Within the constitution of the United States, there is an amendment that states, ‘Congress [the government body that makes laws] 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’.
These freedoms, hard won by the Founding Fathers in the 18th century, have lately been called into question through recent events. With the increasing acceptance and promotion of homosexuality in civil, church and public realms, American evangelicals are being hard pressed to stand for the truth.
Since the 1970s, homosexuals have pushed the US federal government to legalise homosexual marriage throughout the States. Prior to 1996, the federal government did not make a ruling on the definition of marriage since any marriage recognised by a state was considered legal; it was up to the individual states to make a ruling on the matter.
Massachusetts was the first state in 2004 to legalise homosexual marriage, and many states followed suit shortly thereafter. In 2009, the states of New England, once the centre of the First Great Awakening in the 17th and 18th centuries, became the central hub for promoting homosexual marriage.
Public support and acceptance of homosexuality has continued to rise in the last 20 years. In 1996, 25 per cent of Americans were in support of homosexuality. That number has doubled and solidified to over 50 per cent as of 2013.
Forty-one states restricted homosexual marriages in 2010 and that number has dropped to 17. Since summer 2013, the US Supreme Court, the highest court in the nation, has declared that marriage no longer is just between a man and a woman. That has since caused all kinds of legal battles, even within these last months.
You may ask, ‘Where has the American church been in the midst of this debate? Isn’t the American church strong enough to debate and influence national culture?’
Herman Melville, author of Moby Dick, once wrote that the ‘pulpit is the prow of the world’. Although Melville was not a Christian, I would venture to say that he is correct: the church certainly influences and leads the culture, and, if the church is not strong in its doctrine, then the culture will follow.
Ever since the influx of higher criticism and liberal theology in the 19th and early 20th centuries, teachings against the inerrancy and supremacy of Scripture have crept in and gnawed at the foundation of the American church.
It was a slow decay at the beginning, but, by the end of World War II, many mainline Protestant denominations denied the inerrancy and authority of Scripture, and even denied Jesus as the only way of salvation. They abandoned the foundation of the gospel and the Scriptures and sought to accommodate the secular world.
As a result, many denominations accept homosexuality and even have homosexual ministers. Mainline Protestant denominations that accept homosexuality are the Presbyterian Church (USA), Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Reformed Church in America, some Baptist churches (not the Southern Baptist Convention) and the United Church of Christ.
There are several other denominations, including the Southern Baptist Convention, Presbyterian Church in America, Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, United Pentecostal Church, Assemblies of God, Lutheran Church in Missouri Synod, and a few others, that do not support homosexuality and hold steadfast to the Word of God as infallible and inerrant.
Yet, by and large, the church is rampant with liberalism and, therefore, it is no surprise that homosexuality has such a high acceptance rate among Americans.
With over 50 per cent of Americans accepting homosexuality and other rampant sins (including abortion), it is little surprise that the remnant, the evangelical American church, has faced persecution, both from the culture and now from the State.
In recent months, there have been various incidents where the government has threatened the religious freedoms we once enjoyed and ‘penalised’ American churches that have spoken against homosexuality.
Within recent months, two incidents have arisen in which the government sought to limit the freedoms of Christians.
First, the mayor and city officials of Houston, Texas, issued subpoenas ordering five Houston pastors to hand over all their sermons, emails, texts and anything they said against homosexuality, or against the recent ‘equal rights ordinance’ or the mayor (who is lesbian). They threatened to charge the pastors with contempt of court, and further charges, if they refused.
During this time, the pastors raised a referendum to overturn the equal rights ordinance. This received 55,000 signatures (it only needed 17,000). The city threw the mayor’s petition out.
Second, city officials of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, told two ordained ministers, Donald and Evelyn Knapp, that, if they did not consent to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies, they would face up to 180 days in jail and a $1000 fine each day they refused to marry a homosexual couple.
In both cases, the Alliance for Defending Freedom sought to help with legal issues and filed federal lawsuits to defend the defendants’ First Amendment Rights.
One of the key issues at stake was that the government was denying these pastors their rights of freedom of religion and freedom of speech, as found in the First Amendment of the US Constitution.
Many American cities are passing ‘equal rights ordinances’, which grant rights to homosexuals by creating unisex bathrooms and permitting homosexual marriages, among other things. These have brought all kinds of confusion.
Now government at the city, state and federal levels is trying to enforce these equal rights ordinances at the expense and persecution of Christians. While they seek to give freedom to one group, they repress the legal freedoms of another group, with no qualms over the errors of their legal logic. Such is the storm American evangelicals are now weathering.
Dear friends in Britain, please be in prayer for your brothers and sisters ‘across the pond’. Having lived in England for a year, I understand that you face the same injustices and legal chaos that we do.
Please pray for us, and we will also be praying for you all as you face the same trials. May the Lord give us all the boldness to hold fast our confession and love our neighbours, be they Christian, Muslim, atheist or homosexual.
Let us pray the same words that the saints prayed in Acts 4:29-30: ‘And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your Word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus’.
This article was first published on January 5, 2015 in Evangelical Times and shared with their permission. All rights reserved. Subscribe to ET’s newsletter here.