Christianity,  Politics

Time is running-out on religious liberty

Rod Dreher has a must-read article about gay marriage and religious liberty in The American Conservative. He shows that the battle over the definition of marriage has largely been lost, and there’s not much that can be done about it now. Religious conservatives are conceding that legal gay marriage is inevitable. As a result, conservatives are turning their attention most urgently to the threat that legal gay marriage poses to religious liberty. Dreher writes:

In the courts, and in the court of public opinion, the momentum towards same-sex marriage has been clear. A consensus is emerging on the right that the most important goal at this stage is not to stop gay marriage entirely but to secure as much liberty as possible for dissenting religious and social conservatives while there is still time.

To do so requires waking conservatives up to what may happen to them and their religious institutions if current trends continue—and Catholic bishops, say, come to be regarded as latter-day Bull Connors.

Will religious conservatives be seen as no better than racist bullies in the emerging settlement? Despite what you haven’t heard—the news media’s silence on religious liberty threats from same-sex marriage is deafening—this is not slippery-slope alarmism. The threat is real.

The threat is indeed a real and present danger, and Christians and other religious persons need to win as many concessions as possible before it’s too late. Gay marriage activists are well on their way to a total conquest. And when they have won the day, they will make no concessions for the conscience rights of those who hold to traditional marriage. Why won’t the activist accommodate religious liberty concerns? The answer is really simple. Dreher writes:

To gay marriage supporters, homosexuality is, like race, a morally neutral condition. Opponents disagree, believing that because homosexuality, like heterosexuality, has to do with behavior, it cannot be separated from moral reflection. As Gallagher put it in a 2010 paper in Northwestern University’s law journal, “Skin color does not give rise to a morality.”

The problem for traditionalists is that the sexual revolution taught Americans to think of sexual desire as fundamental to one’s identity. If this is true, then aside from extreme exceptions (e.g., pedophilia), stigmatizing desire, like stigmatizing race, denies a person’s full humanity. To do so would be an act of blind animosity.

Though she appealed in that same law journal paper to the magnanimity of gay rights supporters, Gallagher acknowledged that their confidence that homosexuality is no different from race would make compromise morally indecent. Americans, she wrote, “do not draft legislative accommodations for irrational hatred.”

And this is why time is of the essence. We must sue for these protections now before the pendulum swings completely.

[Robbie] George writes that [traditional marriage supporters] have to win this battle entirely or be crushed everywhere, as segregationists were, and for the same reason: their views will be deemed too abhorrent to be tolerated. On this view, preserving religious liberty cannot be separated from preserving traditional marriage…

Twice in the last decade, the Supreme Court found that laws restricting gay rights were based entirely on animus and served no rational purpose. If the justices apply this reasoning to the core of marriage law, religious conservatives may well find little asylum outside the walls of their churches.

Hence the urgency of marriage activists on religious liberty. Though same-sex marriage is almost certainly the wave of the future, the country isn’t there yet. In states where marriage equality is still under contention, traditionalists could take advantage of this divide to negotiate a settlement that both sides can live with—one that protects both religious institutions and religious individuals. Time is on the gay-rights side, but its more pragmatic leaders may be persuaded that achieving basic marriage equality now is worth granting substantial protections to religious dissenters.

There is one area of disagreement that I would register with Dreher’s analysis. Dreher seems to agree with prevailing conservative opinion that no matter how much religious liberty is lost in the public space, traditional marriage supporters would still be safe to promote their views within their houses of worship. I don’t believe that for one minute. All it will take is a little time and intolerance before pressure is brought upon houses of worship as well. Again, gay rights proponents are going for a total victory, and they will eventually target the tax-exempt status of religious organizations—including churches. There will be no safe place to hide on this one.

Again, Dreher’s article is a must-read, and I hope it motivates religious conservatives to press their democratic privileges in favor of religious liberty while there’s still time.


  • Ian Shaw

    Denny, perhaps Christians here would welcome this loss of religious liberty. American Christians are unlike Christians in the other 99% of the world. The NT never promised us this kind of freedom. We were told of persecution, death, etc. Maybe it would be better for our cause/purpose to lose our protections. It would strengthen our witness like nothing else could.

    We don’t live in a theocracy, and while I agree completely with you that religious liberties as defined by writings on a parchment piece, are fastly being eroded to humanism, true freedom is not found in man, but in Jesus Christ. True deliverence that the Lord promises us is not always bodily, like Daniel and Shadrach, Meshach and Adednego. But spiritual like Stephen and the Apostles.

    With the loss of man-made liberties, the church will grow stronger and by the time the humanists realize what they have done, we’ll be dead or hiding underground (like 99% of our brothers/sisters abroad today).

    hostes humani generis…we have become. So be it.

  • Ian Shaw

    Don’t get too caught up in the political and legal ramifications Denny. Regardless of what happens on earth, we serve a soverign and mighty God who is in control of it all.

  • Paul Reed

    @Denny Burk
    “they will eventually target the tax-exempt status of religious organizations—including churches. There will be no safe place to hide on this one.”

    How absolutely terrifying! Maybe we’ll all get an entry in Foxe’s book of Martyrs.

    @Ian Shaw +1
    Excellent thoughts. And I would just add, that although others mean evil for evil, God means it for good. But don’t think I’m not very troubled. The path where America is going and its repercussions are scary. After hearing this news, sometimes even the more faithful Christians may have trouble trusting in God, and are worried. The true Church in America may even have to one day go underground, as it does in much of the world. Despite it all, there’s a tiny part of me that finds these developments exciting. You won’t find too many lukewarm Christians in persecuted churches. Finally, we must always remember that God is complete control, and if He is for us, who can be against us?

  • Ian Shaw

    I mean no personal attack towards Denny, but all too often whether it be around elections or laws being passed that are contrary to the Christian worldview, conservative Christians start waving flags to round up the troops to make sure we vote for officials that are like minded into positions of authority over us so we can all feel warm and comfortable being complacent in our lives and maybe even in our faith as well. Call me pessimistic, but I have as much faith in our elected officials to do “good” as I have in myself to forge a hammer from inside a dying neutron star.

    We’ve had our cake and been able to eat it to for a long time, while our brothers and sisters have paid the ultimate price. We’ve had a good run. Now we’ll probably get to experience in the future what our brothers in the past dealt with. Shoot, Paul took joy in his persecutions, as should we.

    Losing tax-exempt status will not kill churches if it comes to that. God will provide and we’ll mangaes with other methods to take care of our pastors and to reach our communities.

  • Scott Lencke

    Denny –

    You stated: All it will take is a little time and intolerance before pressure is brought upon houses of worship as well. Again, gay rights proponents are going for a total victory, and they will eventually target the tax-exempt status of religious organizations—including churches.

    Then let’s not be so focused on whether we are of a 501c3 status and focus on extending the rule of God as in heaven. Remember the rule of God is like a mustard seed, like leaven in dough. It’s not so detectable, but it ends up doing its work and growing very significantly.


  • Ian Shaw

    Hold the phone Denny. I don’t think anyone was saying we should be morally indifferent towards persecution. Yeah, it would suck. What I’m saying is losing man-made liberties should not sway us from our charge to proclaim the Gospel to all peoples. Was Paul indifferent towards his persecution? Probably not, but he took joy in that suffering.

    Does the loss of religious liberty cause us not to be able to “ripple”? I participate in elections (most of the time). I try to find candidates I agree with, both in economic principles and moral issues. It’s difficult. We all see the trajectory and it’s a pandora’s box. We all know where it’s headed. We share the Gospel and let the chips fall where they may. We can’t put our faith and hope in man, but in Christ who we find redemption and will provide for us.

  • Denny Burk

    Hello, all. Thanks for taking time to comment. I would argue that you all are being far too flippant about the loss of religious liberty and the potential for actual persecution down the road.

    First, I don’t think that your perspective matches that of our brothers and sisters who live under persecution. They pray for the persecution to end. They pray for conditions to change so that they might practice their faith and share the gospel unhindered. In other words, they pray for conditions more like ours. Don’t mistake trust in the sovereignty of God with acquiescence to evil.

    Second, while it is true that God uses the persecution of Christians for good (Rom. 8:28), it is wrong for us to be morally indifferent about persecution. God hates persecution. He promises terrifying judgments to those who perpetrate persecution against His people (Revelation 18:20). I would argue that our attitude about persecution ought to be the same as God’s. He hates it and opposes it, and so should we.

    Third, no one is arguing for “flag waving” here. I’m simply saying that we ought to press our democratic privileges in the service of what is good and right. The erosion of our liberty of conscience is a transparent evil that we should expose and oppose. If you love your neighbor, then it is incumbent upon you to seek their good. And you are not seeking their good if you stand aside while their freedom of religion is taken away.

    • Randall Seale


      Thanks for your post (ref October 9, 2013 at 6:54 pm). It was one of the most refreshing statements I’ve read in response to the erosion of and assault on religious freedom.

      Some more thoughts for discussion:
      a) IMO, something that is sorely lacking (and I think this is where the seminaries could really help out), is there is no vital theology of Christianity and country being taught. We, believers in the Lord Jesus, don’t know if we’re supposed to be politically active, tolerant and “loving,” or if it’s just a matter of polishing brass on a sinking ship.
      b) What are we supposed to teach disciples of the Lord’s design for nations?
      c) Whether churches’ 501C status is revoked or nor or whether believers in America are persecuted or not, it does not change our mission to proclaim the Gospel of the Lord Jesus and make disciples (of) “panta ta ethne.” IOW, we don’t need a loss of religious freedom to embrace the Great Commission.
      d) Religious freedom is a precious freedom; one that was won with blood. And we of all people ought to have an appreciation of freedom won with Blood. So how is it honorable to watch this freedom go bye-bye, and do nothing?

      Yours in Christ

  • Lauren Bertrand

    Denny states that Dreher believes “traditional marriage supporters would still be safe to promote their views within their houses of worship. I don’t believe that for one minute. ”

    To this day, there remain a number of Christian Identity churches that steadfastly teach–quoting voraciously from the OT–that only Whites will inherit the kingdom of God. Blacks carry the curse of Ham and whatnot. These churches remain free to go about their business. Sure, the Southern Poverty Law Center has them on its watch list as hate groups, but the SPLC has Westboro on its list too, and look where it has gotten the Phelps family. The Christian Identity churches tend to inhabit quiet little chapels on country roads, and they mostly keep to themselves. But their attitude was mainstream not so long ago.

    Do I think that gay rights groups will go after churches? Absolutely–but the ultimate metric will be in the organic change of the hearts and minds of the social moderates. It was perfectly normal for Christians to oppose miscegenation 50 years ago. Not so today, even as churches that once ardently defended Jim Crow now elect minorities to their top leadership. Some of the opposing churches today will capitulate, some will continue to dig their heels in, and others will remain resilient, but quietly so…like the Christian Identity churches.

  • James Bradshaw

    I’m not sure I understand what sort of threat to religious liberty exists with gay marriage that does not *already exist* with legal divorce and interfaith marriage.

    If a county clerk decided to deny a civil marriage license to a heterosexual Christian and Jew, do you honestly think there wouldn’t be a lawsuit?

    In any rate … as someone who has seen friends suffer estrangement from family because of their being gay and who has seen co-workers fired because someone didn’t want a “dyke” working for them … I can tell you that persecution is found on both sides. Unless both sides are willing to call it what it is, then this discussion isn’t going to get very far.

    • buddyglass

      For the sake of argument, a baker that refused to bake cakes for interfaith weddings, without favoring any one faith, might not run afoul of existing anti-discrimination laws.

  • Scott Lencke

    Denny –

    Thanks for sharing back. Yes, no doubt we can be somewhat flippant about it at times, as if we don’t understand the challenges ahead. So we respond with a, “So what?” But as I read your article, it didn’t seem like you were stating “this is going to lead to suffering & death,” things like that. It was more of a freedom, as in “targeting the tax-exempt status.” I think America is the only country that has this kind of set-up anyways. I don’t see this as really any major “persecution”.

    Also, you said those in countries under persecution “pray for the persecution to end.” Actually, in our close work with those in one particular country, they communicate that is not really their prayer, all that they may not become like the west. That’s a challenge for us to consider.

  • buddyglass

    “Dreher seems to agree with prevailing conservative opinion that no matter how much religious liberty is lost in the public space, traditional marriage supporters would still be safe to promote their views within their houses of worship. I don’t believe that for one minute. All it will take is a little time and intolerance before pressure is brought upon houses of worship as well. Again, gay rights proponents are going for a total victory, and they will eventually target the tax-exempt status of religious organizations—including churches.”

    Aren’t there still churches that refuse to perform interracial marriages? Not just interracial marriages; some won’t even consent to marry same-race couples who aren’t white:–abc-news-topstories.html

    Have they lost their tax-exempt status? Not that I’ve heard.

    • Daryl Little

      Has anyone challenged them? No.

      Who will challenge churches on SSM once it’s the law of the whole land? Too many to count I’ll wager.

  • Ian Shaw


    I would wager that WBC does not fall under a Christian identity whatsoever. They don’t speak the Gospel, they don’t speak about Christ, forgiveness, repentence, grace, etc. From my understanding and from excerps I have heard, it’s pretty much OT from them (which wouldn’t that put them closer to Judiasm?). All the time. Not speaking/preaching to those key things, kind of throw them outside Roman Catholicism, Protestanstism (at least from evangelicalism) and Orthodoxy. That being said, we can all see what they are, or aren’t by their fruits.

  • Ian Shaw


    I agree with most of your points. To your point D, yes, religious freedom in this country was gained by bloodshed and should be respected. I think many of us here respect it, and perhaps the disrespect is being done by those that want to strip it away from some populations. That being said, all of us were bought by a price that is more than we can buy. Christ’s blood was shed for us all as well. We shouldn’t let our human emotions/tendancies elevate the bloodshed of man for earthly freedoms over the bloodshed of God’s Son for external, everlasting freedom.

    Is it honorable to sit idly by and watch man-made freedoms be flushed down the toilet? If you are so inclined to do something about it, then do what you’re led to do. However, I would not say that those that choose to stay out of the political realm are dishonoring those sacrifices. Would you say the same about all people that choose not to serve in the military? I would ask them same question to Christians who were bought with a price and are complacent in not sharing Christ with others. Which is truly dishonorable?

    What is more valuable- freedom given by man, or freedom given through Christ and which do you prefer to spend your time and energy on? Just something to consider.

  • Chris Ryan

    My church holds service 5 times a week. I pray on the job & with my family daily. We have a food pantry that serves 90 families. My tithes are deducted from my taxes. What is this threat to religious liberty?

    Alarmism serves no one. Its a foil by hypocritical politicians to keep the electorate “energized” so as to secure their re-election.

    Lauren is right. White supremacist churches preach the most vile things abt blacks and we’re 150yrs past the Civil War. There are fewer gay people in this country than minorities, how would they achieve what minorities haven’t? Moreover, SCOTUS has already ruled (8-1, with Alito being the only dissenter) that the 1st Amendment gives churches an unfettered right to proselytize as they see fit–even when it angers other religious conservatives!

    The only threat to religious liberty in this country is some Court telling Hobby Lobby that, yes, it can prohibit its employees from using contraception. Now that is a threat to religious liberty.

  • Brett Cody

    You must be stepping on someone’s toes with your post because the nay sayers are out in rare form! Thanks for the post.

  • Kevin Burkholder


    Good post. Religious freedom should not be taken for granted and is worth fighting (and suing) for. I do wonder, though, if most people who are “for” gay marriage in a mind to be fair would also be against the elimination of the church, following the same “fairness” principle. I just don’t think the majority of culture has considered the cost of eliminating churches and Christian organizations from the landscape. Much like abortion opinion has swung back to the middle (maybe even slightly right), we can pray the vitriol against Christians will be revealed in the minds of people who are for gay marriage but would never sanction the elimination of the church and all the good it brings to the culture!

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