The Church, the State, and the crumbling concept of religious liberty.


On September 1, the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination issued its Gender Identity Guidance to define what is considered “discrimination” against “the rights of LGBT individuals” and “to describe what evidence may be submitted to support a claim of gender identity discrimination.”

In other words, here’s what you better not do unless you want to get sued.

Most of it is what you would expect: employers, banks, restaurants, etc. cannot treat someone different or deny them service because of their gender identity, nor can businesses prevent them from using whatever restroom or locker room they want. But then under section D. Places of Public Accommodation, you come to this plot twist:

“Even a church could be seen as a place of public accommodation if it holds a secular event, such as a spaghetti supper, that is open to the general public. All persons, regardless of gender identity, shall have the right to the full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities and privileges of any place of public accommodation.”

Read that again. If a church holds a public event other than its normal worship service, it must fully comply with the LGBT. The commission goes on to clarify that this includes letting them use whatever bathroom they want, calling them the gender pronoun of their choice, and not displaying anything that might disagree with their lifestyle (so make sure no Bibles are opened to Romans 1!).

The significance of those three little words, “even a church,” cannot be overstated. Although the left has long claimed that Christians are hyperventilating over nothing, and that we’re still free to practice whatever religion we want (Hey, didn’t Obama say something similar about our insurance providers? Ah, I digress.), this new terminology says otherwise.

As it is, churches in Massachusetts may now be subject to LGBT discrimination lawsuits within their own walls. As I’ve mulled over this shocking (but not surprising) development the last few days, here’s a few thoughts that came to mind:

#1. This will not stop at Massachusetts.

Most bad ideas seem to originate in Massachusetts or California but rarely stay there. Whatever new legislation passes becomes the new gold standard for tolerance and the LGBT agenda, and so naturally there will be no rest until all other states have followed suit. And if individual states don’t comply, well, as Obergefell v. Hodges showed us, the Supreme Court will simply step in. Rest assured, it’s only a matter of time before this is a national issue. As Eugene Volokh said over at the Washington Post, “…this is where these rules are headed, at least in places like Massachusetts but likely elsewhere as well.”

#2. What happened to separation of church and state?

It’s funny that liberals have been so quick to cry “Separation of church and state!” when they want to keep religion out of politics, because they apparently don’t believe that the same principle applies the other way around. The church should never dictate the laws of the state…but I guess it’s okay for the state to dictate the laws of the church? Such a separation is meant to protect religious groups just as much as it’s meant to protect the government, for instances exactly like this one. Such measures are a gross violation of the church’s religious liberty.

#3. Everything a church does is ministry. You cannot separate the sacred and the secular.

These new “guidelines” are based on the supposed distinction between a church’s worship service and a church’s public outreach. A worship service is for its religious adherents, but an outreach event (like a “spaghetti dinner”) is considered “secular” and “a place of public accommodation.” Therefore, the logic goes, a private worship service can enforce its own guidelines but as soon as you open the door to the public you’re on the government’s terms.

These new guidelines limit a church’s free of exercise of religion to within Sunday morning parameters, which sounds frighteningly similar to Russia’s recent legislation that Christians aren’t allowed to share their faith outside of church services.

There are two massive problems here. For one, worship services are also “public” in that anyone can sit in. So you can bet your bottom-tithe-dollar that it will only be a matter of time before these services would also be required to submit to such “anti-discriminitory” standards.

Secondly, everything a church does is a part of its ministry. You cannot call worship services sacred and every other event secular. Whether a church is singing hymns, listening to a sermon, running a soup kitchen, or hosting a community yard sale, it’s all a part of their religious exercise and it’s all based on their religious theology.

#4. If you don’t like a church’s doctrine…don’t go. No one’s forcing you.

One of the great tragedies in our culture of self-entitlement is the idea that if I willingly go into a place, and that place advocates something I disagree with, my rights have somehow been violated. This is another prime example.

If transgender individuals don’t agree with Christian doctrine and Christian practice, then don’t go through the doors of a Christian church. No one is making them.

That’s freedom, and freedom of religion, at its finest. Person #1 can say what they want, but no one is forcing Person #2 to listen. I don’t agree with Jehovah’s Witnesses, Roman Catholics, Muslims, or Buddhists. So I don’t attend their services and I don’t attend their events where certain beliefs might be endorsed. For me to do so, and then legally demand that Catholics stop baptizing babies or that Muslims stop facing east to pray, would be as silly as going into my neighbor’s house and then demanding they change the color of their walls.

The left is quick to point this out whenever Christian groups protest a movie’s sexual or blasphemous content. If Christians don’t like it, the argument goes, then they don’t have to go see the film. I agree. So it baffles me as to why the same rules wouldn’t apply here.

If an LGBT person feels uncomfortable around Christians and their moral opinions then there’s a very simple solution: don’t go to their church events. No one is forcing them to.

#5. What should Christians do?

So how should the church respond? On one hand, we should not be afraid to stand up for the religious liberties provided to us by the laws of the land. Although some Christians make it seem like the more holy endeavor is to just shut up and stand down, this certainly wasn’t the apostle Paul’s philosophy when his legal rights were infringed upon (Acts 16:35-39; 22:22-29).

On the other hand, we must remain humble and remember that our reason for desiring such religious liberty is not to win a political battle, but to worship Christ and minister His gospel to a dying world. We must not abuse this freedom by resorting to insults, nastiness, or reducing the kingdom of God to the kingdom of Republicans or Democrats (1 Pet. 3:14-17; Jn. 18:36).

And although these religious liberties are certainly a good thing, we must also remember that the success of the gospel is not dependent upon them. If these freedoms are ever taken away from us, we take it with graciousness, we take it with rejoicing, and we take it with perseverance. Despite whatever threats we face, we must also hold unswervingly the truth of Scripture and remember the determination of the apostles: “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).



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