An Iowa church sued the state’s Civil Rights Commission over a “guide” which interpreted state law into an effective ban on churches expressing their views on human sexuality. While the commission agreed to change the guidelines and exempt churches, the move sets a dangerous precedent which could chill free speech at pulpits across America.
“Any time the government tells Americans how they should live out their faith, it sets a dangerous precedent,” Chelsey Youman, counsel for the law firm First Liberty, told PJ Media in an email statement. “But it’s particularly disturbing when the government interferes with what a church preaches, teaches, or how it operates.”
The original Civil Rights Commission guide, accessible here, insisted that Iowa’s non-discrimination law applies to situations “not related to a bona fide religious purpose.” The brochure specifically mentions “a church service open to the public” as one such situation.
The brochure also mentioned two different kinds of “harassment” which a church is likely to commit that are illegal under its interpretation of the law.
If a church “directly or indirectly” advertised its beliefs in such a way as to make “persons of any particular sexual orientation or gender identity” feel that their presence is “unwelcome, objectionable, not acceptable, or not solicited,” it would be in violation of the law. Those who identity as LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender) could interpret Christian doctrines on sexuality, homosexuality, and marriage to be discrimination against them on these terms.
A church would also be in violation if it engaged in “intentional use of names and pronouns inconsistent with a person’s presented gender.” In other words, referring to a biological man as “he” or “him” may be an illegal act of discrimination if that person identifies as a woman, regardless of a church’s beliefs on the immutable nature of human sexuality.
These regulations could result in a speech ban, effectively gagging churches from expressing Christian doctrine.
In a rare victory for religious freedom, the Iowa Civil Rights Commission altered the language on their brochure, effectively conceding that churches would not be violating the law when pastors preach against homosexuality and transgenderism. Here is the new brochure.
Nevertheless, the fact that the law could have been interpreted to gag churches from expressing their beliefs — especially traditional beliefs on sexuality that were taken for granted less than a generation ago — is particularly troubling.
“That’s precisely the kind of government overreach — you could say tyranny — our founders sought to prevent,” Youman declared. “If the government can tell a church how to operate, it won’t be long before it tries to control the beliefs of individual citizens.”
So what’s the big deal? Why can’t churches just accept LGBT people? And why should their beliefs not be considered discrimination?
Next Page: Why Christians cannot accept homosexual and transgender celebration and identity, and why these beliefs should not be penalized.
Christian doctrine on sexuality is taken from Jesus Christ himself. The man Christians believe to be the Son of God and the redeemer of the world insisted that humans are made male and female.
In Matthew 19, Jesus quotes the book of Genesis, saying, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
Jesus said those words in response to a question about divorce, but these ideas form the bedrock of Christian teaching on sexuality. The New Testament mentions homosexuality as a perversion — as a curse given by God after humans rejected Him. While the Bible never mentions crossdressing or transgenderism, the idea that humans are created male and female with the sexual norm of heterosexual marriage pervades Christian scripture.
Many Christians have decided to reject these norms in order to embrace homosexuality and transgenderism, but they fail to ground their acceptance in scripture. To be sure, Jesus encourages his followers to pray for everyone — even their enemies — and it is a Christian’s duty to preach the gospel to all, regardless of their particular sins.
It is also true — and important to emphasize — that Christian doctrine acknowledges the sin of believers and calls on Christians not to judge people who struggle with gender dysphoria or same-sex attraction as inferior to them. Every follower of Jesus should be well aware of his or her sins and appreciate God’s infinite grace in forgiving us. No lesbian, gay, or transgender person is outside the purview of God’s grace — but they do need to repent.
Jesus dined with sinners, reached out to them, and included people who were ostracized from society — but he still insisted that sinners repent and sin no more. This isn’t because Jesus was a party-pooper, but because sin means separation from God’s will, and God wants the best for us.
Christians believe that homosexual sex and transgenderism are perversions, that these things will make people less happy in the long run, and that God has forbidden them in part for that reason. That is why Christians look at those struggling with gender dysphoria and same-sex attraction as normal people, rather than as transgender, gay, or lesbian. We try to view them not as members of an identity politics group, but as people with similar struggles to our own.
Churches open their doors for everyone, and that should emphatically include those who struggle with gender dysphoria, same-sex attraction, and other issues. Having these problems is not a sin, but one of the struggles of our fallen human nature. A pastor telling his congregation that acting on those impulses is wrong, according to scripture and Christian tradition, is not an act of discrimination but of applying the faith to living circumstances.
The love of Christ is not bound by identity politics, and while Christians cannot in good conscience celebrate the alphabet soup of identities involved in the LGBT agenda, they can and should reach out to all people in love.
When LGBT activists attack this version of Christianity as “homophobic” or “bigoted,” they are falsely condemning this largest world religion as a hateful religion which cannot reach out to people with gender dysphoria or same-sex attraction. But this is not true — the forgiveness and love of Jesus Christ is emphatically for everyone, no matter their struggles.
Despite their failure in this instance, LGBT activists will continue to slander these sexual tenets of the Christian faith as hateful and attempt to silence them wherever possible. Recently, The New York Times unquestioningly repeated the claim that the biblical book of Romans calls for the execution of gay people. This is the kind of (willful?) ignorance that Christians confront, and it can be terrifying.
This is not to say that Christians are being persecuted in America, or that our struggles are to be compared with those of believers in Iraq, Iran, and other places across the world where believers in Jesus Christ are being put to death for their faith. But we must not deny that the struggle to defend our views is real, and events like Iowa’s recent anti-discrimination “guide” remind us that we are to some degree under attack.
If American law enshrines the LGBT idea that Christianity is a bigoted religion, it will damage religious freedom for everyone. Conservative Jews and Muslims also hold similar views on sexuality, and their rights would also be tramped by such regulations. We cannot allow the chilling of free speech that such movements of “tolerance” espouse. At some point, we have to say enough is enough.