Our news cycle moves so fast that to bring up the Indiana RFRA law might already seem like yesterday’s news. Some readers already feel like saying, “C’mon, man. That is so last week.” Nevertheless, before the country moves on to its next diversion, I think it would be good for us to think about the meaning of last week’s dust-up over religious liberty.
For starters, last week was more than a “dust-up” to those of us who belong to the religious minority known as evangelicalism. It wasn’t the apocalypse. Nor was it even worthy to be mentioned in the same breath as what happened to our brothers and sisters in Kenya. Still, it was a signal moment in our national life. It was a moment that revealed how profoundly this country has changed in its attitudes about homosexuality, how out-of-step evangelicals are with the new sexual orthodoxy, and how willing many Americans are to punish evangelicals for their transgressive beliefs.
We saw two Republican governors back away from state RFRA laws that would have been completely uncontroversial just ten years ago. We saw a national media snarkily dismiss our first freedom in the Bill of Rights with scare quotes or as “so-called” religious liberty. We saw politician after politician either unwilling or unable to make a coherent case for religious liberty. And we saw countless talking-heads denigrate religious liberty as a euphemism for bigotry and discrimination. Frank Bruni even said that Christians should be “made to take homosexuality off of its sin list.” It is no surprise that Nicholas Kristof says that “evangelicals constitute one of the few groups that it’s safe to mock openly.”
In short, religious liberty took an epic beating last week. And the focus of the attack seems to be on evangelicals. Evangelicals are beginning to feel open disdain from our cultured despisers, who find our ancient faith to be freakish and out of step with post-sexual-revolution America. There is no “silent majority” for Christians to appeal to for succor. Evangelicals are a bona fide minority when it comes to our commitment to Jesus’ teaching about sexuality. It’s not merely that people don’t like our views. It’s also that people don’t like us because of our views. In fact, a recent poll has found that there are more people who view gay people favorably than there are that view evangelicals favorably.
I would suggest, however, that the heart of this controversy is not really about religious freedom. The heart of it is really about something much deeper. It is the same spiritual battle that has been unfolding since Genesis 3. Light has come into the world, and people love darkness rather than the light because their deeds are evil (John 3:19). God has revealed his purpose for our sexual lives—that all of our sexual experiences are to be enjoyed within the covenant of marriage. People by and large have rejected God’s purpose and are suppressing the truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18). They believe that anyone who continues to cling to God’s purposes is a threat to sexual liberty—which is perhaps the defining freedom of post-Christian America. In fact, they hold anyone who remains committed to the biblical vision—and to its consequences for their public lives—to be a threat to the common good.
To put a fine point on it: Evangelicals believe that homosexuality is a sin while the rest of the culture does not. The heart of this conflict is a moral conflagration between those who insist that “gay is good” and those who contend that it is not. And the latter is what our culture cannot abide. The idea that “gay is not good” is viewed as morally retrograde and bigoted, irredeemable and intolerable, uncivilized and incompatible with democracy. Any defense of such “bigotry”—even if that defense is a claim of religious liberty—must be vigorously and ruthlessly dismantled. “Gay is not good” must be destroyed. The Indiana RFRA controversy is just one phase of a larger effort to make Christians “take homosexuality off of its sin list,” as Frank Bruni put it. That is our controversy boiled down.
If that is what this really is all about, you can see why evangelicals are wondering about what might be coming next. We are wondering how far the cultured despisers are willing to go to punish us for living out what the Bible teaches about sexual morality. Today, they are willing to see Christians fined and run out of business for refusing to participate in gay weddings. What will be next? Ever-increasing fines? What if someone fails to pay the fine imposed on them by law or by a court? Jail time? How far are they willing to take this?
Discerning how far they are willing to take this to punish Christians is something that everyone needs to think very carefully about. Why? Because there are always going to be believers who are willing to go to the mat for God’s word. Or to put it in biblical terms, there are always going to be Christians who are willing to take up their cross and follow Jesus (Matt. 16:24). How much pain are the sexual revolutionaries willing to inflict on Christians to make us submit?
To be sure, as the heat turns up there will be those who fall away. The prosperity charlatans, for example, likely won’t follow Jesus when they discover that doing so means they can’t have their best life now. But after the apostates have been exposed, a remnant will remain who will not bow the knee to Baal and who will not betray Christ’s word no matter the cost. We will go on gathering together, preaching the gospel, loving our neighbors, and striving for the common good. And no amount of fines, bullying, social marginalization, jail time, or poverty will change that.
So the cultured despisers need to look long and hard in the mirror and ask yourselves this question: How far am I willing to go with this? Because you are going to have to go all the way. And when you’ve done your worst, the Christians are still going to be here holding fast to the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). America is a flash in the historical pan. Christianity is not. We will outlast you. Mark it down. And in the final analysis, the “wrong side of history” will be to Jesus’ left, and you don’t want to find yourself there (Matt. 25:33).