Fool Me Once…

There’s an old proverb that sure seems to apply to President Obama’s “evolving” understanding of the definition of marriage: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” Christians and ministers of the Gospel better pay attention on this one.  We’re now playing for “all the marbles” as they say.

What am I speaking of? The certain conflict between religious liberty and homosexual “rights.”  Let’s listen in on the comments recorded for us in the New York Times this week involving the President and one of his key, evangelical spiritual advisors and “megachurch” pastor, Rev. Joe Hunter:

“Some of the faith communities are going to be afraid that this is an attack against religious liberty,” Mr. Hunter remembered telling the president.

“Absolutely not,” Mr. Obama insisted. “That’s not where we’re going, and that’s not what I want.”

The President’s answer raises lots of questions for those willing to actually think about it.

First of all, what else would you expect the President to say to him, “Well, Pastor, you have reason to be afraid, and I wish you all the luck in the world.”

Second, if the President’s views on marriage can evolve and if God can be “part of the equation” a year or so ago and now God’s definition of marriage is not “part of the equation,” what’s to make me think that his views on religious liberty won’t “evolve,” too.

Third, we can’t ignore the fact that the President has started using the word “right to worship” in place of “religious liberty” and “freedom of conscience.”  Sounds to me like a clear signal that he believes what you say inside the four walls of your church may be fine, but just don’t try to practice your religion outside the walls of the church.

And, if that’s how the President understands what it means for God to be “part of the mix” of life, then he’s not talking about the God of the Bible.  That God has something to say that’s applicable to every area of life and He thinks He’s actually God of more than the “church” proper.  The God of the Bible is not the “Church God” like ancient pagans who thought there was a “God of War,” a “God of Love,” a “God of Harvest,” and on and on.  In a sense, our modern day  “compartmentalization” of God and Christianity isn’t much different from those silly pagan polytheistic religions, but the God of the Bible actually thinks He’s God over it all.

Fourth, if the President doesn’t intend for the homosexual rights agenda to interfere with religious liberty, then he’s got a funny way of showing it.

Example 1: The President signed an executive order to the effect that his health care reform package would not require states to fund insurance plans that had taxpayers helping to fund policies that provided abortion.  Well, that went by the wayside pretty quickly.

Forcing religious organizations to have to provide abortifacients when contrary to their millennial-old religious beliefs does not give me much confidence that the President means what he says on this matter, either.  He sure didn’t mind trampling religious liberty for a right –abortion — that he firmly believes in. Why should homosexual rights, which he’s advanced at every turn, be any different?

Oh, fool me once, Mr. President, but if I let you fool me again, then the fault is all mine.

Example 2: He appointed Chai Feldblum head of the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission who has acknowledged, “When we pass a law that says you may not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, we are burdening those who have an alternative moral assessment [religious for example] of gay men and lesbians.” (Actually, the “moral assessment” is about behavior even as there is a “moral assessment” about licentiousness and adultery but that’s another discussion.) And then she famously said, “I’m having a hard time coming up with any case in which religious liberty should win.”

In other words, the President can say all he wants, “that’s not what I want” or that “not where we’re going,” but he sure has done things to the contrary. And he’s sure put other people in positions of power whose views about infringing on religious liberty indicated that they do “want that” and who do think that is “where we’re going.”

Fifth, even assuming the President was willing to corral in the people he’s appointed, like Commissioner Feldblum, he has no control over what a majority of nine people on the U.S. Supreme Court say.  In the end, the Court, not the President, will decide where this is “going” and what we’re going to have to do.  So, he’s positioned himself well to be able to say when the Court tells us what to do, “Well, as I said, that’s not what I wanted.”

The Ultimate Irony

But here is the ultimate irony for the preachers who do not want to risk their IRS-sanctioned charitable status and the deductibility of their parishioners’ contributions.  It’s called Bob Jones University v. The United States.  In that case, Bob Jones University did not admit African Americans and forbade students from interracial dating and interracial marriage based on its religious beliefs.  The IRS revoked the university’s tax exempt status and the U.S. Supreme Court agreed, stating that racial discrimination in education violated a “fundamental national public policy” that justified intrusion on religious belief, even though sincerely held.

With respect to that ruling, Commissioner Feldblum agreed, saying, “I do believe a state should be permitted to withhold tax exempt status, as in the Bob Jones case, from a group that is clearly contrary to the state’s policy.”  So it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to think the Commissioner would also hold that a religious belief that one should not promote or condone homosexual behavior would have to yield to government policy as well.

So, to quote a famous line spoken in probably every church marriage ceremony, “Speak now or forever hold your peace.”  Ministers can choose not to speak now and risk losing their church’s tax exempt status or they can just wait and the church will lose it later when you don’t perform government- sanctioned same sex marriages or restrict the teaching about marriage in your church-related schools to God’s design for marriage.

In this sense, what is coming is a mirror of what’s happening right now at Vanderbilt.  You can be an “officially recognized” Christian religious group at Vanderbilt if your organization doesn’t require its leaders to “have a personal commitment to Jesus Christ.”  And similarly, in the days to come, you can be an “officially recognized” church and keep your tax exempt status if you don’t insist on Biblical teachings about heterosexuality, marriage, etc.

Sand or Rock?

In closing, maybe when the day comes that a church’s tax exempt status is lost, it won’t be such a bad thing.  Jesus talked about not building your house upon the sand that can shift with the waves, but upon a rock.  So maybe then we’ll find out how much we based church budgets and building programs and the stewardship of the people in our pews on the potentially shifting sands of public policy and tax policy in particular.  Ministers and churches better hope their teaching and the stewardship of their people was grounded on The Rock.


So, the church and its ministers better “knuckle down” because all the marbles of the future of religious liberty are now “on the table.”  This is no kid’s game we’re playing.