by Rod D. Martin
August 12, 2016

Florida Baptist WitnessYou’ve probably never heard of the unelected Iowa Civil Rights Commission. But just before last month’s Republican National Convention, it announced that Iowa pastors may not preach any sermon in a service “open to the public” which might cause any transgendered person to feel “unwelcome.”

“Unwelcome.” That’s the standard.

Yes, the left is finally starting to ban preaching. In America. That’s what’s at stake this fall. It’s not about “politicizing the pulpit” anymore: it’s about whether you may or may not have a pulpit.

To illustrate, let’s apply the Democrats’ standard to other things. Imagine if the Federal Election Commission ruled that no Republican convention could allow speakers who might cause any Democrat to feel “unwelcome.” Or any Black Lives Matter protestor to hold a rally that might cause any police officer to feel “unwelcome.”

The difference? Neither Democrats nor Republicans would ever do the latter; the former is more or less what Iowa Democrats just did.

Religion is the very first freedom the First Amendment protects. The freedom of religion is, at its core, your right to your own understanding of the world, not dictated to you by force of arms as it was when the colonists fled Europe (and increasingly as it is there again). Diminishing this freedom is to impose a state-dictated worldview, a state religion in everything but name.

Those early settlers were Christians. Most Americans are Christians even today. But most Democrats today are not: they are, after all, the party which at their 2012 Convention booed the mere mention of God in front of all of us on national TV.

Nor is it just churches that are under this assault. Several Democrat state attorneys general are currently threatening companies including ExxonMobil with “fraud” prosecutions for insufficiently promoting the left’s views on climate change. One must not merely tow the party line: you must actually love Big Brother. The new Democrat platform demands these witch hunts be carried out at the national level, against any target the left chooses to shake down (and for any cause it adopts).

Eight months ago, New York enacted a city ordinance imposing a $250,000 fine for each use of any pronoun a transgendered person finds offensive. A biological male wants to be called “she” (or “zhe” or “hir”; and yes, those are among the scores of new pronouns you better get right)? That’s $250,000 per “mistake” (or refusal to say what you’re told, which we quaintly used to call “freedom”). You could easily run up a multi-million dollar tab in a single conversation.

This new law – not proposal, not platform plank, law – does apply to pastors and churches. But it applies to everyone else too. Politics is unavoidable: you either participate or you are ruled by your enemies.

And there are real enemies. The Democrats are systematically seeking to criminalize any opinion with which they disagree. This is, in a word, totalitarianism.

We’ve seen this play before.

Shredding the First Amendment and banning preaching Democrats don’t like – and make no mistake, if they can ban one sermon, they can ban them all; if they can ban sermons, they can ban every form of speech everywhere – sounds surreal, like some dystopian movie. But it’s here, now. The Alliance Defending Freedom is suing. But with Scalia gone, a 4-4 Court could not overturn a bad lower court ruling (as in the Washington pharmacy case this June). It would stand as law.

This is the thread by which freedom now hangs. If Hillary appoints just one Justice – Scalia’s replacement – for all practical purposes, the First Amendment will be gone. Within the year. (The Second Amendment will be too.) And that will be the beginning, not the end, of our woes.

Many preachers shy from applying God’s Word to every area of life, decrying the “politicization of the pulpit.” But they’ve exhausted that luxury. God has given Americans the historically almost-unique blessing of self-government. Eschewing that gift, handing to God’s enemies the right to dictate how we all must live, has brought us to this pass. All of our institutions need more Christians, more Christian truth, not less. And our abandonment of the public square has finally brought us to the day on which our refusal to self-govern may terminate our ability to do so.

The persecution is finally starting. That’s what this election is about. It’s about whether or not your government will put your preacher in prison.

— This article was originally published as part of my “Beyond the Church Door” series in the Florida Baptist Witness.