freedom of religion

A Lesson in Power

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By Jojo Ruba

When we were younger, my parents only let us watch one show on school nights, the nightly news. Back then, it was only half an hour long and it aired at the right time—just after dinner and before we had to do our homework. Though I first resented the rule, I quickly began to enjoy knowing about what was happening in the world. I particularly loved the back-and-forth of political news. I enjoyed watching the debates and following the candidates and on rare occasions, I would be allowed to stay up late to watch the election results roll in.

That is probably one of the reasons why I went to our nation's capital to study journalism and politics in university. What I found in Ottawa was a great political community. Everyone was either working for the government or was related to someone who was, and so they deeply cared about how our country runs.

CanadianFederalElection2015PollingStationI also found Christians who were passionate about making government work. Whether they were civil servants or partisans on Parliament Hill, they truly wanted to bring our values as Christians to the marketplace of ideas. They strongly believed Christians had something positive to contribute to the country. There were days where I even imagined running for office and gaining political power.

Yet as I watched the most recent election results roll in, I couldn't help but feel personally rejected, as if Christians like me would never be part of the political world again. This had nothing to do, of course, with which party won the election—Christians have been involved in all the major parties, and we at Faith Beyond Belief take no partisan stance. But it has everything to do with what was said during the election—that Christians who didn't take a pro-choice view on abortion or pro-same-sex marriage stance were not even allowed to run for office on behalf of some parties. And when Canadians chose one of these parties to govern us, they wholeheartedly said they had no problem with this view. For the first time in Canadian history, then, no practising Christian with a Christian worldview will sit on the government benches on Parliament Hill.

When I point this out, I get pushback. Some Christians argue that there are practicing believers in government, like the health minister who apparently attends a Mennonite church.[1] But the point I am making is not that there aren't people who call themselves Christian on the government side of the House. It's that there is no one who holds a Christian worldview on that side of the house. Columnist Rex Murphy said it this way:

As things now are, a truly religious person must actually stay out of politics—must forgo an active role in democratic government—because in our brazen and new age, he or she will be faced with irreconcilable moral choices. If elected, he or she will be required to betray their faith and themselves, and on those very issues that matter most: issues of life, family, autonomy and the dignity of persons.[2]

When a political leader insists that those who run for his party must be willing to put that party's beliefs ahead of their faith's teachings, then its clear their faith is compromised. Abortion particularly is a tricky issue to enforce such a rigid morality. Given that Christians, and frankly many people of many faiths and no faith, believe that abortion takes the life of a human being like us, it is impossible to be "pro-choice" on taking those lives. It would be akin to saying I personally oppose killing gay people but it's okay if others choose to kill gay people. From a Christian perspective, killing innocent people is not something you can just be "pro-choice" about and still be a faithful Christian.

It's ironic that so many Canadians argued that requiring a Muslim to temporarily uncover her face while voting was prejudiced and anti-Muslim, but requiring a Christian to compromise her faith's teaching to value all human life before she could be part of the government, was not.

Of course it isn't just practising Christians who are excluded. Muslims, Hindus and even many atheists take the same life-saving position. I met a Sikh representative at my door of one of the parties who takes the radical pro-abortion stance that abortions even at the ninth month of pregnancy should be legal and publicly funded for any or no reason at all (the current law in Canada). He was trying to get me to put up a lawn sign for them. But as I quizzed him about his faith, it was obvious he didn't agree with his party's extreme stance. I asked him, "How can you support a party that won't let you run for them unless you compromise your faith?" I was expecting an argument but instead, he glumly agreed saying I was right and walked off visibly shaken.

Unfortunately, the lack of Christian representation also gets another response: sheer happiness. Many Canadians are glad to get rid of any religious, particularly Christian, influence from the public sphere. One Canadian I debated in an on-line forum insisted that religious people could only participate in politics if they first swear allegiance to the government. I told him that's exactly what the Communists in China and North Korea insist on doing and the comparison didn't bother him.

In fact, it's an ongoing story in Canada: BC's Trinity Western University has a biblical moral code for its staff and students, and because of that code, is in courts across Canada just to ensure their law students can actually practice law. In Quebec, all schools except for a handful must teach that religious views can't be right or wrong—they are all equal. In Ontario, an African church is banned from using public property in downtown Toronto because city officials think singing "There is no God like Jehovah" is proselytizing.

When I debated a top Canadian atheist at the University of Calgary, she insisted that all religious influence be removed from political life. Christians and other religious people can practice their faith, but that faith should have no influence on public policy.

I responded by saying that religious people, particularly Christians, have positively influenced politics too. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Baptist pastor when he fought for civil rights for African-Americans, and one of the founding fathers of the NDP was a Baptist pastor named Tommy Douglas who fought for nationalized healthcare because of his Christian views of taking care of others. Interestingly enough, she conceded this point but said only values that can benefit everyone should be allowed to influence government.

And that's why the move to exclude faith from the public sphere is so heartbreaking. These arguments come from people who don't realize that Christ did come to earth to benefit everyone. That's not an invitation to force people to become Christians through the government (as I pointed out during another debate with that atheist, Christians don't consider people who are forced to convert to our faith as actual Christians, so we have no incentive to do so), but it is a reminder of what Christians ought to do in a culture that is increasingly hostile to us.

Rather than lamenting about being excluded from political power, I realized that the power Christians have isn't found in Ottawa or in politics. It is found in what Jesus said about who is greatest in His kingdom. In Mark 9, in response to His disciples arguing about who was the greatest, Jesus said, "If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all." Jesus' life showed that real power didn't come through the one who wielded the biggest sword or who made the most brilliant campaign ad. Instead, His message transformed the world because His power was accepting how much others hated Him and His views and then choosing to serve them anyway, even at the cost of His life.

And this is our commitment at Faith Beyond Belief too. Regardless of who is in government and how much they want to exclude us, we will continue to speak from God's word; we will continue to share how much He cares both for the preborn and the poor; we will continue to offer as an alternative to this culture's insistence that any sexual act will do, His plan for real wholeness for the sexually broken and confused; and no matter how many times we are told that we are no longer welcome in the public arena, we will continue to go those public places so we can proclaim that there is no God like Jehovah as we wash our enemies' feet. And in doing so we pray many understand that power that raised Jesus from the dead is alive today in a church that still chooses to be a servant of all.


[1] Dick Benner, "Philpott Named New Health Minister," Canadian Mennonite, November 4, 2015, accessed November 12, 2015, http://www.canadianmennonite.org/stories/philpott-named-new-health-minister.

[2] Rex Murphy, "In Justin Trudeau's World, Christians Need Not Apply," National Post, June 21, 2014, accessed November 12, 2015, http://news.nationalpost.com/full-comment/rex-murphy-in-justin-trudeaus-world-christians-need-not-apply.

Some (Same-sex) Marriage Advice from Canada, Part 2

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By Jojo Ruba

In the first part of my article, I made a list of what Americans can expect after the ruling on same-sex marriage last week. As Canadians, we've observed how our rights are being taken away and our voices not-so-slowly being silenced. But there are three important lessons that Americans can take away from the Canadian experience as you deal with the repercussions of same-sex marriage.

What You Need to Do

1. Stop Making This About You

We share your concerns about the ramifications of same-sex marriage to culture and to individual and religious liberty. But, frankly, when we complain about losing our charitable status or make our religious liberties the centerpiece of our arguments against same-sex marriage, we sound just as self-absorbed as the culture that celebrates it. It makes it sound like Christians care more about the money or power.

By Allan Ajifo [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsAs believers, the greatest damage decisions like this have is to limit the freedom to speak God's truth to a hurting culture. One of the lines we use at Faith Beyond Belief is that rather than hating the sin but loving the sinner, we must hate the sin because we love the sinner. God wants us to speak out against destructive behaviour like pornography, divorce, and yes, same-sex marriage, because it damages the people involved. Though we've made brilliant arguments for traditional marriage, I see few articulate why same-sex marriage actually harms the consenting adults who participate in it.

And that's why we also need to stop apologizing for all Christians! I know we're Canadian and we apologize for everything, but don't apologize for trying to love people. Not every Christian is a jerk who has no empathy for same-sex-attracted people. For the most part, Christians are doing their best to show God's love in this situation. They just don't know how.

Instead, let's start by following what Jesus says are the greatest commands: love God first and then love our neighbours as we love ourselves—and aren't there times when we need a bit of tough love?

2. Fear Not

A Calgary Herald columnist actually defended discrimination against Christians based on the issue of homosexuality because, she said, other Christians don't all agree on homosexuality. She argued that it is "extremist" to hold the view that practicing homosexuals will go to Hell, and anyone who holds such views should be screened out of public office.

She quoted Kris Wells, director of the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies at the University of Alberta, who told the National Post: "I have no problem with people of faith running for public office. It's about how one exercises that faith. . . ."[1]

In other words, the director of a pro-gay organization gets to determine how Christians who go into public office should be able to practice their faith. And the Herald columnist calls Christians the extreme ones!

This columnist, however, can only get away with saying something so inane because so many of our culture—and worse, our churches—no longer understand what Christians believe. For example, the Bible Engagement Study found that 69% of Canadians believe the Bible is full of irreconcilable contradictions, but 55% of Canadians have never read the Bible![2]

But that kind of confusion in a once biblically literate culture can only happen when Christians fail to educate others about the Bible. Worse, we can't educate non-believers about our faith if we don't know it ourselves.

I've spoken across Canada for over a decade on issues like abortion and homosexuality, and I can tell you countless stories of Christian leaders and laypeople telling me that they didn't want to hear from me. Most church members I talk to also can't recall a time when their pastor ever talked about homosexuality. Some pastors simply refuse to talk about such issues.[3]

And when we stopped talking about these issues, we stopped linking biblical truth to the relevant issues in our culture. That's why so many Christians can't articulate a well-reasoned explanation for their faith on issues such as truth, morality, and sexuality. We're too ill-informed and too scared to speak.

Yet this level of biblical ignorance is not a time for fear. It is a time for faith. Have you noticed how the debate on same-sex marriage invariably turns into discussion of the Bible and God's will? Rather than running away from it as many Canadians have, why don't you take it as an opportunity to explain the Christian worldview to your friends? Discuss the issue with family members who have rainbow-coloured FB pictures. And of course, before you do, understand what the biblical worldview is. Take this as an opportunity for you to learn why God's love for humanity means discouraging harmful behaviour like homosexuality.

3. Keep Fighting the Good Fight

An apologist friend of mine recently insisted that the "culture war is over" and that "we lost" and we should move on to other issues. He said we can't expect a non-Christian culture to act like Christians.

Interestingly, when I asked him if he was glad William Wilberforce, the abolitionist, didn't share that sentiment, he never responded. If Christian leaders like him gave up on fights against slavery or racial discrimination, the world we would live in would not only be far worse, but it would be far harder to share the gospel to it.

In fact, many Canadian Christians use the "we lost" sentiment to never raise controversial issues again. They have capitulated to culture and act no differently than their secular colleagues. The more "normal" sin gets, the harder it is want to be "abnormal" by speaking out against it.

But as our American friends get used to the new "normal," please remember this:The day before the U.S. legalized same-sex marriage, I was speaking about homosexuality to a church youth group where two young women recently came out as bisexual. Both approached me at the end of my talk and thanked me for it. One in particular told me that she was trying her best to be faithful to God's word but it was so hard because the rest of culture is telling her just to act on her feelings.

I explained to her what I've learned when I've struggled with unwanted sexual attractions—that God understands how we feel and grieves with us. Though we might think the most loving thing to do for someone is to enter into a relationship with them, the most loving thing we can do is to introduce them to Christ. She agreed and said she would do her best to follow Jesus first.

The fight to normalize homosexuality in the U.S. may have been fought over a few months in a courtroom, but it's a daily battle for people like this young woman who want to do the right thing. Your court just made it harder for her to do so.

Rather than giving up and claiming all is lost, don't you think people like her need Christians who are willing to speak truth when no one else does? That's why we have to keep speaking—because millions of people like this girl need to know that only Jesus can bring hope to a confused culture and their confused hearts.


[1] Naomi Lakritz, "It's Not Anti-Christian—It's Anti-Extremist," Calgary Herald, September 19, 2014, accessed July 2, 2015, http://calgaryherald.com/opinion/lakritz-its-not-anti-christian-its-anti-extremist.

[2] "Are Canadians Done with the Bible?," Canadian Bible Forum, accessed July 8, 2015, http://www.bibleengagementstudy.ca.

[3] Jonathan Merritt, "Hillsong's Brian Houston Says Church Won't Take Public Position on LGBT Issues, Jonathan Merritt on Faith & Culture (blog), Oct. 16, 2014, accessed July 7, 2015, http://jonathanmerritt.religionnews.com/2014/10/16/hillsongs-brian-houston-says-church-lgbt-issues/.

Some (Same-sex) Marriage Advice from Canada, Part 1

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By Jojo Ruba

As I've followed the news, read the blogs, and filtered through the endless stream of rainbow-coloured Facebook pictures, it's obvious that our culture is confused about how to react to the legalization of same-sex marriage in the U.S.

It's even worse for us as Christians who've run the gamut from celebrating the decision, to despairing of the decision, to apologizing for either reaction!

But as a Canadian organization, we've seen this before. Canada legalized same-sex marriage about 10 years ago and it's important we share with our U.S. friends what happened here. Canada is like the canary in the mine for the U.S. since we're years ahead of you in terms of social change. That's why what happens to us can serve as a warning of what will happen to you.

White House rainbow colors to celebrate June 2015 SCOTUS same-sex marriage rulingAnd though no Christians have been thrown in jail yet for our faith, the legalization of same-sex marriage is a huge step in marginalizing the Christian worldview and making it more difficult to share a biblical faith with our secular culture.

Not thrown in jail yet but . . .

Many of my American friends (at least on Facebook) are already preparing for the worst. They're anticipating churches losing their charitable status or Christian organizations being banned from sharing their beliefs. But that's likely not going to happen right away.

The first thing that will happen is not much. The most important goal proponents of same-sex marriage have is to normalize it, and changing the law is a big step in making that happen. Using that decision to beat up Christians (at least right away) will be counter-productive to that goal.

1. Which is Worse, Ignorance or Evil?

That doesn't mean that there won't be an odd decision by a gay rights group or the local civil liberties association here and there. But most of these activities will be done because of ignorance, not malice.

For example, last year, the city council of a small Canadian tourist town banned Christians from using public property. The Nanaimo city council was to host a leadership simulcast on city property. The conference had nothing to do with sexuality and featured such benign (at least on the topic) speakers as Bishop Desmond Tutu and Laura Bush.

But two gay activists called a city councillor and complained to him that the conference was sponsored by Chick-fil-A, whose president supported traditional marriage campaigns, and hosted Christian psychologist Dr. Henry Cloud, who believes that same-sex attractions can be changed. This prompted the councillor to pass a motion that read

that as owners of the facility, any events that are associated with organizations or people that promote or have a history of divisiveness, homophobia, or other expressions of hate, and as such advise the [city-owned centre] to not permit the upcoming Leadercast event to occur in a City owned facility that is scheduled for Saturday, May the 9th.[1]

After comparing anyone who disagreed with their views on sexuality to criminals and Boko Haram kidnappers (who ironically force Christian girls to convert to Islam), the council passed the motion 8-1. Most of the national media ignored the story.

After an outcry from the local Christian community, human rights groups, and one Jewish reporter, the council sheepishly rescinded the motion, as it likely violated Canada's constitution. But the council's decision laid bare the ignorance of so many Canadians about Christian teachings on sexuality. Banning anyone from using public property because they believe sexuality can be changed would of course ban the Apostle Paul, but also many top gay researchers who openly acknowledge that sexuality is not immutable.[2]

The same thing will happen as Americans become more biblically illiterate. They will pass motions that directly contravene not only Christian belief but the right of Christians to put those beliefs into practice. I asked William Lane Craig once which was worse, a culture that was stupid or a culture that was evil. He laughed and he said they were very similar because one leads to another.

2. Treating Sexual Behaviour as Identity

The more likely place to start for these groups is to ensure that any vestige of treating homosexuality as abnormal is removed. This is the most obvious next step because well-meaning people can be convinced that they are doing a good.

For example, the openly lesbian premier of Ontario recently banned counseling for teens and preteens who want to change their same-sex attractions.[3] Though New Jersey, among other places, beat her to that, the push to get rid of any kind of help for people with unwanted same-sex attractions will get stronger. They believe it is harmful to want to change your sexual orientation just as it would be wrong to want to change your racial or ethnic identity.

Another way to normalize same-sex behaviour is to target schools. The former education minister of Alberta, himself a former pastor of a local megachurch, was instrumental in passing a law forcing all schools that get government funding, including Christian schools, to host gay-straight alliance groups (GSAs).[4] GSAs openly promote homosexuality as normal and any opposition as intolerance. In fact, the Alberta Teachers' Association's own website gives advice on how to start a GSA in religious schools and how to overcome religious opposition to their views.[5]

3. Redefining theology

Targeting religious institutions as the source of opposition is, of course, key to normalizing homosexuality. But not all of the action will be direct or through the law.

My colleague Janie recently described a Canadian group that put on a seminar on sexuality in our city last year. The group calls itself Christian and tries to create an open dialogue on homosexuality in churches. Rather than outright calling homosexuality acceptable, they want to create "space" for their view and argue that the Bible can be interpreted to both oppose and support same-sex sexual relations.[6]

Taking a page from Matthew Vines and his Reformation Project, they've tasked their adherents to go into local Canadian churches to begin this "dialogue" with the explicit goal to change the theological teachings of their churches and to get them to eventually accept their views on sexuality.

This subtle approach (they compare the controversy over homosexuality to the controversy over the eating of food sacrificed to idols) is very Canadian because it avoids confrontation. But it is meant to achieve the same goal as changing the law: normalizing homosexuality.

4. Who Can Come Out

Since the legalization of same-sex marriage, Canadians have become used to it and many of the subtle approaches no longer need to be subtle.

Now, if you want to work at any government department that administers marriage certificates, you must be willing to perform same-sex ceremonies.[7] Even businesses that take a stand against the issue can be targeted for their beliefs.[8]

The most egregious example of this is what is happening to Trinity Western University's law program. Trinity, Canada's only private Christian university, wants to start a law program. But several law societies in Canada have openly stated that they will refuse to recognize any student who graduates from that program because of the school's policy on homosexuality. Trinity has a code of conduct for all of its students. Though students don't have to be Christians to go to school, they must adhere to a code of conduct where they agree to having no sexual relationships outside of a traditional marriage.[9]

These law societies argue that Trinity graduates cannot practice law because they hold views contrary to the law of the land. In other words, the only lawyers that they will accept are those that support same-sex marriage. (Of course, they didn't take that position when the law of the land was against same-sex marriage.)

These societies have made these decisions through plebiscites of their own members. And I've heard through lawyer friends how even some Christian lawyers have voted to ban graduates from Trinity out of fear of losing their jobs or promotions.

The fight is still in the courts but this echoes another fight the school had a decade ago over Christian teachers who graduated from the school. Back then, teachers' unions refused graduates from the school because they saw them as "homophobic" and therefore incapable of teaching gay students.

Though the courts eventually mandated that the teachers' college could not discriminate against Christians, this kind of harassment of Christian institutions will continue and get worse.[10]

Human Rights Commissions, quasi-judicial bodies that act like courts on some human rights cases, have had a history of punishing Christians for their views on homosexuality. One case punished a pastor for writing a letter against homosexuality in his local paper. The commission ruled that the pastor could not even speak about homosexuality at his church or in conversation (thankfully this was overturned, but only after a long, expensive legal process)![11]

Recently, Canada's Supreme Court ruled that even if Bible verses told the truth, if they were offensive enough to others, they could still be considered hate speech. In other words, truth is no longer a defense in Canada, especially on this issue.[12]

Both cases show that when truth is no longer a standard, the only standard left is the feelings of the most sensitive person in the room.

Knowing that this is what to expect, how should Christians prepare? In part 2 of this article, we will suggest three lessons Americans can take from Canada's experience with same-sex marriage.


[1] You can watch a clip of Ezra Levant speaking on this on Sun News at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uUaODful6vY.

[2] Jonathan Morrow, "(Part 6) Answering the Toughest Questions About Homosexuality with Alan Shlemon," Think Christianly (blog), January 25, 2012, accessed July 2, 2015, http://thinkchristianly.blogspot.ca/2012/01/part-6-answering-toughest-questions.html.

[3] Rob Ferguson, "Ontario Becomes First Province to Ban 'Conversion Therapy' for LGBTQ children," Toronto Star, Jun 04 2015, accessed July 2, 2015, http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2015/06/04/ontario-becomes-first-province-to-ban-conversion-therapy-for-lgbtq-children.html.

[4] Mariam Ibrahim and Karen Kleiss, "Gay-straight Alliances Now Mandatory in Alberta: 'We're No Longer That Redneck, Roughneck Province,'" National Post, March 11, 2015, accessed July 2, 2015, http://news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/gay-straight-alliances-now-mandatory-in-alberta-were-no-longer-that-redneck-roughneck-province.

[5] Kristopher Wells, Gay-Straight Alliances: A Guide for Teachers (Edmonton: Alberta Teachers' Association, 2006), 26, http://www.teachers.ab.ca/SiteCollectionDocuments/ATA/Publications/Human-Rights-Issues/Gay–Straight%20Student%20Alliances%20in%20Alberta%20Schools%20A%20Guide%20for%20Teachers.pdf.

[6] Janie Bont, "Finding Space for the Bible in 'Generous Spaciousness'", Faith Beyond Belief (blog), November 20, 2014, accessed July 2, 2015, http://www.faithbeyondbelief.ca/2014/11/20/finding-space-for-the-bible-in-generous-spaciousness/.

[7] "Marriage officials can't refuse gays: Sask. Court, CBC News, Jan 10, 2011, accessed July 2, 2015, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/marriage-officials-can-t-refuse-gays-sask-court-1.1011669.

[8] "Jewelry store to refund engagement ring deposit to same-sex couple," CBC News, May 19, 2015, accessed July 2, 2015, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/jewelry-store-to-refund-engagement-ring-deposit-to-same-sex-couple-1.3078557.

[9] Kelly McParland, "Crusade Against Trinity Western Law School Runs Up Against a Sensible Judge," National Post, January 30, 2015, accessed July 7, 2015, http://news.nationalpost.com/full-comment/kelly-mcparland-crusade-against-trinity-western-law-school-runs-up-against-an-intelligent-judge.

[10] Trinity Western University v. British Columbia College of Teachers, [2001] 1 S.C.R. 772, 2001 S.C.C. 31 (CanLII), May 17, 2001, accessed July 2, 2015, http://www.canlii.org/en/ca/scc/doc/2001/2001scc31/2001scc31.html.

[11] Jenn Ruddy, "Stephen Boissoin on Free Speech, Porn and His Anti-Gay Letter," Daily Xtra, December 8, 2009, accessed July 2, 2015, http://www.dailyxtra.com/canada/news-and-ideas/news/stephen-boissoin-free-speech-porn-and-anti-gay-letter-52317. See also "Lund v Boissoin," Wikipedia, updated January 7, 2015, accessed July 2, 2015, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lund_v_Boissoin.

[12] Bruce Bawer, "Canadian Supreme Court Kills Last Hope for Free Speech," Frontpage Mag, February 28, 2013, accessed July 2, 2015, http://www.frontpagemag.com/fpm/179449/canadian-supreme-court-kills-last-hope-free-speech-bruce-bawer.

Scrubbing the Sin List

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By Scott McClare

Do you believe that Christians should be compelled to stop regarding homosexuality as a sin? According to his op-ed article published on Good Friday, New York Times columnist and gay activist Frank Bruni does.

Last month, the state of Indiana passed SB 101, a state version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which has been part of U.S. federal law since 1993. In short, RFRA prohibits the government from burdening a person's free exercise of religion, unless it is to further a compelling state interest and does so in the least restrictive manner. RFRA is not absolute protection of religious practice, but it does provide one avenue of recourse for those who feel that their religious rights are being unduly restricted.[1]

After Indiana SB 101 was passed, prominent politicians, corporations, celebrities, and the media immediately piled on the state and threatened boycotts. The backlash was so intense that governor Mike Pence promised swift revisions to the law. One media outlet found a Christian-owned pizzeria whose proprietors said they would not cater a gay wedding; the restaurant received threats that caused them to close for several days.

Photo by Justin Eagan, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo by Justin Eagan, via Wikimedia Commons

The shaming of Indiana might lead you to believe that SB 101 was an anti-gay bill targeting homosexuals for discrimination. For Christian florists, bakers, restaurateurs, and photographers, the issue has not been refusing to serve a certain class of clientele. The pizzeria might decline to cater a gay wedding, but they also stated that they would not refuse to serve LGBT customers who patronized their business. Barronelle Stutzman, a Washington florist who was sued and fined for discrimination after declining to supply flowers for a same-sex wedding in 2013, had been happily selling flowers for a decade to the couple who sued her. Rather, the issue has been participating against their consciences in a religious ceremony.

With his column, "Bigotry, the Bible, and Lessons from Indiana,"[2] Frank Bruni joins the anti-Indiana dogpile, asserting that SB 101 was intended to target gays. However, he sets a poor intellectual tone right from the start by employing the bandwagon fallacy. Homosexuality and Christianity need not be in opposition, he writes, because "several prominent denominations . . . have come to a new understanding of what the Bible does and doesn't decree." In other words, several liberal denominations have decided that homosexual behaviour is compatible with authentic Christianity, and so should you. However, the three largest Christian denominations in the U.S.—the Roman Catholic Church, Southern Baptist Convention, and United Methodist Church—currently all officially declare homosexual behaviour to be incompatible with Christian belief and practice, though each denomination has varying degrees of internal dissent.[3] Bruni wants us to get on the bandwagon, but can't explain why we should get on his bandwagon.

Bruni's next fallacy is the one C. S. Lewis called "chronological snobbery": assuming that old ideas are intrinsically inferior to new ones. He writes that viewing LGBT people as sinners "prioritizes scattered passages of ancient texts over all that has been learned since—as if time had stood still, as if the advances of science and knowledge meant nothing." By contrast, he recommends the views of "gay Christian" authors and supporters such as David Gushee, Jeff Chu, James Brownson, and Matthew Vines. The Christian church has declared unambiguously that homosexual activity is sinful for nearly 2,000 years, but everything that really needed to be said about LGBT issues and Christianity was published in the last two?

(Bruni argues that scriptural opposition to homosexuality is sparse and obsolescent, whereas Vines, whom he cites favourably, claims that the Bible is authoritative but its teaching on sexuality is misunderstood. I wonder whether Bruni recognizes his contradiction?)

The biblical teaching on homosexuality is "scattered" and "sparse," we are told. What of it? A truth told infrequently is nonetheless the truth, and the scattered pronunciations on homosexuality in the Bible are uniformly negative. (For more details, refer to my earlier post, "God Hates Shrimp?")

Bruni also approvingly cites Matthew Vines' argument that people in the apostles' day didn't know about homosexual orientation or loving, committed same-sex relationships. However, Vines was simply wrong. In 2000, James B. DeYoung's examination of ancient Greek literature, such as Plato's Symposium, clearly shows that their understanding of homosexuality was very much like ours. They discussed homosexual orientation and desire as well as behaviour, committed and promiscuous relationships, obsession with the body and physical attractiveness, even a form of "gay pride."[4] Paul may or may not have read Plato specifically, but we can be reasonably sure that as an educated and well-traveled man, he was aware of these issues.

Bruni's secular worldview clashes sharply with the Christian worldview in two significant ways in this article. First, he sees morality as fluid and evolving, based on the march of progress and the winds of public opinion. If right and wrong are malleable, then of course we can add or subtract sins from the catalogue as we please. Hence he closes his op-ed in agreement with gay activist Mitchell God, who says the church must "take homosexuality off the sin list." However, for Christians, morality reflects the character of a perfectly just and righteous God, "with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change" (James 1:17).[5] The church can't take homosexuality off the sin list. It's not our list to edit.

Second, Bruni agrees with Gold's assertion that "church leaders must be made" to stop thinking of homosexuality as sinful. He advocates a statist worldview in which government must correct the moral positions of organized religion and its practitioners if they fail to comply with the spirit of the age. He fails to recognize that government itself is subject to the laws of God. "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29), said the apostles to the authorities, because they were told not to do the work the Lord Jesus had given them. The civil government's authority comes from God (Rom. 13:1), and hence it has a duty to promote godliness and to let the church be the church. This is why Paul instructed Timothy to pray "for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way" (1 Timothy 2:1-2). The church must be free to carry out its divine mandate of proclaiming the gospel of repentance and forgiveness of sins through faith in Christ. RFRA laws like SB 101 provide one avenue of recourse for Christians and others who religious exercise has been unjustly restricted by an overreaching government.

It is somewhat surprising to see one of the world's most influential newspapers give voice to such a radical screed. Frank Bruni's op-ed is long on assertion and opinion, but short on arguments supported by evidence. It is little more than an ultimatum: "Join the 21st century with the mainline Protestant denominations, 'gay Christian' authors, and myself, or else." Or else what? I'm not an alarmist. We don't need to fear the guillotines or lions, but advocates of sexual liberty are becoming more vocal in their call to restrict religious liberty. We need to remember that we are in an ongoing spiritual battle, and the tools of spiritual warfare are the same as always: practical holiness and effective apologetics. "[T]he weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:4-5).

[1] For examples of successful and unsuccessful RFRA challenges, see Mollie Hemingway, "Meet 10 Americans Helped by Religious Freedom Bills Like Indiana's," The Federalist, March 30, 2015, accessed April 12, 2015, http://thefederalist.com/2015/03/30/meet-10-americans-helped-by-religious-freedom-bills-like-indianas/.

[2] Frank Bruni, "Bigotry, the Bible, and Lessons from Indiana," New York Times, April 3, 2015, accessed April 12, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/05/opinion/sunday/frank-bruni-same-sex-sinners.html.

[3] For the sake of argument, if Christianity is defined broadly enough to include the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, then the five largest denominations (the fifth being the Church of God in Christ) officially oppose homosexual practice and same-sex marriage.

[4] James B. DeYoung, Homosexuality: Contemporary Claims Examined in Light of the Bible and Other Ancient Literature and Law (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2000). See especially Excursus 3, "Homosexual Behavior and Discussion in Plato," 205-13.

[5] Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (ESV).