DULUTH – The Georgia Baptist Mission Board, along with Alliance Defending Freedom, hosted a seminar at the Georgia Baptist Missions and Ministry Center on Nov. 1. Almost 185 pastors and church leaders registered for the meeting, which proved to be both informative and disturbing.
It was informative because the primary presenter, Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Matt Sharp, provided amazingly helpful information for pastors and churches that may very well be facing legal battles in the future. It was disturbing because the threat of pastors and churches losing their religious liberty becomes more likely with every passing day.
There is probably not a church in this nation exempt from being confronted with religious liberty issues including performing same sex marriages, having to deal with gender identity issues, and sanctity of life issues. When such formidable challenges arise church leaders need to know that Alliance Defending Freedom is ready, willing, and able to help. The ADF success record of representing clients is phenomenal. In fact, churches and Christian schools and institutions have a valuable friend in ADF.
Linking arms before it’s too late
The ADF website explains the inspiration for their founding. Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, now CRU, told a story about a little boy lost in a wheat field. The townspeople frantically searched for the boy, but they couldn’t find him. Finally, one of the searchers suggested that they all hold hands and walk together across the field. They found the boy, but sadly, not in time to save his life. One of the searchers lamented, “If we had only linked arms sooner….”
Bright compared the town’s story to the Christian community. The gathered Christian leaders – more than 30 founders of ADF – recognized that Christians, like the town, needed to unite in order to defend religious freedom before it was too late. So ADF was launched on January 31, 1994 to ensure that religious freedom did not share the same fate as the boy in the field.
In recent years the Christian community has become painfully aware of the growing threats to its freedom. The legal system, which was built on a moral and Christian foundation, had been steadily moving against religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and marriage and family. And, very few Christians were showing up in court to put up a fight.
Giving voice to religious rights
By funding cases, training attorneys, and successfully advocating for freedom in court, the ADF is changing that. For example, ADF is representing the five Houston pastors whose sermons were subpoenaed by Annise Parker, the city’s first openly lesbian mayor, for preaching against her efforts to establish transgendered bathrooms in Houston.
First Liberty is defending Dr. Eric Walsh, who was fired from his position with the Health Department of the Georgia state government, because he preached sermons expressing the biblical view of homosexuality and evolution.
One of the issues Sharp dealt with in detail was the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision which created the right to same-sex marriage. Sharp stated, “The opinion was written by Justice Kennedy, who has always been an advocate for same-sex marriage, but we hoped there would be some protection for religious liberty. Maybe they were going to say, ‘Yes, there is a right to same-sex marriage, but we want to make clear that this should never be used to force any religious college or institution or business owner or anybody else to do something to violate their faith.’
“However,” Sharp added, “there was only one paragraph about religious liberty. The paragraph said, ‘those who adhere to religious doctrines may continue to advocate with utmost sincere convictions that by divine precepts same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment insures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and central to their lives and faith.’”
Friends and service for years, until …
Sharp indicated that while the opinion stated by Kennedy may look innocuous, it presented serious problems. While it seems to give some protection for those who advocate and teach it does not offer the same protection for those who step away from the pulpit or class lectern and begin to live out their faith.
He illustrated the ramifications of the Court’s decision by explaining a case ADF represents in the state of Washington – the Barronelle Stutzman case. Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, WA, had gotten to know her customers very well and counted many of them as friends.
One of those friends is Rob Ingersoll. Stutzman explained, “Rob and I hit it off from the beginning because, like me, he looks at flowers with an artist’s eye.” The florists knew that Rob was gay and Rob knew that Barronnelle was a Christian.
Ingersoll had been a customer of Stutzman for 10 years. Sharp stated, “When Rob asked Barronelle to do a custom arrangement and to design and set up the flowers for his same-sex wedding ceremony, Barronnelle politely declined and said, ‘Rob, you know, I love you, but this would violate my beliefs. Because of that, she was targeted by the state. A lawsuit was filed against her by Rob; and consequently, all her business assets are now at risk simply because she declined to do one specific ceremony.”
‘We must stand’
Sharp commented, “We are trying to make sure that an important group of people that just want to live out their faith are not being trampled on by government entities and by groups that want to compel them to do something that violates their faith.”
In the course of the seminar the ADF representatives dealt not only with religious liberty issues in the church, but in the schools, public square, and the military.
However, ADF talked not only about how sexual orientation and gender identity laws are stripping away religious liberty, but discussed sanctity of life issues, marriage and family issues, and privacy issues.
Sharp concluded, “We must stand together for our rights. Two cords are stronger than one. And a threefold cord is not easily broken (Eccl. 4:12). We know the Scriptures speak of the importance of unity in all of this. We must stand unified for all our rights for our kids, for these issues and by God’s grace when we stand together we unleash the full power of God to come. Our ultimate goal in all of this is to glorify God and see people come to faith in Christ.”