The Criminalization of Heartland Christianity

on October 7, 2014

The coercive program of homosexual liberation, cloaked as always in the language of love and justice, and backed ultimately by court edicts and intense political and social pressure, is now working its way into the American heartland, just as it is working its way into the church in this and other Western countries. Last year IRD reported on controversy in Springfield, in southwestern Missouri, where a proposed ordinance for homosexual rights prompted a dispute between local clergy over the meaning of the gospel as it pertains to homosexuality, and an eloquent defense of Biblical morality by Dr. George O. Wood, General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God, which has its headquarters in Springfield. Local controversy over the ordinance led the city council to table the issue in the past.

Today, the efforts to LGBT rights activists in Missouri are close to a significant victory. Next week, on October 13th, the Springfield City Council will vote on a proposal to criminalize discrimination based on “sexual orientation and gender identity”.

While stymied thus far in efforts to impose, state-wide, a redefinition of marriage to include same-sex couples, the diligent six person staff of PROMO (“Missouri’s statewide organization advocating for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender equality”) have taken an incremental approach in enacting so-called non-discrimination ordinances. Starting with a relatively secular and liberal city, Columbia, they attempted to enact this “model” legislation in other municipalities. One might call this the “domino theory” of gay rights – one city falls at a time and momentum builds. PROMO displays their victories in a time-lapse montage on their website.

Notably absent is any success in enacting the “Columbia model” in the southern third of the state. The Missouri Ozarks is renowned for its deep religiosity, so enacting such an ordinance there would be a major, perhaps decisive, step in enacting such legislation state wide. After all, if this model can pass in the “Queen City” of the Ozarks, why should the Missouri General Assembly have concerns about passing it state wide?

Dr. Wood of the Assemblies of God continues to provide a consistent, thoughtful and credible voice in opposing the imposition of the Columbia model on Springfield, as can be seen in his most recent statement on the issue. Last week, he was joined in his efforts by the local Catholic Bishop, James V. Johnston, who released a statement on September 30. While local media have covered opposition to the ordinance, they seem to be unabashed supporters of same-sex demands, most crucially treating them as simply adding a new antidiscrimination category, along with race, sex, national origin, etc., and highlighting the conservative and religious nature of the opposition. Yet the controversy’s crucial issue is that the proposed ordinance requires not only nondiscrimination with respect to homosexuals as persons, but nondiscrimination with respect to homosexual behavior.

In opposing the ordinance, Bishop Johnston points out the existence of criminal penalties – up to six months in jail – that can be imposed and the lack of any religious exemption whatsoever for individuals and business owners. Thus, religious business owners would not only be required to serve homosexual customers (which probably none object to serving anyway), but to providing goods and services that contribute to homosexual behavior, in scenarios now being played out nationally with bakers and photographers in connection with the wedding industry.

But most shockingly, there is no exemption for religious institutions when engaged in any kind of commerce, such as renting a hall or advertising in a church publication. Under the proposed ordinance, freedom to live one’s faith, religious freedom, is reduced to freedom of worship – the citizenship of churches as full and equal members of the community is revoked unless they leave their faith inside the sanctuary.

In his statement, Bishop Johnston expressed grave concern: “Do the people of Springfield really want to make criminals out of persons who are merely trying to live their faith? Does the government have a compelling interest in forcing every member of our society to participate in the celebration of same-sex relationships?” He urged the Springfield City Council to find a way to respect the conscience rights, association rights, free speech rights and civil rights of all citizens and explained that, under the proposed ordinance, a publication issued by a church can reject advertising for alcohol, abortion or anything else that violates that church’s teachings, but it becomes a crime for the church to reject an ad promoting a same-sex wedding. Is this “equal” treatment, or privileging one group to impose its speech on others?

As noted, the proposed ordinance does not respect religious liberty. It includes a narrow exemption which is inadequate in at least three areas, specifically it:

1) Only applies to employment, not advertising in church publications, not the rental or sale of church property, halls, rooms or worship spaces.

2) Only exempts some religious organizations, those whose primary purpose is “religious ritual or worship or the teaching or spreading of religious doctrine or belief.” All Christian organizations exist primarily as a service to God, but if a Christian organization is focused primarily on what is ordinarily considered a secular function, such as education, say a Christian high school, or charity, serving the poor, such as a soup kitchen, food pantry or another charity, all its employees are not exempt. Only employees whose primary duties are deemed religious in nature are exempt.

3) Does not respect the character of religious service organizations. A gym teacher at a Christian grade school can be required by the school to live a Christian life, to abstain from tobacco and alcohol or be faithful in a church recognized marriage, but if the school fires this employee for having a same-sex affair, that would violate the proposed ordinance. School officials could be subject to fines and up to 6 months in jail.

A common response to lists such as the above is to characterize them (especially before they are enacted) as a “parade of horribles,” a hysterical reaction to something historically forbidden now being protected in law. But traditional Christians do not act from malice (despite the impassioned accusations of homosexual liberation), nor from personal unease about homosexual practice, but from conscience. As IRD noted when conscience protections were defeated in Arizona in March of this year, that to contribute to sin is itself sin, as declared by Jesus Himself, and as recognized by such ecclesiastical guides as the Catechism of the Catholic Church, statement 1868 (on contributing to sin), and the Westminster Larger Catechism, question 99 (on the strict avoidance of sin, including contributing to sin).

And of course, once enacted, such laws do have grave consequences for those who cannot in good conscience contribute to homosexual behavior. Nationally publicized cases involve that of a florist, a photographer, an innkeeper, a baker, and a church camp, but there are numerous others. Claims to First Amendment religious freedom, free speech, or liberty of conscience have generally failed against antidiscrimination laws; the ideological commitment to antidiscrimination doctrine prevails over the constitutional principle, which until this generation would have been thought to protect religious believers. But this is wrong. However much prevailing opinion changes, real moral considerations do not ever change. Christopher Tollefsen of the Witherspoon Institute has provided an excellent defense of liberty of conscience, arguing that it is always wrong to require persons to act against their conscience — although it may, in some circumstances, be possible to forbid actions an individual considers obligatory. Tollefsen notes that it matters not whether a person is correct in his or her belief that a legally required action is wrong, it is still wrong to require that person act against his or her moral judgment.

What does all this mean for where America is headed as a society? IRD pondered the question last fall, when the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled against Elaine Huguenin, a photographer fined for refusing to photograph a lesbian ceremony. In particular, we noted the common threat to the religious conscience in the public square, with merchants in many different occupations affected, and the concurrence in this denial of religious liberty by a New Mexico Supreme Court justice, who declared that taking what traditional Christians believe to be sinful action is “the price of citizenship.” Francis Cardinal George of Chicago expanded on the topic of the loss of liberty due to the state taking the role of a “fake church” in attempting to establish norms for its citizenry based on the sensibilities of the elite who decisively influence the state.

Those who have lived where religious liberty is denied understand what its loss means. The pastor of the largest Slavic immigrant church in the Springfield area made an eloquent plea for religious liberty at a Springfield City Council meeting last month. Noting that the ordinance would subject his church members to fines and jail time, he stated “I came here to America for religious freedom, and now America is becoming more like the Soviet Union … This ordinance would make it illegal for my church members to follow their religious beliefs. We would be subject to fines and could be put out of business. We aren’t trying to force our beliefs on anybody. We want to live at peace with everyone. Please don’t force your values on us. This is an issue of religious liberty.” The Slavic pastor, Mykola Illyuk’s 3-minute speech to the City Council is available in a Youtube video clip.

If we don’t want to see America become “more like the Soviet Union,” we must take what action we can to make our convictions heard. Those in the Springfield area may want to call or write the members of the Springfield City Council individually and ask them why they want to fine and even jail pastors, church officials and business owners for merely living their faith, and to urge them to reject the proposed ordinance, or amend it to protect religious institutions and business owners from providing goods and services that contribute to homosexual behavior.

  1. Comment by MarcoPolo on October 7, 2014 at 8:57 am

    Homosexual identity and homosexual behavior are two different things.
    We all know plenty of Christians that call themselves Christian, but don’t behave like one. SAME THING!
    Identity…a natural Right in a free country.

  2. Comment by Norman Lane on October 7, 2014 at 9:18 am

    The problem with “justice,” is, Who defines it? Homosexuals claim that allowing them to marry if “justice,” but why not extend “justice” to polygamists, pedophiles, guys who wish to marry their daughters…? Go back 20 years, who in America would have believed that “justice” would be defined as “two homosexuals sharing a house can marry each other”?

    The obsession with “rights” means there is always going to be some aggrieved group, so there will never be “justice” so long as someone can claim “discrimination,” which will be forever.

  3. Comment by Dan on October 8, 2014 at 1:34 pm

    Hasn’t another holiday on Columbus Day for just this purpose been recently proposed? Indignant Persons’ Day sounds like the perfect occasion for commemorating rights denied.

  4. Comment by Kyle on October 8, 2014 at 7:44 pm

    “Indignant Persons’ Day” – well put!

  5. Comment by MarcoPolo on October 13, 2014 at 8:21 pm

    Dear Norman Lane…Go back forty years and who would have believed that inter-racial marriage would ever be acceptable?
    Same thing, eh?

  6. Comment by Bruce427 on October 23, 2014 at 2:16 pm

    ** Same thing, eh? **

    Not even remotely the “same thing.” One has to do with skin color; the other has to do with gender.

    But the Progressive Left has been fairly successful at conflating the two.

  7. Comment by MarcoPolo on October 23, 2014 at 2:38 pm

    Thank you, Bruce427, you’ve made my point!
    Since many people on “your” side think there is only white and black, it’s understandable that you would think that there is only male and female…or Caucasian or Negroid. We now know, that there are myriad combinations of ALL!

    Race, Gender, etc… all these descriptions of what defines a person are almost infinite.
    Why is it so difficult to realize that humans are made up from many traceable genetic traits. That’s the beauty of Humanity!

    Lest we get too far off topic, I do agree, that one shouldn’t be arrested, fined, or penalized for refusing to go against their religious beliefs. If we expect to live in a free society, we must respect those things that make us a workable, diverse, and tolerant society.

    Free Markets suggest that if you can’t get one baker to bake your wedding cake, you are free to select from another baker!

  8. Comment by JohnnyAngel Advocacy Group on October 8, 2014 at 5:41 am

    The new witch hunt of the Leftist Communists.

  9. Comment by Carlos M on October 9, 2014 at 11:50 am

    Yes, and the left-wing churches are aiding and abetting it.

  10. Comment by Rob Graham on October 9, 2014 at 8:51 am

    I do wish that people uncomfortable with sexuality, the very existence of sex, would stop lying about their motives.

    It is not ‘rights’ you are talking about, but power. Until recently people such as the writer of this article had the power. They had the power to decide who were and were not people. They had the power to decide how those who were not people could be treated. They had the power to decide whether those who were not people could eat, where they could live, if they could live.

    That is no longer the case, and like most people losing their power they are very unhappy with it.

    It is a free country and they are allowed to feel that way. Please be honest about your motives though.

  11. Comment by Carlos M on October 9, 2014 at 11:48 am

    If they had some award for Politically Correct BS, you’d win it. Wow, real college sophomore stuff there.

    Grow up, be an adult, drop that PC hogwash, the world is not a power struggle, and the only people who say it is are those who wish to put themselves in power. Nothing remotely loving or Christian about that, the desire for power is Satanic.

  12. Comment by MarcoPolo on October 13, 2014 at 8:27 pm

    Dear Carlos,
    Political correctness is simply another means of being sensitive to another persons feelings. And a sure way to piss off the religious right-wing folks who think their way is the only way. LOL!

    It takes some intelligence as well as compassion to exercise political correctness accurately.

  13. Comment by MarcoPolo on October 23, 2014 at 2:25 pm

    Carlos, you are clearly living in a bubble if you don’t recognize a power struggle. Be it of the Devil, or the Lord, as long as man is in the equation, it is always about power.
    And there’s nothing shameful about political correctness. It’s a means of civility that isn’t honored by those who wish to be crudely blunt.

  14. Comment by Semp on October 25, 2014 at 10:05 am

    No it isn’t, PC means the squeaky wheels get the grease, and the squeakiest wheels are perverts and men-hating women. Christianity does not call us to kowtow to either of those disgusting groups.

  15. Comment by MarcoPolo on October 25, 2014 at 11:01 am

    Think for a minute, Semp… “Politically Correct”…
    Politic: Social governance, policy, prudent discretion for living as a society.
    Correct: Accurate, free from error, truth.

    If the theory of squeaky wheels getting the grease holds true, then yes, those issues that cause great raucous might possibly deserve attention, but that’s just an old idiom.

    If you’re braod-brushing the entire Gay agenda as “Men hating women” or worse, “perverts”, then you’re vastly misunderstanding the purpose of having and promoting a diverse society.

  16. Comment by RickPlasterer on October 9, 2014 at 12:20 pm


    The motive of faithful Christians, as I emphasized in my article, is to obey God. We must obey God rather than men regardless of the penalty to ourselves or how badly anyone else is offended. The is a basic Biblical principle without which one does not have Biblical Christianity.

    Religious freedom originally came about to
    accommodate such unbending consciences. Ancient Rome, the Soviet Union, and contemporary Saudi Arabia and/or Iran made Christian practice
    illegal, the obligation there was/is to obey God regardless of the penalty. Here in America, we appeal to religious freedom, which ought toprotect us, but no longer does.

    It is typical of the Left to regard everything as a power struggle. The result is anarchy or tyranny
    and practically it has to be the latter. The only secure basis of general principles is in a transcendent reality, that courts in this country have refused for the last 60 years.

    Rick Plasterer
    Institute on Religion and Democracy

  17. Comment by MarcoPolo on October 13, 2014 at 8:31 pm

    It is very possible that the Orthodox Christian will become another small religious sect, living much like the Amish or Mennonite parishioners, secure in their cloistered communities, and not having to endure the society at large. (?)

  18. Comment by localhistorywriter on October 9, 2014 at 9:04 pm

    “Uncomfortable with sexuality”? Meaning what? Not promiscuous? Conform to this sexed-up culture?

  19. Comment by localhistorywriter on October 13, 2014 at 9:27 am

    Never attempt to read people’s minds, because you’ll inevitably be wrong. There’s no way you could possibly know that orthodox Christians are lying about our motives, so, as Jesus put it, “Judge not.”

  20. Comment by Max Friedman on October 15, 2014 at 11:18 pm

    Just an observation. The mentioned tactic of taking one city at a time is similar to that of ISIS in Iraq. I guess fanatics think alike, but they are succeeding.

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