Author archives: David Closson

Should Christians Vote?

by David Closson

September 22, 2020

Today is National Voter Registration Day, so it is an appropriate time to consider an important question: do American Christians have a moral obligation to vote?

During the last election, one Christian leader expressed his discomfort with hosting voter registration drives and providing voter guides to his congregation. Although this leader believes that “voting is a good thing,” he nevertheless believes it is imprudent for the church as an institution to do anything beyond praying for candidates and preaching on moral issues. Despite this pastor’s good intention to safeguard his church’s mission and witness, this approach falls short of what fully realized Christian discipleship requires. If the gospel has implications for all areas of life, including politics, should not pastors strive to ensure their members are equipped (i.e., registered to vote) and sufficiently informed to faithfully engage in the public square?

In a constitutional republic like the United States, the locus of power is the citizenry; the government derives its authority from the people. As Alexander Hamilton explained in Federalist Paper 22, the consent of the people is the “pure original fountain of all legitimate authority.” In the United States this principle is foundational to our government and provides citizens with incredible opportunity and responsibility. Unlike billions of people around the world, Americans, through the ballot box, control their political future. Indeed, we are stewards of it, as we are stewards of everything else God has given us.

For Christian citizens, the implications of America’s form of government are even more significant when considered alongside Paul’s teaching on the purpose of government in Romans 13. According to Paul, government is ordained by God to promote good and restrain evil. God authorizes the government to wield the sword for the administration of justice. As one theologian recently explained, “The sword is God’s authorized gift to humanity for protecting life.”

From these considerations, a truth with far-reaching implications for Christian political engagement emerges: Voting is an exercise in delegating God-ordained authority. Because power resides with the people in our republic, when Christians vote, they are delegating their ruling authority to others. In other words, by voting, Christians are entrusting their “sword-bearing” responsibility to officials who will govern on their behalf. Seen from this perspective, voting is a matter of stewardship; failure to vote is a failure to exercise God-given authority.

Therefore, if the act of voting is the act of delegating the exercise of the sword, pastors should communicate to their members: “This is what Christians should do.” Given the unavoidable role of politics and the direct, real-world impact that government decisions have on people’s lives, downplaying the responsibility to vote amounts to a failure in Christian discipleship and loving our neighbors comprehensively.

Now, some might push back and argue that this conception of voting and political engagement overly prioritizes the political arena. When reflecting on the Christian obligation to love our neighbors, they might argue that political engagement is only one way of loving our neighbor and trying to be a faithful presence in the culture. This is true, but we must not minimize the significance of government and the role it plays in people’s lives. Love of neighbor must be embodied in all aspects of life. Can Christians really care for their neighbors well if they are not engaging in politics, the arena where a society’s basic rights and freedoms are shaped?

Further, given the United States’ far-reaching influence in the world, how can American Christians love the people of the nations well without having a vested interest in how our government approaches the issue of religious liberty and human rights worldwide—issues which go to the heart of seeing people around the world as created in the image of God? By voting, Americans determine who will represent the United States abroad as well as the values our country will export around the world. Will America’s ambassadors be stalwart defenders of religious freedom overseas? Christians who support missionaries should care about the state of international religious freedom, an area of advocacy in which the United States exerts significant influence. Will abortion, under the euphemism of “family planning,” be funded overseas by American taxpayers, or will U.S. foreign policy value the life of the unborn? Again, American believers, by exercising their right to vote, have a direct say in these matters.

In light of these considerations, pastors should exhort their members to be involved in the political process and to vote. But voting is not enough. Pastors should also help educate and equip their members to think biblically about moral issues, candidates, and party platforms. Much of this equipping and educating should be accomplished through the regular rhythms and liturgies of the church (preaching the Word, corporate prayer, hymnody, etc.). However, for the sake of robust political discipleship, additional steps should be taken. For some congregations, this might mean providing access to voter guides and other educational material. In others, it might mean hosting workshops or Bible studies on political engagement.

Many Christians might get squeamish at these suggestions; if so, we must recall a proper understanding of “politics,” as discussed previously—that of deciding how best to organize the affairs of the community and love one another. When we realize politics is, at its core, about how we love our neighbor as we live and order our lives together, we understand there is no reason to shy away from becoming informed about how to vote. Rather, we must embrace the question. We must make room for thoughtful discussion and respectful disagreement on certain issues within the body of Christ, but we must not avoid talking about them altogether. It is not enough to espouse concern for human dignity but not support policies and candidates who will fight to overturn profound moral wrongs. In a Genesis 3 world plagued by sin, Christians are called to reverse the corroding effects of the fall wherever they exist. Our decision to cast an informed vote is an attempt to do just that.

This blog was adapted from FRC’s publication Biblical Principles for Political Engagement.

Is it Time for Churches to Reopen?

by David Closson

August 13, 2020

Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, churches have had to make difficult decisions. Now, as states reopen, church leaders are deciding whether to reopen for public services or continue providing live-streams and smaller, home-based ministry. Considerations such as protecting the health of worshippers, the public witness of the church, the spiritual and physical needs of members, and complying with government mandates are all a part of the conversation.

Across the country, churches are coming to different conclusions on these questions. In California, Pastor Jack Hibbs decided to reopen his megachurch on May 31. In late July, John MacArthur and the elders at Grace Community Church in California decided that the state and local government had overstepped their authority and opened the church for worship on July 26. Three days later, the church received a letter from a Los Angeles County attorney demanding the church stop holding indoor worship services. The letter threatened fines and imprisonment for noncompliance. On August 12, in an effort to block the state from enforcing its regulations, Pastor MacArthur and Grace Community Church filed suit against California Governor Gavin Newsom and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. 

Conversely, J.D. Greear, pastor of Summit Church in North Carolina and current president of the Southern Baptist Convention, announced at the end of July that his church would not hold public worship services for the remainder of the year and instead will facilitate home-based gatherings. Greear cited the biblical admonition of neighbor-love as a reason for his decision.

Which approach is best? Should churches resume holding public worship services, or should they be cautious and wait to fully reopen?

Complicating matters are the strict reopening policies some overreaching state and local governments have ordered churches to follow. In some states, governors and mayors have appeared to single out churches for unfair treatment, and as a result, pastors in these areas are beginning to defy unconstitutional and overreaching mandates from the authorities. These incidents have raised questions about how pastors should respond to the government when it oversteps its authority. For example, can the government prohibit churches from holding worship services? Does a governor have the right to tell churches they can’t sing? More generally, what is the proper posture government should have towards religion? These questions have prompted further reflection on the theological rationale for civil disobedience.

How Churches Have Responded to the Pandemic

Before answering the question of how churches should navigate reopening amid a pandemic, it is important to recall how churches have responded thus far.

In early March, virtually all churches suspended in-person worship services and other activities in response to the pandemic. Throughout the spring and early summer, churches almost universally complied with government mandates. This is important to remember, especially considering the media’s hostile and misleading reporting about churches. For example, on July 9, the New York Times published an article with the alarming headline “Churches Open Doors, And the Virus Sweeps In.” Ominously, the writers reported, “More than 650 coronavirus cases have been linked to nearly 40 churches and religious events across the United States since the beginning of the pandemic.” While the report initially sounds distressing, an objective, clear-minded analysis of the total number of cases shows that 650 cases represent an incredibly small percentage of the overall confirmed 4.75 million cases of COVID-19 in the United States (as of July 9). While every case is serious, the disproportionate attention on cases emerging from churches betrays an underlining animus toward people of faith.

Churches were quick to follow initial guidance from federal, state, and local authorities. According to an April study by LifeWay Christian Resources, 99 percent of Protestant churches gathered for worship on March 1. By March 29, only seven percent were still meeting. Notably, most churches ceased in-person gatherings before most states instituted stay-at-home orders (only nine states had stay-at-home orders as of March 23; by then, 90 percent of churches had adopted the CDC’s non-binding recommendation to suspend in-person gatherings). Therefore, anyone arguing that churches were obstinate or unwilling to obey the governing authorities from the outset of the pandemic is wrong. With very few exceptions, pastors across the country followed the Bible’s teaching in Romans 13 to honor the governing authorities.

Constitutional and Legal Considerations: The Unequal Treatment of Churches

Churches have served their members and local communities in creative ways throughout the spring and early summer—including live-streams and “Drive-In” services. However, now that their respective states have reopened, many churches have resumed or wish to resume in-person meetings and services. But churches in some states and localities have been ordered by the governing authorities not to reopen, despite implementing health and safety measures consistent with CDC guidance. What are we to make of the legal restrictions and gathering bans being imposed on churches?

According to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, as of July 27, worship services are prohibited or currently subject to unequal treatment (compared to nonreligious activities) in six states (California, Nevada, Washington, Maine, New Jersey, and Connecticut). Another 14 states have broad but equally applicable restrictions that limit churches’ ability to gather for worship or other activities.

Many of these restrictions are likely unconstitutional under the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause, which generally bars government from discriminating against religious entities in its policies and practices. For example, Nevada churches—regardless of size—are prohibited from admitting more than 50 people. Meanwhile, Nevada casinos can admit 50 percent of their maximum occupancy, allowing thousands of people inside. One church, Calvary Chapel, sued the state but was denied injunctive relief by the U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision. In his dissent, Justice Neil Gorsuch quipped, “In Nevada, it seems, it is better to be in entertainment than religion.” Justice Brett Kavanaugh, also in dissent, added, “COVID–19 is not a blank check for a State to discriminate against religious people, religious organizations, and religious services.”

In California, two-thirds of the state’s 58 counties are on a “county monitoring list.” Churches in these counties are not allowed to hold indoor services. Churches in counties not on the monitoring list are only allowed to admit 25 percent of their building’s capacity or up to a maximum of 100 people. As of July 29, California churches have been ordered to “discontinue indoor singing.” Notably, the same prohibition on chanting and singing did not extend to secular activities hosted indoors, including daycare centers, entertainment, schools, music, television and film production, and, most notably, public protests. In fact, Governor Newsom refused to ban protesters from chanting or singing, despite the risks posed by large gatherings in confined spaces.

Restrictions like those imposed on churches in California, Nevada, and elsewhere are even further problematic because the First Amendment gives religion a “privileged status” due to the societal good it provides and out of respect for the conscience of the citizenry. In his legal commentary regarding the First Amendment, Justice Joseph Story wrote, “It is the especial duty of government to foster, and encourage [religion] among all citizens and subjects.” The government is not to curtail religious exercise unless it demonstrates a compelling interest in doing so, and even then, the curtailment must occur in the narrowest way possible. This strong standard is in place in part because religion is something the American Founders knew ought to be safeguarded. Religion undergirds our nation and provides a vibrancy that must be preserved.

The First Amendment puts religious activity in a special category, and requires that it be protected. As Justice Kavanaugh noted in the recent Calvary Chapel case, even in a pandemic, the U.S. Constitution does not allow for casinos to receive privileged treatment over churches. As Kavanaugh explained, unlike gambling, the free exercise of religion is explicitly protected by the Constitution, and state laws that reflect “an implicit judgment that for-profit assemblies are important and religious gatherings are less so,” violate the Constitution. In America, religious liberty is often referred to as our “first freedom” because it is foundational to our other freedoms. Craps and poker simply do not merit the same protection.

Theological Considerations: The Christian Response to Religious Liberty Violations

What is a proper Christian response to what appears to be blatant religious discrimination and an unjust usurpation of authority by several states? Although Scripture teaches that government is a legitimate, God-ordained authority, is there a different calculus that pastors and church leaders need to make if it is clear the government has transgressed its constitutionally and divinely prescribed authority?

In a word, yes. In Romans 13, Paul teaches that the governing authorities are responsible for maintaining societal order and keeping the peace. However, God has not granted the government jurisdiction over the doctrine, liturgy, or practice of the church; pastors and elders, not magistrates, have been entrusted with this authority. In fact, there is biblical precedent for not obeying rulers who overstep their authority. When the corrupt religious authorities in Jerusalem ordered the apostles to stop preaching, Peter responded, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Christians should honor the governing authorities as long as they are operating within their God-ordained role, but if the government is defying higher authority by imposing unconstitutional requirements on churches that want to reopen, pastors should seriously consider moving forward with plans to reopen their churches as safely as possible.

The roles of the church and state are complicated by the unique circumstances of a global pandemic. However, six months into the pandemic, we are faced with another type of health crisis. Experts are now warning of a mental health crisis due to the fear and anxiety sparked by the virus. According to preliminary data, depression, substance abuse, PTSD, drug overdoses, and suicide are all on the rise. A phenomenon that health experts refer to as a “shadow pandemic” is following the virus, manifesting itself in a variety of serious mental health concerns. For example, in Fresno, California, suicides were 70 percent higher in June this year compared to last year. According to the medical examiner’s office in Cook County (Chicago area), there have already been 58 suicides this year compared to 56 for all last year. And finally, the National Alliance on Mental Illness HelpLine has seen a 65 percent increase in calls and emails since March. Mental health experts have cited economic stress, social isolation, and, importantly, reduced access to church and worship services as factors driving this trend. Considering these factors, it is very reasonable to question whether the state and local governments truly have a compelling interest to impose on religion in the way they have.

How to Safely Reopen Your Church

Each church should ask themselves: What are the spiritual and practical consequences of remaining closed? What is the cost of only reopening a fraction of our outreaches and ministries?

Of course, in places where the virus has inflicted significant damage, churches should be wise and exercise good judgment. But most churches likely should move toward reopening, with safety precautions in place. This is true in states like California and Nevada, where churches appear to have been treated poorly with no justifiable reason. Churches within these states should continue to press their case—both at the local level and with the Department of Justice—that their constitutional rights are being violated. Constitutionally and theologically, churches have the right to continue the work they’ve been called to do. It is critical to our democracy that the government recognize and proactively protect the vital role religion plays in society. The pandemic does not alter this principle. As seen by the mental health epidemic, the need for the spiritual support of the church is only enhanced in the coronavirus era. It seems increasingly clear that by not opening, congregations and communities are at risk from other maladies besides the coronavirus.

Finally, safely reopening churches will require pastors and church leaders to exercise courage and faith, especially in areas where government officials have demonstrated hostility toward them. But Scripture reminds us that it is precisely for these moments that God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control (2 Tim. 1:7). According to Ohio State Representative Jena Powell, this is exactly what we need from our church leaders today. As Powell explained, “Right now, we need pastors with courage to stand up against government overreach, which is blatantly usurping the power that God has given to His church alone. We need pastors who are unafraid to boldly follow the commands of Scripture, and lead their churches in discipleship, evangelism, and serving their neighbors. I’m grateful for the many pastors who are shepherding well and hope more follow their example.”

To help churches safely reopen, Family Research Council has released a resource titled Guidelines for Reopening Your Church, which outlines the best sanitation practices advised by the CDC. It also provides guidance on other precautions churches can take, such as providing masks for those who attend services, ways to hygienically collect tithes and offerings, tips for administering the ordinances such as the Lord’s Supper, ideas for seating configurations, and ways pastors can set the tone for their congregations.

For further discussion about reopening churches and how Christians can think about responding to overreaching government authorities, listen to my recent interview with Tony Perkins on Washington Watch. And don’t forget to take advantage of all of FRC’s COVID-19 and The Church Resources.

Kaitlyn Shepherd, a legal intern with Policy & Government Affairs at Family Research Council, contributed legal research for this blog.

What the Pandemic and the Protests Reveal About the Church’s Lost Moral Influence

by David Closson

July 9, 2020

Church leaders took to Twitter yesterday to respond to a New York Times article alleging churches are a “major source” of coronavirus cases, citing “more than 650 cases” linked to church gatherings. The article provides examples of church events and services that have been linked to the spread of the virus and insinuates that church leaders have been reckless in the way they’ve handled the crisis. However, as Christian leaders were quick to point out, the Times seems to misrepresent the magnitude of the problem.

For example, Hershael York, Dean of Southern Seminary and Senior Pastor at Buck Run Baptist Church noted in a tweet, “How many 1000’s of churches are meeting now? And the @nytimes finds 650 cases linked to only 40 religious institutions … and that is a ‘major source.’ Let’s put the stats in context, folks! Why this relentless obsession with churches?”

Philip Bethancourt, Senior Pastor at Central Church echoed his sentiment noting, “There are thousands of churches serving millions of people every week. Calling churches a ‘major source’ of coronavirus because of 650 cases seems like a major stretch to me. Churches are working hard to do what they can to be safe to attend.”

Are these church leaders right to cry foul on the unfair treatment by the New York Times? Here are the facts about COVID cases in the US and church compliance.

In context, these 650 cases have been linked to 40 church organizations since the beginning of the pandemic. In America, there have been a total of 3,131,411 cases total confirmed since February 15th, with national cases amounting to 40,000 in a single day as recently as June 27th

Churches in America have been extremely compliant with the shutdown orders and reopening guidelines. There is no doubt that any gathering of individuals poses some level of risk, particularly if a church ignores basic social distancing guidelines. However, research shows that over 90 percent of pastors and church leaders complied with shutdown orders in March, and many continue to be abundantly cautious as they collaborate to create complex re-opening strategies.

The New York Times Startling Inconsistency

So, what can account for the New York Times attitude toward church reopening, and their claim that churches represent a “major source” of coronavirus cases? On this point it is worth noting the newspaper’s coverage of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests. With as many as 26 million people participating in the protests as of July 3rd, the New York Times did not seem nearly as concerned about the health hazards posed by these massive demonstrations. To their credit, one recent piece on July 6th acknowledges that many public health officials had to “grapple” with supporting this particular expression of democracy (as opposed to anti-lockdown protests or in-person religious services), after more than 1,300 public health officials signed a letter May 30 in support of the rallies. The article also acknowledged that these protests endanger “tens of thousands” of Americans who choose to attend. This number of endangered Americans, of course, is a stark contrast to the 650 cases reportedly tied to the reopening of churches.

There is an undeniable inconsistency in the mainstream media to downplay one expression of civil society and its risk to public health while highlighting another. For one, studies to identify the tie between BLM protests and COVID cases are few and far between. In fact, COVID contact tracing workers in New York were instructed not to ask anyone testing positive for COVID whether they attended a demonstration. Recently, some in the mainstream media and government have begun calling for an investigation into the connection between the protests and the COVID uptick. So far, most have claimed no connection or one that is “hard to identify” due to the simultaneous general public re-opening and demographics of protestors. The UK Health Secretary was recently faced with accusations that Britain was a “racist country” after he warned about the risks of the protests, saying that while he supports the protests the “virus itself doesn’t discriminate.” Cancellations on outdoor Fourth of July gatherings just this past weekend (the indoor/outdoor distinction is commonly made when defending BLM protests) further underscore the inconsistencies.  

The media’s predisposition against churches compared to BLM protests is hard to deny. A quick search on Google shows 10 articles articulating reasons why closing churches is necessary for the public health; a similar search for articles questioning BLM protests and its risks lends little results—only a resounding defense of the protestors’ motivations and arguments for their necessity. Given these trends, it is little wonder that the “connection” with churches and COVID cases would be an area of interest to the mainstream media, or that evangelical Christians would have trouble trusting the resulting information.

Those who do acknowledge the health hazard of the BLM protests are careful to weigh that with the gravity of the events and message that they convey. Tara Haelle writes with Forbes that the protests are saving lives and for many, protesting represents an “essential” activity. Systematic racism itself is said to be a “public health emergency” when one tracks the impact of racism on the health of minorities. Furthermore, we are told that protestors are taking “calculated risks” for a greater good.

Undoubtedly, the conversations prompted by George Floyd’s tragic death are important, and Christians need to be active participants in discussions about race relations and police reform. It is notable, however, that the language used to justify this public health risk stands in stark contrast from that which is used to describe worship services. 

Cultural Ideals Drive Necessity, and the Church Isn’t a Part of Those Ideals. This Must Change.

Ideals and ideology are shaping the way that America views the re-opening of their country, and it will continue to shape the way we move forward as a country. It used to be that the church was viewed as a place that did transformative work in the spiritual, physical, and mental health of individuals of all races and backgrounds. The church, too, has long been held as an essential function of democracy. The church and its freedom to gather, within reason, is a hallmark of the American republic, as it is a right so infrequently enjoyed by other nations. 

If that is the case, what accounts for the double standard and for why worshipers are viewed with suspicion by mainstream media outlets like the New York Times? Why are churches the target of so much scrutiny? One reason is that the church has lost its moral influence. Another is the precipitous decline in those who hold a biblical worldview and who see the church as the conveyor and guardian of morality. Society no longer shares the values of the church and thus no longer thinks the church has anything of importance to say to the pressing issues of our time. This is why the media and secular culture are so quick to dismiss the church and relegate it to the category of “nonessential.” In fact, this was evident in the closing paragraph of the NYT article when they quoted a pastor who stated his belief that God was sovereign over his life in the midst of the virus. The Times of course appears to jump at the opportunity to frame the pastor as a simpleton, walking with blind faith and bereft of science and reason.

Why does the New York Times article not revere churchgoers who would attend their church and grow spiritually as those taking “calculated risks” and “saving lives?” If the church was seen as a serious moral stakeholder in the public square, these would be the articles written about church re-openings. More than something to mourn, this truth should be an eye-opening moment for American churches. Their leadership—and the uniqueness of the life and world-transforming gospel that they alone can bring—is needed more than ever in the public square. The church has true answers to bring to the questions that global crises evoke, and it should not be modest about the urgency of its message or the life-saving quality of its gospel.

For the Fourth Time, HHS Defends the Elderly and Disabled

by David Closson , Laura Lee Caum

June 29, 2020

After weeks of significant societal upheaval, there is finally some good news out of Washington D.C. On June 26, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced it had resolved a complaint against Tennessee after the state updated its medical triage plans to ensure that the elderly and disabled are not discriminated against in the event of scarcity or high demand for medical resources.

This is OCR’s fourth resolution with a state regarding disability discrimination since their March 28 bulletin reminding states of their responsibility to abide by civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination in the provision of health care services during the coronavirus pandemic. Previously, OCR resolved similar cases with Alabama, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania.

Commenting on the resolution, Roger Severino, OCR’s Director, said, “We commend Tennessee for updating its policies to ensure that hospitals do not deny life-saving care during a crisis based on stereotypes about disabilities or other impermissible factors. Our civil rights laws reflect the principle that we are all created with equal dignity and worth.”

Prior to this decision, concerns were raised about Tennessee’s emergency health care guidance, specifically that those with advanced neuromuscular disease, metastatic cancer, traumatic brain injury, dementia, and other disabilities could be excluded from use of a ventilator in times of scarcity. The HHS determined this was in violation of numerous health laws, including Section 1557 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

The June 26 resolution between HHS and Tennessee should be applauded for its recognition of the human dignity of the elderly and disabled. All Americans, but especially Christians, should be grateful for this announcement because it affirms one of the most basic tenets of the biblical worldview which is that all people are made in God’s image and possess inherent value and dignity. Laws or health care plans that allocate resources based on a perceived quality of life devalue one’s fundamental right to life and ought to be rejected.

This bold action by the Office for Civil Rights continues a pattern of respecting and protecting life by the Trump administration. Since his inauguration, President Trump and his administration has consistently defended human rights at home and abroad. This is especially seen in the administration’s defense of the rights of the unborn. For example, The Office of Civil Rights at HHS alone has already enforced conscience protection laws in California to ensure that health care plans are not required to provide abortion coverage, and in Vermont to protect the conscience rights of a nurse who was forced to participate in performing abortions. In 2019, the administration ensured that Title X family planning funds do not include abortion providers. Then in 2020 President Trump spoke at the March for Life rally, becoming the first sitting president to ever do so.

The decision on June 26 by HHS is the latest example of the administration’s commitment to protecting all Americans, regardless of age, disability, or other subjective factors. All Americans should be grateful for this resolution, and hope it sends a clear message to the other states that when it comes to human dignity, cutting corners is not an option.

David Closson is FRC’s Director of Christian Ethics and Biblical Worldview.

Laura Lee Caum is a Communications intern at Family Research Council.

Why Bostock Will Never Have the Final Word On Human Sexuality

by David Closson

June 19, 2020

Our rapidly changing moral landscape presents a daunting challenge for Christians committed to biblical sexual ethics. The LGBT movement continues to challenge centuries of norms concerning the family, marriage, and human sexuality. And a recent Supreme Court decision means legal definitions and understanding regarding human sexuality are changing, too.

Secular progressives often criticize conservative Christians for their alleged obsession with sexual ethics. But secular and progressive elites are increasingly forcing the issue, insisting everyone embrace their worldview and the full spectrum of LGBT policy positions or face social ostracizing, public shaming, loss of jobs, or other increasingly dire consequences. Those in positions of cultural and political influence are willing to use the coercive power of government to accomplish their political objectives. This was evident this week in the U.S. Senate as Democrats argued for the immediate passage of the Equality Act, legislation that represents one of the greatest threats to religious liberty ever introduced in Congress. It would gut our nation’s flagship religious liberty law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was passed nearly unanimously by Democrats and Republicans alike.

Earlier this week, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a 6-3 decision in Bostock v. Clayton County. The majority ruled that employment discrimination “on the basis of sex”— prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 should be understood to include actions based on sexual orientation and gender identity. By reinterpreting the statute in this way, the Court essentially rewrote civil rights law.

Many conservatives were surprised by the decision and considered Justice Neil Gorsuch’s majority opinion to be a betrayal of the originalist and textualist approach he had previously insisted guided his judicial philosophy. As both Justices Samuel Alito and Brett Kavanaugh pointed out in their respective dissents, the majority opinion authored by Gorsuch imposed a meaning that would have been foreign to those who authored the Civil Rights Act and ignored the plain meaning of the statute.

The consequences of the Bostock decision will play out for many years. In the immediate future, there are significant questions about how the ruling will affect religious liberty. Can religious institutions such as colleges and seminaries continue to have have sex-separated dormitories and housing? Are sex separated private spaces like bathrooms, locker rooms, and changing facilities now discriminatory? Will women athletes be forced to compete against biological males in both scholastic and professional sports? Will employers be forced to cover treatments and surgeries that are not medically necessary and that are in opposition to their religious beliefs on human embodiment?  

Originalism and textualism are methods of interpreting the law. But as theologically conservative Christians, we hold to a form of originalism and textualism when reading and interpreting Scripture—the historical grammatical method. In other words, we believe God’s Word is authoritative, infallible, and inerrant. Because the Bible is “breathed out” by God, followers of Christ are called to obey and align their lives with it (2 Tim. 3:16). In order to obey and align our lives with the Bible, we must read and interpret it.

The historical grammatical method of interpretation means we take seriously the grammar and syntax of the words and phrases that appear in the Bible because we want to know what the text says and what it means. We also want to place the text in its historical context. The Bible was written in a culture that is very different than our own. To understand many of the stories, we need some understanding of the ancient world in which it took place. Although this process of reading the Bible takes effort, there is no other faithful way to read Scripture.

As theologically conservative Christians, we know our views on marriage and sexuality are increasingly unfashionable and go against the cultural zeitgeist. But we hold to these views anyway, because we believe the Bible’s teachings about marriage and human sexuality are clear.

Transgender activists posit a distinction between the biological reality of sex and the subjective, internal feeling of gender identity. The biblical worldview, however, affirms the goodness of the material creation and the human body. In fact, the doctrines of creation, incarnation, and bodily resurrection provide strong theological affirmation of our physical bodies. Genesis 1:31 says that everything God created, including the human body, is “very good.” In other words, our bodies (including our maleness or femaleness) are essential, integral components of who we are.

In a world disordered by the fall, the goodness of the body may be difficult for many to affirm, and the church should show grace to those who struggle with accepting their bodies. But Christians must also speak the truth in love and stand on our convictions, which biology and anatomy support.

Christians cannot and should not compromise their Bible-informed beliefs about human sexuality. Why? Because we believe in the authority of God’s Word. And because we believe the Bible’s teachings are what is best for society and individual flourishing.

The real reason theologically conservative Christians disapprove of the LGBT movement has nothing to do with wanting to deny people rights or oppressing a group of people. Our convictions come from our compassion for them and our concern about the consequences of certain chosen behaviors. Both the Old and New Testaments prohibit homosexual conduct, and since God created us “male and female” (Gen. 1:27), we have no right to recreate ourselves any more than the clay has the right to tell the potter what to do (Is. 45:9).

As evidenced by the muted outcry to the Supreme Court’s decision on Monday—even among many conservative groups—conservative Christians are increasingly on the periphery when it comes to our convictions on human sexuality. Christians, especially pastors, will continue to face mounting pressure to compromise—or at least downplay—the Bible’s teaching on marriage and sexuality. However, we cannot compromise our beliefs because we are committed to Scripture. While the Court’s decision is deeply discouraging, we do not give up. We know that we are advocating and fighting for timeless truths revealed to us in Scripture.

So, let us continue to articulate a biblically robust, theologically informed perspective on how Christians think about the major issues facing our nation in order to promote the true flourishing of individuals and of society.

Prayerfully Responding to Civil Unrest

by David Closson

June 5, 2020

Here are some ways we can prayerfully respond to the current civil unrest in our nation:

Pray for the Peace of the Nation. Pray for God’s peace to prevail. Pray that people would have soft hearts toward one another—the way God’s heart is toward us. Pray that people would not succumb to fear, but trust God, and assume the best about those with whom we disagree. (See 1 Timothy 2:1-2)

Pray for Families Affected by Recent Events. Pray for the family of George Floyd and those whose loved ones have been harmed, injured, or killed during the unrest. (See Psalm 46:1)

Pray for Affected Communities. Pray for those who are no longer (or maybe never have been) safe in their communities. Pray that the loss of lives, homes, and businesses as the result of violence, vandalism, and looting would end. Pray that affected communities would find healing. (See Romans 12:9-21)

Pray for Government Leaders. Christians are called to pray for those in positions of authority—even those with whom we disagree (1 Timothy 2:1-2). This is especially true during times of confusion, pain, and difficulty. Pray for the president, vice president, other leaders in the federal government, governors, mayors, local leaders, and all those in positions of authority as they respond to current events. Pray for a spirit of cooperation as lawmakers work to address current issues. (See Psalm 2:10-11; Proverbs 11:14)

Pray for Law Enforcement. Pray for the safety of the police, the National Guard, and other law enforcement officers. Pray they would always act justly and uprightly, with the understanding that they are accountable to God, as they carry out their responsibilities. (See Matthew 5:9; Psalm 82:3-4)

Pray for the Church. Pray for unity within the body of Christ (John 17:20-23; Ephesians 4:3; Romans 12:5). Pray that pastors and congregations around the country would have wisdom and courage to respond with truth and love as they serve their communities and address current events—and as they seek to generate healing, cross bridges, and bring reconciliation. Pray that the Gospel would be proclaimed during these trying times.

Pray for Honest and Truthful Public Discourse. Pray that reporters and journalists would convey the news honestly and accurately. Pray that the news media would not stoke fear, inflame anger, or encourage reckless behavior. Pray that those on social media would bring grace and seek to be constructive and not incendiary. (See Proverbs 12:22)

Pray for God’s Guidance. Human wisdom alone cannot solve our current problems. We need God’s wisdom and guidance. Pray that everyone, especially the church, would humble themselves before God and allow ourselves to be shaped by Him. Pray that the church would avail itself of the power and grace only God can supply, in order to take the lead in effectively confronting and dealing with the sins, pains, and hurts of our past—including those of slavery and racism—so that we may truly repent and heal as a nation. (See Psalm 25:4-5; Proverbs 3:5-6)

Prayer Point #8: Pray for a Posture of Trust

by David Closson

May 18, 2020

The world is reeling from the threat of the coronavirus (COVID-19). For many, our entire way of life has been upended by a novel virus that health experts say presents a particular risk to our elderly and immunocompromised friends and neighbors.

As Christians, we know that one of our greatest spiritual weapons is prayer (Eph. 6:18). But what exactly should Christians pray about amidst these trying times? FRC’s President, Tony Perkins, recently released nine prayer points to guide us in prayer. Each point provides a specific way for Christians to pray during the ongoing crisis.

As many parts of the United States and the world begin transitioning out of lockdown and returning to semi-normal operations, Christians have an excellent opportunity to model trust in God’s providence and provision to their friends and neighbors. Trusting God amid hardship is not always easy. But the Bible provides us with many encouraging reminders that can sustain and strengthen our faith. By reminding ourselves of these truths, Christians can maintain quiet confidence in God’s purposes, even as we face an uncertain future.

First, it is important to remember that God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power, love, and self-control (2 Tim 1:7). Throughout the Bible, God exhorts His followers not to be afraid, and He often ties these encouragements with timely reminders of His presence. Christians should take these promises to heart and pray for enduring faith during this season of heightened fear, anxiety, and confusion. Appropriate precautions should be taken; however, Christians should not live crippled by fear. Rather, we should seize the opportunity to model faith in God as we trust His purposes and plans (Rom. 8:28).

Second, believers should remember what the Bible says about trusting God. Jeremiah 17:7-8 says, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is in the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when the heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of droughts, for it does not cease to bear fruits.” Another well-known verse that inspires trust in God is Proverbs 3:5-6, which says: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”

Speaking through the prophet Isaiah, God promised the Israelites, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you” (Isaiah 43:2). And in the New Testament, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told His followers to “not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:25-26). Through these verses and others, God reminds us that He is with us, even amid challenging circumstances, and will neither leave nor forsake us (cf. Hebrews 13:5).

Third, Christians honor God by modeling a respectful posture toward those in positions of authority. By doing this, Christians recognize an important principle of political theology: that God instituted the governing authorities. Despite occasionally being frustrated by or disappointed in our leaders, Christians must commit to praying for them, remembering: “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will” (Proverbs 21:1). President Trump’s plan to reopen America delegates significant decision-making power to state and local authorities. We should pray for these leaders as they seek to balance reopening the economy with public health and safety.

In the coming weeks, Christians have an incredible opportunity to model what sincere trust in God looks like. Although Christians are facing the same challenges as everyone else, we can have peace and confidence that surpasses all understanding if we stay rooted in the character and promises of God (Philippians 4:7). And hopefully, when we look back on these times in the months and years to come, we will be able to see God’s good hand of providence and how these difficult days produced opportunities for gospel advancement that would have been impossible any other way. Let us trust God to preserve and keep us as we lean on Him in these difficult days.

For more thoughts about trusting God during the coronavirus pandemic, see my Washington Update article “Choosing Faith over Fear.” Or listen to my recent conversation with FRC’s president, Tony Perkins, on Washington Watch about having a biblical perspective and looking to God, not our circumstances, during trying times.

Open the Doors? The Vast Majority of Churches are Not Defying Government Orders

by Quena Gonzalez , David Closson

April 9, 2020

On Sunday, the Washington Post ran a story on churches that are continuing to meet despite most states having banned assemblies of more than 10 people. The article cites only seven churches, yet suggests a nationwide pattern of recalcitrant Protestants who are defying government orders and continuing to meet.

But is this portrait accurate?

At first glance, the Post’s claims seem to be backed up by data from a respected polling firm. The article cites LifeWay’s recent report on whether Protestant churches are meeting. To be fair, the top-line numbers in LifeWay’s chart are striking; one religion reporter cited the 7 percent figure and mused, “if this is still happening in areas that have had outbreaks, it’s a serious, serious issue.”

Three questions need to be answered: Did Protestant churches defy government bans on public gatherings? Are a large number of churches continuing to meet in person? And, if not, what are they doing instead?

Did Churches Defy Government Orders?

The answer is, by and large, no. A quick search for recent news stories reveals that most of the headlines are traceable to a handful of high-profile churches, some of which (including at least two churches featured in the Washington Post article) stopped meeting weeks ago.

These findings are backed up by the LifeWay report, which notably only covers the month of March. Many states did not impose bans on public gatherings until only very recently, and according to the Washington Post, “more than a dozen states” exempted churches from stay-at-home orders as late as April 5th. State orders lagged behind the CDC’s March 15th recommendation to pause all gatherings of more than 10 people. Even so, the LifeWay data show that the sharpest drop-off of in-person meetings was on Sunday, March 22nd, suggesting that most churches took the CDC’s nonbinding recommendation (announced the previous Sunday night) seriously.

State bans on public gatherings were soon followed by stay-at-home orders, but according to a New York Times timeline, only nine states had a stay-at-home order as of Monday, March 23rd. By then, 89 percent of Protestant churches had stopped meeting. Furthermore, many state bans on public gatherings were amended several times and would have initially applied only to large churches. For example, Maryland initially banned gatherings of more than 250 people on March 12th; its March 16th order banning gatherings larger than 50 would not have applied to churches with fewer than 250 attendees that met on Sunday, March 15th.

This is an easily-overlooked point: Small congregations, which make up the vast majority of American churches, tend to be overlooked in media reporting in favor of megachurches. The Hartford Institute for Religion Research, for example, cites research indicating that half of all churches have an attendance of less than 75, that 59 percent of non-Catholic/Orthodox churches have less than 100 attendees, and that the average church size for all churches is 186. The Hartford Institute also estimates that there are 314,000 Protestant churches in the U.S., of which less than 1 percent are megachurches.

Stay-at-home orders rolled in throughout March: By Thursday, March 26th, 21 states had stay-at-home orders. By the following Monday, March 30th—one day after 93 percent of Protestant churches did not meet in-person—20 states still did not have statewide stay-at-home orders.

The study cited by the Washington Post does not necessarily support the notion that a significant number of Protestant churches were meeting in defiance of government orders.

Are a Large Number of Churches Continuing to Meet?

Less data exists on how many churches are currently meeting. However, despite the implication by the Washington Post story that this is a national phenomenon, the available data suggests that an overwhelming majority of churches are abiding by the CDC’s recommendation and are not holding in-person services.

LifeWay’s report only covers the month of March, but a deeper dive into their data is instructive. According to the report, 64 percent of churches met in-person on March 15th, 11 percent on March 22nd, and 7 percent on March 29th. Significantly, the report also shows that only 45 percent of churches with more than 200 attendees met on the 15th, fewer than 1 percent met on the 22nd, and 0 percent met on the 29th.

In other words, more than half of all churches with congregations numbering 200 or more had ceased meeting in person by the middle of March, 99 percent of them were not meeting by the fourth Sunday, and a statistically negligible number were meeting by the last Sunday of the month.

Clearly, churches still meeting after the end of March are statistical outliers. Yet the Washington Post story suggests that a significant number of churches are still meeting in defiance of government orders, despite strong evidence to the contrary. The very few churches that are still meeting are attracting outsized attention from the media.

How are Churches Adapting?

Instead of flaunting the government’s orders and continuing to meet in large groups, churches across the country are adapting to serve their congregations and communities in creative ways. For example, many churches are using live-streaming technology such as Zoom, YouTube live, and other streaming platforms to hold weekly services and prayer meetings with their members. Others, such as 3D Church, in Lithonia, Georgia, Genoa Church in Westerville, Ohio, and Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, are holding “Drive-In” services where members stay in their cars and listen to a message delivered by their pastor from a small stage (or even from a forklift!) near the front of the parking lot. These services allow churches to meet while still maintaining social distance and honoring the government’s ban on public gatherings.  

Churches are also looking outward, seeking ways to serve their communities in tangible ways despite limitations on public meetings. For example, Faith Life Church in New Albany, Ohio, has delivered lunch to nurses and doctors and has provided meals to needy people in the community. Resurrection Lutheran Church, in Juneau, Alaska, and Canyon Hills Friends Church in Yorba Linda, California, are running food pantries in their communities, and I-Town Church in Fishers, Indiana, set up a pantry at a local school. Trinity Church in Temple, Texas, set up a “prayer tent” and prays and ministers to anyone who pulls into the parking lot. OpenDoor Church, in Burleson, Texas, created a national hotline for people to call in to receive prayer or to submit requests for help with grocery shopping. Even smaller church plants, such as the Oaks Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, are providing free childcare to healthcare workers and buying groceries for those in need. 

Other churches are focusing on helping vulnerable people groups. St. Paul Lutheran Church in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is serving refugees with their food bank, and River City Church in Montgomery, Alabama, is providing showers and laundry services to the homeless. Still others, like the Church of the Highlands in Birmingham, Alabama, are serving their community by opening a virus testing site at one of their church campuses.  

These stories, and many others like them, represent the response of the vast majority of churches to the pandemic. Although the hearts of believers around the country are heavy because they cannot meet with their brothers and sisters on Easter, it is encouraging to see so many congregations walking in obedience to our risen Lord while also obeying Scripture’s mandate to honor governing rulers (Rom. 13:1-7).

Prayer Point #7: Pray for a Spirit of Generosity

by David Closson

April 8, 2020

The world is reeling from the threat of the coronavirus (COVID-19). For many, our entire way of life has been upended by a novel virus that health experts say presents a particular risk to our elderly and immunocompromised friends and neighbors.

As Christians, we know that one of our greatest spiritual weapons is prayer (Eph. 6:18). But what exactly should Christians pray about amidst these trying times? FRC’s President, Tony Perkins, recently released nine prayer points to guide us in prayer. Each point provides a specific way for Christians to pray during the ongoing crisis.

Over the last few weeks, churches have responded to the coronavirus in heroic and creative ways. Across the country, churches have hosted “Drive-In” worship services, purchased meals for nurses and doctors, provided groceries for needy families, and ministered to their hurting neighbors. In this dark hour, God’s people have sacrificially served one another and their communities and demonstrated remarkable faith. As the pandemic continues to disrupt our normal rhythms of life, opportunities for the church to meet practical needs are increasing. While the government is providing support to churches in the form of forgivable loans (for more information about these loans, see our full analysis), churches are beginning to feel the pinch as charitable giving and tithing declines. Therefore, especially over the next few weeks, Christians need to pray for a spirit of generosity. Here are a few specific ways to pray.

First, pray that Christians will be faithful to give to their local churches. According to a recent poll from LifeWay Christian Resources, 52 percent of pastors have already reported a decrease in giving due to their church’s limited ability to gather. Of those who have seen a giving decline, 60 percent say it has dropped by at least 25 percent. This decline is significant because, according to a recent LifeWay study, 26 percent of churches only have enough operating reserves to cover seven or fewer weeks. For many churches, a sharp decline in giving represents an enormous challenge. Therefore, during these trying times, Christians should commit to praying for and financially supporting their churches.

Second, pray for ministry opportunities. Many people have fallen on hard times: unemployment claims are up, workers are being let go or furloughed, and there is a pervading uncertainty in many communities. As tens of millions of Americans comply with stay-at-home orders and practice social distancing, many are finding themselves lonely, afraid, and uncertain about the future. Amid this social context, the church has an opportunity to serve people and share with them the hope of the gospel. We should pray for Christians to think of creative, outside-the-box ways to generously meet the physical and spiritual needs of their friends and neighbors.

Incredibly, in many places, people are coming to faith as the result of church members thinking outside the box. For example, Trinity Church in Temple, Texas, has seen people put their trust in Christ after a member of the congregation suggested setting up a “prayer tent” in the church parking lot. Over the last two weeks, members of the community have pulled into the parking lot for prayer and counsel. As Senior Pastor Ed Dowell recently told me, “People have given their life to Christ” as a result of the prayer tent ministry.

Third, believers should remember what the Bible says about generosity. In the Old Testament, the prophet Malachi spoke for God when he said, “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need” (Mal. 3:10). A similar promise is found in Proverbs 11:25: “Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered.” In the New Testament, Jesus tells His followers, “[G]ive, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”

Of course, Christians should reject the empty promises of the “prosperity gospel,” which falsely guarantees financial blessing in exchange for sowing a seed in a particular ministry. However, Scripture is clear that God honors the generosity of His people. Although some churches and ministries have tragically misunderstood, abused, and exploited these promises, we should not blunt the message of Scripture, which is that God honors and blesses those who are generous. As Christians are able, we should strive to give to our churches and other ministries engaged in gospel work.

Finally, in his second letter to the church in Corinth, Paul addresses the issue of generosity and financial giving. He says, “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:6-8).

As the country grapples with the realities of the coronavirus, Christians have opportunities to serve their neighbors and communities. In many of these communities, churches are on the front lines of meeting practical needs. Let’s pray for a spirit of generosity among God’s people, so the courageous, creative, and winsome witness of the church may continue to go forth during these uncertain times.

Prayer Point #6: Pray for Honest Reporting

by David Closson

March 31, 2020

The world is reeling from the threat of the coronavirus (COVID-19). For many, our entire way of life has been upended by a novel virus that health experts say presents a particular risk to our elderly and immunocompromised friends and neighbors.

As Christians, we know that one of our greatest spiritual weapons is prayer (Eph. 6:18). But what exactly should Christians pray about amidst these trying times? FRC’s President, Tony Perkins, recently released nine prayer points to guide us in prayer. Each point provides a specific way for Christians to pray during the ongoing crisis.

For most Americans, life looks very different today than it did two weeks ago. As the coronavirus has spread, tens of millions are now working from home, watching online worship services, and following CDC social distancing guidelines. According to a recent Fox News poll, 92 percent of Americans are now concerned about the spread of the coronavirus. This concern is reflected by the millions who watch President Trump’s daily press briefings. In fact, 57 percent of Americans report an increase in their television intake. Given this heightened media consumption, honest reporting is more crucial than ever. Thus, Christians should pray for the members of the media who are reporting on the coronavirus. Here are a few specific ways to pray.

First, pray that reporters and journalists would accurately report updates about the virus. Pray that they would not seek to peddle conspiracy theories or politicize the threat. This year is an election year, and unfortunately, many in the media see everything, including the coronavirus, through a partisan political lens. In some instances, conservative media personalities have been too quick to dismiss missteps from Republican leaders, while liberal reporters have been too quick to criticize President Trump and his team. We must pray that everyone in the media—conservative, mainstream, and liberal—would put aside their political agendas and commit themselves to reporting the facts relevant to public health and safety.

Second, pray for wisdom in reporting. Admittedly, there is a lot of information to track related to the coronavirus. In addition to the president’s daily press conferences, governors and mayors are also giving daily remarks about how their respective states and cities are combatting the spread of the virus and protecting their people. Each day, the World Health Organization, CDC, and other governmental agencies put out information. There is a deluge of virus-related information released each day, and some of it is more accurate and helpful than others. Pray that news organizations and reporters would have the wisdom to know what they ought to report.  

Third, pray that reporters would employ an appropriate tone when conveying the latest news. We are living in uncertain times, and many people are anxious and fearful. Of course, certain updates and stories require a more impassioned tone. However, the public is not well-served when media personalities sensationalize aspects of certain stories to boost ratings or make a political statement. Pray that reporters, journalists, and producers would maintain a measured, thoughtful, and analytical approach as they convey the latest news to the public. Pray that no one would stoke fear where it is unwarranted.

And fourth, pray for the health of those in the media. Many reporters must leave their homes and venture into public spaces to report updates or cover the latest press conference. Others who work in media such as producers, audio engineers, camera operators, writers, make-up artists, and others must still come into work. Pray that none of these people come into contact with or spread the virus. Finally, pray for the families and loved ones of those working in media; pray for their health and safety as well.

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