I am occasionally asked why I choose to address political/social issues when my chief role as pastor is to articulate the truth of the Bible. When one looks at what happened in Ocean Grove, N.J., during the final days of 2008, I don’t think it’s necessary to explain.
I refer to the New Jersey Division of Civil Rights, which informed a United Methodist congregation that it is in violation of a state discrimination law because it has refused to rent a church-owned pavilion to a lesbian couple for a “civil union ceremony.” The same-sex couple wanted to hold the service at the United Methodist Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association’s Boardwalk Pavilion beachfront property, but the association denied the request because same-sex civil unions conflict with the doctrines of the United Methodist Church.
In our society, we are witnessing a mounting divide between historic biblical traditions and ever-changing and increasingly far-reaching social efforts, particularly in terms of homosexual rights. If pastors stay quiet during these disputes – especially when the very core of our beliefs are being challenged – we can surely expect to see our rights further stripped away. The fact is, government has no right to define church policy or what we preach.
In this case, after the women filed their complaint, the association decided to discontinue allowing public use of the pavilion. However, the state Civil Rights Division has issued a “probable cause” finding regarding the denial of usage, meaning this case is not over.
Mathew Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel and dean of the Liberty University School of Law, noted that this is not the first time we have seen a church-state clash over the issue of homosexuality.
He said, “We’ve seen a pastor arrested in Sweden for preaching that homosexuality is contrary to biblical principles. When the alarm was sounded, some thought it was all hype. But when a church has to sacrifice its religious convictions in order to invite the public to use its facilities, the threat to liberty is not hype. Whenever a right is granted to same-sex unions, then a right is taken from religious liberty and freedom of speech. Same-sex unions pose a serious threat to freedom of conscience and free exercise of religion.”
Mark Tooley of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, added, “The Ocean Grove controversy is yet another example of how pleas for ‘tolerance’ too often morph into new and insidious forms of intolerance.”
It is becoming increasingly evident that we are witnessing escalating aggression in terms of society sanctioning homosexual rights. We pastors cannot afford simply to twitter our fingers and hope for the best as church rights are threatened. If we do so, we will certainly lose the right to speak the truth of God’s Word to our fellow man and to have a voice in our society.
Should that happen, we would not be able to carry out Jesus’ instructions to “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:16, NKJV). Taken to the furthest extreme, the Gospel of Jesus Christ could become outlawed simply because it rebukes all sexual activity outside the traditional bond of a man-woman marriage.
Still, my friends, God calls us to speak out in truth and love for Him. Even as the social/political heat is turned up and there is an increasingly hostile reception to the Bible, God, as in the days of Isaiah, continues to call out, “Whom shall I send?”
And like Isaiah, we must answer, “Here am I! Send me.”