Religious Liberty RulesApr 04, 2016
The hypocrisy of the left is astounding. For the past week, the left has cheered the Governors of Virginia and Georgia for vetoing legislation designed to protect the religious liberty rights of pastors and faith based organizations. At the same time, the left cheered a new set of federal regulations establishing a “religious liberty rule” governing faith-based organizations operating in the social services realm.
Under this new “religious liberty rule,” a person receiving social services benefits can request an alternative provider if they disagree with the religious beliefs of the organization providing the social services. The rule also provides that those receiving services cannot be required to attend or participate in religious activities.
In this case, what is good for the goose is certainly not good for the gander.
You see, it is religious liberty right for an individual receiving services or benefits, such as adoption, welfare, or job search, to choose to receive those services from a non-faith based organization. But, it is discrimination when a county clerk requests that she not violate her religious beliefs and offers to have a deputy clerk issue the marriage license.
It is religious liberty for a beneficiary of social services to choose not to participate or attend a religious ceremony. But, it is discrimination when a baker or photographer chooses not to provide services that would require their participation or attendance to a same-sex marriage ceremony.
For the left, “religious liberty” only exists to protect an individual from ever being influenced by religion. It chooses to protect freedom from religion rather than freedom of religion.
Freedom = Discrimination
Freedom = Discrimination
I hear a lot of faulty rhetoric these days repeated ardently in the public square - rhetoric that is often self-contradictory and so intellectually weak that it hardly merits retort. Among the clearest examples of this sort of rhetoric can be heard all around us in the following phrase, or similar versions thereof: “Discrimination is discrimination, period, and discrimination of any kind is wrong.” Without exception, this statement is followed up with: “Therefore, the government should prevent and/or penalize all forms of discrimination.”
No doubt you’ve heard this line before. It has quickly become one of the favorite talking points of those who seek to impose every radical perversion of sex and gender ideology onto all those remaining who have not yet gotten on board with their “progressive” thinking. Elevating the concepts of “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to specially protected classes is just the most recent crusade of these immoralists.
At surface level, the rhetoric sounds great, right? It appeals to our better side, which tells us (correctly) that we should treat all people with equal dignity and respect. At an emotional level, we would personally feel bad to treat a person differently than others for fear that it might be unfair or even hurtful to that person. And understandably, most of us don’t want that. But once past the surface, the rhetorical value ends.
As with all things, we must take the next step and actually think about what is being said and ask ourselves: Is it true? Is it sound? Is it consistent with objective reality? Does it foster and promote a better and freer society for all?
On all counts, the answer must be “no.” In fact, nothing could be more absurd to the habits of a free people.
After all, freedom itself requires discrimination because it necessitates an endless series of choices, and a choice is nothing if not the exercise of discrimination – for any number of a million different reasons – in favor of some things to the exclusion of others. I choose pizza over salad. You choose women to be your close friends over men. I choose to buy a house in a particular neighborhood instead of others. You choose to practice this religion over that one. And regardless of whether or not we agree with everyone's choices, we should all agree that each person should be free to make those choices. Not only do those choices enable us to live freely, but they also highlight our uniqueness as individuals.
In reality, every single conscious decision each of us makes in life is an act of discrimination. We weigh our values, convictions, preferences, and interests with every scenario we encounter, and then we apply them in making decisions about how we will live our lives, with whom we will interact, and what things (or people) we will avoid. We are always discriminating. There is no freedom without it. And we all love freedom, don't we?
Simply put, freedom IS discrimination.
It can be of no value then to simply say that “discrimination is discrimination,” since you are not really saying anything at all except what is already obvious. (e.g. 2 = 2) A reasonable person might then suspect that what the declarant is really doing is injecting some unknown definition of “discrimination” into his statement, without ever bothering to define it. Thus, what he puts forward as obvious is actually anything but obvious, and knowing this, he hides behind the purposeful confusion he has created since the truth simply will not support his agenda.
Moreover, he cannot really mean that all discrimination is wrong and should therefore be unlawful. To say this is to say that we ought to have a totalitarian state that makes all the decisions rather than a free one in which individuals make their own decisions according to their own values. Yet as I consider the actual direction this rhetoric is taking us, I’m beginning to think that a totalitarian state in which the declarant makes the decisions for all people is precisely what he’s after. Getting his way means that you lose your freedom. He knows this, but he isn't about to state it openly - preferring instead to declare that he is against all "discrimination." Ironically, this “anti-discrimination” for which he advocates is exactly the kind of discrimination that free societies cannot tolerate without ceasing to be free.
At the same time, we cannot ignore the fact that individuals sometimes abuse their freedom in ways that are hurtful to others. As neighbors and fellow citizens, we ought to find constructive ways to address and correct those abuses. Freedom, rightly understood, comes not only with rights, but duties also - both to God and our fellow man.
In light of this understanding, as a matter of public policy then, the relevant questions when it comes to discrimination are these:
1) Which, if any, bases for discrimination should be prohibited by the government (and by which government)? And if any,
2) In what contexts and to what degree should those bases for discrimination be prohibited?, and
3) Since freedom is itself the ability to discriminate based on various self-determined criteria, does the claimed need for the prohibition of a particular basis of discrimination in a particular context outweigh the corresponding loss of freedom?, and
4) To what extent do our federal or state Constitutions guarantee the protection of certain freedoms so as to make the answers definitive?
But these questions are virtually never even acknowledged since they require a thoughtful and reasoned analysis, along with a recognition that these issues are not always so cut and dry as some would like you to believe. It’s high time for “progressives” to be honest about the issue of discrimination because only then can we begin to reach any common ground on how best to deal with it. Their faulty rhetoric thus far has served only to distort the real issues while resulting in a mass deception. Despite how pathetically shallow the rhetoric is, it has nevertheless continued to captivate the simple-minded. But in a free society, although freedom cannot be said to exist where not all ideas are permitted, the same freedom can only be sustained where the faulty ideas are being constantly challenged, scrutinized, and demolished.
Let’s hope more sensible minds prevail in demolishing this particular rhetorical nonsense, since the freedom of us all depends upon it.
In the nation birthed out of a determined quest for religious freedom, it is impossible today not to notice how faith-based Americans are increasingly marginalized, if not openly opposed, by a growing strain of anti-religious sentiment. In particular, it is Bible-believing Christians whose faith is relentlessly being pushed out of every part of public life. For genuine believers within a rapidly changing culture, it is becoming clear that they stand much to lose by their continued obedience to the God they serve.
The enduring challenge for America is to maintain a society within which people of diverse beliefs can live out their convictions freely, yet harmoniously. A freedom that is wrought with strife and void of harmony is hardly a freedom worth having. On the other hand, societal harmony without freedom is the very definition of tyranny. Ultimately, America must have both at once, or none at all.
Today, our nation is experiencing a decrease in cultural harmony because our differing belief systems continue to align in more direct conflict with one another. In this case, the Christian worldview stands in direct conflict with the unholy trinity of moral relativism, secular humanism, and state-imposed socialism (we’ll call the faithful adherents of this religion “secularists”). Their goals are completely at odds.
The secularists’ solution to this conflict is [to attempt] to eliminate all opposing viewpoints (so far, mostly Christians). Insistence on conformity to a particular set of secular beliefs, ironically championed in the name of “diversity”, becomes for them the pathway to societal harmony. But it comes at the expense of religious freedom. In such terrain, as one state’s Supreme Court Justice recently put it, people of faith “now are compelled by law to compromise the very religious beliefs that inspire their lives. … [But] it is the price of citizenship” in this new America.
But herein enters the problem. Inasmuch as the Christian’s faith in Jesus Christ transforms his life and becomes his deepest identity, the Christian can no more cast off his faith than he can cast off his own skin. More than a mere description of the things he does, his faith reflects the very essence of his being. Therefore, in failing to accept, condone, applaud, endorse, participate in, celebrate, or worship something which violates the Christian’s foremost loyalty to God, it is not merely that he will not do it; rather, it is that he cannot do it.
It is important for the secularist to understand that a Christian’s refusal to violate his conscience is not so much a matter of volition, whereby he responds with defiance. It is a matter of capacity, in that he lacks the ability carry it out. It is not in him to do, because it is inconsistent with his very nature – the new nature that God has given him through the Holy Spirit now dwelling within him. (See Galatians 2:20)
So when a Christian declines to take part in celebrating a same-sex commitment ceremony by lending her artistic expressions (in the form of a specialized cake, photography, floral arrangements, etc.) to further that celebration, it is because she cannot do it while being faithful to God – her chief aim.
Or when a Christian refuses to treat a biological man as if he were a woman for the purposes of providing certain public accommodations or in the use of certain pronouns, it is because he senses that to do so would be to deny God’s truth and dishonor God’s sacred design in creating male and female – and that is something he cannot do.
It is not ultimately a matter of what he wants. It is a matter of who he is in Christ.
Here is what the secularists need to recognize as they make every attempt to compel Christians into absolute conformity with their beliefs: Demanding that a person do a thing for which they lack the capacity, and then punishing them when they fail to do it, is pure abject cruelty. It would be like ordering a financial investor to perform open heart surgery on the spot, and then suing him for malpractice when the patient doesn’t survive. It’s unthinkable and unconscionable because the investor lacks the capacity to carry it out. It was a futile effort from the start. No one would demand such a thing except out of great cruelty, extreme desperation, or bona fide insanity.
Nevertheless, these kinds of demands on Bible-believing Christ followers will likely only increase as more conflicts inevitably rise to the surface. Christians, meanwhile, can look to some good biblical examples for how to respond in these situations.
One of them occurs in the book of Acts chapter 4. Peter and John were confronted by the civil authorities because they were preaching about Jesus, and many of the people were believing their message by faith. The authorities felt threatened by the apostles because their message about Jesus was disrupting the conformity of beliefs which they sought so hard to maintain. Over and above affirming what was true, their desire was for the control of ideas.
“17 But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.” 18 So they called [Peter and John] and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But [they] answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, 20 for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”
From this story, we get a few important takeaways. First, the followers of Jesus continued to recognize the God-given position of authority of the civil servants. Notice the first part of their response wherein they exhort the authorities: “you must judge”. In the midst of their conflict, they did not try to deny the right of the authorities to judge the rightness of their conduct. In this way, they honored both God and the civil authority, while exemplifying good citizenship.
Secondly, the followers of Jesus made it absolutely clear, at least by inference, that God’s commands took precedence over the civil authorities when the two were in conflict. It was essentially rhetorical to suggest to a group of Jewish priests that they had to decide whose word should win – theirs or God’s. They got the point.
Finally, when the followers of Jesus were commanded to do something that would violate their commitment to God, they made it clear that they “cannot” comply. It was simply not within them to keep silent about Jesus. It had nothing to do with defiance towards the civil authorities. It had everything to do with obedience to God.
And so it is also with followers of Christ in 21st century America. Secularists, take note.
A radical Leftist group called “Campus Pride” recently published its latest version of what it calls the “Shame List”, wherein it identifies and attempts to publicly “shame” the “absolute worst campuses for LGBTQ youth” in the United States. The group reached its conclusions about the listed schools by looking almost exclusively at one factor: whether the college or university has requested an exemption to Title IX. (Title IX refers to the federal law most associated with federal funding of educational institutions; Schools may request a religious exemption in order to continue to make decisions consistent with their long-standing faith doctrines concerning acceptable sexual practices, and other matters.)
Two Virginia institutions made the list – Liberty University and Virginia Baptist College. And of the 102 total institutions listed, every one of them is distinctively centered on the Christian faith.
For merely requesting a lawfully permitted religious exemption to certain federal requirements that may directly conflict with the schools’ faith-based mission (an express exemption which they never needed until now), Campus Pride contends that the 102 “colleges & universities listed have chosen to openly discriminate against LGBTQ youth and have requested Title IX exemptions to perpetuate the harms of religion-based bigotry.” Well isn’t someone being just a tad presumptuous?
But in case that characterization wasn’t preposterous enough, Campus Pride took their rhetoric to a whole new level, declaring that the schools’ request for religious exemptions is “careless”, and even going so far as to call it “life-threatening” to “LGBTQ” youth.
“Life-threatening”, they say? Okay, surely this can’t be for real. Either that, or they must be getting desperate. At first glance, it seemed to me absurd that such a thing could even be suggested. But then it hit me: in at least one very real sense, they have a point.
It was no coincidence that Campus Pride singled out only Christian schools, while issuing its public warning call that these schools are potentially “life-threatening” to “LGBTQ” youth. Its list represents many schools whose gospel-centered mission penetrates, permeates, and illuminates everything they do. The Gospel forms the backdrop for their whole existence as a place of learning and is itself the basis for understanding life’s purpose and value in the context of God’s design.
More than likely, whether intentionally or unwittingly, Campus Pride has rightly recognized and is now attempting to expose a radical and unassailable truth: that the Gospel is indeed the most life-threatening message these youth could possibly encounter. That is because the Gospel will necessarily confront, disrupt and threaten everything about a person’s life and will call upon that person to relinquish every sinful passion with which they identify or indulge in order to follow Jesus Christ with their whole heart, soul, and mind, wherever He leads them. It may very well cost them everything they have. If that’s not “life-threatening”, then I don’t know what is.
The fact that so many of those colleges and universities make the Christian message of the Gospel integral to their mission makes them a valid threat to all who would reject the Gospel’s call. Campus Pride clearly knows this.
Yet Campus Pride misses the other – and arguably more incredible – half of the Gospel paradox. Namely, that in addition to being “life-threatening”, the Gospel is ultimately “life-giving” to those who embrace it.
Jesus himself says it best in Matthew 16:24-26, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. For what good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”
If this profound message underlies the mission of the schools on Campus Pride’s “Shame List”, then every one of them who made the cut should consider such a designation a badge of honor rather than an insult. As for my alma mater, Liberty University, I know that’s how I feel about it.