California’s Latest Can Of Worms


Here in California the state assembly has recently passed AB2943, a bill that, should it pass the senate and be signed into law, will likely spark any number of law suits, which could end up in the Supreme Court.

Maybe that’s the best we California citizens can hope for.

The bill is designed to label as fraud, “conversion therapy” techniques, but the language is broad, meaning that it would not apply simply to licensed therapists: “This bill intends to make clear that sexual orientation change efforts are an unlawful practice under California’s Consumer Legal Remedies Act.” (as quoted by The Federalist)

Because this bill is couched in terms regarding fraud, the key issue is the exchange of money:

These “sexual orientation change efforts” must occur in the context of a “transaction intended to result, or which results, in the sale or lease of goods or services to any consumer.” (Ibid.)

Books are “goods” and pastors make money. So do Christian schools and universities. Bibles are books as well. But there’s more:

According to the bill, it includes also “efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions.” Thus, any sale of a book that makes statements that homosexual practice or transgender identification are immoral actions that people ought not to commit falls easily under the purview of AB 2943. (Ibid.)

And the bill goes further. It declares illegal the advertise of these “fraudulent” activities:

Also prohibited by this bill is “advertising, offering for sale, or selling a financial product that is illegal.” Merely advertising (e.g., on one’s Facebook page or some other Internet site) or offering for sale (e.g., on a table at a conference, regardless of whether copies are sold) “a financial product” that advocates a change of attractions, behavior, or gender expression (Ibid.)

With such broad language, I don’t see how someone isn’t going to sue someone or accuse someone of breaking this law (should the senate pass it and the governor sign it). But undoubtedly any attempt to do so will be challenged as unconstitutional because of the First Amendment protections of both free speech and freedom of religion.

I really never thought I would see these freedoms come under fire in such a blatant way in America. I suppose the Senate might still reject the bill, but in our liberal dominated state, the assembly passed it by a vote of 50-18.

Of course the early cry for the bill supporters is that opponents are exaggerating the effects the bill would have, should it become law. Factcheck has declared that the Bible is not in danger of being banned, should the bill pass. But a publication such as the National Review concludes otherwise: “Yes, California Is on the Verge of Banning Some Christian Books, Here’s How.”

Because of this bill one group from Colorado that apparently holds annual conventions in California, has canceled those events. The idea is that they have speakers who believe in marriage between one man and one woman, and they don’t want to come to California and get sued.

“Our speakers are leading Christian experts who base their presentations on theology, as well as sociology, psychology and science,” Summit President Jeff Myers said in a statement. “But the wording of AB 2943 is a dog whistle to the left that intelligent Christians holding traditional views are fair game for discrimination, smears and frivolous lawsuits.” (as quoted by the Denver Post, “Conservative Colorado ministry cancels California conventions over state bill that would ban gay conversion therapy“)

The sad thing is that in the midst of the wrangling that is sure to take place, should the bill pass, people are forgotten. And that means primarily people in the LGBT community, people who are struggling with their sexual identity and want help, and parents with confused children who don’t know who to go to with their questions.

Maybe the most powerful statements in opposition to this bill came from the two individuals in this video, who once were gay, but became Christians and Christ gave them new life. I recommend watching the first 7:30, because in truth, this is an American issue, not a California alone issue. I just listened to one pastor from Canada that says they have laws similar to the one proposed here, and he is ready to face the persecution because he plans to continue to proclaim the truth: he agrees with the Bible that homosexuality is sin, and in so doing he is not entering into any kind of hate speech. The reality, as the video below makes clear, is that declaring the truth is a way to show love. I’d only add that truth and love must be intricately woven together.

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Published in: on May 2, 2018 at 6:00 pm  Comments (8)  
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Offensive Words And Offensive Actions


When the United States formed its constitution, the framers added a Bill of Rights. First on the list was freedom of speech, religion, the press, assembly, and petition:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Throughout history some definition of these freedoms was needed. For example, in the 1960s and 70s the courts determined that burning draft cards was “free speech.” Since then other illegal activity designed to protest this or that has been deemed “free speech.”

On the flip side, more recently laws have come about to prohibit “hate speech,” which supporters want to say isn’t protected as free speech. Here’s one definition:

“Hate speech is a communication that carries no meaning other than the expression of hatred for some group, especially in circumstances in which the communication is likely to provoke violence. It is an incitement to hatred primarily against a group of persons defined in terms of race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and the like. Hate speech can be any form of expression regarded as offensive to racial, ethnic and religious groups and other discrete minorities or to women” (US Legal).

This idea that what a person says can be labeled as hate speech because it is “offensive” is a little troublesome. Might not atheists find statements by Christians that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, offensive? Might not homosexuals find it offensive if a Christian says homosexuality is sinful behavior?

Already we have seen pro-abortion advocates take offense at the term “baby killers.” I admit, I bristle at that term too. But apparently being called a baby killer is more offensive than killing one’s unborn baby. The courts have said a woman has a right to kill her baby, but society says we do not have a right to say she’s a baby killer.

Please understand, I am not suggesting pro-life advocates shout “baby killer” at pregnant women walking into an abortion clinic. It may be true, but it doesn’t seem grace-filled or loving, and I believe the Bible is clear that Christians should speak in a way that marks us as different from the rest of society.

That being said, I’m concerned that “offensive words” are trumping offensive actions. Today when a Christian says homosexuality is sinful behavior, it’s almost a certainty that someone will accuse him of homophobia. The declaration that the act is sinful is offensive whereas the act itself is condoned, if not approved.

What does that mean for the free speech of Christians who still believe in an absolute standard of right and wrong? Will there come a day when our religious liberty is curtailed because the statement of our beliefs is viewed as hateful? After all, when we say Jesus is the way, the truth, the life, no one comes to the Father but through Him, isn’t that exclusive? And isn’t an exclusive attitude hateful? Well, no, not when everyone is invited to the party and those who don’t come exclude themselves, but I suspect that is a point which will be lost over time.

The other side of the coin, of course is the part about offensive actions. How offended should a Christian be at abortion or homosexuality, pedophilia, sex trafficking, drug addiction, divorce, gossip, lying, bestiality, greed, or bribery?

On one hand, I want to say, not offended at all. Sinners, after all, will act sinfully. Why should that offend me? On the other hand, if I love my neighbor as myself, I should care that others are wallowing in heinous lifestyles. I don’t believe sinful behavior is the best for anyone. I also believe there is forgiveness for all who repent and accept the payment Jesus made for our sin. Nothing is so egregious that He can’t cancel the certificate of debt, nailing it to the cross.

As I write this, and struggle to figure out all the aspects of these issues, I realize that I am responsible first and foremost to God. Should I not stand up for His truth for as long as I am able?

But what is that truth? As much as I want to see the unborn protected, the pro-life message isn’t the gospel. The overarching truth is that God loves the world and pursues sinners with the intention to bring them into relationship with Himself. He loves the unborn baby and He loves the woman about to abort her. He loves the doctor and the technicians performing the abortion. God wants them all to turn from their wicked ways and find redemption in Him.

So how do we start? By repealing Roe v Wade? By pointing out the inconsistencies of belief in abortion with other closely held principles? By evangelizing those who don’t know Jesus? By advocating for a discussion about abortion in the mainstream media? Yes to all of it and more because it’s all free speech and an extension of freedom of religion.

But the true exercise of religion for the Christian means, in simplified form, loving God and loving our neighbor.

Sometimes love involves a warning—the Old Testament prophets are filled with warnings to the people they were addressing. Stop this behavior or that will happen. That’s loving. And I’m pretty sure, the warnings are not offensive to God, but the evil behavior is.

This post is a revised version of one that appeared here in May 2013.

Christians And Gay Rights


Anti-Christian_sign_in_Federal_Plaza_ChicagoYesterday the Arizona governor, Jan Brewer, vetoed a bill that would have permitted people to refuse service to gays and lesbians on the grounds of religious persuasion. You could think of it as the equivalent of the military’s alternate service for those drafted into the armed services who were pacifists. The intent, as I understand it, was to accommodate people who believe, based on their religion, that homosexuality is wrong.

Of course both local and national news shows, on every channel, covered the story, often tagging it as a clash between religious rights and personal freedom. I couldn’t help but think of the First Amendment to the US Constitution which guarantees a person the right to free expression of his religion. I don’t see anything in the Constitution about freedom of expression of a person’s sexuality.

I also have thought how early in the debate about “gay rights” those advocating for inclusion often argued that what a person did in the bedroom was their own business, no one else’s. That argument has been replaced.

Just last month a particular ethnic group here in SoCal held a parade. Originally a group of LGBT advocates were denied permission to be a part, but that decision was reversed. On parade day, the news shows covered this “happy end” to the conflict as the contingent of homosexuals marched behind their rainbow banner. Presumably what they do in their bedrooms is now something to celebrate.

Christians, who are uniquely singled out because of our opposition to homosexuality–not Muslims or any other group who also oppose that behavior–are portrayed with growing frequency as bigots.

The most bizarre news clip last night was the interview with a member of the LGBT community who was holding up pages and pages of pictures of lawmakers who supported the Arizona bill or who have taken a conservative position on marriage. This individual explained that all these lawmakers would be boycotted.

In other words, if a person says he opposes homosexuality on religious grounds, he would be discriminated against. But somehow, their boycott is not discrimination while exercising your right to express your religious beliefs, is.

The thing I don’t like is the fact that the news media is framing this discussion. Over and over, the same snippet came on the air showing people celebrating who were holding signs urging the veto of the bill. The implication was that this was a big crowd in front of Arizona’s Capitol. And yet the camera never panned out, never showed more than two rows of people, and the people they did show were not tightly packed together.

Of course, one station also aired their recent poll, showing that 52% of Americans now support same sex marriage. I think they forgot to mention the margin of error in the poll (usually a +/- 3%, sometimes greater) or whether it was conducted scientifically or informally. The point is, there’s a great attempt to create a bandwagon effect.

Homosexuality, which is sin, is now being presented as the position which a good, kind, caring person will naturally support. One Tweet, for example, thanked Christians who don’t discriminate.

Such loaded words. Once Christians who said homosexuality is sin were called homophobes. The name was used as a shaming tactic. No one wants to admit they’re afraid of “gayness.”

But the rhetoric has changed. Now homosexuality is getting traction as a civil right and therefore opposing it is discrimination and someone taking that stand is a bigot. This approach is more aggressive. It’s not shame but condemnation. It is a way of saying the religious person is wrong and the gay person is right.

Which reminds me of these verses in Isaiah:

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil;
Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness;
Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!
Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes
And clever in their own sight! (5:20-21)

At the root of the LGBT issue is the fact that those who are choosing against their God-given bodies are being wise in their own eyes. They know what they are like inside and ought not be hampered by the biological organs they’ve been born with–the body which God formed in their mother’s womb.

To me, what’s most interesting in all this is the admission of this inner being–you’d almost call it a soul or spirit–which the LGBT community listens to. If they feel like a woman inside, it doesn’t matter if they have a male body. The inside is what counts.

But that brings up the question: what happens when the body dies? The body, so many people say today, ends life. But this inside someone the LGBT community identifies as the stronger-than-the-physical entity of personhood–does it die with the body? This question, I would think, offers a conundrum for the gay person. If the body ends it all, then why should this inner person hold sway over the body? And if the inner person lives on after the body dies, does that mean there really is life after death, and a whole supernatural world with a God who will judge according to what a person has done during his time on earth?

As I see it, Christians have the greatest opportunity now to speak into the lives of people in the LGBT community. What they believe about their inner person determining their gender identity can open up a discussion about what happens to that inner person.

May we focus our attention on rescuing the lost and not on winning arguments.

Why I’m Not Boycotting Or Signing Petitions


pray-399613-mYears ago, I taught Bible to junior highers. Part of the requirement was to memorize Scripture, and inevitably someone would ask why. Sometimes I would pose the question: What if a foreign government swooped in and took away our Bibles. It seemed like a far-fetched possibility, but beyond my imagination was the idea that our own government might tamper with our religious freedoms.

Yet, that’s precisely what’s happening. The government, and social pressure exerted by those in position to do so. A&E, for example.

The government’s role currently centers on a portion of the Obamacare legislation that requires businesses to purchase for their employees, health insurance that would cover abortions and “morning after” pills. Any number of businesses run by people who believe the Bible speaks against taking the life of an unborn child will be forced to do something against their religious convictions or go out of business because the penalties for refusing to purchase the required coverage are prohibitive.

There are several cases before the Supreme Court that might reverse this.

So, do we sign petitions?

Or how about the Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani who’s life is in danger or the Iranian-American pastor, Saeed Abedini, who was not included in the State Department’s negotiations with Iran. Do we sign petitions to get our government to take our concerns seriously, to pressure them into doing what we think is right?

Or how about the 700,000 people who are advocating a boycott of A&E on Facebook? The conglomerate dismissed the Duck Dynasty guy off the show he created as a result of his answers in a print interview. He was asked about sin and stated his belief that homosexuality falls into that category.

I think it’s reprehensible that a Christian can’t declare what the Bible declares without getting fired from his job.

But I also think it was reprehensible that Paul and Silas were thrown in jail for their faith or that Peter was, that John was exiled to the Island of Patmos, and on and on.

The thing is, the New Testament Christians didn’t turn to political or social pressure as a means to escape suffering. Rather, Peter taught specifically that suffering was cause for rejoicing and was a blessing (see 1 Peter 2 and 4). Even so, believers gathered when Peter’d been condemned to die–not to rejoice, but to pray for his release. And miraculously God answered their prayers.

In contrast, there are examples of Old Testament figures who turned away from God rather than looking to Him as the means for their rescue. King Asa of Judah comes to mind. He started out so well, but his own success puffed him up, and he determined to get out of the next scrape his own way.

God reproved him for turning to a foreign power instead of to Him:

At that time Hanani the seer came to Asa king of Judah and said to him, “Because you have relied on the king of Aram and have not relied on the LORD your God, therefore the army of the king of Aram has escaped out of your hand. Were not the Ethiopians and the Lubim an immense army with very many chariots and horsemen? Yet because you relied on the LORD, He delivered them into your hand. For the eyes of the LORD move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His. You have acted foolishly in this. Indeed, from now on you will surely have wars.”(2 Chron. 16:7-9, emphasis mine)

So are we Christians today trying to rely on Aram rather than God? I think so.

We should be in prayer. We should ask God to intervene for us, to rescue us, to bring about revival, to use the present circumstances to shine a light on His grace and mercy.

Instead we are shining a light on our rights–rights which I pray fervently God will protect. But it is God who keeps us, not our rights. It is God who gives those rights and who takes them away, as He did the freedom of the Israelites who rejected Him.

Why would we think the Church today should not have the same admonition to trust God, not our own understanding, that the believers of old had?

Do we think we’ve become so much more capable that we can handle our problems without God? Or do we turn to God to ratify our schemes (God, give us a 100,000 more signatures).

I don’t mean to make light of this. Perhaps God is directing some people to confront our leaders. In a democracy, the people are responsible, and I think we should be speaking out, not quietly slinking into the shadows where we can practice our religion in secret. That happens in totalitarian societies. We don’t need to act as if we’re being persecuted to that extent.

We need to speak up and tell the truth–that a person getting fired for speaking his conscience, is wrong. It’s a violation of the First Amendment.

We also need to pray. If we are not looking to God when we’re under attack, when will we look to Him?

Published in: on December 19, 2013 at 6:29 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Divide Between State And Church


A couple days ago when I wrote “Render To God The Things That Are God’s,” I wasn’t thinking about how some people might look at that title–as a statement supporting the separation of church and state. To me, the issue was personal–how am I to interpret what Jesus was saying about giving to Him what belongs to Him.

But in looking back, I can see how someone might assume the article is about dividing the world into the secular and the sacred. There’s a bit of a faddish (Christians are not immune to following fads in our faith!) view these days that says there is no such divide. I can’t follow the line of reasoning carefully because I’ve only seen it repeated in its briefest forms, but the idea seems to be that “general revelation” shows God, therefore God can be seen in everything we do. He cannot and ought not be shut out of things we deem not sacred.

Perhaps I haven’t paid close attention to this discussion because it seems like a no-brainer to me, but I tend to forget that I benefited from years working at a Christian school that believed in integrating every discipline with Scripture. It’s nothing more than developing a Christian worldview.

How ironic, though, that such integration comes from an institution that is specifically separate from the general culture. And yet, to teach the harmony of the Bible with history or science, math, or English, that’s what has to happen in a society that has tacitly added “separation of church and state” to the Bill of Rights.

But what is it we mean by the phrase? The Constitution clearly states that government is not to establish a religion. In other words, Baptist is not to become the religion required by law, with all others declared illegal. Neither is there to be an unequal playing field created by law which favors one religion over another.

In short, government was to get out of the way of religious development. In fact, government is prohibited by the Constitution from interfering with a person’s religious expression.

How then have we arrived at today’s secular/sacred divide?

Recently a news item pointed to court action prohibiting cheerleaders at an East Texas high school from making a sign for their football team that contained a Bible verse (set aside for a moment that they yanked it out of context). Just today they won an injunction which allows them to continue making the signs until an appeal can be heard.

But why are we saying these cheerleaders can’t express their beliefs? I understand they shouldn’t be mandated by a school authority to put Scripture on their signs, but this was something they wanted to do. So teachers are prohibited from saying a good many things about their faith, and now students are too?

The divide is growing, and it’s squeezing people of faith into a corner. Out of the Chick-fil-A controversy, more than one person claimed that the owner had no right to give money to the faith-based charities he chose, and that franchises should be prohibited from opening in various places because of his actions. What’s worse, some arguing against Chick-fil-A claimed that Christians ought not allow their religious beliefs to influence their advocacy for public policy.

The tenor of this debate seems to be marginalizing religious beliefs. A person can say that abortion is wrong because it will end up hurting society by reducing the population, but ought not say abortion is wrong because God values life, so we also should value life and protect the weakest and most vulnerable.

In other words, keep God out. Put religion on the other side of the dividing wall between church and state . . . the one that isn’t in our Constitution.

Published in: on October 18, 2012 at 6:36 pm  Comments (2)  
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Christians And Politics


When I was teaching, I used to feel somewhat resentful that teachers were not allowed to voice their opinion in their classroom about things like whether or not they believed in God or if they opposed same-sex marriage and the like. Granted, I taught in a Christian school, so I did have the privilege of saying what I believed, though I’m sure that’s because my beliefs aligned with my school’s.

But seriously, I thought, this is America where we have the Bill of Rights, with the protection of both free speech and freedom of religion, right there in the first amendment, and teachers can’t stand before their classes and say, I believe in God?

Slowly that restriction on a person’s freedom to express an opinion seems to be spreading, to the point that just recently a Christian agent felt compelled to apologize for stating political opinions in the articles he wrote for his agency blog. I suppose if there was some confusion that his opinions represented those of the organization, then there might be justification in refraining from making a statement about his beliefs, but I can’t help wondering where this trend will end.

I mean, those lining up at Chick-Fil-A this summer were accused of hate speech. And I’ve been in a discussion on line at a public forum in which someone says Christians have no business voicing their opinion on public policy if their religion informed their beliefs. That’s crossing the line between church and state, this person claimed.

Really?

Christians are now to be seen and not heard, even when talking primarily to other Christians, all for the fear of offending someone? I have to admit, I’m astounded by this and equally dismayed.

On the other hand, I don’t think Christians should be offensive in the way we talk to or about other people.

There’s a way to speak that is demeaning by its sarcasm or condescension and I don’t think Christians should speak that way–not because I don’t like it, but because Scripture calls us to speak with grace so that we will know how we should respond to each person (See Colossians 4:6). We’re supposed to honor all people (1 Peter 2:17), love others, and not be a stumbling block that causes someone to turn from the gospel.

However, it’s a mistake to think we should correct our way of speaking by holding our tongue altogether. What will set us apart from the world is not our closed mouths. It’s our willingness to say what we believe in a manner that puts our content front and center rather than our expression of it.

Take Clint Eastwood, for example. Many people talked about his “speech” (clearly it was a piece of theater, an ad libbed monologue) at the Republican National Convention. Those who disagreed with it found it bizarre; those who agreed found it clever. Not very many people talked about the ideas he expressed.

The Democrats worried about Bill Clinton in the same way. Would his powerful rhetoric overshadow President Obama?

In other words, in our day and age perhaps more than in any other, style has become the first measure of public discourse. Christians, then, should pay attention to how we say what we believe. And we should keep on speaking, because we live in a country that allows us to do so.

Published in: on September 6, 2012 at 6:40 pm  Comments (2)  
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