We are a nation of people who run from one public crisis to the next, lighting infernos of indignation that blaze brightly for a few weeks or maybe even a couple of months before they burn out and we let the media direct us to the next target for our collective outrage. The excitement surrounding the “Religious Freedom Restoration” laws that were recently introduced, debated, amended, and signed into law in Indiana and Arkansas is a perfect example of this phenomenon. The picketing, protests, tweets and death threats of a couple of weeks ago are over (at least as far as the media is concerned), and so now we are trying to decide whether we should be more incensed about the world’s nuclear deal with Iran or the TSA agent airline-passenger fondling conspiracy. How you answer that question will probably depend on how soon you’re planning to fly commercially, but point is that in the information age our attention spans are notoriously short.
This is pertinent because regardless of whether Religious Freedom Restoration laws are still front-page news or not, the underlying issue at play is one that is not going away any time soon for Christ-followers who have a conviction concerning the immorality of same-sex sexual activity. Will public dissent towards homosexuality on religious grounds continue to be permitted in the United States of America or not? Already there are myriads of examples of people losing jobs and facing other social consequences for expressing their opposition to same-sex marriage and/or same-sex sexual activity on social media and for privately donating money to causes that oppose the same, like California’s Proposition 8 a few years ago. But the question that must remain on the front burner is this: Will there soon be not just social consequences, but also legal consequences for public opposition on religious grounds to same-sex marriage and same-sex sexual activity? Will opposition to homosexuality on religious grounds soon be criminalized?
Everything seems to be pointing toward, not away from, the soon criminalization of dissent when it comes to homosexuality. One piece of evidence in support of this is the fact that public opinion concerning homosexuality is changing. Recently released statistics show that roughly 55% of Americans across all age brackets are currently in favor of homosexual marriage, a figure that increases to 78% when the 18-29 year old demographic is viewed by itself. So, regardless of what we might attribute this trend to, the tide of public opinion is slowly but surely turning in regard to same-sex marriage and same-sex sexual activity, with subsequent generations of Americans projecting to be far more accepting than previous ones. This means that the next wave of judges, lawmakers, CEOs, athletes, celebrities, bloggers, and voters will be even more inclined to support same-sex marriage and same-sex sexual activity then they already are.
A second piece of evidence that is even more significant is the fact that not only is society at large changing, but the “church” is changing too. Recently, the Presbyterian Church (USA) announced a change in its constitution, defining marriage as being between “two people” instead of between a man and a woman. With this change, the Presbyterian Church (USA) joins other North American denominations like the Episcopal Church, the Christian Church, and the United Church of Christ in affirming, welcoming, marrying, and ordaining practicing homosexuals.
Rising support for same-sex sexual activity and marriage in both society at large and in the “church” means that those in opposition will soon find themselves very much in the minority, and in a place where “religious grounds” will not carry much weight as a reason for public dissent. That means that in the future, if a hypothetical small business owner says that they will serve same-sex couples pizza but not cater their wedding, death threats on Twitter might be a secondary consequence to fines, and maybe even imprisonment. So, what are Christ-followers who have a conviction that the Bible clearly delineates same-sex sexual activity as sin to do? The answer is probably far simpler than you think. Speak the truth in love, and be prepared to face the escalating consequences, no matter what they might be.
Kevin Sartin is pastor of First Baptist Church on Main St. in Nashville. Rev. Sartin holds a Master of Divinity Degree from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and has spent the last decade pastoring churches in Louisiana and Arkansas.