When Mozilla’s CEO Brendan Eich was forced to resign as CEO for making a $1000 donation to Proposition 8 (which was illegally leaked by someone at the IRS), gay rights activist and columnist Andrew Sullivan stated that if this was the campaign for equality than count him out. Sullivan wrote, “The whole episode disgusts me – as it should disgust anyone interested in a tolerant and diverse society,” he went on to say “If we are about intimidating the free speech of others, we are no better than the anti-gay bullies who came before us.”
The Eich controversy hit about the same time the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case of Elaine Photography. If you are unfamiliar with the charges filed against Elaine Huguenin let me break it down: Elaine and her husband Jon had recently moved to New Mexico. Elaine, a gifted photographer helped supplement their family income by shooting wedding ceremonies on the weekend. Elaine received an email from a woman in a lesbian relationship inquiring about photos for a same-sex commitment ceremony. Elaine politely refused stating she only performed traditional ceremonies because she is an evangelical Christian. Elaine was taken before the New Mexico Human Rights Commission and fined $7000.
When the case hit the media, secularists attacked Elaine as a bigot. Many Christians, including a handful of my fellow apologists, also argued Elaine was in the wrong because they did not see a difference in refusing to shoot a same-sex ceremony and a racist refusing to serve a person of color at a lunch counter. Some raised the question of whether there is any difference in refusing to shoot the wedding of two non-Christians. Few if any raised the question of whether there is a difference between offering a service that is, in and of itself, sinless (like eating) and participating in an activity that is inherently sinful (a homosexual union) that cannot be redeemed and continued.
But all those arguments aside, few seemed to pause and ask about the ramifications of a nation incrementally losing the religious freedom it has long enjoyed. I would argue this is an issue that committed Christian thinkers should take very seriously.
First of all, the loss of religious freedom (along with the growth of centralized government) is historically dangerous for all people. The loss of one freedom often serves as the domino for the loss of others. We are a people called to love our neighbors (Matt. 22:37-40) and standing by while persecution may be inching toward many certainly does not count.
Second, some have argued that if we lose our freedom it will help the church grow or at least “separate the men from the boys.” This is a romantic notion that persecution is good for the church but it too is a failure to love our neighbors and is not entirely accurate. For example, see Acts 9:31, which reads, “Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.” Moreover, great revivals like the First and Second Great Awakening and the immediate post World War II boom took place in times of religious freedom.
Third, true rational discourse in true marketplace of ideas depends on true religious freedom. One cannot arbitrarily exclude certain ideas from public debate because it strikes certain segments of the culture as offensive. If any person believes that open dialogue is a key to truth then that person should fight for any voice to have his or her say.
Fourth, some contend that it impedes our ability to share the Gospel if we take a hard stand on issues like marriage or insist on our freedom to speak. A few years ago one of my colleagues argued for traditional marriage in a federal courthouse in San Francisco. He made his argument and sat down. The attorney for the city, an outspoken gay rights activist who was engaged in homosexual activity, began to make her case but had a persistent cough. My colleague poured her a glass of water. She became flustered and lost some the citations for her argument. My colleague wrote them down on post-it notes and handed them to her. She later wrote that she had never been treated with more dignity and respect than she was that day. It is possible to stand for truth and do so graciously.
We have been so blessed in this nation to have the freedom to preach the Gospel and disciple those who come to faith. It is has also been a blessing for the whole world. America has been the most generous country in the history of mankind. The freedom to preach the Gospel in my little college town has helped produce a church of over a thousand who, among other things, has built wells in Africa providing clean water for those who did not have it and we are saving to do much more. The Gospel heals and the freedom to share it (and defend it) openly what the world needs.
So, we need to graciously and intelligently contend for our freedom by supporting Christian legal groups like Alliance Defending Freedom and, of course praying for God’s continued grace. We also need to train ourselves in public and practical apologetics including why it is that traditional marriage is good for a country (and it is). In the meantime, be sure to go to Speak Up Church and gather resources on how to help protect your church from the current attacks on religious freedom.
Grace and peace.