Just after John Oliver’s pointed take on “prosperity” televangelists, Bishop T.D. Jakes, a Dallas-based megachurch pastor, best-selling author and media personality once described by TIME magazine as possibly “the next Billy Graham,” launches a four-week test run of a new daily talk show today. But Jakes has spent much of the last two weeks responding to a backlash from conservative evangelical Christians over comments he made about gay rights and church-state separation.
During an August 3 Huffington Post Live interview with journalist and scholar Marc Lamont Hill, Jakes said his thinking on homosexuality is “evolved and evolving” and that it is “absolutely” possible for the gay community and the black church to coexist. "I think that it's going to be diverse from church to church. Every church has a different opinion on the issue and every gay person is different."
LGBTs of different types and sorts have to find a place of worship that reflects what your views are and what you believe like anyone else. And the church should have the right to have its own convictions and values. If you don’t like those convictions and values, you totally disagree with it, don’t try to change my house, move into your own. And establish that sort of thing, and find somebody who gets what you get about faith, and, trust me, I’ve talked to enough LGBT and they’re not all the same.
Jakes said that members of the LGBT community, like all American citizens, deserve equal protection under the law.
We bought, the church bought into the myth that this was a Christian nation. And once you get past that, which a lot of people are going to criticize me because they’re still gonna think it’s a Christian nation, which is a whole different show, but once you begin to understand that democracy, that a republic actually, is designed to be an overarching system to protect our unique nuances then we no longer look for public policy to reflect biblical ethics…
If we can divide, or what you would call separation of church and state, then we can dwell together more effectively. Because atheists, agnostics, Jews, all types of people, Muslims, pay into the government, the government then cannot reflect one particular view over another, just because we are the dominant group of religious people in the country, because those numbers are changing every day. We need a neutralized government that protects our right to disagree with one another and agree with one another.
Jakes suggested a posture of spiritual humility: “Once you understand that you’re not God, you leave yourself an out clause to grow.”
How did the Religious Right hate this interview? Let us count the ways: Jakes spoke of his thinking on homosexuality “evolving,” a term used by President Obama to describe his move toward support for marriage equality; he encouraged LGBT people to find affirming churches; he spoke positively about church-state separation and described the idea that America is a Christian nation as “a myth.”
The Huffington Post interview was not the first time Jakes has said such things. On the Sunday after the Supreme Court's marriage equality ruling, Jakes told his congregation, “I’m not really as concerned about this as a lot of people are. I’m really not as concerned about it. I think that we should not lose our mind about the world being the world and the Church being the Church. This is not a news flash.” He also said, “The Supreme Court is there to make a decision based on constitutional rights and legalities that fit all Americans. They are not debating Scripture," which led to applause from the congregation.
There doesn’t seem to have been a huge reaction to those initial comments on the Court ruling. But after the Huffingon Post interview, Heather Clark at Christian News published an August 7 story – tagged “Apostasy” – with a headline blaring that Jakes had come out for gay marriage and LGBT churches and was evolving on homosexuality. The article fumed, “Megachurch leader and author T.D. Jakes says that homosexuals should attend congregations that affirm their lifestyle and that politics do not need to reflect biblical ethics, adding that his position on homosexuality is both “evolved and evolving.”
Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states must legalize same-sex “marriage,” igniting a battle between the Church and State over the issue. In his comments on Monday, Jakes advocated for the separation of Church and State, which would allow for “all types of people” to have whatever rights they desire despite biblical prohibitions. He said that politics don’t need to be based on Christianity.
That seems to have set off enough outrage that Jakes posted a statement to his Facebook page on August 9 responding to the criticism. Without naming Clark or Christian News by name, Jakes slammed his critics:
Just because a so-called Christian publication chooses to misconstrue my words using lazy journalistic tactics to further their own agenda and draw attention to their site does not make their statements an accurate depiction of what I said or meant.
In that August 9 statement, Jakes affirmed his religious opposition to same-sex marriage while also reiterating his stance separating his religious beliefs from public policy positions, saying, “For the record, I do not endorse same sex marriage but I respect the rights that this country affords those that disagree with me.” His statement, which attracted hundreds of comments, also said, “I have come to respect that I can't force my beliefs on others by controlling public policy for tax payers and other U.S. citizens. Jesus never sought to change the world through public policy but rather through personal transformation.”
For the Religious Right, them’s fightin’ words. On August 10, Jennifer LeClaire at Charisma wrote, “Leaders from across the body of Christ were contacting me all weekend” about Jakes’ interview. The Washington Times also reported on the controversy. LeClaire took note of Jakes’ clarification on Facebook, but seemed unsure whether it was enough, noting that anti-gay activist Michael Brown was asking for more.
Brown’s column, which circulated on right-wing media, said Jakes’ HuffPo comments “appeared to be intentionally ambiguous.”
At best, your comments left your hearers in the dark; at worst, they gave the impression that you now support same-sex “marriage.”
Surely this is not a minor issue, and surely a shepherd has a responsibility to the sheep. What, dear sir, do you believe?
Brown seemed particularly offended that Jakes had encouraged LGBT Christians to find a church that they were comfortable with.
I thought the church was called to bring people to Jesus, to stand for righteousness, to care for the needy, to shine like light in the darkness, to declare God’s will and to live it out. And don’t you have a responsibility as a leader to warn people about deception?
He also took umbrage with the idea that the U.S. as Christian nation is a myth, and the suggestion that Christians shouldn't expect public policy to reflect biblical ethics, asking whether Jakes would have said the same about slavery or rape.
But is it a myth that America was founded on Christian principles and that our founders presupposed that Christian religion would be the foundation of democracy and morality? Is it a myth that, throughout our history, we have overwhelmingly professed to be Christian in large majority?
On August 11, Jakes posted another, somewhat exasperated comment to Facebook, noting that his answer to Marc Lamont Hill had spurred “a virulent diatribe in cyber-Christian land.” He said “the vast majority of people” seemed to understand his first clarification, but that for those who didn’t, he would try again, “rather than play ‘whack-a-mole’ with the online Christian media.” And, he predicted, “there are those that will never be satisfied.” From his second clarification:
I firmly believe that marriage is ordained by God as a union between a man and a woman… My stance on the topic has never wavered. It is fixed, steadfast and well documented...I believe that all sex outside of that sacred union is sin and that would include but is not limited to, homosexuality…
I also believe in balancing that truth with grace, so that the word becomes the personification of Jesus Christ, his love, mercy and compassion…Because truth absent of grace fails to exemplify my heart or the heart of the Father, I draw the line at the extra-biblical exercise of calling people names, ostracizing or humiliating them because our beliefs fall on opposite sides of the spiritual chasm.
That attitude hasn’t shifted the tide in the battle for men’s souls in the last 30 years…
My hope is that the church will always be “evolving” in how we address and minister to the LGBT community in ways that are in line with our biblically-based beliefs without losing sight of Christ like compassion.
On Wednesday, Jennifer LeClaire at Charisma said that the second “crystal clear” statement from Jakes “should put an end to the questioning.” But as Jakes had predicted, some people are still not satisfied.
“He’s trying to back pedal by lying about what he said and what his intent was behind what he said,” Peterson told Christian News Network. “For this man to speak out of both sides of his mouth indicates that he is a hypocrite.”
He said that he doesn’t believe Jakes’ comments to the Huffington Post were misconstrued, but rather that Jakes’ was telling the outlet—as reported—that while he has personal beliefs about homosexuality, he simultaneously believes that homosexuals should have their “rights” as the nation operates outside of biblical values—and in that sense, Jakes does support same-sex “marriage.”
…Peterson also expressed concern about Jakes’ remarks asserting that homosexuals should attend churches that affirm their beliefs instead of seeking to change Bible-based churches… “A real man of God would not suggest that a homosexual go to a church that agrees with their lifestyle,” Peterson added. “He would suggest that they repent and turn to God.”
The fact is, the USA is no longer a Christian nation. But that is different from saying it should not be a Christianized nation and/or that it was never originally founded upon Christian principles.
The writings demonstrating America's Christian history are so numerous I will not attempt to debate that in this article. Suffice it to say that the wording of the Declaration of Independence showed a Christian worldview, the U.S. Constitution was replete with principles from Scripture, and all the original state constitutions based their civic laws as well as their public school education on the teaching of Scripture.
…Jakes believes it is possible to have "neutrality" in regards to the ethos of a nation and its government. However, neutrality is impossible because every human government is based on some religious, ideological and philosophical foundation. Either it is man centered or God centered.
…Throughout human and biblical history, God's kingdom has been set against the kingdom and pride of men… God's Word never separates faith from policy and politics. There is no neutrality!
Political leaders who do not represent God's law/Word are illegitimate in the eyes of God and will ultimately be judged for their rebellious autonomy.
And on Friday, the American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer entered the fray. Fischer said Jakes’ comments were “enormously troublesome” and complained that he “couldn’t make sense” of Jakes’ clarification. Fischer was offended by Jakes’ “enormously problematic” description of the “myth” of the U.S. as a Christian Nation. He said he didn’t even know where to begin to describe how troubling it is that Jakes said policy shouldn’t be counted on to reflect biblical views. And he denounced Jakes’ description of homosexuality as a complicated issue.
“No it’s not, T.D. Jakes. Homosexuality is not a complex issue. It is an abomination. I mean, how simple and unambiguous is that? There’s nothing complex about that. It is contrary to the will of God. It is sexual perversity. What’s complicated about that?”
This isn’t the first time Jakes has found himself targeted by fellow Christians. He has previously faced criticism for preaching a prosperity gospel and teaching a Oneness Pentecostal theology that differs from traditional Christian understanding of the Trinity. Jakes publicly committed himself to a more orthodox understanding of the Trinity in 2012 under questioning from Mark Driscoll, then-head of Seattle’s Mars Hill Church – though it did not satisfy all his critics.
Religious Right legal group Liberty Counsel, which opposes LGBT equality in the U.S. and around the world, has been urging resistance in the form of mass civil disobedience to the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling. On Wednesday, a federal court ruled against Liberty Counsel and its client, Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, who has refused on religious grounds to issue a marriage license to same-sex couples. U.S. District Judge David Bunning issued a preliminary injunction ordering her to do her job and comply with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
Bunning, a Bush appointee, stated the issue this way:
At its core, this civil action presents a conflict between two individual liberties held sacrosanct in American jurisprudence. One is the fundamental right to marry implicitly recognized in the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The other is the right to free exercise of religion explicitly guaranteed by the First Amendment. Each party seeks to exercise one of these rights, but in doing so, they threaten to infringe upon the opposing party’s rights. The tension between these constitutional concerns can be resolved by answering one simple question: Does the Free Exercise Clause likely excuse Kim Davis from issuing marriage licenses because she has a religious objection to samesex marriage? For reasons stated herein, the Court answers this question in the negative.
The judge analyzed the case under the U.S. Constitution, the Kentucky state constitution, and the Kentucky Religious Freedom Act (which is patterned after the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act). He considered and rejected various arguments raised by Liberty Counsel defending Davis’s right to refuse to provide marriage licenses.
Davis contends that “[c]ompelling all individuals who have any connection with the issuance of marriage licenses . . . to authorize, approve, and participate in that act against their sincerely held religious beliefs about marriage, without providing accommodation, amounts to an improper religious test for holding (or maintaining) public office.” The Court must again point out that the act of issuing a marriage license to a same-sex couple merely signifies that the couple has met the legal requirements to marry. It is not a sign of moral or religious approval. The State is not requiring Davis to express a particular religious belief as a condition of public employment, nor is it forcing her to surrender her free exercise rights in order to perform her duties. Thus, it seems unlikely that Davis will be able to establish a violation of the Religious Test Clause….
As the Court has already pointed out, Davis is simply being asked to signify that couples meet the legal requirements to marry. The State is not asking her to condone same-sex unions on moral or religious grounds, nor is it restricting her from engaging in a variety of religious activities. Davis remains free to practice her Apostolic Christian beliefs. She may continue to attend church twice a week, participate in Bible Study and minister to female inmates at the Rowan County Jail. She is even free to believe that marriage is a union between one man and one woman, as many Americans do. However, her religious convictions cannot excuse her from performing the duties that she took an oath to perform as Rowan County Clerk.
Liberty Counsel has filed an appeal of the ruling and requested a stay. Chairman Mat Staver denounced the judge’s ruling:
“Judge Bunning’s decision equated Kim’s free exercise of religion to going to church. This is absurd! Christianity is not a robe you take off when you leave a sanctuary,” said Staver. “The First Amendment guarantees Kim and every American the free exercise of religion, even when they are working for the government.”
“Kim Davis cannot license something that is prohibited by her religious convictions,” Staver continued. “To provide a license is to provide approval and places a legal authority behind what is being licensed. The First Amendment protects actions and not mere thought. Kim Davis should not be forced to violate her religious beliefs,” Staver concluded.
This morning, Davis’s office defied the Judge Bunning’s order and turned away gay couples who sought marriage licenses. According to the Associated Press, “Davis wasn't at her office Thursday, but deputy clerk Nathan Davis said the office was advised by its attorneys with the Christian law firm Liberty Counsel to continue refusing same-sex couples as it appeals.”
Last year, after a federal court struck down North Carolina’s ban on same-sex couples getting married, Staver and anti-gay activist Matt Barber urged magistrates in the state with similar religious objections not to resign but to “stand their ground” and refuse to obey the ruling.
Conservative media and Religious Right leaders and activists are touting a new poll that supposedly shows Americans “overwhelmingly” side with “religious liberty” over gay rights. The new poll, conducted by Fox News contributor Patrick Caddell, adopts right-wing framing that pits religious freedom and LGBT equality in conflict with each other. Even in that context, a majority agrees that both religious liberties and the rights of gays and lesbians are important, and that “there can be a common sense solution that both protects religious freedom and protects gay and lesbian couples from discrimination.”
Of course, religious liberty and LGBT equality can happily coexist, despite claims to the contrary from the Right, but anti-equality advocates touting the Caddell poll suggest that the “common sense solution” is a “truce” that would allow business owners to discriminate against gay people based on their religious beliefs. Anti-gay extremist Peter LaBarbera is arguing that the poll shows that people see a war on Christians coming out of the “homosexual activist movement” and he is urging Americans to push for repeal of existing “sexual orientation laws and gender identity laws.”
The Caddell poll, an online survey of 800 voters, asserts that more than two-thirds of Americans – 68% -- believe the government should not be able “to require by law a private citizen to provide a service or provide their private property for an event that is contrary to their religious beliefs.” More specifically, the poll claims that 82 percent of Americans supports the right of a photographer with religious objections to same-sex couples getting married to refuse to photograph a gay couple’s wedding.
Conservatives are complaining that the Caddell poll is being “ignored by the establishment media.” But there are some good reasons for that.
First, Caddell’s numbers are far out of line with other surveys that show Americans are uncomfortable with the can of worms that would be opened by allowing business owners to cite religion as a reason to opt out of laws that apply to everyone else. In an article in the Atlantic in June, Robert Jones of Public Religion Research Institute writes:
By a margin of nearly two to one, Americans oppose allowing a small business owner to refuse products or services to gay and lesbian people, even if doing so violates their religious beliefs (60 percent oppose, 34 percent favor). Most religious groups oppose these exemptions; white evangelical Protestants are the only religious group with majority support for these exemptions, and even among this group, support is only a bare majority (51 percent).
PRRI has also reported that white evangelical Protestants were the only religious group that gives majority support – and then only 51 percent – to so called “religious freedom” laws designed to protect business owners and others who do not want to serve LGBT people or couples.
By contrast, 59% of white mainline Protestants, 63% of non-white Protestants, and 64% of Catholics oppose allowing small business owners to refuse service to gay and lesbian people on religious grounds, as do nearly three-quarters (73%) of religiously unaffiliated Americans.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll published in March of last year found that “nearly seven in 10 respondents say business should not be allowed to refuse service to gays,” even if that refusal if based on the owner’s religious beliefs.” And an earlier poll, a 2013 survey by Human Rights Campaign and Third Way, reported that when asked specifically about wedding-related services being provided by small businesses, “64% of voters were still opposed to new laws that would allow small businesses to deny wedding-related services based on their religious beliefs, compared to 31% in favor.”
Other polls show more of a split among Americans on the issue, but they too are far from the results Caddell reports. A Pew Research Center survey from last year found Americans about equally divided about whether businesses that provide wedding services should be allowed to refuse service to same-sex couples on religious grounds or whether they should be required to provide services. And an Associated Press-GfK poll from earlier this year found that while a slim majority of Americans said wedding-related businesses should be allowed to refuse service to same-sex couples, only 40 percent said businesses in general should be allowed to.
Another reason journalists might view the poll with skepticism may be Caddell himself. Caddell is a Fox News regular who is useful to right-wingers by virtue of the fact that he describes himself as a Democratic strategist who helped get Jimmy Carter elected. But he has long since acted as an advocate for the Right by trashing the Democratic Party as the “tool” of special interests and saying “the left doesn’t care about ordinary people.”
Last year, on Sean Hannity’s show, Caddell denounced President Barack Obama as “a raging narcissist who has no grip on reality” and accused Republicans of not opposing him strongly enough. Caddell reportedly helped identify people to appear in an anti-Obama “documentary” distributed by the right-wing group Citizens United.
New York Magazine recently reported that Caddell has been speaking to Donald Trump “almost every day” about his campaign.
Religious Right leaders have long argued that legal equality for LGBT people cannot coexist with religious freedom. Now that the Supreme Court has made marriage equality the law of the land, and the LGBT movementis seeking protections against discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations, these claims are getting more shrill.
The Right is worked up about the introduction in Congress last month of the Equality Act, which would provide legal protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, access to public places, federal funding, credit, education and jury service. The Equality Act, says Lambda Legal, “does not change the religious exemptions already in federal law.”
Miranda reported last week that Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage said the Equality Act should be called “The Persecution of Americans Act.” Now, in a new fundraising email, NOM calls the “Beyond Marriage Equality” agenda “an outrageous attempt to persecute Americans who believe in God” and suggests that extending civil rights protections to protect LGBT people would be “catastrophic.”
The agenda being advanced by the left will have a catastrophic impact on every single American as it covers housing, employment, access to public places, federal funding, credit, education and jury service. Gays and lesbians get special legal rights and can beckon the government to target people of faith for investigations and punishment, while Americans who believe in God get the shaft.
But Brown doesn’t speak for “Americans who believe in God.” Most Americans, including religious Americans, support nondiscrimination laws that protect LGBT people. A Public Religion Research Institute survey from June found that 60 percent of white evangelical Protestants support nondiscrimination laws. As PRRI’s Robert Jones recently wrote in the Atlantic:
Today, nearly seven in ten (69 percent) Americans favor laws that would protect LGBT individuals against discrimination in jobs, public accommodations, and housing, compared to 25 percent who oppose such policies. And there is majority support for these protections across partisan and religious lines. In fact, most Americans actually already believe that workplace nondiscrimination is the law of the land: Three-quarters (75 percent) of Americans incorrectly believe it is currently illegal under federal law to fire or refuse to hire someone because they are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.
A poll conducted for HRC earlier this year found overwhelming public support for a nondiscrimination law.
In an interview with The Dove TV on Friday, anti-gay activist Scott Lively insisted that Christians are being denied their First Amendment rights because of gay rights, while simultaneously asserting that the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom applies only to Christians.
In fact, Lively explained, it is because the United States has grown to accept “religious pluralism” that God is now punishing us with abortion rights and LGBT equality.
“Well, I don’t actually believe in ‘religious freedom,’ the way that the term is used,” Lively explained. “I know that when you use it and when most people use it, you’re talking about Christianity. We’re not talking about freedom for Islam and freedom for Buddhism and Hinduism as if they’re equal with God.
“The number-one Commandment is ‘You shall have no other gods before me.’ And when we forget that and we start accepting this concept of religious pluralism and we say that Jesus Christ is really no higher an authority in America than Buddha or Mohammed or even Satan, that’s when we have really dropped the ball and we have brought disfavor from God on us.”
Legal abortion (or, as he put it, the “pro-abort juggernaut of death”) and gay rights, he insisted, could have been stopped if America had earned “the favor of God.”
“If even one man, just one man, had the favor of God,” he said, “with the flimsiest of plans, he could have stopped that, he could have stopped the gay agenda in very short order.”
He went on to mourn for the soldiers in the Revolutionary War who “died with the cry ‘no king but Jesus’ on their lips” and for “all the patriots since them who have died on the battlefield believing that American values meant godliness and morality, not sexual perversion and killing.”
Lively then, with great self-awareness, lamented that the First Amendment is “being chipped away very rapidly” leading to the “persecution” of people like himself.
Later in the interview, Lively claimed that thanks to abortion rights and LGBT equality, “we really are now under occupation.. by cultural Marxists” just as France was occupied by the Nazis in World War II.
The “cultural Marxists,” he said, have now ensured that everyone in America is “forced to participate in gay culture,” and are working toward the next step, which is “punishment of all dissenters.”
“The folks that are pushing this, they want to come after every Christian,” he warned, “they hate Christianity, they want to punish, they are going to aggressively pursue every person.”
But he had some good news: “I’m more blessed than I’ve ever been, and yet I’m being persecuted more than anybody else in America.”
In a 2008 interview with far-right radio host Kevin Swanson, Roy Moore, now the chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, attacked proponents of the separation of church and state, claiming that “the First Amendment itself implicitly recognizes God.”
Swanson asked Moore if the “kneejerk reaction to any reference to our Christian God, our Christian past, to the Bible” was “due to a minority of atheists that are making an enormous amount of noise.”
“It’s due to that,” Moore responded, “it’s also due to ignorance of our past, our history and our law. You know, right now there’s an exclusion of anything about God from our public life. Indeed, they say they cannot refer to God because of the First Amendment. But without the reference to God, without the acknowledgement that there is a God that gives us liberty, freedom of thought, there would be no First Amendment.
“In other words, the First Amendment itself implicitly recognizes God because of our history and our past.”
In a 2006 interview with far-right radio host Kevin Swanson, Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore — who was then between his two stints on the state Supreme Court — lamented that public schools were teaching students about Islam and the theory of evolution, saying Christian parents couldn’t “justify sending their children to schools where they teach that they weren’t created in the image of God, that they evolved from monkeys.”
Moore also repeated his insistence that that Rep. Keith Ellison, who had just been elected as the first Muslim member of Congress, should not be allowed to take his seat in the House if he swore his oath of office on a Koran, saying that such events were leading to the “destruction of our society and our nation from within.”
Asked by Swanson about Ellison’s election, Moore responded that it was “a very bad indication of where we are going” and claimed that the congressman-elect was “known to associate with groups that actually oppose the Constitution.”
“This Ellison wants to swear on the Koran and basically swear that his law supersedes the Constitution of the United States, and he shouldn’t be seated,” he said.
Swanson agreed, saying, “If we begin to bring humanist socialists denying the existence of God or Muslims denying the word of God, the Bible, that is the foundation of this country, I think we’ve got tyranny to look forward to. I’m not sure if it’s the Muslim kind or the socialist kind, but either kind is bad.”
“Either kind is bad,” Moore replied, “and you’re right, when we start doing that, we’re basically looking at the destruction of our society and our nation from within. We’ve never been defeated by a foreign power and we’re asking to be defeated by our own actions here.”
Later in the interview, Moore lamented that Ellison’s election shows the American people’s “ignorance” of the divine origins of the U.S., as also exemplified by the fact that on Thanksgiving “they teach in school it’s thanksgiving to the Indians and not to God.”
Citing a lawsuit over one California elementary school’s Islamic studies program, Moore claimed,“California schools are teaching Islam in their schools. They’re teaching the kids how to pray, when to pray and how to go to Mecca, and that is going to spread across our country if we don’t wake up.”
“I think that we’ve got to recognize that the state’s role is not to teach our children,” he told Swanson. “That doesn’t mean you can’t send them there if you want, but if you do, you’ve got to justify that some way. And I don’t think Christians can actually justify sending their children to schools where they teach that they weren’t created in the image of God, that they evolved from monkeys.” (This, incidentally, is not actually what the theory of evolution teaches.)
When Swanson asked Moore what God thought of all of this, Moore responded, “I think that when He sees us welcoming in gods that are not the God upon which we were founded, we’ve got trouble.”
Citing a passage from Chronicles in which God tells Solomon that He will uproot his people and destroy their temple if they start worshiping other gods, Moore warned, “That’s what we’re doing and that’s what’s liable to happen if we continue to do it.”
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who announced his presidential bid on Twitter this morning and will have a launch event later today in Waukesha, has sent an email to activists declaring that his presidential run “is God’s plan for me.”
“My relationship with God drives every major decision in my life,” starts the note, which is clearly designed to appeal to Religious Right voters who make up a major part of the GOP base vote, particularly in the early primary states Iowa and South Carolina.
The letter goes on to talk about Walker’s faith as “the guiding force of my life in both politics and in private” and promotes opposition to reproductive choice and marriage equality. “A lifelong supporter of the pro-life movement, my work defending the unborn goes back to my college days where I was a leader of Marquette Students for Life,” he writes, bragging about signing into law new restrictions on access to abortion and pledging to do the same as president. He calls the Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision a “grave mistake” and calls for a constitutional amendment to overturn it. And he pledges to nominate Supreme Court justices who share his approach to the Constitution.
“Our country is at a crossroads and we need a proven conservative leader who is not afraid to fight for what is right -- even when it’s not politically expedient,” Walker says. “My decisions are guided by my relationship with God -- not by what might win me a few votes.”
The full letter follows:
My relationship with God drives every major decision in my life. Each day I pray and then take time to read from the Bible and from a devotional named Jesus Calling.
As you can imagine, the months leading up to my announcement that I would run for President of the United States were filled with a lot of prayer and soul searching.
Here’s why: I needed to be certain that running was God’s calling -- not just man’s calling. I am certain: This is God’s plan for me and I am humbled to be a candidate for President of the United States.
Now, it is up to the voters to decide who will win the election. If you support my conservative campaign, please join my team right now with $10, $35, $50, $100, or even $250 today.
As the son of a Baptist preacher, my faith comes first. It is the guiding force of my life both in politics and in private. For example, I believe in the sanctity of life. I believe in the covenant of marriage. I believe in strong families. I believe in protecting religious liberties. And I believe these things are worth fighting for -- and I have.
A lifelong supporter of the pro-life movement, my work defending the unborn goes back to my college days where I was a leader of Marquette Students for Life. As a state lawmaker, I helped write and pass legislation banning the barbaric practice of partial-birth abortion. As Governor of Wisconsin, I prohibited abortion from being covered by Wisconsin health plans in a health insurance exchange, signed an ultrasound bill into law, and defunded Planned Parenthood while maintaining health services for women throughout Wisconsin.
Earlier this year, I called for legislation to protect unborn children once they can feel pain at five months. The members of the State Legislature just passed the bill and I will sign it into law next week. Yet another pro-life victory here in Wisconsin!
If elected President, I would be honored to sign similar legislation at the federal level. I was raised to believe in the sanctity of life and I will always fight to protect it.
Please stand with me today to help elect a pro-life President.
Our conservative values were handed a big blow with the recent Supreme Court ruling. Let me be very clear: this decision was a grave mistake. Five unelected judges took it upon themselves to take that responsibility away from the states and redefine the institution of marriage.
In 2006, I voted to amend my state constitution to protect the institution of marriage because I believe that marriage is between one man and one woman.
I believe that the states have the right to define marriage.
To protect this right, I support an amendment to the United States Constitution to reaffirm the ability of the states to continue to define marriage.
Going forward, we need to focus our attention on protecting the religious rights of Americans. Our U.S. Constitution calls for freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. The founders of this exceptional country took religious freedom very seriously and we must redouble our efforts to protect these freedoms today.
Peter, I have been a tireless advocate for religious liberty. And my state’s families and children are better off because of our pro-life, pro-family agenda that promotes life, freedom, and opportunity.
As President, I will stand up for these same values. And I will appoint men and women to the Court who will faithfully uphold the Constitution -- without injecting their own political agendas into legal matters.
Our country is at a crossroads and we need a proven conservative leader who is not afraid to fight for what is right -- even when it’s not politically expedient. My decisions are guided by my relationship with God -- not by what might win me a few votes.
I am proud to have earned the early support of conservative and religious activists across the country and hope to earn your support today. Visit here to become a leader of our conservative team with a contribution of $10, $35, $50, $100, $250, or whatever amount is right for you.
Every day I pray that our best days of peace, prosperity, and freedom are ahead of us. As President, I will uphold the traditional values that have made our country great, but I need your help to win.
Your enthusiastic support will help us build much-needed momentum in these early weeks as we take our conservative message to voters across the country.
God bless you and God bless America,
This post is written by YP4 intern Christina Tudor.
The National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) recently released a report listing all the ways in which the year old Hobby Lobby decision has opened the door to allowing religious exemptions for all sorts of things. NWLC’s report “The Hobby Lobby ‘Minefield’: The Harm, Misuse, and Expansion of the Supreme Court Decision,” highlights how the decision has set the stage for perpetuating discrimination beyond limiting access to birth control and placing restrictions on coverage.
The distortion of “religious liberty” and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that informed the Hobby Lobby case has led to a paramedic student claiming his religious beliefs should exempt him from vaccination requirements and some religious groups refusing to provide health care services to sexually-abused refugees. It’s even been used as a defense to try to avoid criminal prosecution for a violent kidnapping.
One Supreme Court decision can do all that damage?
As Justice Ginsburg warned in her dissent, “The Court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield.”
It turns out that she was very right.
According to NWLC’s report, in the last year, there have been “attempts to use RFRA to challenge laws that: protect women, LGBTQ individuals, and students from discrimination; protect employees by allowing them to unionize; promote public health by requiring vaccinations; and require pharmacies to fill lawful prescriptions.”
Distorting the true meaning of religious liberty, the Supreme Court ruled that employers and businesses can use RFRA to justify their incompliance with the ACA. In other words, this decision gives bosses the freedom and the power to discriminate against their employees, and this disproportionately impacts women and their families.
The Hobby Lobby ruling has an even greater impact on working class women and their access to affordable, readily available birth control and health care services that they are entitled to and need. Lack of birth control access can also greatly increase economic instability, therefore further increasing inequality.
Equally troubling are objections to D.C. anti-discrimination laws by The Family Research Council, Concerned Women for America, Alliance Defending Freedom, USCCB and eleven other organizations based upon the distortion of religious liberty.
Clearly Hobby Lobby will continue to have a serious impact on men and women across the country, especially women of color and low-income women, as more individuals and companies try to deny basic rights under the mantle of “religious accommodations.”
The Heritage Foundation’s Ryan Anderson, celebrated as the anti-marriage movement’s fresh young face, is promoting his new book Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom, which promises to tell anguished opponents of marriage equality how to respond in to the Supreme Court ruling that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to be legally married. Anderson’s book will be available July 20, but there’s probably no need to order it, since he has been flooding the media with his analysis of the ruling and advice about what anti-equality Christians should do in its wake.
Anderson is a protégé of Robert George, the Princeton professor and current intellectual godfather of the anti-gay movement. Like George, Anderson has made the case that the dispute over marriage is not about discrimination but about definition. Same-sex couples cannot be married, they argue, because marriage is by definition a relationship between a man and a woman, “uniting comprehensively, creating new life, and uniting new human beings with their mother and father.”
Anderson repeats that argument in his legal analysis of the Supreme Court’s ruling at Public Discourse, complaining that Justice Anthony Kennedy did not seriously engage with the main arguments of anti-marriage-equality advocates in his majority opinion. Anderson is unmoved by analogies to bans on marriage by interracial couples:
The problem with the analogy to interracial marriage is that it assumes exactly what is in dispute: that sex is as irrelevant to marriage as race is. It’s clear that race has nothing to do with marriage. Racist laws kept the races apart and were designed to keep whites at the top. Marriage has everything to do with men and women, husbands and wives, mothers and fathers and their children, and that is why principle-based policy has defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
Anderson has previously pointed to the anti-abortion movement as the model for long-term resistance to marriage equality. Since the Court’s ruling in Obergefell, Anderson has been more explicit about what the strategy means. In a panel discussion at the Heritage Foundation on June 30, Anderson declared, “The central thesis of my new book…is that the pro-marriage movement is in the same exact situation culturally that the pro-life movement found itself in 42 and a half years ago after Roe v. Wade.” In the 40 years since the Roe v. Wade decision, that movement has been all too successful at getting legislatures to restrict women’s ability to access reproductive health care, and at convincing courts to go along. In the Boston Globe, Anderson explained how that happened:
The pro-life community stood up and responded to a bad court ruling. Academics wrote books and articles making the scientific and philosophical case for life. Statesmen like Henry Hyde, Edwin Meese, and Ronald Reagan used the bully pulpit to advance the culture of life. Activists and lawyers got together, formed coalitions, and devised effective strategies.
At Heritage, Anderson identified three steps taken by abortion foes that he says must now be pursued by anti-marriage-equality advocates.
Anderson and other right-wing leaders have certainly been ready to carry out his first piece of advice, denouncing the ruling as judicial activism and, in Anderson’s words, “a significant setback for all Americans who believe in the Constitution, the rule of law, democratic self-government, and marriage as the union of one man and one woman.” His mentor Robert George responded in kind, saying, “we must reject and resist an egregious act of judicial usurpation. We must, above all, tell the truth: Obergefell v. Hodges is an illegitimate decision.” Anderson’s colleague Matthew J. Franck, called it an “appallingly illegitimate decision.”
As for the second step, acting to protect the “rights of conscience,” Anderson says, “There is an urgent need for policy to ensure the government never penalizes anyone for standing up for marriage. We must work to protect the freedom of speech, association, and religion of those who continue to abide by the truth of marriage as one man and one woman.”
Anderson and other anti-equality leaders are pushing for passage of the so-called First Amendment Defense Act in Congress, and for passage of similar laws at the state level. He says that the First Amendment Defense Act would allow individuals, organizations, and businesses to “act on the belief that marriage is the union of a man and a woman” – in other words, to discriminate against same-sex couples without facing any legal consequences.
Just as the pro-life movement ensured that no pro-life citizen would ever have to pay for an abortion or perform an abortion, so too must we work to ensure no one is coerced on marriage. Rather than forcing people and institutions of faith to go to court for their religious liberty, this bill would prevent the government from ever acting unjustly in the first place.
As we noted recently, this strategy has the potential to lead to increasing restrictions on the ability of same-sex couples and their families to experience the equal dignity the Court has said they deserve.
Shortly after the Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v Wade, laws were passed to allow doctors who had religious objections to performing abortions to refuse to do so without experiencing negative professional consequences. There has been little opposition to such laws. But over the past few decades, at the urging of anti-abortion activists, the scope of that kind of religious exemption has been expanded wildly to include people ever-further removed from the actual abortion procedure, and expanded to include even marginal participation in the provision of contraception. In emergency situations these accommodation could come at high cost, including the life of a patient.
Exemptions have been extended to or claimed by nurses who don’t want to provide care to women after an abortion, pharmacists who don’t want to dispense a morning-after pill prescribed by a woman’s doctor, even a bus driver who refused to take a woman to a Planned Parenthood facility because he said he suspected she was going for an abortion.
Law professors Douglas NeJaime and Reva Siegel describe these as “complicity-based conscience claims” – claims that are about refusing to do anything that might make one complicit in any way with another person’s behavior that one deems sinful. They note that the concept of complicity has been extended to allow health care providers not to even inform patients that some potential care or information has been withheld from them based on the religious beliefs of an individual or the policies of an institution.
The resistance to complying with the requirement under the Affordable Care Act that insurance plans cover contraception takes the notion of complicity to almost surreal lengths. Just days after the Hobby Lobby decision, the Court’s conservatives sided provisionally with religious conservatives who are arguing that it is a burden on their religious freedom even to inform the government that they are refusing to provide contraceptive coverage, because that would trigger the process by which the coverage would be provided by others. Cases revolving around the simple act of informing the government of an objection are working their way back toward the Supreme Court….
Given what we know about the intensity of the anti-gay movement’s opposition to marriage equality, it is not hard to imagine how far that movement could run with the principle that religious beliefs about “traditional” marriage are a legitimate basis for discriminating against same-sex couples.
As for Anderson’s final step, waging a generational culture war to promote the idea that marriage can only exist between a man and a woman, he offers several strategies:
Anderson has achieved folk-hero status among the anti-gay right and many are likely to follow his road map. The National Organization for Marriage is praising his “encouraging words and advice” on how to “continue the fight to defend marriage as it has always been defined – the union between one man and one woman.”
This post by PFAW and PFAW Foundation Senior Legislative Counsel Paul Gordon was originally published in the Huffington Post.
Ted Cruz, Bobby Jindal, and other conservative leaders have recently lashed out against the Supreme Court's decision on marriage equality by proclaiming that local clerks who don't personally agree with marriage equality should not be required to issue marriage licenses or perform weddings for same-sex couples - even though it's their job to provide that service to the public.
Their logic is fundamentally flawed. Civil marriage is a civil function, not a religious one. Government employees allowing someone to access their legal rights are not doing anything religious, nor are they condoning the actions being licensed any more than with any other type of license.
That's why when government employees in our country have had religious objections to divorce and remarriage, they have still had to do their jobs. And when government employees have had religious objections to interracial marriages, they have still had to do their jobs. So, too, have government officials with other religious objections to whether or how certain couples get married.
But when the particular religious belief in question is opposition to lesbians and gays, that's apparently a different matter altogether. Now, suddenly, we're told that government employees need to have their religious liberty "protected."
A principle of religious liberty that is invoked only in the context of one particular religious belief is no principle at all. It is a pretext.
The far-right movement that is coalescing around these "protections" allowing civil servants to impose their religious beliefs on others and deny them service does not have clean hands in this regard. While they proclaim loudly that they just want to "live and let live," the policies they have pursued vigorously for decades have aggressively sought to prevent LGBT people from having basic human rights. The Right's new clamor for "protections" is just another form of homophobia.
If the religious right simply wanted to "live and let live," they would not have spent these past decades seeking to impose their religious beliefs about homosexuality on others both through custom and through force of law. They would not have boycotted television networks for airing shows portraying LGBT people as ordinary people. Nor would they have screamed bloody murder when popular celebrities came out of the closet. They would not have fought to prevent us from raising children. They would not have battled to ensure that surviving members of couples be denied Social Security survivor benefits. They would not have opposed letting us serve our country in the intelligence services or in the military. They would not have put so much energy into convincing Americans that we are sexual predators going after their children. They would not have tried to bar us from teaching in public schools. They would not have threatened us with criminal prosecution just for our private, consensual sexual conduct.
Whether it's religious refusals specific to marriage, more general Religious Freedom Restoration Acts in a post-Hobby Lobby world, or Sen. Mike Lee's misleadingly named "First Amendment Defense Act," the Right is yet again attacking LGBT people. With a growing number of Americans - and now the Supreme Court - affirming that the right to marry is a right guaranteed to all regardless of sexual orientation, some on the Right have come to understand that their best tactic to fight marriage equality is to couch their homophobic goals with the language of "religious liberty" instead of explicitly speaking out against LGBT rights. But it's up to all of us to make sure that they do not succeed in these efforts to portray themselves as virtuous defenders of religious liberty, because in reality they're just waging another war against LGBT people.
Anti-gay activist Michael Brown released a snarky thank-you note today to Justice Anthony Kennedy, author of the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision upholding marriage equality nationwide. According to Brown’s letter, the ruling will “galvanize” the anti-marriage-equality movement the way Roe v. Wade galvanized the anti-abortion movement.
In a moment of time, you have done more to energize our side than a string of political victories for us could ever have done.
You have so painted us into a corner and so overstepped the bounds of your office that you have singlehandedly strengthened our resolve to stand, even unifying groups and individuals that had not worked together before now.
For that, sir, I sincerely thank you.
I also want to thank you for confirming what we have been saying for many years now, namely, that gay activism is the principle threat to our freedoms of speech, religion, and conscience.
Brown says the marriage equality ruling has given justification to “a torrent of hatred” aimed at religious conservatives, and he cites a biblical injunction from Jesus to his followers to rejoice when they face persecution.
Thank you, Justice Kennedy, for bringing unprecedented religious persecution to the shores of our nation. Despite the darkness and pain ahead, this will only cause the Church to wake up and grow stronger.
It is worth noting that Brown made similar remarks about a wake-up call for the Church, as well as a “fresh call to revolution” among America’s pastors, two years ago after Supreme Court rulings that overturned key sections of the federal Defense of Marriage Act and opened the door for same-sex couples in California to get legally married. In that broadcast, Brown told Christians not to get upset about “gloating” from gay-rights activists, but to pity them because God will “have the last word.”
The right-wing tactic of pushing discriminatory policies under the guise of religious freedom is nothing new -- we’ve already seen it used to hurt LGBT people in North Carolina, Louisiana, and elsewhere across the country. But now Republican lawmakers are going a step further, by attacking anti-discrimination legislation meant to protect Americans who aren't even represented in Congress.
The legislation is Washington, DC’s Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act (RHNDA), which would protect workers from being fired or punished by their employers for things like using birth control, getting pregnant without being married, or having an abortion. DC’s City Council recently passed RHNDA, and now Congress is using its (fundamentally undemocratic) authority to reverse DC’s local laws to repeal it on the grounds that it violates the religious freedom of employers. Last week, the House Appropriations Committee approved a rider that would block DC from using local funds to enforce RHNDA.
Today, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) held a press conference in DC, where she denounced these congressional attacks and praised the DC employers who have vowed to embrace RHNDA’s protections anyway.
“Republicans do not understand how united this city is against discrimination, and they do not need to; they just need to let the District be the District... Our Republican opponents claim that the Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act will allow pro-choice employees of anti-choice organizations to espouse their own personal pro-choice beliefs. That falsehood must be met with the truth that employees must carry out the mission of their employer.”
Nearly 33,000 people have already signed PFAW’s petition telling Congress not to meddle with DC’s Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act.
Twentieth century, let’s see, we left the secularists in charge…We had Hitler, we had Joseph Stalin and we had Mao. 120 million people [killed]. It gets worse. In the second half of the 20th century, we’ve murdered 400 [million] babies through abortion in China and 50 million in the United States. Let’s see, there are 500 million people we have killed in the 20th century. It’s one-tenth of the number of people who are living today, almost one-tenth.
How did we do that? We let the secularists in charge. You can’t let the secularists in charge! You have to get involved.
-Chuck Stetson, CEO of Essentials in Education, speaking at Skyline Church's Future Conference, June 2015
First they came for the adoption ministry, but I did not speak out, because I did not do adoptions.
Then they came for the wedding photographer, but I did not speak out, because I did not do photographic weddings.
Then they came for the baker, and I did not speak out because I was not a baker. Then they came for the florist, but I said nothing, because I was not a florist.
Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.
-Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, paraphrasing Martin Niemöller at the Future Conference
Last week, a few hundred pastors, parishioners and activists gathered at Jim Garlow’s Skyline Wesleyan Church outside of San Diego for what Garlow called the “Future Conference.” The name of the conference appeared to have two meanings. First, in the words of its marketing materials, that “what you thought was coming…is here now” — in other words, that a great spiritual clash in which Christians are called to be martyrs has arrived. And second, that ultimately, the future will belong to conservative Christians as they wrest control from secular authority and take “dominion” over the country and the world.
The themes of imminent martyrdom and eventual dominion dominated the four-day conference, in which 56 speakers gave what added up to more than 24 hours of TED-style speeches.
The event was heavily tinged with “seven mountains” dominionism, the idea that Christians are called by God to be leaders of or to wield dominant influence over the seven main areas, or “mountains,” of culture — not only religion and family, but also government, business, education, media and entertainment.
Garlow himself has been very active in politics, as one of the organizing forces behind the effort to pass the Proposition 8 gay-marriage ban in California and a proponent of Pulpit Freedom Sunday, the movement that encourages pastors to break the rarely-enforced IRS rule that prohibits tax-exempt churches from endorsing or opposing candidates for office. Garlow has especially close ties with former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, to whom he gave partial credit for inspiring the conference. Gingrich submitted a video address to the conference, as did two current Republican members of Congress, Rep. Jody Hice of Georgia and Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma.
Speaker after speaker lamented the failure of the church to engage in the “culture” — through media, through education, and most importantly through politics. As Garlow wrote in an introductory letter to attendees:
Allow me to be direct: our nation is in trouble. Deep trouble. But you already knew that. That is one of the reasons you are at the FUTURE Conference. But why is our nation in trouble? Because of (how do I say this nicely?) the church. What is lacking? A clear proclamation of biblical answers to the messiness of our culture. Does the Bible actually speak to civic and national issues. Yes, it does!
Secular government and culture, the message was, are creating chaos at home and around the world. And pastors and believers who fail to engage in the wider world are letting it happen.
Just as important was the idea that, as Garlow put it, “you and I were made for this moment.” The going has gotten tough, the message was, not just for Christians facing violent persecution in places like Syria and Iraq, but also for conservative American Christians who claim to feel marginalized by advances in gay rights and who fear a potential Supreme Court decision striking down gay marriage bans. Glenn Beck, promoting the conference with Garlow, said that he knew of 10,000 pastors who were willing to die fighting this supposed anti-Christian persecution in America.
Most speakers were careful to point out that these threats are on very different orders of magnitude, although some hinted that American Christians were on the path to much more difficult times.
This was a spiritual battle that a disengaged church was letting the forces of darkness — radical Islam, the “redefinition of marriage,” abortion rights, pornography — win. Territory would have to be regained.
A ‘Spiritual Battle’ Against Gay Marriage
As is patently obvious, this is a spiritual battle. We need the intercession of every prayer warrior, every angel, and certainly the Holy Spirit. We must bombard the gates of Heaven ceaselessly for God Almighty to reverse our tragic cultural course and restore marriage to the venerable and beautiful institution that He did create.
-Frank Schubert, National Organization for Marriage political director, speaking at the Future Conference
While Garlow gathered speakers to talk about a host of imminent threats to American Christians including terrorism, abortion rights, an economic collapse, pornography, welfare and unbiblical movies, at the top of nearly everybody’s minds was the upcoming Supreme Court decision on marriage equality.
Garlow took hope in a presentation from Troy Newman, head of the anti-choice group Operation Rescue, who boasted of a decline in abortion providers in recent years. “If America can survive long enough,” Garlow said, maybe, like in the anti-abortion struggle, a new generation will rise up and see “the casualties from same-sex marriage are so horrific, this has got to be stopped in our nation.”
He elaborated on the “horrific” consequences of marriage equality in an address to the audience the next day, referring to the thoroughly debunked study by sociologist Mark Regnerus that purported to show all manner of negative outcomes for children raised by same-sex couples.
“I’ve been concerned with how many Christians, how many pastors, cannot make the theological case or the sociological case for marriage,” he said. “The redefinition of marriage, sociologically, will be profoundly destructive, profoundly harming. The Regnerus report out of the University of Texas is going to be only one of many examples of many that will follow that are going to show the catastrophic consequences, the pain, the suffering inflicted on the human race by this redefinition of marriage.”
Schubert, a political strategist who works with the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), similarly cited Regnerus’ questionable conclusions as he urged audience members to give money to NOM and to prod their pastors to speak out against marriage equality because “being silent on the most important issue of our day turns it over to the forces of darkness.” If your pastor refuses to speak out against gay marriage, he advised, “I would look for a different church.”
Schubert said that while anti-gay advocates “could very well win” the marriage case before the Supreme Court, Christians must be prepared to use “any and all efforts to encourage resistance” to a ruling they disagree with, “short of violence.” Christians, he said, should “renounce as illegitimate” any Supreme Court decision that attempts to “redefine” marriage.
NOM’s president, Brian Brown, delivered a similar message, telling attendees that the success of the LGBT equality movement means “the days of comfortable Christianity are over.”
“Things have been good for a long time for us,” he said. “We don’t experience the sort of persecution we’re witnessing in the Middle East. We don’t fear for our lives in coming together and worshipping. We’ve felt for a long time that we’re a part of dominant culture. Now in the course of the last decade or so, maybe a little longer, we’ve realized that’s not the case. Things are starting to change. And that, to put it bluntly, the days of comfortable Christianity are over.”
A Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage equality, he said, would “put a lie into law” and “that law will be used to marginalize, repress and punish those of us who stand for the truth of marriage.”
Claiming that Obama administration policies opposing the violent repression of gay people overseas are actually persecuting people who oppose marriage equality, Brown said that what’s happening to Americans is nothing in comparison and so U.S. Christians should be “cheerful” about “being persecuted.” “What we see and we go and work with folks from around the world is a whole other level of hatred,” he said. “Be cheerful, be happy, you’re being persecuted! Quit being so weak! Okay? What I’m trying to say is, if that’s happening we must be doing something right!”
Anti-gay activist Michael Brown had a similar message, saying that previously bullied LGBT people have now become the “bullies” and that the LGBT rights movement “will not be satisfied until the church bows down.”
Garlow told the crowd that they were “moving into a time of testing” where evangelicals would have to stand up to the predominant culture. He recalled a “vision” he had all the way back in 1990 in which he spoke with God about a future in which there would be “churches being closed by government” on the basis of “the civil rights of homosexuals.”
But no speaker took the gay-marriage panic as far as Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver, who spoke to the conference via video. Marriage equality, Staver warned, will cause “a cataclysmic social upheaval in every conceivable area.”
Touting a pledge to disobey any marriage equality ruling that he has recruited hundreds of prominent anti-gay activists to sign, Staver said that gay-marriage opponents must be prepared to resist such a ruling just like the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement resisted segregation and Jim Crow: “I think we’re back in the days of Martin Luther King, Jr. If they tell you to get off the bus, you don’t get off the bus. If they tell you to go to the back of the bus, you don’t go to the back of the bus.”
“This could be the best, most magnificent time for the church,” he said. “It is moments like this, where there is an unprecedented clash, where there’s impossible odds, that God will intervene for his people.”
Staver closed his speech with a rewritten version of anti-Nazi dissident Martin Niemöller’s famous “First they came for the socialists” lines, appropriating them to warn that the supposed persecution of bakers, florists and wedding photographers who deny service to gay people will open the door to a much wider persecution of Christians in America.
Beware Muslims! (Unless They Agree With You On Gay Rights)
Christians are being enslaved and beheaded and burned alive across the Middle East and he’s silent. Christians are being threatened and intimidated and sued and sequestered in Middle America and mum’s the word.
-Dr. Everett Piper, president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University, speaking of President Obama at the Future Conference
Although most speakers were careful to say that the supposed persecution of American Christian conservatives at the hands of the LGBT rights movement is on an entirely different order of magnitude than that being faced by Christians at the hands of ISIS and oppressive Islamist governments, there was a sense of joint martyrdom, that both are fighting for spiritual ground against forces allied with Satan.
As Steven Khoury, an Arab Israeli pastor, put it, “persecution is coming to America,” and he was there to help Americans learn how to stand up to it.
Garlow invited a few of the top anti-Islam activists in America to warn that the country, if it lets its guard down, risks facing subjugation at the hands of American Muslims. Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy warned that since 9/11, millions of Muslim immigrants have staged a “colonization” of America. He warned pastors in the crowd against any sort of interfaith dialogue with Muslims or letting Muslim groups use their church facilities, which he said “is really about providing political cover to Muslims who don’t deserve it.” Anti-Muslim activist Stephen Coughlin similarly warned pastors against falling for the “interfaith delusion.”
But nobody had a more dire warning than right-wing activist Avi Lipkin, who told pastors that “all” churches in America have been infiltrated by Muslim spies pretending to be Christian converts. These moles, he warned, are cataloguing Christians and Jews in order to kill them all when Muslim jihadists take over.
All of the talk of "religious liberty" and threats to the First Amendment seemed to be conveniently forgotten when Lipkin endorsed laws such as Switzerland’s ban on minarets, declaring: “Until Islam is banned and suppressed and erased, the Jews will not have any chance to survive in this country.”
However, he had some good news: Muslim immigration to America, he predicted, would drive U.S. Jews to the Middle East, setting up a conflict in which Islam will be “finished.” “I predict Islam will be terminated very soon,” he said to enthusiastic applause.
It was jarring, then, to later in the very same day, hear a speech from Austin Ruse, the head of the conservative Catholic United Nations advocacy group C-FAM, in which he said that some of his greatest allies in the fight to stop “radically secular countries” from inserting LGBT rights and reproductive health language into UN documents were representatives of Muslim countries.
“The pro-life, pro-family coalition in the United Nations is strange bedfellows,” he said. “It includes Muslims. And without a bloc of Muslim countries supporting life and family at the UN, we would have had a right to abortion a long time ago, and redefinition of family.”
Garlow took it upon himself to clarify this, taking the stage after Ruse's remarks to reassure the audience that “co-belligerency” with “people who are hostile to much of our values” is sometimes necessary when “they actually have an interest in some portion of our Kingdom values.” He compared Ruse’s work with Muslim countries at the UN to his alliance with Mormon leaders to pass Proposition 8 in California.
Throughout the conference, Israel was portrayed as a spiritual bulwark of the West against surrounding Satanic Islam — something exemplified by its relatively secular values. No one, however, mentioned, that Israel is one of what Ruse called the “radical secular countries” advocating for LGBT rights at the UN. Also ignored were policies such as Israel's public funding of abortion services or the fact that just days prior to the event, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent his "blessings" to LGBT Pride marchers.
Dr. Everett Piper, the president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University, tied together this idea that “secularists” are working in cahoots with radical Islam, aided by President Obama.
“For 67 years, we’ve disparaged dead, white, European males in our college classrooms,” he said. “Are we surprised that we now have a president whose first action was to remove the bust of Winston Churchill from the White House and send it back to the British ambassador’s home? For 67 years, we’ve sent our kids off to sit under faculty who have panned a Judeo-Christian ethic and praised its antithesis. Are we surprised that we now have a White House that is seemingly more aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood and the PLO than it is Benjamin Netanyahu and Franklin Graham?”
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich — whom Garlow partially credited with inspiring the conference — put it a different way in a video address to the event, saying that Christians are facing simultaneous attacks from “secular totalitarianism” and “Islamic supremacism,” with the two factions allied in a “war on Christianity.” Gingrich, who has spent years warning that the U.S. will soon become a "secular atheist country" that is "dominated by radical Islamists,” has been working to court pastors like Garlow who have ties to the dominionist movement.
Christians are dual citizens. We are citizens of the Kingdom of God by faith in Jesus Christ … We are also citizens of an earthly “kingdom” … In the absence of Christians taking their dual citizenship seriously, obeying the dual commissions faithfully, and attempting to follow the dual commandments devotedly, the devil’s crowd has taken over key places of influence in our culture largely by default, even in a nation where professing Christians are still in the majority.
- Family Research Council manual for establishing a church “culture impact team,” distributed to pastors at the Future Conference
The sense of the inadequacy of secular leadership that pervaded the Future Conference was summarized by Republican Rep. Jody Hice of Georgia, who told the Future Conference via video that secular government leads to rampant divorce, teen pregnancy, crime and gang violence, all of which invite a greater presence from Big Government:
Garlow painted a similarly bleak message, saying that the struggles of the city of Detroit are the result of a lack of “bold, biblical preaching and the application of scriptural truth to all components of contemporary life.”
“The absence of biblical truth being applied to a metropolitan area literally destroyed it,” he said.
Garlow didn’t specify which exact “biblical truths” Detroit is in violation of, but conservative activist Star Parker, who declared her intention to “destroy the welfare state,” might have provided some hints.
Parker told the gathering that the U.S. is “in a similar place right now in our country to where we were in the 1850s” when we were “half free and half slave.”
“And we’re at a crossroads again,” she said, “because we’re at the place where we’re half free and half slave. We’re in the battle of our lifetime, we’re in the battle for the very heart and soul of our great country, to go into a future, if we can, even as the Scriptures told us that God actually planned for us a future and a hope, and yet that future and hope is under attack.”
“We’re either going to come up out of this biblical and free,” she said, “or we gotta come up here secular and statist.”
Chuck Stetson, who runs a program that develops “biblical literacy” courses that clear the First-Amendment bar for being taught in public schools, had a similar message, claiming that the great genocides of the 20th century (in which he included abortion) were the result of leaving the “secularists in charge.”
Lamenting that “three percent of the population” (LGBT people) are defeating "70 percent of the population” (Christians), Stetson urged conservative Christians to develop a “broader concept of missions” and to get involved in politics as well as “literature, art [and] music.”
He used the metaphor of a cruise ship: Christians, he said, were gathering around the lifeboats in an effort to save souls, even while throughout the boat, “they’re breaking out the booze, bringing out the gaming tables. They need the Christians down there.”
In fact, the Future Conference, Garlow reported, started out as a sort of founding conference for the United States Coalition of Apostolic Leaders, a new group led by Joe Mattera, a New York minister who is a leader in the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR). NAR is a controversial movement within evangelical Christianity which is led by self-declared prophets and apostles. Many of NAR’s leaders promote “seven mountains” dominionism, the idea that conservative Christians must take “dominion” over all seven “mountains” of culture in order to pave the way for Christ’s return.
(NAR and dominionism began to attract press attention back in 2011 when then-Texas Gov. Rick Perry hosted a rally featuring many NAR leaders. Its adherents then began to downplay its core themes, saying they were seeking more “influence” than “dominion.”)
Along with a number of members of Mattera's new group, who held a meeting during one break in the conference, Garlow invited NAR adherents including Mattera, Lou Engle (with whom he had worked to raise support for Prop 8), Dennis Peacocke and Lance Wallnau to speak to the event.
Wallnau gave a Glenn Beck-style whiteboard presentation outlining the "seven mountains" theology for the audience, explaining that if the church doesn’t occupy each of the seven spheres of culture, “the Enemy will.”
“The reason why we’re having a problem in the United States is because, honestly, we have not been pursuing the discipling of the nation, we’ve been pursuing the evangelizing of the people and the building of ministries,” he said. “And so we’ve neglected entire territory that the Enemy was all too quick to go in and take possession of.”
Peacocke — the founder of a group that works with business and community leaders to bring “God’s kingdom to earth” — put the message succinctly when the told the enthusiastic crowd that Christians have been called to be leaders in every area: “We should be leading. Virtually every place there’s a Christian, they should be a manager, they should be management. We should have the relational skillset to manage wherever we go, because that is what Christians are called to be, responsible empowerers of other people.”
In his talk, Mattera clarified that he and his allies were calling on Christians to become “leaders of culture” not through force but through simply being the best in all fields. “We’re not called to take cities, we’re called to love them and serve them,” he said, “and once we produce the greatest problem-solvers the world has ever seen, the leaders of culture will come and beg us to lead, because they’re going to see that we’re the only ones who have the answer.”
He added that a key component of this would be to follow the scriptural commandment to “multiply” and “replenish” the Earth, which he specified means having more than two children per couple.
“In general, God has called His children to have more children than any other people,” he said, “so this way we will have the people to fill every aspect of culture, not just bodies, but trained in the covenant, because the word ‘replenish’ implies that they go and they fill the earth with God’s law, with the result being subdue the earth and have dominion.”
A practical guide to the political portion of this mission was provided by Kenyn Cureton, the head of ministerial outreach at the Family Research Council, who presented pastors and churchgoers with guides for establishing “culture impact teams” — basically political committees — within churches. Politically involved churches, he said, are “fighting a spiritual battle,” not against gay rights advocates or pro-choice groups, but against Satan, who has caught cultural liberals in his “snare.”
“Who’s behind the effort to snuff out human life through embryo-destructive research and abortion?” he asked. “Who’s behind the effort to indoctrinate our children with these alternative lifestyles, redefine marriage, and even ruin our military? Who’s behind the effort to drive God out government, Christ out of culture and faith out of public life? Who’s behind that? I mean, it’s pretty easy for us to understand as believers, it’s the Devil.”
Where Politics and Religion Collide
Although the focus of Garlow’s conference was largely on the twin evils of secularism and Islam, he also invited Black and Latino pastors with whom he had worked on resisting Prop 8 to discuss criminal justice reform, on which conservatives are increasingly engaging in bipartisan coalition work, and immigration, on which some evangelical leaders have been trying to get Republicans to adopt positions, or at least rhetoric, that is less offensive to Latino voters.
One of the most revealing moments of the conference came after a speech by Mark Gonzales, a Texas pastor who through his Hispanic Prayer Network seems to be attempting to connect the NAR movement with Latino evangelicals. Gonzales told the mostly white audience that God is using Latino immigration to bring “revival to America,” but that Satan is trying to stop that revival from happening by dividing the church on the issue of immigration.
And it’s not just religious revival that Latino immigrants will bring, he said. They will also help conservatives win elections.
“When God allows this many people to come into a nation, he’s up to something,” Gonzales said. He then made a well-rehearsed pitch to the conservative audience for immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who have long lived in the country if they first overcome a number of hurdles.
Immediately following Gonzales’s speech, Garlow came on stage to “clarify” for the crowd what Gonzales was saying. “What he’s talking about, so we’re all on the same page, is not amnesty,” he said.
Gonzales responded that anti-immigrant pundits do indeed call proposals like his “amnesty,” but using that word is the “biggest disservice we can do as the body of Christ.”
Parts of the audience clapped. Others did not seem sold.
Questions of biblical guidance and political expediency had, for a moment, become the same thing.
Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana called into Glenn Beck's radio program today, where he warned that an "unholy alliance between big business and the radical left" is persecuting Christians by opposing legislation designed to allow Christian business owners to discriminate in the name of "religious liberty."
"Look at the fight in Indiana over religious liberty," Jindal said. "You had this unholy alliance between big business and the radical left going after the religious liberty and conservatives. Look, the radical left wants to tax and regulate businesses out of existence. They think profit is a dirty word, so these businesses need to be careful who they're making these alliances with."
That prompted Beck to warn that if the Supreme Court strikes down bans on gay marriage, Christians will be on the verge of being stripped of their rights of conscience, to which Jindal responded that "America didn't create religious liberty; religious liberty created the United States of America and the left is trying to take God out of the public square":
Fox News pundit and war-on-Christians propagandist Todd Starnes is gushing over a speech by Ronnie Floyd, president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Floyd’s “fiery” and “powerful” and “provocative” comments were part of a diatribe against marriage equality delivered at an SBC gathering in Columbus, Ohio. Floyd called for defiance of a potential Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality with self-aggrandizing, chest-thumping remarks declaring his resistance to a non-existent threat:
“I declare to everyone today as a minister of the Gospel – I will not officiate over any same-sex unions or same-sex marriage ceremonies,” he said. “I completely refuse.”
Starnes praised Floyd for these “resolute” comments, which he says some will label hate speech. They’re more likely to be laughed off as ridiculous. No one in the gay-rights movement wants to force Floyd or any church or minister to marry a same-sex couple. It’s not part of the agenda. But standing up to this non-existent threat apparently got Floyd a standing ovation.
Floyd isn’t the only one using this strategy. Last week, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott made a public fuss over signing the “Pastor Protection Act.” Abbott pretended that its passage was a huge victory for religious liberty, declaring that “pastors now have the freedom to exercise their First Amendment rights.”
In reality, the Texas law was unnecessary, as is Floyd’s brave bluster. The First Amendment is alive and well. Even if the Supreme Court strikes down state laws that keep same-sex couples from getting legally married, Southern Baptist clergy in Texas and every other state will still be free to preach their anti-gay message and refuse to marry same-sex couples. Even Robert Jeffress, a top Southern Baptist pastor and a Fox News contributor, recently told Bill O’Reilly that “nobody” in the anti-marriage equality movement believes that the government will force pastors to officiate same-sex couple’s weddings.
Floyd and Starnes are trying to muddy the religious liberty waters by equating two very different things: one -- requiring a minister to marry a couple against the teachings of his faith – would be an impermissible violation of religious liberty. The other – requiring government officials and people who run businesses serving the public not to discriminate against gay people or same-sex couples – is not.
In response to a bill authorizing public officials to refuse to perform same-sex marriages becoming law in North Carolina this morning, Dr. Terence K. Leathers – a pastor at Mt. Vernon Christian Church in Clayton, North Carolina and a member of People For the American Way's African American Ministers In Action – released the following statement:
“Shame on our legislature for making this harmful and unnecessary bill become law. As a pastor, I believe this is not only a blow for the dignity of all North Carolinians but also a blow for true religious liberty.
“Governor McCrory did the right thing when he vetoed this bill, and the fact that our legislature overrode it shows just how far they will go in misusing the principle of religious liberty in order to discriminate. This is a sad day for our state.”
Last week, Dr. Leathers published an op-ed in The Huffington Post calling on the legislature not to misuse religious freedom to license public officials to discriminate.
Promise Keepers, a Christian “men’s ministry” founded by former Colorado football coach Bill McCartney, is celebrating its 25th year. The group’s current militarized language and imagery matches the increasingly violent rhetoric of resistance and revolution from the far right. It may also reflect the background of current PK President Dr. Raleigh Washington, described as a “20-year U.S. Army veteran.”
The group, which filled stadiums and attracted criticism for its patriarchal message in its 1990s heyday, has a smaller profile today. This year it is holding several gatherings, starting with one in Stockton, California, back in May, with other events following in Dallas in August; Pittsburgh in September (rescheduled from June); Rochester, Minnesota, in October; and Redmond, Washington, in November.
The Promise Keepers website promotes the events with a headline: “BATTLE LINES: No Compromise!”
Today’s culture nurtures a popular misconception that tolerance is the only reasonable worldview. Unfortunately, this spirit of compromise on key moral and biblical issues has permeated both our culture and the church. Divorce and co-habitation rates continue to rise. Same-sex marriage is now accepted and abortion is still legal in our nation. Scripture is quite clear how we are to respond whenever the foundations of the Christian faith are under attack: our duty is to contend for the faith, without compromise.
In 1 John 1:5 John wrote, “This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.” This is a very definitive statement. God is light. There are no shades of grey with God. He is Light and in Him, there is no darkness. What is light? It’s truth, and there is no compromising God’s Truth. There is no middle ground.
Considering the current times, as Promise Keepers, we must boldly and courageously stand for truth. We must defend biblical marriage, champion the life of the unborn and protect religious liberty. We cannot stand back and allow moral relativism, cultural decadence, spiritual apathy and ecclesiastical indifference to hinder us any longer. We must draw our battle lines without compromise.
The website declares, “Everything that Promise Keepers does centers on this central truth – obedience to the Word of God.” The website also encourages people to join the “One Message” movement, a project of Promise Keepers that is working to bring about the “greatest revival the world has ever known” – in fact, they say, it’s already under way:
The greatest revival the world has ever known – a revival prophesied by the Apostle Paul and affirmed by men like Jonathan Edwards and C. H. Spurgeon – has begun. And each of us has the amazing privilege of being a part of it.
This revival began 65 years ago, when the State of Israel – a nation that ceased to exist 2,000 years earlier – was reborn in a day. Since then, the Jewish people have been turning by thousands to recognize Yeshua (Jesus’ Hebrew name) as their long-awaited Messiah.