“You are a city on a hill…you are the light of the world.” Many Christians know these words from Matthew 5:14 by heart. They cheer us and warm us, reminding us of our essential nature as believers. We are a called-out people, made the children of God by the sheer grace of God. Yet our love of this encouraging truth can—if we do not pay close attention—mask the deeper reality of our calling. If we are a city on a hill and the light of the world, then we know that not everyone stands beside us. Many do not belong to the city; many do not wish to see the light we reflect from God. In the plainest terms, we are not the only people on earth. Christians of the evangelical stripe are in fact a minority group, and thus must figure out a way to stay authentically Christian in a world that includes many other religious and non-religious people and movements.
The challenge of particularism-within-plurality is not a new one, but an ancient one. Christians have faced this trial from their beginning. To live within the Roman Empire in the first century after Christ was no easy trick. Worshipping a God who demanded exclusive faith put the early church in an interesting spot relative to its polytheistic neighbors. Because of its exclusivistic beliefs, the church suffered. Waves of persecution broke out in the first four centuries following Christ’s incarnation. Roman emperors cared little about metaphysical niceties, but they did care about the homage of the people. They wanted and demanded obeisance, but the church demurred. Christians were glad participants in the life of the body politic, but they could not honor the imperial cult. For this refusal, they suffered dearly.
The early church had no compromise solution. Its choices were stark: either pay lip service to the emperor’s quasi-theistic power, or honor God alone. The church, drawing from the stalwart example of ancient Israel, knew it could not bend its theology to conform to a pagan culture. Its pastors and leaders held the line, and encouraged the people to do likewise. They took their stand not out of hate or rage, but out of peaceable love for God. Despite their reasoned stance and their reputation for charity and generosity, many Christians paid in blood for their convictions. They were among the first bearing the name of the crucified and resurrected Son of God to suffer in this way. But they were not the last.
Throughout history, the church has faced an array of trials. In some instances, it has suffered the very taking of life as the price of bold Christian witness. In others, it has felt pressure to play down its convictions and soften its theological stances. Persecution and pressure take many forms, some severe, some subtle. The current sexual orthodoxy primarily presents the latter kind of challenge in America at present (though this situation is in flux). The church finds the exercise of its beliefs increasingly constrained by policies that make it harder and harder to act in public as a morally faithful Christian. There is surely a hard edge to this modern-day experience; some Christians have suffered the loss of their earnings, their business, and their savings. While we anticipate the spread of such wrongs, we must also ready ourselves for the less discernible but still threatening iterations of cultural pressure.
The “Fairness for All” (FFA) proposal has drawn a number of high-profile endorsements in the evangelical world and has been formally embraced by the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, the Center for Public Justice, and the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance. Beyond evangelical circles, FFA has support from the 1st Amendment Partnership and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. This brief list signals that FFA is no minor policy measure. Instead, FFA represents an overhaul of the public arena. Here is how one advocate of FFA sums up the aims of the policy:
Fairness for All is a legislative construct that would ensure that LGBTQ Americans cannot be denied access to employment, housing, financial credit, social service programs funded by federal money, service in business establishments, or jury duty service simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. But it would also ensure that churches and religious organizations that define marriage or gender differently than the United States government will not be found to be engaging in discriminatory actions simply because of their religious beliefs.
Taken on these terms, FFA purportedly would not automatically label churches and religious organizations that hold to the Judeo-Christian sexual ethic as “engaging in discriminatory actions.” This itself is noteworthy language, for it casts positive expression of historic sexual ethics in a notably negative—but not necessarily illegal—light. Beyond this, FFA elevates “sexual orientation and gender identity” to the status of protected classes in federal law. Religious institutions would ostensibly have exemptions from this federal mandate, but religious individuals working in non-religious settings would not necessarily have the same protections. What’s more, in societal terms FFA would help clear the way for a complete overhaul of the existing public order in the form of federally mandated transgender pronoun usage, bathroom availability, and coverage of sex-reassignment surgery (see this excellent piece for further commentary).
The legal dimensions of FFA have gotten the most attention in discussions of this measure. Its respected endorsers notwithstanding, many conscionable, public-minded believers have dissented from FFA out of concern for its sweeping legal and political effects. But there is much more to explore with regard to the church’s approach to FFA. In what follows, I examine five aspects of the broader FFA program that merit theological, biblical, and practical attention.
A Problematic Conception of the Human Person
Christians cannot support FFA for this overarching reason: it is grounded in an unbiblical conception of the human person. The Scripture will not allow us to see any ungodly “orientation” or “identity” as essential to our humanity, as directed toward our flourishing, and thus enshrined in law as a protected category. This matters greatly for our handling of the central matter raised by the FFA legislation, the matter of personhood. Can Christians affirm a secular conception of “sexual orientation” and “gender identity”? Are these secular concepts found in Scripture and allowable by Scripture? Even a quick sketch of biblical anthropology shows that they are not.
With a few brilliant strokes of the pen, the early chapters of Genesis establish who we are as human beings. The human race is made in God’s image, both men and women uniquely displaying the likeness of God (Genesis 1:26-27). Humanity is the apex of God’s creation, the race formed to instantiate the kingly rule of God over all things by taking “dominion” over all the earth. There is no part of the earth, we learn in Genesis 1, that is closed off to God. God, the Creator, has made the earth, his creation. He owns all things. He thus rules all things. He displays and enacts this rule on the ground, so to speak, through the first man and first woman. Humans have the responsibility to lead in the “dominion mandate,” as they are called to “work and watch over” the garden of Eden, a charge they sadly fail to keep as Genesis 3 makes clear (Genesis 2:15).
The man and the woman are made for one another. The fall does not change the design of God, nor the order of God’s creation. The man is called to take a wife and hold fast to her, a call to marriage that shapes the life of most of us, though not all (Genesis 2:24, 1 Corinthians 7). This marriage is a picture of the love of Christ for his church, and the wife submits to her husband as the church submits to Christ (Ephesians 5:22-33). Every earthly marriage thus portrays in tangible form the story of the cosmos, for at the end of all things, Christ will welcome his people—his bride—to the New Jerusalem, their heavenly home (Revelation 21:21-27).
Thus we see that it is the covenantal love of God for his people that shapes the sexual holiness of the followers of God. Even as God takes a people for himself and never strays from his covenant love, so sexual expression in physical terms is formed for the covenant of marriage, and for marriage alone. Sex is not an open-source good that any person may sample in any shape or form they see fit according to their desires. Sex is made for marriage. It is the exclusive province of one man and one woman united in holy matrimony under God.
That which God has made, sinful man tries to unmake. For example, God has made every person either a man or a woman. Rebellious humanity follows the wisdom of the serpent in denying these divine origins and this divine design. Today, we hear that we may have a male or female anatomy but a different “brain sex” from our body, and thus be trapped in the wrong body. Such ideology is a rejection of God’s handiwork. God, we know from Scripture, has ordered the gift of the human body. He has given us our sexual capacities for marriage. Rebellious humanity rejects God’s vision, and follows the wisdom of the serpent in embracing a pagan view of sexuality. Instead of seeing ourselves in fundamental terms as spiritual beings who bear God’s image—the very first truth of our anthropology, our humanity—we see ourselves today as sexual beings defined by our instinctual desires. There is no script for these desires; we do not find in them a summons to marriage, for example. We merely feel ourselves compelled to “express” these desires as we see fit.
This last sentence matters greatly for our purposes. The Christian vision of humanity renders humanity subject to a great and forgiving God, a majestic being worthy of worship and obedience. The non-Christian vision of humanity, by contrast, views humanity as subject to no one and normed by nothing, thus rendering “self-expression” the core ideal of an authentic life. We are not given an identity by the Lord; we ourselves make an identity and then “express” it as we see fit. We have no sovereign above us; we ourselves are sovereign. This theology has major ramifications for public life. Public life in these terms is not about fitting into a broader order, a project that involves proper recognition of rightly constituted authority, justice, and the duties that flow from this relationship. Public life exists to fit us, not the other way around. Our identity must be publicly verified and honored in order for us to be truly human, for true humanness is expression of the authentic self.
But here is the rub: believers cannot affirm the enactment of identities that clash with the theology and morality of Scripture. There is no basic “right” to embrace a category of identity that clashes with the wisdom of God. Christians thus have no duty whatsoever to support efforts to enshrine immoral “rights” in law. There is no “right” to euthanize one’s loved ones when they get old; there is no “right” to dispatch a person who offends you; there should be no “right” to kill a baby in a womb, as there presently is in American law. All three of these examples show us that merely claiming a “right” does not make it one. Sinners like us will wish to make many things their due, their given, their purchase. Wanting a “right,” however, does not mean that others should want it, too, and support public policy along those lines. There is no “balancing test” that can compel the believer to lend support in any form to what God condemns.
We should not fall prey to the common trap of thinking that we owe people whatever they ask of us. Thankfully, society is not a wish-fulfillment exercise. This is for our good, both individually and collectively. We need a standard for right and wrong, and for “rights” and non-rights. “Rights” in the proper sense should flow from Scripture and secondly from the Constitution, and should always be understood in a much broader framework that includes the responsibilities of all citizens to live morally, submit to just authority, and honor their proper duties and commitments. It is only in a richly moral ecosystem—not the parched ground of individuated human preference—that we may understand “rights” and properly situate them.
In this country, individuals and groups possess the ability to stand for their convictions in public. From a Christian standpoint, such action stems not from hatred of our neighbor, but from love of our neighbor, a fellow image-bearer fashioned by God, in fulfillment of the second greatest commandment of Christ (Matthew 22:34-39). An essential element of this love, however, is opposing the unrighteous desires, actions, and identities of our fellow man. Consider what evangelical theologian Vern Poythress has argued: “True love does not mean accepting anything whatsoever. In fact, loving another person includes being hardy enough to resist the evil in what he is saying, and to figure out something of what is wrong. Depending on the opportunity, it may include rebuking the speaker or writer.”
This is what it means to live, as influential activist Chuck Colson understood in his day, contra mundum pro mundo, “against the world for the world.” We must enflesh this belief at the private level; we must enflesh it at the public level. We cannot support FFA, then, because FFA offers elevated status to unbiblical categories of identity, including ungodly sexual and gender-based thinking. From this unsound starting point, it champion rights that are no rights at all.
A Flawed Vision of Pluralism
Christians cannot fail to think through how they follow Christ in a world that flatly speaking does not broadly agree with their particularistic commitment. But FFA is a flawed attempt to navigate the challenge of particularism-within-pluralism.
America as a country was founded on the premise of religious freedom. No colony, state, or government abided by this lofty notion perfectly, but in major measure, religious groups have found a home in America over the course of its history. The state is not committed to any one religious group over another, but rather is friendly to religious groups. Spiritual communities and individuals historically have thus possessed the ability to speak freely, worship freely, and make their case in public. This requires two major commitments: that the government not impinge on these aspects of American liberty, and that citizens and groups play well with others, not taking up unlawful means to marginalize those they disagree with on first things.
This balance existed with some significant failings and successes in American history. Today, as the American public order grows increasingly anti-Christian in outlook, religious individuals and assemblies find themselves in an uncomfortable place. The pluralism part of the equation is growing, and the particularist part is shrinking. The response of some is that evangelical churches should recognize that they are outnumbered and outgunned. Because of this reality, they should preempt their exclusion by granting political opponents some of what they want: LGBT protections. This, the argument goes, is what living in a pluralistic society means. Out of love for neighbor, we may need to recognize “rights” that we have not previously recognized.
It is true that living in a “secular” society requires dexterity of the church. But particularism-within-pluralism does not reduce to mere compromise. This challenge is not new; it is ancient. The nation of Israel had to navigate its own way through a pagan world. The early church lived under the imperial boot, and did not have an easy time of it. Christians across the world today have a fraction of the public agency that evangelicals in America still possess. Yet the situation changes by the day, and our society revises itself by the hour. It is no easy thing, let it be said, to live in Babylon. We increasingly find ourselves in such a context. Yet the church is never called to embrace and champion and advance the God-defying agenda of its public interlocutors. Joseph lived in Egypt, but he helped the family of God. Esther lived in Persia, but she aided her people, the Jews. Daniel and his friends lived in the thrall of Nebuchadnezzar, but they would not bow down to false gods.
Like our spiritual predecessors, we Christians cannot fail to comprehend the pluralistic dimension of modern life. We must live not in anti-realism as our culture so often does, but in rugged realism. We must take the world as it is, not as we wish it would be. Such clear-headedness does not necessitate by any means that Christians, embedded in a pluralistic environment, should partner with it in promoting unbiblical ideology. Life in a pluralistic context surely means that influence and agency are restricted in some ways for Christians, yes. But Christians should not support policy or law that elevates ungodly behavior or thinking in the public sphere.
The church should not only seek the right to worship as it sees fit for an hour or two on Sunday morning, but should see in Scripture and secondarily in American legal history the ability and even the right to live according to conscience in all of life. This is what, in fact, Christians pursue and have historically pursued not merely for themselves, but for others. The American doctrine of “separation of church and state” has not traditionally meant the deplatforming and silencing of the religious, nor has it meant the enforced secular reeducation of spiritual communities. Instead, it has meant that every peaceable citizen has the constitutional right to believe as they see fit without fear of recrimination from their government. Abraham Kuyper said it well: “what the government demands of the churches, it must practice itself, by allowing to each and every citizen liberty of conscience, as the primordial and inalienable right of all men.”
Today, all this is challenged; today, Christians should make the case for a proper conception of public tolerance, one that does not require all peoples to agree on contested matters, but in fact preserves the right to disagree. This, it turns out, is what liberty essentially is in a pluralistic context—the ability to dissent peaceably. Tolerance that does not allow dissent is no tolerance at all, and so no Christian can support such a vision. There are many ill forms of pluralism, but a truly “pluralistic” society makes major space for disagreement, particularly of a religious kind. Believers in the Lord Jesus Christ are in fact well positioned to thrive in such circumstances, for the faith once for all delivered to the saints neither needs nor seeks the crutch of official political sanction. The faith, by contrast, is poised to grow well even in the roughest of soil and the driest of ground.
None of this means, though, that Christians should in any way consent to the curtailing of religious liberty. Not for nothing did four-term President Franklin Delano Roosevelt call it the “first freedom” of American society. We pay attention on this front, however: if religious liberty is the first principle of the American body politic, it may also be the first principle to depart—to be forcibly removed from—the very same body.
A Failure to Apprehend a Johannine and Pauline View of Citizenship
FFA as a policy encourages evangelicals (and other religious traditions) to voluntarily foreclose some of their public agency. But this is not a biblical instinct or action. Believers never foreclose their cultural and societal mobility in the Scripture; as seen in the case of both John the Baptist and the apostle Paul, they do the opposite. They speak boldly and convictionally to their unbelieving neighbors. They draw on whatever principle of “fairness” their culture honors according to God’s common grace. They have no ability, biblically enfranchised, to partner with those who would either quiet their witness or champion unbiblical ideas. They seek by all means to promote the truth, defend the truth, and lovingly call their fellow man to repent and believe in the saving name of Jesus Christ. We hear James K. A. Smith on this count: “If we truly love our neighbors, we will bear witness to the fullness to which they are called. If we truly desire their welfare, we should proclaim the thickness of moral obligations that God commands as the gifts to channel us into flourishing, and labor in hope that these might become the laws of the land, though with appropriate levels of expectation.”
Love does not mean, in other words, mere affirmation of what our neighbors crave and desire. Love in the biblical witness is God-defined, active, and oriented to transformation of the existing order. Biblical love in the public sense never means embracing a policy that would advance ungodliness or could, possibly, muzzle the church’s witness. Instead, it means courageous proclamation in order to turn others away—as much as is possible—from sin and its terrible effects. On this point we remember the example of John the Baptist. Against all the odds, John ended up with what some today would call a position of “privilege.” He had the ability to speak directly to Herod the Governor, a major political player in Galilee and Perea. Herod managed this territory for almost 45 years for the mighty Roman Empire. Despite Herod’s powerful perch, John spoke publicly against Herod’s divorce of his wife to marry his half-brother’s wife. This action was in contravention of Jewish law (Lev. 18:16; 20:21). John did not merely call Herod out once; the Greek text of Matthew 14:4 indicates that John “kept on telling” Herod that he had sinned against God and his ex-wife. For this action, Herod had John imprisoned; later, John was beheaded for his forthrightness.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to Christian witness in a fallen world. Jesus once told his followers that they needed to be “shrewd as serpents,” a remarkable comment in a world gone wrong through the evil actions of a talking serpent (Matthew 10:16; for broader context, see the historical account in Genesis 3:1-5). Shrewdness in the kind of pluralistic world described above calls for much prayer, much wisdom, and much dependence upon the Lord. When should the believer speak? When should he or she stay quiet, waiting for an opportune time? The Bible does not give us a 5-step plan by which to answer such tough questions. The Lord commends shrewdness as surely he calls for otherworldly boldness. This is what we see in John’s example: he used his public platform not to cozy up to Herod, to win an opportunity to speak privately to him of his sin, but to call him to repentance in public. John used what cultural and societal agency he had, in other words, for public witness.
John met a terrible end for speaking as he did. So too did the apostle Paul, but not after a protracted legal battle. Like John, Paul showed great shrewdness in his ministry of evangelism and proclamation. The Book of Acts shows us that he had the ability to adapt his message to his audience (see Acts 17, for example). But the apostle Paul’s forthright sharing of the gospel meant that he encountered major problems in the Greco-Roman world. He suffered greatly for the name of Jesus. Paul was beaten, stoned nearly to death, and whipped, among other awful forms of pain and persecution (see 2 Cor. 11:21-29). Once in Jerusalem, Paul boldly called the Jews to leave their sin, sharing his own testimony of spiritual transformation and his call to preach Christ to the Gentiles. Upon hearing this, the Jewish community nearly rioted and took steps to torture Paul to death.
Knowing of the martyrdom of other biblical figures, at this point in the story the reader might expect Paul to embrace his fate and submit to torment. But in one of Acts’s most shocking twists, this is precisely what Paul did not do. Facing certain death, he told a Roman centurion about his own Roman citizenship (Acts 22:22-29). This had the effect of stopping the entire process, reordering the bill of affairs regarding Paul’s preaching, and delaying Paul’s death for many months, allowing him to continue proclaiming the gospel and instructing the church through epistles or letters. This all happened because Paul drew on his Roman citizenship, an act that led to his appearing before civil authorities Felix and Agrippa before appealing directly to Caesar himself (see Acts 24-26). This last action resulted in the final chapter of his ministry, imprisonment in Rome, as Paul awaited his trial. The book of Acts itself does not give us the outcome of Paul’s life, though we know from tradition that Paul was killed for his faith. The biblical text does make clear, however, that Paul’s deft political move resulted in great gain for the cause of Christ: “He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance” (Acts 28:30–31).
The historical narratives of John the Baptist and the apostle Paul call the church to a rather different conception of citizenship than that represented by FFA. Every believer will face hard questions and gray areas in this life; this is true, abundantly true, for us all. But John and Paul are not curiosities in the story of redemption, and their examples as public witnesses in fallen contexts are not spiritual ephemera. These men show us what Christian faith must do and be in the midst of spiritual darkness at the public level. We are called to be bold, courageous, and world-defying. But not only these: we are also called to be smart, shrewd, and to avail ourselves of all the capacities of our earthly citizenship in order to magnify the gospel of grace. The examples of these men show us that we must not consent easily to our silencing, whether the silencing of our voice or of our very life.
In contrast to a posture of accepted public declension, we should use every last scintilla of agency and influence we have in the public square, recognizing that God is the God of the political order even as he is the Lord of the blood-bought church. This world splices the body politic and compartmentalizes religion in ways the Word of God does not, but there is no true “secular” space. There is no aspect of creation over which Almighty God does not reign. There is no area of our own infinitestimal lives that we should see as given over to evil and ruled out of bounds for the believer. Whether by his special, redeeming grace or his common grace, the Lord calls his Spirit-filled body to go into all the world and push back the darkness. Ours is not a posture of accommodation; ours is a posture of transformation.
We will not see the world put to rights until the second coming of Christ. But until that day, we do not make ourselves comfortable in an environment of evil. We push back against it; we call it out; we fight it by every available means in every possible circumstance, whether this setting is a pulpit, a university lecture hall, a sex-trafficking hub, a community hearing, a court of law, a basement classroom in a “home school,” an abortion clinic, or a conversation with a friend. The posture of the Christian and the gathered church is always to fight evil and promote the truth; it is never to accommodate evil and promote falsehood.
A Wrong View of Human Desire
A crucial matter in the conversation over FFA and progressive sexual teaching is that of personal desire. According to pro-LGBT theory, our desires are basically trustworthy and good. Our desires, and not the design of God nor the Word of God, tell us who we are and what we should do. This thinking is promoted in many different forms, some of them precise as in secular gender theory, many others more general. When we hear today that “we are perfect just the way we are” or that “we cannot change who we are” or that “we should be our true self,” we are being educated about our desires. Desires shape identity.
According to Scripture, our desires are as fallen as our actions are. Said more precisely, we act wrongly because we desire wrongly. We have “desperately wicked” hearts, and so we do desperately wicked things, whether quietly or publicly (Jeremiah 17:9). In Adam, our heart is akin to a poisoned tree, and it thus yields poisoned fruit (Matthew 7:21-23). We are not in a neutral condition following the fall; we have a heart that loves evil and hates God, and we act on this sordid basis. Our pasts may be rife with conflict and pain, or they may be relatively calm, but it matters not. We all naturally murder others in our heart, we naturally commit adultery in our mind, and we naturally rebel against God with all our being (Matthew 5:21-30; Romans 3:10-18).
This mapping of desire has tremendous consequence for the way we understand the conversation over sexuality and identity in the public square. According to modern gender theory, our “orientation” is a neutral matter. Further, we can have a “transgender” identity without respect to morality. But the Scripture dissents from these contentions. Orientation is not neutral. We are either pursuing good or evil, and doing so not only in action, but at a deeper, more instinctual level. Along these lines, there is no “third” way to be human in the “transgender” sense. There is male, and there is female. There is what is “natural,” and there is what is “against nature” (see Romans 1:18-32). As noted above, there is no neutral “gender identity” or “sexual orientation” that aligns with homosexuality or any other ungodly telos. There is godly sexuality, oriented to sexual purity if single and the covenant of marriage if called to covenantal union. The body of Christians that endorses the championing of pro-LGBT thinking is thus contravening the witness of Scripture.
Our witness, however, does not only relate to the ultimate personal choices people make. Our witness zeroes in on desire itself, and on the sinful desires that course through our blood in natural terms. In no instance are we able to embrace and endorse effeminacy for men or masculinization for women. The church is called not only to recognize godly sexuality, but to form men to be men of God, and women to be women of God. Where our desires have run in ways counter to this pattern, this holy order, we seek the transformation of our natural instincts and passions (Matthew 5:21-30; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11). We have no ability to pristinate homosexual desire or “transgender” instinct; we must call for repentance of such passions, knowing that such passions are not part of redeemed humanity, but fallen humanity (see Colossians 3:5). Neither can we embrace “gay Christianity” in any form, nor “transgender Christianity” in any form. Instead, we seek the remaking of the natural man in the image of the spiritual man, Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 3:18).
The foregoing means that the church promotes biblical manhood and biblical womanhood. Not every man is called to marriage, nor every woman, for some are called to singleness. Whatever our marital status and calling from the Lord, no redeemed man or woman can rest easy with desires that are intrinsically ordered to sinful ends. The same is true of behavior. The church is not ultimately trying to get people to stop acting in compromised ways. The church is calling sinners of every kind, sexual or otherwise, to embrace the power of Christ’s blood, and to leave behind all sinful desires, thoughts, words, identities, and actions. We could say it this way: ours is not a “stop doing sin” gospel. Ours is a “Christ transforms our desires such that our life is dramatically reshaped” gospel.
The express policy of FFA does not delve directly into all that we have outlined above. We cannot miss, however, that endorsing FFA means endorsing—however unintentionally and with whatever pious intentions—the kind of unbiblical anthropology treated thus far, whether in the form of identity or desire. Allowing the advance of SOGI laws, after all, is allowing the advance of the secular sexual worldview behind SOGI laws. That secular sexual worldview is not in truth Christian, nor can it partner with Christian doctrine in any way. It is neo-pagan, whether proponents of a given policy know of this broader philosophical framework or not.
A Shaky Promise of Exemption and Protection
FFA purportedly grants “exemptions” to churches and religious organizations that adhere to the historic Judeo-Christian sexual ethic. While this may sound promising, we must not fail to reckon with all that is not exempted within FFA policy. Christian business owners, as one example, would not possess hiring exemptions based on FFA proposals. Instead, “LGBTQ Americans cannot be denied access to employment, housing, financial credit, social service programs funded by federal money, service in business establishments, or jury duty service simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.” This kind of policy may well spell disaster for religious individuals who operate businesses from the wellspring of their Christian worldview. This federalized policy puts personal conscience in immediate and likely untenable tension with progressive ideology.
We should take pains to be clear on this point: no business owner of any worldview should act in hatred toward any human person. No Christian who claims a biblical framework could conscionably do so. But Christians—like any person—should have the right to hire employees and operate their businesses without undue federal interference. Existing legislation offers American citizens the protections they need. FFA goes well beyond existing American law and places undue and unnecessary burdens on business owners and employers. The accommodations to “transgender” individuals alone represent a major reworking of public spaces and the public practices that regulate such spaces. As we have noted, creating a new category of identity out of step with historic norms may play well in our expressive culture, but such a move represents nothing less than an overhaul of existing society.
Christians should not endorse measures that will constrain the exercise of their convictions in any form. There is no biblical principle that points to such action, and there is no historical precedent (as a secondary witness) that would urge such a conclusion. Believers should not support measures that will supposedly preserve the freedom of conscience for religious groups but collapse the freedom of conscience for religious individuals in the public square and secular marketplace. Those who lead churches and religious institutions could think that championing FFA preserves their organizational freedom of conscience, but this is a shortsighted perspective. The very business leaders who financially help and support such churches and institutions may well find themselves out of step with FFA—thus leaving the supposedly “exempted” churches and organizations without the financial base to carry out spiritual work and on-the-ground ministry. Truly, the “exemptions” FFA supposedly offers may end up helping to undo the very religious bodies it seemingly shields.
There is considerable evidence that SOGI laws do exactly what we have suggested to religious individuals and their businesses. Government penalties have come in the form of the loss of business, the seizure of life savings, and the closing of commercial ventures, to say nothing of the censure and even hatred fomented by media coverage of dissenting citizens like Barronelle Stutzman, Jack Phillips, the Larsen family, the Klein family, and others. FFA may be presented as an outlier in this long line of punishment, but it may well be used to punitively target citizens who abide by their religious convictions. As one author has said: “At its core, FFA proposals surrender essential, constitutionally guaranteed individual and institutional freedoms and empower the government to discriminate against its citizens in exchange for narrow carve-outs for religious freedom and perhaps other protections of uncertain scope.”
It may be that this policy offers security to citizens who largely police their speech and practice related to progressive sexual orthodoxy. But it may also be that citizens who speak and act in clear ways to honor the teachings of their religious traditions find themselves exceeding the reach of the limited “protections” FFA offers. In sum, we do not know precisely how FFA may be used in days ahead; there is a rather ominous mist lying over the entire enterprise. We do know this with certainty, though: SOGI laws have provided the opposite of protection for many Americans. The better part of wisdom tells us to avoid embracing and supporting FFA.
Cultural moments like ours remind us of the startling cost of the Christian faith. We are reminded of the words of Justin Martyr: “We who formerly hated and murdered one another now live together and share the same table. We pray for our enemies and try to win those who hate us.” Since Justin’s day, believers have tried to show the peaceableness and reasonableness of Christianity, and rightly so. But from time immemorial, the world has not acclaimed the wisdom of God, but rather opposed it. The early church was not the only group, after all, claiming the name of Jesus to suffer for their convictions. We think of missionaries forced to disown Christ or die in far-off places. We remember bloody revolutions that resulted in the wiping out of religious clergy. We know even today that embracing the new birth means social ostracism at the least and death at the most in many countries. Clearly, being a city on a hill and the light of the world is not as neat and tame as we might think in the quietness of our repose.
We should not confuse martyrdom with social stigma. But at the same time, whether in subtle or severe form, it is no mean thing to stand for Christ in a way that brings the hostility of a fallen world. Not for nothing do we feel the urge to find compromises, including some well-intentioned measures, that will preserve even a portion of the liberties provided for us in our founding documents. But these compromises are just that. They do not represent the kind of Christian faith called for and modeled by Christ and his apostles. They require the church to endorse that which Scripture condemns. This we cannot do.
We may pay for our refusal to compromise dearly. We may suffer. We may be persecuted. We might face imprisonment, the loss of our life savings, the closing of our business, the wrath of the state. We may see these possibilities on the near horizon. But whatever comes, we cannot fail to remember the example of another biblical figure, Stephen, who was stoned to death for his bold gospel preaching in Acts 6. Immediately before Stephen were the people who ended his life. But as he lay dying, Stephen lifted his eyes and saw one greater behind them, beyond them. This figure, the Lord Jesus Christ, himself suffered and bled and died under the weight of injustice and persecution. He did so to save his people and glorify his Father. He walked the crimson trail, the narrow way, until the bitter end.
Knowing our reward, so must we.