An Open Letter to Pastors

 

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Anytown, USA–Do you really believe in the power of God to transform people at the deepest level? I do! This dynamic force for good is confirmed both by the Scriptures and experience. But now that California is in the process of declaring the hope of the gospel as “fraud” and defaming the proclamation of biblical truth as an “unlawful business practice” in the Golden State, what will you do? If you are not already aware of AB 2943, a law seeking to outlaw dissent from statist sexual orthodoxy, and which poses an existential threat to religious freedom, please read this article.

We are in a Bonhoeffer moment. A Bonhoeffer moment is a time when the political and cultural pressures are so intoxicatingly powerful and intense that the church is tempted to deny her faithful biblical witness and compromise in some significant way. In Germany, a church that could have and should have confronted Hitler, chose the easier path of passivity and appeasement. Under great duress from the Nazi party, most of the evangelical church became compromised and pressed into the service of the Reich. The courageous and faithful Confessing Church was more sparsely populated by a few hundred faithful pastors, among them Martin Niemoller and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Today, the church is confronted by similar totalitarian cultural pressure points. This time it is in the form of a flurry of court rulings, state laws, and popular cultural indoctrination. The goal is to seek to defy moral gravity (i.e. reality) in the form of a brazen sexual declaration of independence—declaring evil good and good evil—radically redefining marriage, sexual orientation and gender identity. After redefining marriage in 2015, elitist pagan social engineers now want to destroy and replace the gender binary—the truth that we are all created male and female in the image of God. Consequently, I believe we now face the greatest threat to religious freedom in the history of our nation. It is as if the culture is holding a gun to our heads attempting to force us to acknowledge and celebrate as positive moral “goods” same-sex marriage, gender dysphoria, and the related transformative corruptive indoctrination of our children in public schools.

We are not alone in history. The early church faced a similar moment. Then, powerful cultural and religious leaders, desiring to silence the witness of the church and suppress the truth, ordered Peter and John to not speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. Without hesitating, they replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have heard” (Acts 4: 13-21). After being imprisoned for disobeying (and a miraculous release) they were hauled again before the leaders and chastised for continuing to preach the gospel. Peter responded, “We must obey God rather than men.” The leaders wanted to kill them, but decided to let them off with a good beating. The result? They left “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” and “every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus” (Acts 5:17-42).

God has not changed. Truth has not changed. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). Yet, tragically today, similarly to the unfaithful German evangelical church, far too many timid and fearful evangelical pastors have not handled the cultural pressures very well. As a result, the full counsel of God is not always preached and the gospel is watered down. New Age beliefs and practices are replacing biblical truth from the pulpit. Compromise, capitulation, and assimilation are certainly not the answers. Yet, even before laws like AB 2943 are restraining us, many pastors already are self-censoring and withholding truth. This is not loving—it is profoundly unloving. Important truths like sin, repentance, discipleship, purity, and obedience (denying ourselves, picking up our crosses, and following Him) are often forgotten and are replaced by an unbiblical gospel of cheap grace and a wimpy passive faith. This is how truth dies, this is how the light is hidden, this is how salt loses its savor.

Yet, some faithful godly California Pastors like Manuel Gonzales are not backing down in the face of California’s Orwellian AB 2943. Pastor Gonzales recently declared, “I am committed to preach the gospel, and no one is going to tell me that I cannot.” My friend, San Diego Pastor Chris Clark, recently declared that he had notified his state representatives that he will not be complying with the law, if passed, “I am giving them my name, my church’s name and address, and making it clear that AB 2943 will be an unjust law and therefore I am compelled to violate it.” For more on Principled Christian Civil Disobedience, please read this article.

Having been actively involved in the fierce epic battle between religious liberty and sexual liberty for the past 25 years, I can assure you that the goal of the opposition is not inclusion, diversity and tolerance—not even close! The goal of radicals within the activist LGBT movement is to suppress and silence the proclamation of truth by the church—the gospel. Among the messages they want to suppress are: God created us male and female, sin is the problem, repentance is necessary, forgiveness is available in Jesus Christ, and that the gospel has the power to transform disordered sexuality. If you are unapologetically preaching the truth, there is or will soon be a target on you and a target on your pulpit. If you don’t have a target on you at this point, it may mean that you are not being biblically faithful. We will all stand before God and give an account for our lives.

So, what can a pastor do? First, fear God rather than men. Find your spiritual backbone, get back to the Bible, and preach the full counsel of God from the pulpit. If you are self-censoring your sermons because of cultural pressure and the fear of the opinions of people: please repent and knock it off. Allow your love to overcome your fear, remembering that the gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” (Romans 1:16). Your church needs a courageous shepherd who clearly and unapologetically speaks the truth and will help protect the saints from the wolves and darkness surrounding us now. Second, pray for a new reformation, a great awakening of a church that is now, sadly, in many respects culturally withdrawn, spiritually asleep, and increasingly silent. Third, actively engage (be salt and light) by speaking the truth in love (Eph. 4:15) and encourage your congregation to engage and oppose evil laws like AB 2943 that threaten the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

As Pastor Chris Clark recently stated, responding to AB 2943, “Time to be a Bonhoeffer.” Yes, pastors, we desperately need more Dietrich Bonhoeffers, Chris Clarks and Manuel Gonzales. I am not asking you to be political, I am asking you to be biblical. Now is the time that we must boldly and courageously stand up for truth, stop capitulating to the culture, and allow your love for God and people to overcome your fear. People are desperate for biblical leadership and for the truth. Silence is not an option. We must obey God rather than men!

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Hippies Turn against Free Speech

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Do you remember the good old days, when liberals believed in the freedom of speech? The University of California Berkeley is arguably the birthplace of the free speech movement. Indeed, beginning in 1960’s UC Berkeley was one of the epicenters of powerful counter cultural movements that spawned the hippies and a radical commitment to question, protest and overthrow existing authority structures with a robust commitment to the freedom of speech. The ACLU and other free speech advocates often took to quoting Voltaire: “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”  Now, Berkeley has ironically become one of the centers of free speech suppression.

What a difference a few decades make! Now that some of the very same individuals who were leading protests in the 60’s and 70’s have matriculated, and have grown up to teach and lead institutions of higher education, many have decidedly turned against the First Amendment’s promise of the freedom of expression. Now that the liberal elites control these institutions, they seek to abuse their power by aggressively turning against all free thought and speech that would dare question now-entrenched leftist orthodoxies or undermine their ability to seamlessly indoctrinate the next generation with collectivist leftist group-think. There are now two classes of speech on most American college campuses: politically correct liberal speech, which is allowed, and politically incorrect conservative speech, which is not.

The clear message to everyone paying attention is that academic elites will only permit ideas and speech with which they agree, but will target for eradication ideas and speech with which they personally disagree. The dominant target for thought and speech suppression on college campuses today is all things conservative, especially ideas informed by the Judeo-Christian worldview. Completion of their radical decades-long revolution apparently means they now must actively suppress, punish, and silence thoughts and words that do not perfectly align with the now institutionally entrenched leftist worldview.  But if the freedom of speech means anything, it certainly does not mean that some speech is more “free” than others or that the state can support speech it likes and obliterate speech it doesn’t.

This decidedly dark Orwellian trend was highlighted recently when Milo Yiannopoulos, a very controversial Trump supporter and an openly gay member of the right, was invited by the campus Republican Club to speak and UC Berkeley.  More than 100 “tolerant” faculty members referring to Milo’s presentations as “harassment, slander, defamation, and hate speech” signed a letter demanding that the University cancel the event. Protestors clad in black clothing and masks smashed windows, set fires, and pepper-sprayed a young female Trump supporter in the face, while carrying posters and signs claiming, quite ironically, that Milo is a “fascist.” Rather than protecting Milo and his speech, UC Berkeley officials and police folded like a cheap suit, allowing the protesters to prevail in their “heckler’s veto” by canceling Milo’s talk. Unfortunately, Berkeley is not alone. Ben Shapiro’s event at UCLA faced similar opposition recently. But, as Yale Law Professor Jose Cabranas pointed out in the Washington Post, “No one can doubt that we should strive for civility. But problems arise when we are told that “uncivil” speech has made a campus “unsafe” — and that university officials should make a campus safe again by punishing uncivil speakers.”

As George Orwell wrote, “If freedom means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” Yet, today in our universities, once the bastions of the freedom of thought and expression, the Freedom of Speech is being destroyed, sacrificed on the false altars of “trigger warnings,” “safe spaces,” “hate speech” and all other forms of mind-numbing snow-flakery. Academic freedom increasingly means liberty only for liberals. Conservatives need not apply or should at least remain silent.

This is no small matter. Our very freedom and the continuation of our republic are at stake. As a conservative constitutional attorney, I do not always agree with former Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren. However, I must wholeheartedly agree with Warren’s prediction about the republic-ending threat of political correctness when he wrote that either “teachers and students must always remain free to inquire, to study and evaluate,” or “our civilization will stagnate and die.” (Sweezy v. New Hampshire, 354 U.S. 234 (1957”)).  Benjamin Franklin agreed that the “freedom of speech is a principal pillar of government; when this support is taken away, the constitution of a free society is dissolved, and tyranny is erected in its ruins.”

Yes, the freedom of speech includes religious speech. But in this hostile environment, many believers have stopped talking about God and sharing the gospel. Why? Fear of man—fear of retribution. Yet, as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. so elegantly wrote, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” George Washington warned, “If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”

Although liberals have lost their love of free speech, we must be different – if not for ourselves, for the sake of our children and grandchildren. Let us this day, as free Americans, commit to steadfastly oppose every authority, government, or other influence, that seeks to suppress, destroy, or silence the freedom of speech. Long live the freedom of speech!