Tag Archives: Government

Against the Separation of Marriage and State

It’s been a tumultuous year in the battle over marriage. We’re losing, and we need a new strategy. The good news is, almost everyone has now seen this need. The bad news is, just as we are leaving behind the dangers of overconfidence, we are facing the dangers of discouragement.

At this tough time, we must be especially careful to avoid wishful thinking. More and more Christians think they have found an easy way out of our marriage dilemmas through a “separation of marriage and state.” The idea is to avoid a political debate about marriage by removing that question from the realm of law, policy, and regulation. Let anyone who wants to call themselves married call themselves married, and keep government entirely out of it.


Don’t get me wrong—such an approach would not be the worst possible outcome of the current debate. It would probably be better than full-blown legal institutionalization of gay marriage. Politicians and activists need not fight to the death for perfection; their job is to obtain the most palatable result from a menu of alternatives that is always imperfect and often downright unappetizing. In the coming years, something like a separation of marriage and state is likely to be the least-worst among the bad selection of possible outcomes in many localities.

But many supporters of natural marriage are starting to think a separation of marriage and state is actually the most desirable policy on the merits. If that view prevails, we will have made a considerable error; one that will tend to lead us into even worse errors far beyond the marriage debate. “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good” is sound advice. But it is equally important not to mistake the good—still less the only-sort-of-okay, or even the lousy-but-it’s-the-best-we-can-get—for the perfect.

No End

To begin, a separation of marriage and state would not end the political battle over marriage. The vast legal and regulatory apparatus of the modern state does millions of things every day that require it to make assumptions about who is married. From divorce and child custody courts to health care policy to government employee benefits, any serious attempt to make government agnostic about marriage would require policymakers, bureaucrats, and lawyers to make literally millions of decisions about how each of these specific questions would now be handled under the new rules.

There is no way to make those decisions without creating unpredictable and intensely painful disruptions in the lives of large numbers of people. Inevitably, neither side of the marriage debate would be satisfied with the results of the process. Each side would demand that the questions be settled more favorably for its constituencies. And none of these decisions would ever be permanently settled, because both sides will always have opportunities to reopen areas of debate and keep fighting for more turf.

The fact that you can’t actually avoid a political battle over marriage points to a deeper problem: the attempt to separate marriage and state would institutionalize a false view of reality. The existence of civil government presupposes the existence of natural marriage. People form political communities to serve social needs that only arise after households already exist.

This is not an exclusively Christian teaching. Until just the other day, it was the prevailing view in every human civilization, including those in which homosexuality was accepted. For ancients like Aristotle and Confucius, political society exists essentially to mediate between households. For moderns like Locke, the natural law that human life is to be protected and increased leads us first to get married and have children, and only later to form governments that help us protect and increase life more effectively.

A separation of marriage and state would institutionalize the view that government need not presuppose natural marriage. That error would probably be less damaging than the error of gay marriage. But it would still have bad consequences.

All About Individuals

For all the important differences between ancient and modern views, they agree that the political community is not something we create because we want to get something for ourselves out of it; it’s something we create because we want life and justice to increase. A society that really practiced a separation of marriage and state would come to think—even more strongly than our culture already does—that politics is not about how a community can order its shared life for justice and flourishing. Politics would become, even more than it already is, all about how individuals can satisfy their desires. This is a major contributor to almost every public problem we have today, from the economic crisis to the breakdown of the family to the inability of government to perform even its most basic tasks.

The attempt to make government neutral regarding marriage would also encourage the broader cultural illusion that government is, or can be, morally neutral. People want to be able to live in peace with their neighbors, but public moral commitments that are shared in common make them uncomfortable. The desire for morally neutral government is an attempt to have our cake and eat it, too. It is what lies behind both the collapse of integrity in public institutions and the relentless campaign to force believers to live like secularists whenever they are in public. A separation of marriage and state would encourage this cultural environment further.

For all these reasons, a separation of marriage and state would not be a stable, permanent solution to the marriage dilemma. It’s not clear at this point what would be, although some promising ideas have been proposed. We do have to find a way to live in peace with our gay neighbors, accepting them with love as equal citizens. In time, their cultural narrative will fall apart. Until then, we have a messy political problem to navigate—and it does no good to try to avoid the inevitable.

Charles Taylor

Ideological Moralism and Gospel Grace

“My life has meaning because of the Cause. You oppose the Cause. You must submit or be destroyed.”

— Modern/postmodern ideological moralism

Charles Taylor
Charles Taylor

I posted that status after reading a little section toward the end of Charles Taylor’s Sources of the Self on Friedrich Nietzsche’s analysis about the modern demand of benevolence. Nietzsche offers one of the most insightful examinations of how the modern idea that humanity must maintain goodwill toward all—”a secularized agape,” especially apart from the context of grace—can provoke feelings either of unworthiness or self-satisfaction in the human soul. Basically, the options are despair or smug self-satisfaction depending on how well you think you measure up to the standard.

Taylor goes on to analyze one further implication Nietzsche left unexplored:

The threatened sense of unworthiness can also lead to the projection of evil outward; the bad, the failure, is now identified with other people or groups. My conscience is clear because I oppose them, but what can I do? They stand in the way of universal beneficence; they must be liquidated. This becomes particularly virulent on the extremes of the political spectrum, in a way which Dostoevsky explored to unparalleled depths.

In our day as in his, many young people are driven to political extremism, sometimes by truly terrible conditions, but also by a need to give meaning to their lives. And since meaninglessness is frequently accompanied by a sense of guilt, they sometimes respond to a strong ideology of polarization, in which one recovers a sense of direction as well as a sense of purity by lining up in implacable opposition to the forces of darkness. The more implacable and even violent the opposition, the more the polarity is represented as absolute, and the greater the sense of separation from evil and hence purity. Dostoevsky’s Devils is one of the great documents of modern times, because it lays bare the way in which an ideology of universal love and freedom can mask a burning hatred, directed outward onto an unregenerate world and generating destruction and despotism. (516-517)

Taylor penned these words almost 25 years ago, but I read them and couldn’t help but think of my own generation and the one coming after us. It’s pretty common to either idolize or demonize our moral sense; we’re supposedly either relativists or morally superior activists. I’d say there’s quite a bit of both. And one “ist” I’d certainly add to the list is “moralists.”

Ideological Moralism

Pick a hot subject (gay marriage, the environment, healthcare, and so on) and scroll through your Facebook feed to find someone updating vociferously on the subject, trumpeting his position and damning the opposition in bold, apocalyptic terms. It’s not just that people are wrong, confused, and perhaps in need of correction; no, they’re downright wicked. As younger generations increasingly identify as “nones” (no religious affiliation), it’s not that they have no moral or spiritual bearings, just that they find them elsewhere.

It’s increasingly popular to eschew any explicit religious system and take that bearing from the reigning “Causes” linked to the benevolence demands of the day (“love,” “justice,” “equality”). This is why our political skirmishes aren’t just about the issues. They’re about a much-deeper justification of the Self. If I’m defined, say, by my healthcare position and corresponding self-image as a moral, caring (or pragmatic and free) person, then when I argue with you, I’m defending my raison-d’etre. You don’t simply have a different opinion on a subject; you threaten my very being.

What’s more, if supporting this Cause is what makes me righteous and pure, your opposition demonstrates your impurity and wickedness, possibly even your inhumanity. You must be opposed, hopefully only through argument. But if you persist in your perversity, other stronger means of enforcement may need to be employed. This is modern/postmodern ideological moralism.

None of this moralism is new, of course. Postmodern thinkers have been describing the way we construct such oppositional identities for years. What’s interesting today, though, is how this sort of logic works out in the lives of my peers and contemporaries. Of course, posting aggressive memes on Facebook isn’t exactly coercion or fanatic violence, but the language used and, at times, the political measures advocated by partisans verges on it. Ideological self-justification is alive and well.

The Gospel of the Cross and the Grace to Disagree

Christians reading this analysis might be tempted to take it as a simple condemnation of secularists, saying, “See, look what happens when you don’t have God.” Perhaps, but that problem doesn’t let religious believers off the hook. As a friend of mine observed, this is simply the logic of Holy War, sublimated and secularized. Again, we see how the whole dichotomy of “religious” versus “secular” breaks down at the functional level. Get rid of God and something else fills the existential vacuum. At this point secularists are only doing what religious people, including “Christians,” have done with their gods for years.

Actually, this observation should prompt Christians to examine where we’re getting our sense of self, our purity, and our wholeness. Is it from the righteousness of our moral positions? Or from the righteousness we have in Christ by grace apart from our moral achievements? If the former, we’re in the same boat as secularists. If the latter, we’re positioned to disagree, even forcefully, without our entire sense of self feeling threatened. Even if others oppose us not only on moral issues but actually set themselves in vocal opposition to Christianity itself, how can we look on them as totally different from ourselves? For is this not precisely who we were apart from God’s condescending grace—enemies of God in need of redemption (Rom. 5:6-11)? And are we not secure no matter what accusation or charge is brought against us (Rom. 8:30-39)?

In short, there’s a visible, practical difference we observe in the lives of those who trust in the Christian gospel as opposed to those who merely subscribe to its morals. Indeed, unless you believe the former you won’t be able to practice the core of the latter—the command to love our enemies the way Christ has loved us. Moralism—secular or “religious”—can only lead to demonizing the enemy. And only the gospel of grace can lead us to the true benevolence that moralism fumblingly strives toward.

Why Online Pornography is Being Blocked in the UK—and Why It Should Be in the U.S. Too

The Story: Most households in the UK will have pornography blocked by their internet provider unless they choose to receive it, the prime minister has announced.

The Background: According to the BBC, Prime Minister Cameron warned in a speech that access to online pornography is “corroding childhood.” The new measures will apply to both existing and new customers. Cameron also called for some “horrific” internet search terms to be “blacklisted,” meaning they would automatically bring up no results on websites such as Google or Bing.

He told the BBC he expected a “row” with service providers who, he said in his speech, were “not doing enough to take responsibility” despite having a “moral duty” to do so. He warned he could have to “force action” by changing the law and that, if there were “technical obstacles,” firms should use their “greatest brains” to overcome them.

Why It Matters: Imagine that as part of their mail delivery service, the USPS delivered to your mailbox an unlimited supply of free drugs, ranging from oxycodone to heroin. You could take the drugs out or leave them untouched, but they would always be there for you or any other member of your family. While you can’t opt out of the service, people who don’t want access to the drugs could attach a lock that prevents them and their family from picking up the narcotics when they collect their electric bill and postcards. But the postal service would always ensure that, without the postal customer taking preventive measures, the drugs were always ready and waiting for them.

Now imagine that a politician proposes a change to the law. Rather than automatically being delivered to their mailbox, people who wanted the drugs would simply need to tell the post office that they want to opt in to the service. Most citizens would not only consider this a reasonable proposal, but would wonder what sort of degenerate society allowed the current drugs-delivered-to-every-home system in the first place. You would find relatively few Americans—and few American Christians—who would oppose such a regulation.

Indeed, such a regulation already exists in America to prevent unsolicited pornography from being put into your mailbox. Title 18, Sec. 1461 of the U.S. Code currently prohibits the mailing of “every obscene, lewd, lascivious, indecent, filthy or vile” material. So why would so many Americans—and many American Christians—oppose a similar regulation that prevented Internet service providers from being required to add “family-friendly filters” to restrict obscene material?

American Christians on both the left and the right are frequently criticized for allowing their political beliefs to be shaped more by the culture than by the Word of God. Too often such complaints are overstated since the principle underlying their political position can be rooted, however obliquely, in Scripture. But the support for unlimited access to pornography, distributed freely in every home with an Internet connection, is not a cause that any Christian should tolerate, much less support.

Complaints that we must not favor any type of censorship are also both inadequate and ahistorical. The founding fathers—the men who actually wrote the First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech—would have considered it the height of idiocy to think they ever intended the Constitution to protect pornography. But even if unrestricted access to smut was a government-given right, it would be trumped by the moral duty of every decent human being to protect the innocence of children.

Christians in America often look on with pity and disdain at the secularizing influences that are destroying the cultural legacy of the United Kingdom. But this news should cause us to check our pride and sense of moral superiority. Even in a nation growing increasingly hostile to religion and Christian virtue, they have the moral sense to support commonsensical regulations against obscenity. Why then can’t we in the United States do the same?

9 Things You Should Know About Independence Day and the Declaration of Independence

July 4, 2013 will be America’s 237th Independence Day, the day Americans celebrate our Declaration of Independence from Great Britain. Here are nine things you should know about America’s founding document and the day set aside for its commemoration.

1. July 4, 1776 is the day that we celebrate Independence Day even though it wasn’t the day the Continental Congress decided to declare independence (they did that on July 2, 1776), the day we started the American Revolution (that had happened back in April 1775), the date on which the Declaration was delivered to Great Britain (that didn’t happen until November 1776), or the date it was signed (that was August 2, 1776).

2. The first Independence Day was celebrated on July 8, 1776 (although the Declaration was approved on July 4, 1776, it was not made public until July 8), but for the first two decades after the Declaration was written, people didn’t celebrate it much on any date. One party, the Democratic-Republicans, admired Jefferson and the Declaration. But the other party, the Federalists, thought the Declaration was too French and too anti-British, which went against their current policies.

3. After the War of 1812, the Federalist party began to come apart and the new parties of the 1820s and 1830s all considered themselves inheritors of Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans. Printed copies of the Declaration began to circulate again, all with the date July 4, 1776, listed at the top. Celebrations of the Fourth of July became more common as the years went on and in 1870, almost a hundred years after the Declaration was written, Congress first declared July 4 to be a national holiday as part of a bill to officially recognize several holidays, including Christmas. Further legislation about national holidays, including July 4, was passed in 1938 and 1941

4. Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Roger Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston comprised the Committee of Five that drafted the Declaration. Jefferson, regarded as the strongest and most eloquent writer, wrote most of the document. After Jefferson wrote his first draft, the other members of the Declaration committee and the Continental Congress made 86 changes, including shortening the overall length by more than a fourth and removing language condemning the British promotion of the slave trade (which Jefferson had included even though he himself was a slave owner).

5. The signed copy of the Declaration is the official, but not the original, document. The approved Declaration was printed on July 5th and a copy was attached to the “rough journal of the Continental Congress for July 4th.” These printed copies, bearing only the names of John Hancock, President, and Charles Thomson, secretary, were distributed to state assemblies, conventions, committees of safety, and commanding officers of the Continental troops. On July 19th, Congress ordered that the Declaration be engrossed on parchment with a new title, “the unanimous declaration of the thirteen united states of America,” and “that the same, when engrossed, be signed by every member of Congress.” Engrossing is the process of copying an official document in a large hand.

6. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, the only two presidents to sign the document, both died on the Fourth of July in 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration. Adam’s last words have been reported as “Thomas Jefferson survives.” He did not know that Jefferson had died only a few hours before. James Monroe, the last president who was a Founding Father, also died on July 4 in 1831. Calvin Coolidge, the 30th President, was born on July 4, 1872, and, so far, is the only President to have been born on Independence Day.

7. John Hancock, the President of the Continental Congress at the time, was the first and only person to sign the Declaration on July 4, 1776 (he signed it in the presence of just one man, Charles Thomson, the secretary of Congress). According to legend, the founding father signed his name bigger than everyone else’s because he wanted to make sure “fat old King George” could read it without his spectacles. But the truth is that Hancock had a large blank space and didn’t realize the other men would write their names smaller. Today, the term “John Hancock” has become synonymous with a person’s signature.

8. The 56 signers of the Declaration did not sign on July 4, 1776, nor were they in the same room at the same time on the original Independence Day. The official signing event took place on August 2, 1776 when 50 men signed the document. Several months passed before all 56 signatures were in place. The last man to sign, Thomas McKean, did so in January of 1777, seven months after the document was approved by Congress. Robert R. Livingston, one of the five original drafters, never signed it at all since he believed it was too soon to declare independence.

9. Unlike the U.S. Constitution, which makes no reference to God, the Declaration has three references to a deity. The document also makes two references that tie natural law to God. (Although Thomas Jefferson was a Deist, as a young apprentice lawyer he had studied the work of Henry de Bracton, an English jurist and natural law proponent. Bracton has been referred to as the “father of common law” and is said to have “succeeded in formulating a truly Christian philosophy of law”).

Recent posts in this series:

9 Things You Should Know About the Supreme Court’s Same-Sex Marriage Cases

9 Things You Should Know About the Bible

9 Things You Should Know About Fathers and Father’s Day 

9 Things You Should Know About Mothers and Mother’s Day

9 Things You Should Know About Human Cloning

9 Things You Should Know About Pornography and the Brain

9 Things You Should Know About Planned Parenthood

9 Things You Should Know About the Boston Marathon Bombing

9 Things You Should Know About Female Body Image Issues

9 Things You Should Know About the Gosnell Infanticide and Murder Trial

9 Things You Should Know About Edith Schaeffer

9 Things You Should Know About Duck Dynasty 

9 Things You Should Know About Holy Week

9 Things You Should Know About the Papacy

9 Things You Should Know About Pope Benedict XVI

9 Things You Should Know About Martin Luther King, Jr.

9 Things You Should Know About George Washington (and his Birthday)

9 Things You Should Know About Roe v. Wade

Russell Moore on the Supreme Court’s DOMA Decision

Today’s landmark Supreme Court decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act appears to anticipate even greater changes down the road.

“I wasn’t surprised by the content of the decisions,” says Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of Southern Baptist Convention, “but what I was surprised by was the far-reaching language in the DOMA decision.” The implications of this decision, he argues, will in the fullness of time, apply to all 50 states.

But does this decision have further implications for legal intimidations for dissenters with conscientious objections? Mark Mellinger talks with Russell Moore about these further implications and how Christians should consider this decision.

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9 Things You Should Know About the Supreme Court’s Same-Sex Marriage Cases

Today the Supreme Court issued rulings on two historic and controversial cases which challenged the legal validity, at both the state and federal level, of the the traditional definition of marriage. Here are nine things you should know about the cases:

1. The two cases, United States v. Windsor and Hollingsworth v. Perry, are each based on differing — and perhaps mutually exclusive — theories of which level of government has the right to define marriage. The challenge to DOMA (Windsor) was based on the claim that marriage is a matter for state rather than federal regulation while the challenge to Proposition 8 (Hollingsworth) was a challenge to to the claim that an individual state can define marriage as between one woman and one man.

2. United States v. Windsor was a direct challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). This case was not about whether there is a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, but rather whether Congress can treat married same-sex couples differently from married opposite-sex couples in federal laws and programs.

3. The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is a federal law that restricts federal marriage benefits and required inter-state marriage recognition to only opposite-sex marriages. The law passed both houses of Congress by large majorities and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton on September 21, 1996. Section 3 of DOMA codifies the non-recognition of same-sex marriages for all federal purposes, including insurance benefits for government employees, Social Security survivors’ benefits, immigration, and the filing of joint tax returns.

4. In a 5-4 decision on Windsor, the Court struck down one section of DOMA and ruled that the federal statute is an unconstitutional deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment. The equal protection violation, according to the Court, arose from Congress’ decision denying rights to marriage provided by the state laws of New York. The majority opinion claims that, “By history and tradition the definition and regulation of marriage has been treated as being within the authority and realm of the separate States.” However, at the end of the ruling it notes, “This opinion and its holding are confined to those lawful marriages.” This ruling limits federal benefits only to same-sex couples in states where same-sex marriage is legal and does not apply to same-sex couples living in states where their unions are not legally recognized as marriage. Additionally, the ruling does not require states to recognize the redefinition of marriage by other states. The opinion was written by Justice Kennedy and  joined by the four liberal Justices — Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan.

5. In Windsor, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Scalia wrote dissenting opinions, claiming the Court lacks jurisdiction to review the decisions and that Congress acted constitutionally in passing the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Scalia writes in his dissent that, “[the Court has] no power under the Constitution to invalidate this democratically adopted legislation [DOMA]. The Court’s errors on both points spring forth from the same diseased root: an exalted conception of the role of this institution in America.”

6. Hollingsworth v. Perry was a case challenging whether the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits the State of California from defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

7. Proposition 8 was a California ballot proposition and a state constitutional amendment passed in the November 2008 state elections. The measure added a new provision, Section 7.5 of the Declaration of Rights, to the California Constitution, which provides that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” By restricting the recognition of marriage to opposite-sex couples, the proposition effectively overturned the California Supreme Court’s ruling of In re Marriage Cases that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry. The wording of Proposition 8 was precisely the same as Proposition 22, which had passed in 2000 but had been invalidated by the State Supreme Court in 2008.

8. In a 5-4 decision on Perry, the Court ruled that opponents of same-sex marriage did not have the constitutional authority, or standing, to defend the law in federal courts after the state refused to appeal its loss at trial years earlier. The ruling says, “[The Supreme Court has] never before upheld the standing of a private party to defend the constitutionality of a state statute when state officials have chosen not to. We decline to do so for the first time here.” The majority opinion was Roberts, Scalia, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Kagan with Kennedy, Thomas, Alito, and Sotomayor dissenting.

9. The Perry decision makes same-sex marriage legal again in California. But by dismissing the case, the Supreme Court refused to make any broader declarations either for or against same-sex marriage at the state level. UPDATE: ADF says that same-sex marriage is not yet legal in California: “The bottom line is that the U.S. Supreme Court has thrown Prop 8 into legal limbo. We simply do not know what the fate of Prop 8 will be. But under California law, Prop 8 still stands because there is no appellate court decision striking it down, which is necessary to void an initiative of the people in that state.” However, as Lyle Denniston of SCOTUS Blog notes, “Some 18,000 California same-sex couples already had been married when they had a brief chance to do so as the issue developed in that state, but now millions are likely to gain the right to marry when the judge’s ruling is implemented by state officials.  Happening perhaps in just a few weeks, that would make California the fourteenth — and largest — state to permit such marriages (along with Washington, D.C.).”

Recent posts in this series:

9 Things You Should Know About the Bible

9 Things You Should Know About Fathers and Father’s Day 

9 Things You Should Know About Mothers and Mother’s Day

9 Things You Should Know About Human Cloning

9 Things You Should Know About Pornography and the Brain

9 Things You Should Know About Planned Parenthood

9 Things You Should Know About the Boston Marathon Bombing

9 Things You Should Know About Female Body Image Issues

9 Things You Should Know About the Gosnell Infanticide and Murder Trial

9 Things You Should Know About Edith Schaeffer

9 Things You Should Know About Duck Dynasty 

9 Things You Should Know About Holy Week

9 Things You Should Know About the Papacy

9 Things You Should Know About Pope Benedict XVI

9 Things You Should Know About Martin Luther King, Jr.

9 Things You Should Know About George Washington (and his Birthday)

9 Things You Should Know About Roe v. Wade

9 Things You Should Know About the Bible in TV and Film

Church Planting in the Desert: Relatively Safe and Immediately Strategic

Tucked away in the desert of the Middle East is a land known for its lavish buildings, bustling economy, and international culture. The United Arab Emirates (UAE), located along the southeastern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, borders Saudi Arabia and Oman. In a day you can reach Kuwait, Iraq, Yemen, and Iran—some of the most war-torn countries in modern history. Some may be surprised, then, to learn the UAE is relatively safe and definitely peaceful. What may be more surprising, evangelicals have enjoyed a public presence here since the early 1960s.

One such church, started in 1962, is the United Christian Church of Dubai. UCCD, the longest-tenured evangelical church in the country, hired as pastor John Folmar of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in 2005.

Sharing about the decision to uproot his family and move a 20-hour plane ride from everything they had ever known, Folmar told me:

God says, “My name will be made great from the rising of the sun to the place where it sets” (Mal. 1:11), but there are many people groups who have not yet acknowledged Jesus as Lord. The UAE borders Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf, 70 miles from Iran—one of the last bastions of resistance to the gospel. When the pastoral position at UCCD opened up in 2005, I jumped at the chance to live and minister here, so that we might help reach the unreached with the good news of Jesus Christ.

Folmar served as a pastor for Capitol Hill Baptist from 2003 to 2005 before moving to UCCD. His church now welcomes more than 600 people from about 60 different countries in Africa, Asia, North and South America, Europe, and Australia.

Folmar is joined in ministering in Dubai with his wife, Keri, and their three children.

But they are not alone.

They have been joined by Dave Furman and his wife, Gloria, who on February 12, 2010, planted Redeemer Church of Dubai, one of the newest churches since the 1960s.

“The Lord is doing incredible things in places we would least expect,” Dave Furman said. “The rulers in our country are very generous, and we’re thankful for the opportunity we have to worship freely here.”

The UAE, unlike neighboring countries, enjoys a relatively safe environment and stable political climate.

“While no place is ultimately safe, and there is a lot of conflict in our region, by God’s grace there is great political stability in this country,” he explained. “Again, we’re grateful to the Lord and to the rulers of this country for this blessing.”

Moment of Opportunity

The churches led by Folmar and Furman aren’t formally linked. Each is governed independently. But they share a common vision to spread the gospel in their region. In February 2013, Folmar called Josh Manley, an elder of Third Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, to inform him that the ruler of Ras Al Khaimah (RAK), an emirate of the UAE, was prepared to grant land for a new evangelical church. Folmar asked if Manley would be interested in moving to the UAE to plant and pastor this church.

This was an obvious open door the Manley’s knew they must step through.

“I’d always thought of a church in this setting as particularly strategic,” Manley said. “One has the opportunity to pastor and preach while in the heart of the unreached world. Presently, there are only seven evangelical church buildings on the entire Arabian Peninsula, and land hasn’t been given for this purpose in 15 years. All of these factors weighed heavily on me.”

Not much in their lives could have pointed to a future in the Middle East. Manley and his wife, Jenny, were aides in the U.S. Senate when they met and eventually married. He served as an aide on the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Jenny was the Chief of Staff to U.S. Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi. While in Washington, D.C., they met Folmar at Capitol Hill Baptist Church.

“The Lord allowed me to work out my calling to ministry within the context of that particular local church where I had opportunities to teach and preach, disciple younger men, and be discipled by more mature men in the faith,” he told me. “Over time, my heart moved more and more to the ministry of the Word in the local church. We’ve known much joy since embarking on this path.”

From budgets to management, the gifted couple dropped their political careers for Louisville, where Manley attended The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary from 2009 to 2012 while serving at Third Avenue Baptist. Now in the UAE, the Manley’s have launched Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) Church. They began regular services in March.

Eternally Secure Truth

Uprooting their family, Manley explains, doesn’t look much different for them compared to other church planters—except for the laws. He explains:

I’ve done a great deal of meeting believers, talking with people about the plant, and seeking to raise awareness about this work. Yet one has to be careful here to appropriately honor the laws. . . . I’ve had to navigate where we’ll meet until the building is complete and ensure that wherever we do meet is legal. I cannot take the right to free assembly here for granted like I’d be able to in the States. And since the government has invited me here, it’s important the church meet in a government-approved venue.

Though many associate hostility with the Arabian Peninsula, Manley says his new neighbors show more interest in Christianity than some in the West.

“I anticipate the plant here will be a slow work in which believers learn what it means to be committed to the local church under the preached Word and are equipped for the many opportunities around them,” he said. “And there are many opportunities.”

Though they’ve been granted land, RAK Church is currently meeting in a convention center until they can raise enough funds for their own building.

“A building in one sense is priceless since the land itself has to be given by the government,” Manley said. “You can’t buy land for this purpose in this part of the world. Obviously, a building facilitates much ministry. In this part of the world, it affords stability, recognition, and even legitimacy in the eyes of the local people. It also provides a valuable center for resources and training. Thinking long-term about this region, opportunities like this one should be seized upon and stewarded with great care.”

Will the Pentagon Prohibit the Great Commission?

[Note: This is the first in an occasional series examining and assessing potential threats to religious liberty in America and around the world.]

The Situation: According to the Associated Press, a group called the Military Religious Freedom Foundation is urging the Pentagon to court martial officers whose subordinates feel they’re being proselytized. MRFF founder Mikey Weinstein says even a Christian bumper sticker on an officer’s car or a Bible on an officer’s desk can amount to “pushing this fundamentalist version of Christianity on helpless subordinates.” Weinstein and other leaders of his foundation met with top officials at the Pentagon last week.

The Backstory: Weinstein and his group met privately with Pentagon officials on April 23. He told Fox News that U.S. troops who proselytize are guilty of sedition and treason and should be punished to stave off what he called a “tidal wave of fundamentalists.” “Someone needs to be punished for this,” Weinstein told Fox News. “Until the Air Force or Army or Navy or Marine Corps punishes a member of the military for unconstitutional religious proselytizing and oppression, we will never have the ability to stop this horrible, horrendous, dehumanizing behavior.”

“If a member of the military is proselytizing in a manner that violates the law, well then of course they can be prosecuted,” he said. “We would love to see hundreds of prosecutions to stop this outrage of fundamentalist religious persecution.”

“[Proselytizing] is a version of being spiritually raped and you are being spiritually raped by fundamentalist Christian religious predators,” Weinstein told Fox News.

The Pentagon confirmed to Fox News that Christian evangelism is against regulations. “Religious proselytization is not permitted within the Department of Defense, LCDR Nate Christensen said in a written statement. He declined to say if any chaplains or service members had been prosecuted for such an offense.

Threat Level: Unclear. Michael L. “Mikey” Weinstein, who served as White House Counsel in the Reagan administration and general counsel to H.Ross Perot, is an anti-religion extremist who is not taken seriously by anyone that is not on the secular political left. But if Pentagon officials become convinced that his peculiar anti-evangelism perspective is indeed within the bounds of military regulations, it could mean that members of the military could be prosecuted from sharing their faith—or even having a faith-based bumper sticker on their car.

Why It Matters: In a recent article for The Huffington Post, Weinstein provides an example of his bizarre hatred of Christianity,

I founded the civil rights fighting organization the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) to do one thing: fight those monsters who would tear down the Constitutionally-mandated wall separating church and state in the technologically most lethal entity ever created by humankind, the U.S. military.

Today, we face incredibly well-funded gangs of fundamentalist Christian monsters who terrorize their fellow Americans by forcing their weaponized and twisted version of Christianity upon their helpless subordinates in our nation’s armed forces.

And as with most threats to religious freedom, at the core is the incompatibility between Christianity and normalization of homosexuality:

We should as a nation effusively applaud Lt. Col. Rich for his absolutely correct characterization of anti-gay religious extremist organizations as “hate groups” with no place in today’s U.S. military. But we are compelled to venture even further. We MUST vigorously support the continuing efforts to expose pathologically anti-gay, Islamophobic, and rabidly intolerant agitators for what they are: die-hard enemies of the United States Constitution. Monsters, one and all. To do any less would be to roll out a red carpet to those who would usher in a blood-drenched, draconian era of persecutions, nationalistic militarism, and superstitious theocracy. Human history is all too festooned and replete with countless examples of such bleak and forlorn tragedies.

If these fundamentalist Christian monsters of human degradation, marginalization, humiliation and tyranny cannot broker or barter your acceptance of their putrid theology, then they crave for your universal silence in the face of their rapacious reign of theocratic terror. Indeed, they ceaselessly lust, ache, and pine for you to do absolutely nothing to thwart their oppression. Comply, my friends, and you, too, become as monstrously savage as are they. I beg you, do not feed these hideous monsters with your stoic lethargy, callousness and neutrality. Do not lubricate the path of their racism, bigotry, and prejudice. Doing so directly threatens the national security of our beautiful nation.

There was a time—just a few years ago, in fact—when we could laugh off such views by extremists like Weinstein. But the political climate has become increasingly hostile to religious liberties and all threats must be watched more carefully.

The issue, of course, is not that Weinstein’s views will be adopted wholesale by the military. The concern is that when the outer boundary of what is considered legitimate opinion expand, what is considered the “center” shifts away from commonsense and rationality. When folks like Weinsten are taken seriously when they call evangelicals “pathologically anti-gay, Islamophobic, and rabidly intolerant agitators” it makes it easier for the public to say, “That’s going a bit far. Why not just call them bigots?”

Love and the Inhumanity of Same-Sex Marriage

More and more commentators are saying that we have passed the tipping point on same-sex marriage in the United States. Almost daily another politician or public figure stands before a microphone to declare his or her support. It feels like the dam has burst; the paradigm shifted.

Whether or not same sex marriage is a political fait accompli, I don’t know. What concerns me in the present hour is the temptation among Christians to go with the flow. The assumption is that the nation no longer shares our morality, and that we must not impose our views on others and blur the line between church and state. Besides, we don’t want to let any political cantankerousness get in the way of sharing the gospel, right? So we might as well throw in our lot. So the thinking goes.

How hard Christians should actively fight against same-sex marriage is a matter for wisdom. But that we must not support it, I would like to persuade you, is a matter of biblical principle. To vote for it, to legislate it, to rule in favor of it, to tell your friends at the office that you think it’s just fine—all this is sin. To support it publicly or privately is to “give approval to those who practice” the very things that God promises to judge—exactly what we’re told not to do in Romans 1:32.

Further, same-sex marriage embraces a definition of humanity that is less than human and a definition of love that is less than love. And it is not freedom from religion that the advocates of same-sex marriage want; they want to repress one religion in favor of another.

Christians must not go with the flow. They must instead love the advocates of same-sex marriage better than they love themselves precisely by refusing to endorse it.

I am saying this for the sake of you who are Christians, who affirm the authority of Scripture, who believe that homosexual activity is wrong, and who believe in the final judgment. I don’t mean here to persuade anyone who does not share these convictions.

My goal in all of this is to encourage the church to be the church. What good is salt that loses it saltiness? Or what use is light under a bowl? Rather, blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Deeper Understanding of Humanity

I believe Voddie Baucham is exactly right to say that “gay is not the new black,” and that we should not formally equate sexual orientation to ethnicity or sex as an essential component of personal identity. It is amazing to me that recent legal battles simply take this equation for granted without holding it up to the light and looking at it.

There are several assumptions behind the idea that a person with same-sex attraction might say “I am a homosexual” in the same way someone might say “I am a male” or “I am black.” First, one assumes that homosexual desires are rooted in biology and therefore a natural part of being human. Second, one assumes that our natural desires are basically good, so long as they don’t hurt others. Third, one assumes that fulfilling such basic and good desires are part of being fully human.

All the talk about “equality” depends upon these foundational assumptions about what it means to be human.

Marriage then becomes an important prize to be won for people with same-sex attraction because, as the oldest and most human of institutions, marriage publicly affirms these deep desires. Everybody who participates in a wedding—from the father who walks a bride down an aisle, to the company of friends, to the pastor leading the ceremony, to the state who licenses the certificate—participates in a positive and formal affirmation of a couple’s union. It is hard to think of a better way to affirm same-sex desire as good and part of being fully human than to leverage the celebratory power of a wedding ceremony and a marriage.

Make no mistake: The fundamental issue at stake in the same-sex marriage debate is not visitation rights, adoption rights, inheritance laws, or all the stuff of “civil unions.” Those are derivative. It is fundamentally about being publicly recognized as fully human.

Biblically minded Christians, of course, have no problem recognizing people with same-sex attraction as fully human. There are members of my church who experience same-sex attraction. We worship with them, vacation with them, love them. What Christianity does not do, however, is grant that fulfilling every natural desire is what makes us human.

Christianity in fact offers a more mature and deeper concept of humanity, more mature and deep than the person engaged in a homosexual lifestyle has of him or herself.

It is more mature because Christianity begins with the frank admission that fallen human beings are corrupted all the way down, all the way in. A child assumes that all of his or her desires are legitimate. Adults, hopefully, know better. And a mature understanding of fallen humanity recognizes that our fallenness affects everything from our biology and body chemistry to our ambitions and life loves. Same-sex attraction is but one manifestation. This is why Christ commands us to go and die, and why we must be born again. We must become new creations, a process that begins at conversion and will be completed with his coming.

Also, the fact that Jesus is Lord means his authoritative claim on our lives reaches all the way down, all the way in. We have no right to stand before him and insist upon our definitions of masculinity, femininity, marriage, love, and sexuality. He gets to write the definitions, even when they go against our deepest desires and sense of self.

Rooted in biology or not, there is a difference between gender, ethnicity, and “orientation.” Orientation consists primarily of—is lived out through—desire. And the fact that it involves desire means it is subject to moral evaluation in a way that “being male” or “being Asian” are not.

Here is what’s often missed: neither the fact of the desire, nor its possible biological basis, gives it moral legitimacy. Don’t mistake is for ought. We understand this quite well, for instance, when it comes to the behaviors associated with some forms of substance addiction or bipolar disorder. The biological component of these maladies certainly calls for compassion and reams of patience, but it does not make their attendant behaviors morally legitimate. To assume they do means treating human beings as just one more animal. No one morally condemns a leopard for acting instinctually. Yet shouldn’t our moral calculations for human beings involve something more than assent to the biochemistry of desire? We are more than animals. We are souls and bodies. We are created in God’s image. To legitimize homosexual desire simply because it’s natural or biological, ironically, is to treat a person as less than human.

All of this is to say, Christianity not only offers a more mature concept of humanity, it offers a deeper concept. It says we are more than a composite of our desires, some of which are fallen, some of which are not.

Remarkably, Jesus says that our humanity goes deeper even than marriage and sex, and certainly deeper than fallen versions of them. He says that, in the resurrection, there will be no marriage or giving in marriage. Marriage and sex, it appears, are two-dimensional shadows that point to the three-dimensional realities to come. A person’s humanity and identity in no way finally depends on the shadows of marriage. Dare we deny the full humanity of Christ because he neither consummated a marriage nor fathered natural children? Indeed, wasn’t the full humanity of this second Adam demonstrated through begetting a new humanity?

There is something inhumane about the homosexual lobby’s version of the human being. It is inhumane to morally evaluate people as if they are animals whose instincts define them.

And there is something inhumane about the homosexual lobby’s quest for same-sex marriage. It is inhumane to call bad good, or wrong desires right. It is inhumane to equate a person with the fallen version of that person, as if God created us to be the fallen versions of ourselves. But this is exactly what same-sex marriage asks us to do. It asks us to publicly affirm the bad as good—to institutionalize the wrong as right.

Christianity says that we are not finally determined by ethnicity, sex, marriage, or even sinful desire. We are God-imagers and vice-rulers, tasked with showing the cosmos what God’s triune justice, righteousness, and love are like. The Christian message to the person engaged in a homosexual lifestyle is that we believe they are even more human than they believe.

Deeper Love

Christianity offers a more mature and deeper concept of love, too. Love is not fundamentally about a narrative of self-expression and self-realization. It is not about finding someone who “completes me,” in which I assume that who “I am” is a given, and that you love “me” authentically only if you respect me exactly as I am, as if “I” is somehow sacred.

Christian love is not so naïve. It’s much more mature (see 1 Cor. 13:11). It recognizes how broken people are, and it loves them in their very brokenness. It is given contrary to what people deserve. We feed and clothe and befriend them, even when they attack us. But then Christian love maturely invites people toward holiness. Through prayer and disciple-making, Christian love calls people to change—to repent. Christian love recognizes that our loved ones will know true joy only as they increasingly conform to the image of God, because God is love. This is why Jesus tells us that, if we love him, we will obey his commands, just like he loves the Father and so obeys the Father’s commands.

Christian love is also deeper than love in our culture. It knows that true love was demonstrated best when Christ laid down his life for the church to make her holy, an act which the apostle Paul analogizes to the love of a husband and wife and the husband’s call to wash his wife with the word (Rom. 5:8; Eph. 5:22-32). The Bible’s central picture of gospel love is lost in same-sex marriage, just like it’s lost when a husband cheats on his wife.

The progressive position might call the orthodox Christian position on gay marriage intolerant. But Christians must recognize that the progressive position is unloving and inhumane. And so we must love them more truly than they love themselves.

Public Square and Idolatrous Religion

What then shall we say about the public square? Shouldn’t our understanding of the separation between church and state and religious freedom keep us from “imposing” our ideas upon others? Why would the church being the church affect our stance in the public square among the non-church?

What people can miss is the distinction between laws that criminalize an activity and laws that promote or incentivize an activity. The laws surrounding marriage belong to the latter category. The government gets involved in the marriage business—to the chagrin of libertarians—because it thinks it has some interest in protecting and promoting marriage. It sees that marriage contributes to the order, peace, and good of society at large. Therefore, it offers financial incentives for marriage, such as tax breaks or inheritance rights.

In other words, institutionalizing same-sex marriage does not merely make government neutral toward unrighteousness; it means the government is promoting and incentivizing unrighteousness. The 2003 Supreme Court decision to overturn laws that criminalized homosexual behavior, by contrast, need not be construed as a promotion or affirmation of homosexual behavior. The irony of the progressive position on same-sex marriage is that it cloaks its cause in the language of political neutrality, when really it is just the opposite. It is a positive affirmation of a brand of morality and the whole set of theological assumptions behind that morality.

To put this in biblical terms, institutionalizing same-sex marriage is nothing other than to “give approval to those who practice” the things that God’s word condemns (Rom. 1:32). And behind this moral affirmation, Paul tells us, is the religious “exchanging of the immortal God for images” (Rom. 1:23). To establish same-sex marriage, in other words, is an utterly religious act, by virtue of being idolatrous.

For the Christian, therefore, the argument is pretty simple: God will judge all unrighteousness and idolatry. Therefore Christians should not publicly or privately endorse, incentivize, or promote unrighteousness and idolatry, which same-sex marriage does. God will judge such idolatry—even among those who don’t believe in him.

God Will Judge the Nations

Let me explain further. Both the Old Testament and the New promise that God will judge the nations and their governments for departing from his own standard of righteousness and justice. The presidents and parliaments, voters and judges of the world are comprehensively accountable to him. There is no area of life somehow quarantined off from his evaluation.

Hence, he judged the people of Noah’s day, Sodom and Gomorrah, Pharaoh in Egypt, Sennacherib in Assyria, Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon, and the list goes on. Just read of his judgments against the nations in passages like Isaiah 13-19 or Jeremiah 46-52.

It’s not surprising, therefore, that Psalm 96 and many other passages make the transnational, omni-partisan nature of God’s judgment clear: “Say among the nations, ‘The LORD reigns.’ . . . he will judge the peoples with equity” (Ps. 96:10; also Ps. 2; Jer. 10:6-10).

Does the same principle apply in the New Testament era? Yes. The governors of the world derive their authority from God and will be judged by God for how they use their authority: Caesar no less than Nebuchadnezzar; presidents no less than Pharaoh:

  • Jesus tells Pilate that Pilate’s authority comes from God (John 19).
  • Paul describes the government as “God’s servant” and an “agent” to bring God’s justice (Rom. 13).
  • Jesus is described as the “ruler of the kings of the earth” (Rev. 1:5).
  • Kings, princes, and generals fear the wrath of the Lamb and hide from it (Rev. 6:15).
  • The kings of the earth are indicted for committing adultery with Babylon the Great (Rev. 18:3).
  • Christ will come with a sword “to strike down the nations” (Rev. 19:13), leaving the birds “to eat the flesh of kings, generals, and the mighty” (v. 18).

God will judge all nations and governors. They are politically accountable to his standard of justice and righteousness, not to their own standards. To depart from God’s righteousness and justice—for every government in the world, Old Testament and New—is to incur God’s wrath. 

The fact that we live in a pluralistic nation in which many do not acknowledge the God of the Bible makes no difference to God. “Who is the Lord that I should obey him?” Pharaoh asked. The Lord demonstrated in short order precisely who he is. The fact that Americans believe a government governs “by the will of the people” makes no difference either. A Christian knows that true authority comes from God, and so he or she must never promote and incentivize unrighteousness, even if 99 percent of the electorate asks for it.

This does not mean that Christians should enact God’s judgment against all forms of unrighteousness now, but it does mean that we Christians should not publicly or privately put our hands to anything God will judge on the last day. Yes, politics often involves compromise, and there are times when Christian voters or politicians will be forced to decide between a lesser of two evils. And for such occasions we trust God is merciful and understanding. Still, so far as we can help it, we must not vote for, rule for, or tell our friends at the office that we support unrighteousness.

Does this mean we can impose our faith upon non-Christians? No, but endorsing same-sex marriage is another kind of thing. To endorse it is to involve yourself in unrighteousness and false religion, and an unrighteousness that God promises to judge.

In fact, same-sex marriage itself is the act of wrongful governmental imposition. Martin Luther wrote, “For when any man does that for which he has not the previous authority or sanction of the Word of God, such conduct is not acceptable to God, and may be considered as either vain or useless.” And God has never given human governments the authority to define marriage. He defined it in Genesis 2 and has not authorized anyone to redefine it. Any government that does is guilty of usurpation.

Since same-sex marriage is effectively grounded in idolatrous religion (see Rom. 1:23, 32), its institutionalization represents nothing more or less than the progressive position’s imposition of idolatrous religion upon the rest of us.

I am not telling Christians how many resources they should expend in fighting false gods in the public square, but I am saying that you must not join together with those gods. There is no neutral ground here.

Embrace and Stand Fast

Churches should embrace their brothers and sisters who struggle with same-sex attraction, just like they should embrace all repentant sinners.

And churches should stand fast on deeper, more biblical conceptions of love by loving the advocates of same-sex marriage more truly than they love themselves. We do this by insisting on the sweet and life-giving nature of God’s truth and holiness.

In our present cultural context, Christian love will prove costly to Christians and churches. Even if you recognize the Bible calls homosexuality sin, but you (wrongly) support same-sex marriage, your stance on homosexuality will offend. A people’s strongest desires—the desires they refuse to let go of—reveals their worship. To condemn sexual freedom in America today is to condemn one of the nation’s favorite altars of worship. And will they not fight for their gods? Will they not excommunicate all heretics?

But even while Scripture promises short-term persecution for the church, it also, strangely and simultaneously, points to long-term praise: “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:12). I’m not sure how to explain that, but I trust it.

When Did Idolatry Become Compatible with Christianity?

The Story: Yesterday, during oral arguments in a landmark Supreme Court case regarding same-sex marriage, Associate Justice Antonin Scalia and pro-gay marriage advocate Theodore Olson had a discussion about the Constitution that sheds light on an issue within the church.

The Background: In the oral argument yesterday for Hollingsworth v. Perry, Justice Scalia repeatedly questioned Ted Olson on when same-sex marriage became unconstitutional. From the transcript:

JUSTICE SCALIA: I’m curious, when—when did — when did it become unconstitutional to exclude homosexual couples from marriage? 1791? 1868, when the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted? Sometimes — some time after Baker, where we said it didn’t even raise a substantial Federal question? When — when — when did the law become this?

MR. OLSON: When — may I answer this in the form of a rhetorical question? When did it become unconstitutional to prohibit interracial marriages? When did it become unconstitutional to assign children to separate schools.

JUSTICE SCALIA: It’s an easy question, I think, for that one. At — at the time that the Equal Protection Clause was adopted. That’s absolutely true. But don’t give me a question to my question. When do you think it became
unconstitutional? Has it always been unconstitutional? . . .

MR. OLSON: It was constitutional when we as a culture determined that sexual orientation is a characteristic of individuals that they cannot control, and that that -­

JUSTICE SCALIA: I see. When did that happen? When did that happen?

MR. OLSON: There’s no specific date in time. This is an evolutionary cycle.

Why It Matters: For Christians, this is an era of historical significance—and not just because of the marriage issue. While defending the institution of marriage is an important and worthy goal, the same-sex marriage debate has uncovered a question that is similar to Justice Scalia’s: When did it become acceptable for Christians to embrace and endorse homosexual behavior?

Like Mr. Olson, I would say there is no specific date in time. It was the result of an evolutionary cycle in which the church became more accepting of rampant idolatry.

At its root, the issue has more to do with idolatry than marriage, since same-sex marriage could not have advanced in America if believers had not exchanged the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob for the God of faux-love, cultural acceptance, and open theism.

The idolatry of Christian same-sex marriage advocates takes two general forms. The first group still recognizes the authority of God’s Word, or at least still believes in the general concept of “sin.” They will freely admit that, like other types of fornication, same-gender sex is forbidden in the Bible, and even excluded by Jesus’ clear and concise definition of marriage. Yet despite this understanding they still choose to embrace same-sex marriage because they have made an idol of American libertarian freedom. They have replaced Jesus’ commandment—”You shall love your neighbor as yourself”—with the guiding motto of the neopagan religion of Wicca, “Do what you will, so long as it harms none.”

In endorsing laws based solely on the secular liberal-libertarian conception of freedom (at least those that produce no obvious self-harm), they are doing the very opposite of what Jesus called them to do: They are hating their neighbors, including their gay and lesbian neighbors. You do not love your neighbor by encouraging them to engage in actions that invoke God’s wrath (Psalm 5:4-5; Romans 1:18). As Christians we may be required to tolerate ungodly behavior, but the moment we begin to endorse the same then we too have become suppressers of the truth. You cannot love your neighbor and want to see them excluded from the kingdom of Christ (Eph. 5:5).

The second group has completely rejected the authority of Scripture and embraced the idol of open theism, a god who changes his mind over time. Not surprisingly, this god seems to change his mind in ways that comport exactly with the secular morality of twenty-first century America. A prime example of this embrace of a progressive, open deity is found in a comment by former evangelical pastor Rob Bell. Bell recently said:

What we’re seeing now, in this day, is god pulling us ahead into greater and greater affirmation and acceptance of our gay brothers and sisters . . . and we’re realizing that god made some of us one way and some of us another and it can be a beautiful thing.

Bell goes on to clarify that what he advocates is not an affirmation and acceptance of repentant sinners, but affirmation and acceptance of their sin. Bell has rejected the God of the Bible, a God that is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8), and embraced a false idol that tells him that what is considered sin changes based on the fickle attitudes of Americans.

Bell, like other same-sex advocates, has moved beyond the temptation and struggle we all have with idolatry and have boldly set up their idols for all to see. Yesterday, on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, many Christians displayed the red equals sign—a symbol of gay rights and “marriage equality”—so that their friends, family, and followers would see that they stood with the forces opposed to God’s Word.

For too long those of us in the church have grumbled to ourselves or remained silent about this open idolatry. We fear that if we point out too clearly or forcefully that you can’t both serve God and endorse sin that they may leave our congregations. We seem more concerned with losing the volunteer for the Sunday morning nursery or the regular check in the offering plate than we do with the souls of those in open and unrepentant rebellion against God. We seem more worried about the judgment of the kids in the youth ministry than we do with the judgment of a wrathful and holy God. We are so troubled by the thought that same-sex advocates will fall away from the faith that we fail to see that they’ve already rejected the faith of historic, orthodox Christianity and replaced it with an idolatrous heresy—one that is as destructive and hateful as any that has come before.

What is needed is courage in speaking the truth: We cannot love our neighbor and tolerate idolatry and unrepentant rebellion against God. We cannot continue with the “go along to get along” mentality that is leading those we love to destruction. We must speak the word of God with boldness (Acts 4:31) and accept the fact that those who have fallen away may not ever return. We must choose this day whom we will serve. Will we stand with the only wise God or with the foolish idol-makers of same-sex marriage?