You may not care about the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, but that's about to change. Last week, by a 3-2 vote, it determined that allegations of discrimination based on sexual orientation are covered by Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. According to The Atlantic, "This is a big deal." Why?
Because this ruling makes legal protections for LGBT people into civil rights. The Supreme Court's Obergefell decision legalizing gay marriage applied only to marriage. Now, according to The Atlantic, we'll see a whole new wave of discrimination claims. Hiring practices, spousal benefits, providing goods and services for same-sex functions, adoption by gay couples, issuing same-sex marriage licenses and performing wedding ceremonies, sex-conduct policies at religious universities—all this and more will be debated and litigated.
At its heart, this issue is about the connection between legality and morality. Law professor Stanley Fish traces the narrative. Until recently, the legal status of an act was based on an entrenched moral code. Now the two have been divorced. As Justice Kennedy declared in a 2003 ruling that legalized homosexual sex, "profound and deep convictions accepted as ethical and moral principles do not answer the question before us."
Eleven years earlier, Kennedy stated that the core of liberty is "the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life." His definition replaces objective truth with subjective opinion and decouples morality from law. If he's right, tolerance is what matters most. Except, of course, when we think someone else is intolerant. As when they stand for biblical truth in a decadent culture.
Will churches be exempt from gay rights litigation? Will religious non-profits? The Atlantic's article on the monumental EEOC decision is titled, "Gay Rights May Come at the Cost of Religious Freedom." Would the Founders have recognized such a nation?
Thomas Paine's Common Sense has been called "the book that created the modern United States." His brilliant argument for independence from Great Britain remains the best-selling American title of all time. George Washington had it read to all his troops. I reread the booklet yesterday, and was moved again by the urgency of its logic.
Paine begins his analysis by showing that governments exist to protect us from each other, "restraining our vices" by working to "supply the defect of moral virtue." He then shows how the monarchy, rather than protecting its citizens' security and prosperity, further endangers them. He concludes that a new nation is needed for "securing freedom and property to all men, and above all things the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience." While no friend of Christianity, he insists that "to God, and not to man, are all men accountable on the score of religion."
A free church in a free state was the Founders' vision. According to Paine, such a nation "'tis not the concern of a day, a year, or an age; posterity are virtually involved in the contest, and will be more or less affected, even to the end of time." Now we are all affected by our nation's commitment to religious freedom or to its demise. (Tweet this)
Whatever happens, Christians know that Jesus is our "sure and steadfast anchor of the soul" (Hebrews 6:19). Thomas Paine: "But where says some is the King of America? I'll tell you Friend, he reigns above."
Publication date: July 30, 2015
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