“We do need to be vigilant but also we need to be wise about when to sound the alarm.” Throckmorton
Last week, news broke that the Iowa Civil Rights Commission had backed down after a lawsuit demanded the government stop “censoring the church’s teaching on biblical sexuality and from forcing the church to open its restrooms and showers to members of the opposite sex.” (Ibid.)
The lawsuit’s wording implied that churches had received edicts, pastors had been gagged, the Gestapo had arrived. The equivalent of the Gestapo may be coming to America. They may even be on our doorstep. But they haven’t overtaken the pulpits of Iowa just yet.
The panic was needless.
It’s true that the state legislature passed a law and the commission crafted regulations to prohibit discrimination because of sexual orientation and identity. It’s true that some of those regulations include churches. It’s also true that the law passed in 2007, the regulations in 2008. So far, no edicts, no gag orders, no Gestapo.
Warren Throckmorton explains: “[S]omeone noticed admittedly vague and confusing language about churches complying with the law in ‘a church service open to the public.’ That sounded like a Sunday worship service. However, . . . it became clear that Iowa wasn’t about to shut down churches for preaching on homosexuality. . . . The Commission did not have in mind worship services and quickly changed the language in the guidance to make that clear.”
One applicable example the commission cited includes church day care centers. But not the Sunday morning service. Apparently, a church day care cannot turn away the child of a transgender parent. No church may refuse to serve a transgender person hoping to attend a spaghetti dinner fundraiser for new softball equipment for the church team.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be concerned about such regulations and the ways they can limit freedom. That includes whom the church day care may hire, for example. It doesn’t mean Christians shouldn’t be vigilant to protect ourselves against the same commission someday redefining the meaning of ‘services’.
It does mean we need to be honest in all our dealings.
No matter what a judge or commission or legislature decides, we need to act with integrity at every turn. And this wheel keeps on turning.
Congressional Republicans have introduced a bill that would ensure “that someone cannot be fired or punished for their views on marriage.” Specifics in the bill would protect churches as well–and, we hope, those who refuse to participate in gay weddings because of their religious convictions.
It’s about the freedom of conscience that is intertwined with the freedom of religion our Constitution guarantees. Not all nations have this guarantee in place.
Russia recently passed legislation limiting religious freedom. The new laws are a “package of bills” supposedly designed to protect the former Soviet citizens from terrorism. There are “potentially wide-sweeping ramifications” that could severely limit religious conversation and even private worship.
“Russian evangelicals are expressing alarm.” But they are waiting to see how “this law will be applied when it goes into effect.” In the meantime, they ask for prayer. As they wait to see how the bureaucracy they live under will apply the law, they exercise faith, not panic, and not a distortion of actual events.
No one in Russia has ever had to inflate the effects of religious persecution.
Christians face real challenges all over the world. But there is something even more important than whether we win each point of conflict. It’s most important that we remain faithful, win or lose.
This is no time for panic. For panic has its foundation in fear.
And we are people of faith.