Dear Churches in America: Prepare to Be Treated Like 1st Century Christians in Rome
The United States Supreme Court may soon liberate the biblically conservative church from old "prejudices" that should have long ago been "jettisoned," forcing it into "rightly bowing to the enlightenments of modernity," in the words of a recent writer in The New York Times.
Homosexuality must be removed from the "sin list" and, according to an MSNBC commentator, traditional marriage proponents must be forced "to do things they don't want to do." Sadly, this crusade will be like the Marxist "liberation" movements that promised to "free" people, but really were about control and suppression.
The culmination may come as the Supreme Court hears oral arguments on same-sex marriage cases beginning April 28. By July 1 the Court possibly will issue an official ruling regarding the constitutional right to homosexual marriage.
The Court's decision may impact the form of biblically based churches dramatically. Churches that hold to a strict and conservative interpretation of the Bible's teaching about gender and marriage may find themselves "Romanized".
The elites of first century Rome would not allow the church an institutional presence in society. "The Christian churches were associations which were not legally authorized, and the Roman authorities, always suspicious of organizations which might prove seditious, regarded them with jaundiced eye," writes Kenneth Scott LaTourette.
In our time this means local churches that do not embrace same-sex marriage would find their legal status shaky or non-existent, as well as parachurch groups, conservative Christian colleges, church-based humanitarian agencies, and all other religious institutions – Christian and otherwise – supporting the traditional view of marriage.
Without state-recognized corporate status everything from mortgages and building permits to employment and hiring practices is threatened – all of them essential for institutional function.
Journalist Ben Shapiro notes that there is already a movement on the state level "to revoke non-profit status for religious organizations that do not abide by same-sex marriage." The Supreme Court's decision could make churches refusing to comply "private institutions engaging in commerce," and therefore subject to laws already in place. Refusal to perform a same-sex wedding would put a church out of business.
Current trends seem to flow against conservative religious institutions. All the elites that set and propagate cultural consensus are aligned in support of same-sex marriage – the Entertainment Establishment, Information Establishment, Academic Establishment, and Political Establishment.
Much of the legal community is on board. Despite a tower of briefs supporting same-sex marriage, there are no major law firms willing to argue against it, reported the New York Times April 11.
Big business has also rallied. Apple and Wal-Mart were among the major corporations opposing moves in Indiana and Arkansas to secure freedom for business owners to follow their religious convictions. Reuters reported that 379 corporations including Google, American Airlines, Goldman Sachs, and Johnson & Johnson have signed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting same-sex marriage.
It's not surprising, therefore, that public support leans toward same-sex marriage. When Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican presidential candidate, told a CNN interviewer that he supported the right of states to determine marriage policies, Jake Tapper, the CNN host, informed Rubio that he is "the candidate of yesterday" since polls show 61 percent of GOP voters under 30 support same-sex marriage.
Previously, I wrote in The Christian Post about the process by which the prophetic voice is silenced in a culture: Marginalization, caricaturization, vilification, criminalization, elimination.
We have reached the stage of vilification – conservative Christians are now regarded by the consensus establishments as the villains in "transformed" America. The Supreme Court may well take us to the criminalization stage.
The biblical church therefore must learn to live as the first century Christians did in Rome.
Their faith would not permit violent resistance to the state. Rather, as Dr. Martin Luther King would demonstrate, the resistance would take the positive form of standing for truth midst the antagonism of individuals and institutions opposing their freedom. The first century Roman Christians knew the greatest they could do in the exclusion of marginalization, ridicule of caricaturization, loathing of vilification, infamy of criminalization, and threat of elimination was to live out their faith in the midst of a society that hated them.
Since they did not have official sanction for an institutional presence in Rome, the Roman Christians operated through organic relational communities. In homes, catacombs, and other secret places, they functioned as the body of Christ. And when they emerged up into the public glare they manifested the face of Christ.
This is what the biblical church must prepare for now. Leaders should begin thinking about what will happen if non-profit status is lost. Christian institutions must embrace a Book of Acts strategy for corporate operation. Schools must train future church leaders in New Testament strategies.
Winston Churchill wrote that all prophets must "come from civilization, but every prophet has to go into the wilderness. He must have a strong impression of a complex society and all that it has to give, and then he must serve periods of isolation and meditation. This is the process by which psychic dynamite is made."
Within a decade or less the American church may find itself in a desert institutionally. But as the New Testament church proved, and Churchill believed, something transformative and energizing happens in that barren place.