Dr. Land, long ago strayed from Biblical principles of government.
"How? Let me count the ways!" he said. "Romans 13 states that the purpose of the government is to punish evil and reward good. But we have governments that, for instance, set up casinos and encourage gambling, promoting an anti-social and perverse activity that draws crime wherever it's found. Government subsidizes out-of-wedlock births, while at the same time awarding grants to Planned Parenthood to perform abortions."
"People are afraid," Knight said. "We see so-called ‘conservatives' paying homage to the sin lobby. No one in politics will speak against it, for fear of public shunning and a loss of lucrative opportunities. And corporate America is just as much under the thumb of the sin lobby as the politicians."
Knight, who authored the first draft of a bill that eventually became the Defense of Marriage Act-a law, passed by Congress and signed by President Clinton, which this president has publicly refused to enforce or defend-predicted the arc of persecution.
"First they'll go after Christian-owned businesses, using public accommodations laws to force them to provide goods and services to ‘gay weddings,' or else their business will be destroyed by the government. We're already seeing those stories in the news just about every day.
"Then they'll attack para-church organizations, like they went after Catholic Charities in Massachusetts and forced them out of their adoption ministry. [Editor's note: In 2006 Catholic Charities discontinued its adoption service, in response to an order by the state that it make children available for adoption by "gay couples."]"
"Finally," Knight said, "they will threaten the tax exemption of churches. And I think it's going to come to that."
How Should the Church Respond?
How should the churches respond?
The declaration says, "As Christians united together in the defense of marriage, we pray that this [redefinition] will not happen. But make no mistake about our resolve. While there are many things we can endure, redefining marriage is so fundamental to the natural order and to the true common good, that this is a line we must draw and we cannot and will not cross."
"Our ultimate obedience is to God, not the government," said Richard Land. "If Caesar commands us to do something contrary to God's will, we must obey God. And we'll see them [the government] in court!"
"The answer is to rally our people. We outnumber them," Knight said. "Churches have to make it very clear that there's a line that can't be crossed. And that line is coercion. But before we come to civil disobedience, every legal resource must be exhausted."
"Actually," said Paige Patterson, "'being Christian' became much too easy. The reality of dying to self to live for Christ was abandoned, and the moral fallout was inevitable."
He and Dr. Land discussed positive actions that the churches might take.
"The major work of the church is still to introduce men and women to Christ," Dr. Patterson said. "The church has no power to change culture. But if the church changes enough individual lives by introducing people to the regenerating power of Christ, then the culture automatically changes.
"I do not advocate the abandonment of social and political activism, but we simply must recognize that this will never be enough. Only a great movement of God in the hearts of men can ever affect that change."
Dr. Land took a slightly different tack. "Their agenda is to have their lifestyle not only tolerated, but to have it affirmed, and to use the government to ostracize and demonize those who disagree," he said. "And it's our fault for letting them do it.
"The church must seek to make every congregation a counter-cultural, pro-marriage center. The divorce rate among Christians is much too high; so we must provide counseling and support for married couples in the church.
"The culture today is shaping the church, especially in regard to sexual issues. We've got the world inside the churches; we let the church get suburbanized. So we have to start by preaching the Word of God, pure and unadulterated. We have to widen the gap between the world and the church."
Southern Evangelical Seminary, he added, is "committed to rebuilding a Christian world-view-not only here at SES, but in churches throughout the land." To help local churches do this, various resources and teaching materials are available on the seminary's website, http://www.ses.edu .
The Other Shoe
Church leaders and congregations are waiting for the next shoe to drop.
"I've never seen an issue this one-sided in the press-not even abortion," Robert Knight said. (He is a former news editor for the Los Angeles Times.) "The homosexual movement has the American news media as a wholly-owned subsidiary."
How far will the government go to shore up same-sex "marriage"? America has never yet experienced an open rupture between church and state.
"Obviously we can't stop them from having some kind of ceremony and calling it a marriage," Knight said. "Nobody's even suggesting that we try to stop them from doing that."
But that doesn't stop militant homosexuals from pressing their demands. "It's not about live and let live," Dr. Land said. "It's about endorsement-and coercion."
We know. If there are forty bakeries in a city, the lesbians always zero in on the one Christian-owned bakery whose owners will not create a cake for their same-sex "wedding." The lesbians complain to the nearest "human rights" agency, and the hammer falls. Again.
At last count, the Freedom Federation declaration had nine pages' worth of signatures from church leaders of many denominations. There is room for many more.
What will happen if the government acts to revoke the tax exemption of churches that refuse to recognize or perform homosexual "marriages"?
No one knows.