By / Mar 3

On Saturday, the New York Times featured an article exploring the various measures around the world designed to outlaw homosexual acts and, in many cases, harass homosexual persons. Uganda, for instance, recently passed legislation singling out homosexuals for harsh penalties such as life imprisonment for those caught in acts of homosexuality. Moreover, the law targets those who aid or abet homosexual persons, along with anyone promoting homosexuality.

Of course, Uganda is not alone in how it treats homosexuality. Some Islamic regimes already include harsh penalties, including death, for homosexual persons. And, as we’ve already pointed out, Russia under Vladimir Putin attempts to masquerade as a “pro-family values” state because its law expresses disapproval of homosexuality, when in reality the government is accustomed to marginalizing unpopular minorities of all sorts (including evangelical Christians and orphaned children) for political gain.

So how should Christians think and speak about such laws?

As evangelical Christians, we believe what the catholic (small “c”) and orthodox (small “o”) church has always, and everywhere, believed: that sexuality is to be expressed only within the one-flesh union of the marriage of a man to a woman. Anything else is a sin against God. The church has believed this, and will always believe this, because the Bible teaches it.

At the same time, we believe laws criminalizing homosexual activity to be unjust and an affront to the image of God embedded in all persons.

Our opposition to imprisonment and execution of gay and lesbian persons around the world isn’t because we think, with the American sexual revolution, that governments have no interest in the stability of the family. To the contrary, Statecraft is quite often Soulcraft.

To this end, though, we believe a nation can teach a positive truth in its laws about marriage and sexuality without prohibiting and targeting its opposite. For example, we believe the role of the state should be to promote the stability of families and to provide appropriate incentives for children to be welcomed into homes with both a mother and a father. Our own government (along with many others around the world) has too often ignored this function of the state through failed policies emanating from no-fault divorce, among others.

Moreover, we sharply dissent from the use of state power, as we’ve seen in American life in recent days, to coerce the consciences of persons—whether Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or what have you—to participate in weddings or celebrations of unions we believe to be violations of our consciences.

But governments, as noted above, that single out persons for harassment and fear of their lives represent, in our view, a State that has overstepped its bounds drastically and unjustly. And in our view, repressive regimes that target homosexuals fall into this category.

Not everything that is sinful should be a crime. The Bible tells us that God has given authority to the state to maintain order and to carry out punishment of “wrongdoers” by the sword (Rom. 13:4). Clearly, “wrongdoers” here isn’t equated with “sinners.” Since we believe all of us are sinners (Rom. 3:23), the jails would be full and the streets empty because there would be none left unprosecuted, no not one.

The police power of the state is set up to maintain public safety and order according to principles of public justice. Everywhere in the New Testament, the mission of confronting personal sin is given to the church, not to the state. And the church, Jesus and his apostles explicitly tell us, does not have the coercive power of the sword (Matt. 26:52-53).

Moreover, the Bible tells us that the church must confront the sexual immorality of those inside the Body (“anyone who bears the name of brother”), but, even in the worst case of such immorality the ultimate step is excommunication, not the setting up of a police state to execute (1 Cor. 5:1-13). The Apostle Paul says, “For what do I have to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?” (1 Cor. 5:12).

As Baptist Christians, our own history has shown us what injustice can happen when a state applies the Old Testament Mosaic code—a code designed to mark out the nation of Israel in redemptive history until the coming of Israel’s Messiah—to the civil state. Our ancestors were whipped, beaten, and exiled from Old England and from New England for refusing to sprinkle infants or to pay taxes for Anglican preaching. We ought then to be, of all groups, in support of limiting the power of government to see itself as a theological broker.

Our forebear Isaac Backus rightly noted that Jesus told us that we have no business setting up structures to pluck up “tares” from the “wheat-field” of the world, a dividing up that will happen at the Judgment Seat, not in the courtrooms of authoritarian regimes. The state is not in the tare-pulling business—or even in the tare-inspecting business—Backus argued, but should only punish “such as work ill to their neighbors.” We agree. And that’s why we ought to stand up for those unjustly hounded by state power, even when we don’t agree with them on theological and ethical principles.

But the primary reason we oppose this unjust persecution is because of the gospel itself. Yes, we believe that all sexual activity outside of marriage (defined by Jesus, not by the Supreme Court) is wrong. We also believe that the answer to this sin is found not in some police state, but in the good news that God reconciles sinners like us to himself through the shed blood and the ongoing life of Jesus Christ.

Our mission is not to imprison and persecute those who are walking contrary to the Scriptures, but instead our mission is to love and to persuade. We are, with Jesus, to call all people everywhere to repentance, knowing that all of us, left to ourselves, are hiding from God behind something. For some of us, our hiding place is sexual immorality; for some of us it’s covetousness or envy or self-righteousness.

Our mission is to be ambassadors of reconciliation—a mission that necessitates both defining sin and offering mercy (2 Cor. 5:18-19). That cannot be done by coercion or threats of a police state, but only by the persuasive power of the conviction of the Holy Spirit.

The devil has come to kill and to destroy. We follow a different way, one that has not come into the world to condemn the world but to save it (Jn. 3:17). The American “spirituality” that pretends as though sexual immorality has no spiritual consequences isn’t recognizably Christian at all. The jailing and execution of people for consensual sexual immorality, in contexts like we see in many places around the world, isn’t Christian, either.

That’s why the global Body of Christ should stand faithful both to a biblical vision of sexuality and at the same time decry laws—whether in Africa or the Middle East or Russia—that would mistreat homosexual persons.

Editor’s Note: An earlier draft wrongly charged the Ugandan bill with mandating the death penalty for homosexuality. While such punishments are legal in some contexts in the world, the Ugandan bill does not call for the death penalty.

By / Jan 12

GuideStone Financial Resources, the financial and health benefits entity of the Southern Baptist Convention, filed suit against the United States Department of Health and Human Services in October.

GuideStone becomes the 74th lawsuit in an ever-expanding pool of plaintiffs that now includes more than 200 hospitals, business, colleges and non-profits. GuideStone’s lawsuit is asking the court to protect more than 185 ministries that use GuideStone’s health plan—and it is one of only two lawsuits that is seeking court protection for a large group of ministry organizations.

At stake in the legal dispute is what is popularly known as the “HHS Mandate,” a provision of the Affordable Care Act that mandates that all employers provide their employees with coverage that includes access to abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization services and contraception. While Southern Baptists have varied opinions on the use of contraception, Southern Baptists have spoken clearly and univocally on our opposition to abortion and religious liberty for all. GuideStone’s health plans reflect these core convictions by excluding coverage of abortions and abortion-inducing drugs and devices.

While GuideStone is exempt from the HHS mandate, many ministries whose health coverage is provided through GuideStone, such as Reaching Souls International and Truett-McConnell College, are not exempt; and it is our belief that the government’s mandating of such coverage is a serious infringement on religious liberty. These non-exempt organizations (universities, schools, children’s and retirement homes, etc.) face paralyzing fines that would number in the millions of dollars. The HHS Mandate puts scores of ministries served by GuideStone in the unworkable position of choosing between faith and financial ruin. Using the mechanism of government to enforce a particularly rigid sexual ideology eviscerates the pursuit of a healthy pluralism.

The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission is proud to stand in support of GuideStone in this lawsuit. GuideStone’s decision to enter the legal fray is about the identity, integrity and faithfulness of religious practice in the public square. For religion to be free, it must be authentic, and to be authentic, it must be unhindered from forces that would disrupt a person’s response to what his or her conscience identifies as true.

Religious freedom is a pillar not only of Baptist identity; but also of a uniquely American identity. Following our conscience is an action that helps locate the duties that Christians are obligated to obey. The HHS Mandate requires that Christians’ sincerely held beliefs about the most important aspects of our existence be subjugated to the larger purpose of cementing the sexual revolution in our statutes.

Southern Baptists believe in honoring our government. At the same time, in advocating for a humane view of life that protects the unborn, Christians would rather be at odds with their government, than with their God. For this, we do not apologize.

Neither is entrance in a lawsuit an ill-timed or hastily conceived action. Because of the time and cost involved in litigation, GuideStone first attempted to receive adequate reprieve through the statutory and regulatory process. Now GuideStone is forced to resort to the courts to obtain legal relief. We echo the sentiments of GuideStone president O.S. Hawkins, who told Baptist Press: “We reluctantly take this step because we are committed to protecting the unborn and preserving the religious freedom that is guaranteed under the laws of this nation,” he said. “This mandate runs rough-shod over these foundational principles.”

When government commands actions that require Christians to choose between loyalty to government or loyalty to God, our answer is clear: We will obey our conscience. And we will do so despite the government’s command otherwise. We will do so joyfully and with confidence, knowing that the God who raises the dead, can also humble kings and those in authority.

Originally published by ERLC