Dr. George O. Wood, General Superintendent of The General Council of the Assemblies of God, states his concerns over the late attacks of religious liberty in the United States. He lists four progressive steps by which opponents of religious liberty use to reach their goals—Caricaturization, Marginalization, Discrimination, and Persecution.
The secularists in our society seek to redefine the First Amendment protection of the “free exercise” of religion, to a mere right of worship. In other words, their view is: “If you are going to be bigoted in your pro-life views or your view that marriage is between a man and a woman and that fornication (both heterosexual and homosexual) is morally wrong—then you must confine your views within the four walls of your sanctuary. But don’t bring your bigotry into the public square.”
The Battle for Religious Liberty
I feel impelled to write you this most unusual pastoral letter. I do it out of deep concern and I ask you to hear my heart.
We are on the precipice of losing critical religious liberty protections in our country. Over the past 25 years, the Supreme Court has severely limited the traditional understanding of the First Amendment to the Constitution. While matters like selection of ministers and internal doctrinal issues are probably not under near-term threat, the Constitution is no longer interpreted by courts to give people of faith, as well as the schools and service ministries we form, the protection we need in order to fully live out the implications of our most cherished beliefs. Meanwhile state courts, legislatures and city councils around the country have moved to further narrow the protections granted for religious liberty, as their citizens must choose between adherence to religious faith and full participation in the public square.
The threats to religious freedom that are now upon us can be likened to the frog put into a pan of water placed on the stove. The water warms gradually and the frog does not realize its peril until it is too late to jump out of the pan.
Many evangelical and Pentecostal believers and leaders have not been previously alarmed at how the “pan” has been gradually heated in the assault against religious liberty. For example, in our own Fellowship I and district offices contacted nearly two thousand credentialed ministers to support a religious freedom bill just a month ago that was before a committee in the Missouri House of Representatives. Less than 15 percent of them even bothered to respond. The bill failed in committee and significant religious liberty protections were lost. We are like the situation described by Jesus in the parable of the weeds and the wheat: “But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat” (Matt. 13:25). We have largely been sleeping. Have we awakened too late?
I trust not.
Certainly the pending act (as of this writing) in the California legislature should wake us up. The California Senate passed Senate Bill 1146 which would either force schools like our own Vanguard University to radically change their mission or close down. The bill seeks both to shame faith-based colleges and universities and to declare their students unworthy of benefits that are made available by the state to every other similar institution in California. Vanguard’s president, Dr. Mike Beals, stated: “This means that mission-based aspects of religious colleges and universities, which include prayer in classes, chapel services, spiritual formation activities and faith-infused curriculum, as well as requiring a statement of faith for admission and requiring ministry-based service experiences would be at risk if Senate Bill 1146 is passed as is.” The bill is an intentional and all-out assault on our religious distinctives.
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