I’ve been very upset, lately. Every time I read the headlines in the news my blood boils a little… sometimes, a lot. As I am sure you are all well aware, I am a thoroughly conservative Christian pastor and I’m deeply troubled these days by the general drift in our culture away from basic virtues and values of honor and morality that have shored up our society for generations.
Upset? Mad? That’s my job. Isn’t it? Pastors are supposed to be little prophetic this way, getting bent out of shape in the face of immorality, pointing people to the right path whenever the prophet sees the whole world going to hell in a handbasket.
Does it feel like those days are upon us? Um… yeah!
But enough of the doom and gloom… today, I’d like you to take a few minutes and read the following excerpts to a wonderful, uplifting speech. My little brother turned me on to this speech several months ago and I only recently bothered to actually listen to the whole thing and really take it in. See what you think of the following excerpts and try to guess who wrote them:
I have come here to discuss my beliefs about faith and country, tolerance and truth in America. I know we begin with certain disagreements; and I strongly suspect that at the end of the evening some of our disagreements will remain. But I also hope that tonight and in the months and years ahead, we will always respect the right of others to differ, that we will never lose sight of our own fallibility, and that we will view ourselves with a sense of perspective and a sense of humor. After all, in the New Testament, even the Disciples had to be taught to look first to the beam in their own eyes, and only then to the mote in their neighbor’s eyes…
…When people agree on public policy, they ought to be able to work together, even while they worship in diverse ways. For truly we are all yoked together as Americans, and the yoke is the happy one of individual freedom and mutual respect….
…But in saying that, we cannot and should not turn aside from a deeper and more pressing question — which is whether and how religion should influence government… The separation of church and state can sometimes be frustrating for women and men of religious faith. They may be tempted to misuse government in order to impose a value which they cannot persuade others to accept. But once we succumb to that temptation, we step onto a slippery slope where everyone’s freedom is at risk. Those who favor censorship should recall that one of the first books ever burned was the first English translation of the Bible. As President Eisenhower warned in 1953, “Don’t join the book burners…the right to say ideas, the right to record them, and the right to have them accessible to others is unquestioned — or this isn’t America.” And if that right is denied, at some future day the torch can be turned against any other book or any other belief. Let us never forget: Today’s Moral Majority could become tomorrow’s persecuted minority…
Now, if I asked you to guess who wrote these words, I bet you’d never guess it was one of the biggest liberals from decades ago, a man who was a leading figure in the Democrat Party. His name was Ted Kennedy. In 1977, he was asked by Jerry Falwell to address the graduates at the Liberty Baptist College. The title of the speech was “Truth and Tolerance in America.” And the speech is truly remarkable–dare I say–even prophetic. While I don’t agree with everything Kennedy says in the speech, I strongly encourage you to listen to the whole speech (it’s just under 30 minutes). You’ll learn a lot. Here is a link on Youtube. You can also read a transcript here.
Not only does this speech bring a few tears to my eyes as I consider an America that once was—even before my time (I was born in 1981)—when individuals so completely opposite of each other on the political spectrum, could nevertheless, still come together to discuss ideas without hatred, and all the while, defend each other’s right to believe, think and promote the values they each hold dear.
Those days, I fear, are long gone.
But this speech seems especially apropos in light of the recent week’s debate and passage of the Equality Act or H.R.5 — 116th Congress (2019-2020) in the House of Representatives. Maybe this bill hasn’t been on your radar—there has been so much chaos to process. H.R.5 or the Equality Act is a bill that will amend all existing civil rights law in America, and it’s been a pet project of leading liberals for a while.
Since it is one of few congressional bills that isn’t hundreds of pages long, I have included a link to it’s verbiage here.
This deceptively named “Equality Act” would add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” as protected classes to existing laws banning discrimination in places of public accommodation, employment, housing, and by recipients of federal financial assistance.
It will most certainly pass the Senate, no doubt in a close, party-line vote, and President Biden has promised to sign it in to law, post haste. But this “so called” equality act is anything but equal to Christians and all who believe in the basic morality taught in Holy Writ. It poses devastating and unprecedented threats to religious freedom. And that’s my beef…
The Alliance Defending Freedom lists at least two examples of recent cases at the state and local levels that would have forced religious institutions to violate their convictions and faith; however, because of existing protections at the federal level the local government, in these cases, backed off. But under the equality act, such federal protections will no longer exist.
The first of these examples occurred in Massachusetts, where state officials declared that churches are subject to state public accommodation laws. That meant if churches host public activities – something as simple as a spaghetti supper – they would be forced to open women’s private changing areas and restrooms to biological men. If a church refused, it would face crippling fines and even jail time.
Another example occurred In South Euclid, Ohio, where city officials passed a city ordinance that added sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression as protected classes under the law. This deeply concerned The Lyceum, a classical, Catholic school, so it spoke out against the ordinance from the very beginning. Still, the city voted to pass it. The Lyceum operates according to the teachings of the Catholic Church, including its beliefs on human sexuality and marriage – and it asks its employees to do the same. It also asks its students to abide by the school’s faith-based conduct policies while the student attends The Lyceum.
The Lyceum was concerned that the ordinance could force it to employ people whose actions conflict with the school’s beliefs, and might force the school to abandon its faith-based standards for student conduct. The Lyceum reached out to the city multiple times to find out if it would face substantial fines and even jail time for its administration if it operates according to its religious beliefs. But the city refused to say how or if they would prosecute offenders. Such ambiguity would no longer be the case under the Equality Act.
The “Equality Act” also threatens religious colleges and universities, forbidding college students from using their federal tuition assistance at schools that “discriminate” on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. That means any Christian university that has a code of conduct prohibiting sex outside of marriage or that declines to let biological males compete on women’s sports teams could lose federal student aid.
There is no way of knowing how all of this will play out as cases concerning the 1st Amendment will make their way to the Supreme Court as we learn to live with the so called “equality Act.” But it’s scary for me, a pastor of a Lutheran Church and School.
In 1977, Ted Kennedy addressed the Equal Rights Amendment in his speech to Liberty Baptist College. His comments concerning ERA are toward the end of the speech but it’s helpful to note that at the time of delivery, the amendment was being taken up by state legislatures and eventually would receive 35 of the needed 38 endorsements to become a part of the constitution. However, after fierce opposition by conservatives, five states rescinded their ratification. Needless to say it was a hot topic and fresh on the minds of the 1977 Liberty Baptist graduates. Kennedy was obviously a huge supporter of it.
Of course, I am big proponent of equal rights–how could you be anything but and still be an American. But I’m also an American in that I vehemently reject any law that would squelch and criminalize 1st Amendment religious freedom. And that’s what I admire about Kennedy’s speech; note well how adamant Kennedy is that all Americans be allowed to preserve their religious beliefs and anathemizes any and all who might violate this sacred right that has set America apart from all other nations. You won’t hear a speech like this from a leading liberal anytime soon.
My parents would never want to hear me say this: But I wish more people today thought like Ted Kennedy—at least on this issue. Be sure to listen to the speech…
God help us!