Author archives: David Closson

No Communion for Thee: Nancy Pelosi, Abortion, and Pastoral Authority

by David Closson

May 26, 2022

In an explosive announcement last week, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone declared that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) may no longer receive the sacrament of the Eucharist because of her outspoken support for abortion. The surprising news was released in a series of letters published by Cordileone, the Archbishop of San Francisco. The decision amounts to a rare public rebuke of one of the nation’s most recognized politicians who identifies as Catholic and raises questions about pastoral authority, discipleship, and spiritual responsibility.

In a letter to Pelosi published on Friday, Cordileone, who oversees Pelosi’s home diocese, explained his rationale to the Catholic lawmaker. Citing the Second Vatican Council and Pope Francis, Cordileone explained, “A Catholic legislator who supports procured abortion, after knowing the teaching of the Church, commits a manifestly grave sin which is a cause of most serious scandal to others. Therefore, universal Church law provides that such persons ‘are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.’” According to the archbishop, Pelosi’s “extreme position” on abortion combined with her regular public comments identifying herself as Catholic necessitated Cordileone take pastoral action.

Although there is precedent for Catholic bishops not admitting politicians to communion over abortion (Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) has been unable to receive the Eucharist in his home diocese for 17 years), it is rare. Moreover, Pelosi’s role as Speaker of the House (and third in line for the presidency), makes the archbishop’s decision particularly noteworthy. Thus, even for non-Catholics like myself, the story deserves attention.

First, Archbishop Cordileone underscored in his letter the “scandal” caused by Pelosi’s public support for abortion. In Roman Catholicism, a “scandal” refers to behavior that leads others to do evil. Cordileone used the word “scandal” four times to refer to Pelosi’s abortion advocacy, noting that the Speaker’s support for abortion has not only endangered her own soul but has caused harmful confusion among practicing Catholics and other Catholic politicians about the church’s teaching on abortion.

Specifically, the archbishop noted Pelosi’s regular practice of referring to her Catholic faith in the context of championing abortion. For example, as recently as May 4, Pelosi referred to herself as a “devout Catholic” and described opposition to abortion as “appalling.” Cordileone mentioned Pelosi’s recent efforts to codify Roe v. Wade into federal law after Texas passed a heart-beat bill in September. Under Pelosi’s leadership, the House of Representatives passed the Women’s Health Protection Act in September, legislation that if enacted into law would weaken conscience protections for medical professionals, jeopardize prohibitions on taxpayer funding for abortion, enshrine late-term abortion into law, strike down many pro-life laws passed in the states, and equate the death of unborn children with routine medical procedures.

Second, Archbishop Cordileone noted Pelosi’s “resistance to pastoral counsel.” In letters published on Friday to the Catholic community and fellow priests serving in the archdiocese, Cordileone explained that the Speaker’s “resistance to pastoral counsel has gone on for too long.” He noted that he has prayed and searched his conscience for years about how to respond pastorally to Pelosi’s abortion stance and has attempted—without success—to speak with her privately on at least six occasions within the previous year.

On the point of pastoral care, it is worth noting the theological implications of Cordileone’s decision to bar Speaker Pelosi from the Eucharist. The Catholic Church holds to a sacramental theology which teaches that to be in a state of grace members must regularly receive the sacraments. Among the seven sacraments recognized in Catholicism, the Eucharist (known as the Lord’s Supper or communion in other Christian traditions) is seen as the most important, as members encounter and receive the literal body and blood of Jesus in communion. However, Catholics may not receive the Eucharist if they are conscious that they have committed a grave sin and have not first made a sacramental confession (1 Cor. 11:27).

Thus, while critics in the media were swift to allege Cordileone had “weaponized” the sacrament and waded into politics, the archbishop’s decision was an unmistakable sign to Pelosi and other Catholics that he is gravely concerned about the Speaker’s soul. As he explained in a subsequent letter, his motives were “pastoral, not political.”

Third, Archbishop Cordileone’s decision to forbid Nancy Pelosi from receiving communion was motivated in part by how radical the Speaker’s abortion advocacy has become. Although Pelosi has supported abortion rights for decades, the Speaker (along with many in her party) has adopted positions in recent years that make previous support for abortion look moderate in comparison. For example, since assuming the speakership for the second time in 2019, Pelosi has strongly advocated for the repeal of the Hyde Amendment which prohibits taxpayer funding for abortion. The Hyde Amendment has been in place for over 40 years and has been supported by both her and President Biden in the past. Moreover, as noted earlier, the Speaker’s support for the radical Women’s Health Protection Act highlights an extraordinary commitment to the abortion lobby. According to Cordileone, this commitment puts the Speaker clearly outside what is permissible for someone claiming Catholic faith. 

A final point to consider from this story is the broader question of how church leaders (Catholic and non-Catholic) ought to exercise their spiritual authority when church members (particularly government officials and policy makers) are implicated in the sin of abortion. In the tradition of the Roman Catholic Church, bishops and priests bear a personal responsibility to care for the spiritual needs of the people in their diocese or parish. In 2021, Archbishop Cordileone himself explained this responsibility, saying, “I tremble that if I do not forthrightly challenge Catholics under my pastoral care who advocate for abortion, both they and I will have to answer to God for innocent blood.” In my view, Cordileone is exactly right about his responsibility to his people, and it is appropriate for him to publicly call Speaker Pelosi to repentance for her support of abortion. The Bible teaches that ministers will one day give an account for how they stewarded their spiritual oversight of the church (Heb. 13:17). Thus, church leaders have a special obligation to hold members accountable, especially those who are highhandedly flouting church teachings in the public square.  

While politicians like Pelosi may sincerely believe they are “devout,” true devotion, in the context of a confessional community like a church, is proved by commitment to the church’s actual teachings. As Andrew Walker observes, “To purport to be a Christian politician who can believe and advocate for things contrary to the Christian faith is a complete repudiation of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.” When Christian politicians support policies that contradict clear biblical teaching (and, in the case of the Catholic Church, clear authoritative interpretations of Church doctrine), it brings into question the authenticity of their faith. Put another way, rejecting, denying, and working against core convictions of one’s professed faith undermines the credibility of that faith and raises questions about one’s desire to remain affiliated with a church that someone has no desire to submit to or obey.   

In conclusion, the Catholic Church has been consistent in its opposition to abortion. Pope Francis has called abortion a “grave sin” and the Catechism of the Catholic Church refers to abortion as a “moral evil.” Additionally, the Bible affirms the personhood of the unborn from cover to cover. Thus, from the perspective of Catholic social teaching, Archbishop Cordileone’s decision to forbid Nancy Pelosi from receiving communion is in line with the Church’s longstanding teaching on abortion.

The outrage expressed by many in the media over the archbishop’s decision demonstrates once again how disconnected most Americans are from basic Christian teachings on ecclesial authority. Thus, while commentators like entertainer Whoopi Goldberg have told Archbishop Cordileone that denying communion to Speaker Pelosi is “not your job,” Christians following this story should be grateful that the archbishop seems to know exactly what his job is in this situation—to extend pastoral care to a wayward member while courageously defending church doctrine.

Why “Good Friday” Is So Good

by David Closson

April 15, 2022

For many people, 2022 began with a lot of promise. But recent developments have once again reminded us of the consequences of living in a fallen world. Over the past few weeks, headlines have been dominated by ghastly war crimes committed against the Ukrainian people. We’ve also learned about five fully formed babies who may have been the victims of illegal partial-birth abortions or infanticide in our nation’s capital, and rising prices for gas and other consumer goods are forcing families to make difficult decisions. A divisive U.S. Supreme Court confirmation seems to have only exacerbated partisan political tensions.

In short, the religious, political, and cultural fault lines that divide Americans have resurfaced, and pessimism and anxiety are once again clouding the optimism that many of us felt earlier in the year.

On some level, the disillusionment many are feeling today is not unlike how Jesus’ followers must have felt on the first Good Friday. Less than a week after His triumphant arrival into Jerusalem, Jesus is now gasping for breath on a Roman cross while His friends look on helplessly and His enemies gloat. The hope and triumph of Palm Sunday is a distant memory.

Of course, those familiar with the Bible’s storyline know that Friday is not the end of the story. Easter is on the horizon. But Jesus’ resurrection is only glorious because of His obedience and faithfulness in death. Thus, it is appropriate on Good Friday to dwell for a while on the horror and sorrow of the crucifixion as we await Resurrection Sunday.

Jesus’ Final Hours

According to the New Testament, Jesus’ final week began with His euphoric entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Over the ensuing days, Jesus ministered to crowds of Jewish pilgrims, outmaneuvered religious leaders seeking to embarrass and ensnare Him, and prepared the disciples for the end of His earthly mission. By Thursday evening, Judas’ treasonous plan was in motion. Following the Passover meal with his disciples, Jesus enters the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. In the shadows of the olive trees, Jesus prays earnestly and prepares to face God’s wrath against humanity’s sin (Luke 22:41-44).

After praying in the garden, Jesus is arrested, the disciples flee, and He is taken before the Sanhedrin. After a hastily arranged mock trial held in the middle of the night, Jesus is brought before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of the region. After an initial interrogation, Pilate has Jesus flogged, assuming this punishment would appease Jesus’ opponents. But the crowd, incited by their jealous leaders, demands Jesus’ crucifixion. Reluctantly, Pilate consents, fearful of the frenzied crowd’s growing unrest.

Forced to carry His own cross, Jesus arrives at Golgotha, a public place outside the city. There, He is crucified between two criminals, fulfilling an Old Testament prophecy that predicted God’s Messiah would be “numbered with the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12). For about six hours, Jesus hangs on the cross, His bloodied body in view of everyone passing by, including jeering soldiers and Jewish religious leaders. At last, around three o’clock in the afternoon, the Son of God breathes His last and dies (Luke 23:46). Jesus’ body is given to Joseph of Arimathea, who quickly buries Jesus in a nearby tomb.  

God’s Plan for Salvation

Jesus’ final hours and crucifixion prompt questions. Why would God allow Jesus to endure so much pain and torture? In what way is the Bible’s teaching about Jesus’ death “good”? To answer these questions, it is important to recall what the Bible teaches about God’s heart for sinners and His plan to redeem them.

First, it is important to understand that the horrifying events of Good Friday were central to God’s plan of redeeming sinners. Scripture teaches that Jesus was “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23). Moreover, Jesus’ enemies did what God “had predestined to take place” (Acts 4:28). The infamy and pain of the crucifixion were God’s plan from the beginning. Everything that took place—Judas’ betraying, the Sanhedrin’s conniving, Pilate’s adjudicating, and the crucifixion itself—was the ordained means by which God worked to save sinners.

Consequently, the events of Friday must be seen within the context of God’s sovereignty; everything that occurred was ordained by God. Nothing surprised God or caught Him off guard. Every event, every decision, down to the last detail, was orchestrated and planned. Although the actors in the story—including Pilate, the Sanhedrin, and the Roman soldiers—were morally responsible for their actions, their actions unfolded within the sovereign determination of God.

This raises another question: if Jesus’ death was part of God’s plan to redeem sinners, why did He have to suffer so much? In other words, why was Jesus’ death so awful?

This brings us to our second point, the awful reality of human sinfulness. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were given a choice. Instead of obeying God, the first couple listened to Satan and disobeyed their Creator. Their rebellion brought about massive consequences. In theological terms, Adam and Eve’s disobedience was sin, a blatant violation and transgression of God’s law. As humanity’s representative head, Adam’s sin was passed down to his descendants. As the apostle Paul explains, “Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12).

Sin separates us from God. And all of us have sinned. As Paul explains, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Moreover, because sin is such an affront to God, the consequence of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). This is what God had warned Adam and Eve about in Eden; rebellion against God would result in physical and spiritual death (Gen. 2:16-17).

Third, the reality of sin places humanity in a precarious state. God is perfect and cannot abide sin (Hab. 1:13). Therefore, if there is going to be any hope for humanity, God must take the initiative and reverse sin’s curse. And incredibly, that’s exactly what He did. The Bible teaches that God is loving and desires that none perish (1 Tim. 2:4). This is why Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, became incarnate (embodied in flesh) (Phil. 2:7). This brings us to Good Friday. Jesus lived a sinless life and died in the place of sinners as a sacrifice (Heb. 9:26). As Paul explains in Romans 5:8, “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” The most well-known verse in the Bible, John 3:16, teaches the same truth: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

These verses relay the core of the gospel. By providing a perfect sacrifice for sin, Jesus removed God’s wrath toward sinners and fully satisfied God’s justice (1 John 4:10). Through His death and resurrection, Jesus overcame humanity’s separation from God and provided a way for us to be reconciled with God (2 Cor. 5:18-19).

In other words, the “good news” of Christianity is the atoning work of Jesus. Now, by repenting of sin and turning in faith to Christ, sinful people can be forgiven of their sins (Rom. 10:9-10). As Paul explains, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). In this verse and others, the Bible teaches what theologians refer to as “penal substitution,” the idea that Christ bore the penalty of sin when He died and that in death He substituted himself for sinners. Those who trust in Christ’s atoning work are justified in God’s sight, meaning they are now declared righteous.

Because of Jesus’ saving work on our behalf, it is appropriate to call this dark day “good.” Good Friday is good because Jesus paid the price for our sins. Moreover, it is good because He not only died in our place, but He was also raised to life. On Easter Sunday, we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection, which attests to His power over death. His resurrection is what Scripture describes as the “first fruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20). As Jesus was resurrected, so will His followers when He comes again.

So, even as we reflect on a difficult year, Good Friday gives us perspective. If God can redeem Good Friday, with all of its pain, horror, and suffering, He can redeem anything—including us. For many of us, today might be dark. But take heart; hope is on the horizon. 

Today is Friday, but Sunday is coming.

Biden’s Supreme Court Nominee Refuses to Define the Word “Woman”

by David Closson

March 23, 2022

Did President Biden keep his promise to nominate a black woman to the U.S. Supreme Court? At first glance that seems like an absurd question. Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is a black woman. However, yesterday’s interaction between Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and Judge Jackson suggests Republicans might want to ask the president’s nominee some more pointed questions about her worldview as the third day of confirmation hearings gets underway today.

Supreme Court confirmation hearings can be heady affairs. Although the topics of judicial philosophy, legal principles, and how to interpret the Constitution are vitally important to the functioning of our legal system, most Americans do not often consider them. Stare decisis, unenumerated rights, and originalism are simply not part of most people’s daily conversations with their friends or family members. As a result, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s four-day-long hearing on Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to be an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court has likely proven dull for many people. 

However, likely lost among the hours of questioning in yesterday’s confirmation hearing was a fascinating exchange late last night between Judge Jackson and Sen. Blackburn. During her questioning, Blackburn asked the nominee to define the word “woman.”

Can you provide a definition of the word ‘woman’?” Blackburn asked. After a brief pause, Jackson answered, “No, I can’t.” Incredulous, Blackburn replied, “You can’t?” “Not in this context; I’m not a biologist,” the judge responded.

Initially, few news outlets reported on the exchange, and even most conservative court-watchers have focused on questioning by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) about Critical Race Theory and Sen. Josh Hawley’s (R-Mo.) contention that Judge Jackson has been too lenient when sentencing sex offenders. But the exchange between Blackburn and Jackson is a massive cultural moment and reflects how deeply gender identity ideology has taken root in our national subconscious. In short, those pushing gender identity ideology that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago have been so successful in promoting their views that it is now deemed too risky to define a woman as an adult biological female. 

The promotion and acceptance of transgender ideology have accelerated the rampant gender confusion in our nation, and the events of the past few weeks underscore just how successful LGBTQ activists have been in converting the news media, Big Tech, the business community, and now, apparently, the judicial community, to their cause. Just within the past few weeks, we’ve seen a biological male crowned an NCAA champion in women’s swimming and USA Today declare Rachael Levine, a biological male serving in the Biden administration, as one of the newspaper’s “Women of the Year.” 

But even though there have been several stories in the news lately featuring those who identify as transgender, it is remarkable that someone nominated to the nation’s highest court is unwilling to define the word “woman.” It raises the question of how Americans can trust someone to faithfully interpret the U.S. Constitution and apply the nation’s laws who lacks the courage to simply state biological facts. Nevertheless, here we are.

It would be ludicrous to think that Judge Jackson does not know what a woman is. Judge Jackson is a two-time Ivy League graduate. She has served on the federal judiciary for nearly a decade and has been seated on the nation’s second-most important court for almost a year. Without a doubt, Judge Jackson is highly intelligent. But her unwillingness to answer Sen. Blackburn’s question is a foreboding sign that gender identity ideology not only holds tremendous sway in the Democratic Party but has also taken hold in parts of the legal profession. Deference to partisan politics has no place in the judiciary.

President Biden promised to nominate a black woman to the nation’s highest court, and Judge Jackson meets both of those criteria. But the judge’s own refusal to define the word “woman” during her confirmation hearing is disturbing because it suggests an accommodation to a postmodern worldview unable to assert basic truths about human embodiment. Judge Jackson is a woman, and it shouldn’t be controversial to state this fact. Even those who may not agree with Judge Jackson’s judicial philosophy can acknowledge that Jackson’s nomination is historic and that many African American women are especially excited about her appointment. But the fact that the nominee herself cannot confidently answer a straightforward question that contradicts the far Left’s radical gender identity ideology is a sad and revealing commentary on the times. 

You don’t need to be a veterinarian to define what a cat is, a mechanic to define what a car is, a florist to define what a flower is, or a biologist to define what a woman is. But increasingly, you do need courage and a willingness to contradict the misguided zeitgeist of the age. On this point, Judge Jackson failed miserably yesterday. Ultimately, if Judge Jackson cannot define what a woman is, it is troubling to think of how she will interpret and apply the nation’s laws. One can only hope she will find some courage if confirmed by the Senate to the Supreme Court.

Guatemala Declared Pro-Life Capital of Latin America

by David Closson

March 11, 2022

The international pro-life movement achieved a significant victory this week in Guatemala. On Wednesday, March 9, Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei celebrated the Ibero-American Congress for Life and Family (CIVF) proclaiming his nation the “pro-life capital of Latin America.” Joined by his cabinet, members of the Guatemalan Congress, religious leaders, and a large international delegation, Giammattei vowed to protect life from conception to natural death and promised to fight for families in his nation.

In conjunction with the ceremony, Giammattei also unveiled a monument in the presidential palace and declared that March 9 would henceforth be known as the National Day of Life in Guatemala.

Guatemala’s designation as the “pro-life capital of Latin America” comes at a pivotal time for the international pro-life movement, as many countries in the region are rethinking their abortion laws. For example, in early 2021, Argentina’s government legalized abortion in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy, and in September 2021, Mexico’s Supreme Court struck down pro-life laws in two states. Most recently, in a February 21 ruling, Colombia’s high court legalized abortion through the first 24 weeks of pregnancy.

Thus, Guatemala’s decision to embrace and champion the pro-life values of its people is significant. Just this week, President Giammattei complained that countries like Guatemala often face pressure from the United States and other Western nations to expand legal abortion and adopt gender ideology as a condition of receiving certain forms of international aid and assistance. Giammattei’s decision to resist cultural imperialism is a remarkable display of courage. Last fall, he courageously added his country to the Geneva Consensus Declaration, joining 35 other countries in asserting that there is no international right to abortion and that abortion should never be promoted as a form of family planning. (Conversely, President Joe Biden withdrew the United States from the declaration in January 2021.)

In conjunction with the festivities at the palace, the Ibero-American Congress for Life and Family hosted the “International Summit of Pro-Life Organizations.” The summit brought together leaders from across Ibero-America as well as 75 representatives from pro-life organizations in the United States, including Family Research Council (FRC). These meetings were held alongside CIVF’s annual gathering of pro-family, pro-life organizations from across Latin America and Spain.

As part of the summit, I hosted a panel with leaders from Students for Life, National Right to Life, Global Life Campaign, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and Americans United for Life. The topic of the panel was challenges facing the pro-life movement. During my remarks, I argued that a lack of a biblical worldview and apathy toward the Bible’s teaching on life are additional challenges facing the pro-life movement. I exhorted the delegates to continue fighting for life and encouraging pastors within their sphere of influence to preach the whole counsel of God’s Word, including how it relates to the issue of abortion.

FRC was able to equip attendees of the summit with resources that apply a biblical worldview to a wide range of relevant issues, including the sanctity of human life.

FRC’s Quena Gonzalez participated in a panel discussion on how to advocate for pro-life policies. Quena encouraged the delegates to be motivated by Micah 6:8, which instructs believers to “Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly” with our God. As Quena explained, “Our love for God motivates us to advocate for justice. Our love of neighbor motivates us to advocate for policies that allow all Americans, not just Christians, to thrive. And our love for the governments whom we seek to influence—the administration, members of Congress, etc.—leads us to see in each of them the imago Dei, the image of God, and to speak the truth to them in love.”

Speakers at the CIVF’s sixth annual meeting included President Giammattei, Shirley Rivera (president of the Congress of Guatemala), Luis Lam (ambassador of Guatemala to the United Nations), Angela Gandra (Brazil’s secretary of the family), Michael Farris (president of Alliance Defending Freedom), and Valerie Huber (president of The Institute for Women’s Health). The CIVF was founded in 2017 in response to the growing need to engage government and policy leaders in Latin and Central America on issues that affect life and family.

Huber, who helped spearhead the Geneva Consensus Declaration during the Trump administration, praised President Giammattei for signing it last October. By joining the declaration, Huber noted that Giammattei “reminded the world that Guatemala has the sovereign right to implement policies consistent with their own national laws and cultural context without external pressuring and meddling… from other countries, international bodies, or from outside special interest groups.”

The CIVF’s meeting concluded after hearing remarks from Mario Bucaro (Guatemala’s foreign minister), Gerardo Amarilla (Uruguay’s deputy minister of environment), and other Latin American leaders. The event concluded with CIVF releasing the Guatemala 2022 Declaration which affirmed the family as foundational for the flourishing of societies in Latin America and stated the organization’s intent to continue engaging political and religious leaders in the region on policies related to life and family.  

While those of us in the United States await the decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the U.S. Supreme Court case that could overturn Roe v. Wade, we should be grateful for the courageous leadership of leaders around the world such as President Alejandro Giammattei. Following the official ceremony and statue unveiling on Wednesday, I had an opportunity to personally thank Giammattei on behalf of Family Research Council for his leadership in positioning Guatemala as a leader in the international pro-life movement. Giammattei’s stand for life and family in the face of intense pressure deserves our admiration and respect. May courage breed more courage, and may all of us who care about the dignity and value of the unborn look to Guatemala’s example.

I joined Tony Perkins on Washington Watch to discuss the historic declaration of Guatemala as the “pro-life capital of Latin America.” You can listen to the interview here.

**To see where other countries stack up on abortion around the world, see our map and publication.

Beware of False Prophets: Lessons from a “Pro-Choice Pastor” in the U.S. Senate

by David Closson

March 4, 2022

Monday night’s failed cloture vote on the Women’s Health Protection Act (or, more fittingly, the “Abortion on Demand Until Birth Act”) provided an important glimpse into the worldviews of America’s two major political parties. It also elicited some revealing comments from Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), an original co-sponsor of the bill. Although his staff told me they did not have an official reason for why Warnock missed the vote, the senator himself wanted to ensure everyone knew where he stood. Hours before the vote, Warnock tweeted, “I’ve always been a pro-choice pastor, and I believe a doctor’s office is too small for a patient, their doctors, and the U.S. government. I’m a proud co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act, and the Senate should pass it as soon as possible.”

Senator Warnock’s Twitter feed routinely provides insight into how Georgia’s junior senator is thinking about various issues. Last April, Warnock (who also serves as the senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta) tweeted an Easter greeting that claimed, “The meaning of Easter is more transcendent than the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” He has tweeted support for the Equality Act (legislation that would severely erode religious freedom) and previously tweeted about his support for abortion.

Although Warnock’s position is not new, his repeated claim of being a “pro-choice pastor” merits a closer look. What does it mean to be a “pro-choice pastor”? The Bible clearly teaches the personhood of the unborn, that preborn babies are made in the image of God and deserve dignity and respect. How does Warnock square the Bible’s teaching with his support for abortion? In short, he doesn’t even seem to try. In fact, since joining the Senate, he hasn’t tried to tone down his support for abortion at all. The prospect of facing voters in a very competitive state in less than a year has likewise done nothing to moderate his views. Why is that?

Well, even before joining the U.S. Senate, Senator Reverend Raphael Warnock (as he likes to be referred to) was staunchly pro-choice. His campaign website proudly notes, “Reverend Warnock has been an advocate for women’s health and reproductive justice his entire life and is proud to have been endorsed by NARAL and Planned Parenthood Action Fund.” Moreover, Warnock is a three-time graduate of Union Theological Seminary in New York City. As I’ve noted before, Union Seminary is theologically very liberal (for the 2021-22 academic term, students have the option to join the “Queer Caucus;” the “Seminarians for Reproductive Justice” and “Transgender Nonconforming” caucuses are inactive this semester).

Given Warnock’s liberal seminary training and membership in a political party beholden to the abortion lobby, it is no surprise that he is committed to abortion. But if it is no surprise, why is it important to draw attention to his view and public statements? Does it really matter what one liberal senator thinks about abortion? In my view, it matters a great deal because of Warnock’s role as a pastor and frequent use of the term “pro-choice pastor.”

Let me be clear. I don’t believe there is such a thing as a biblically faithful “pro-choice pastor.” Over 2,500 years ago, the prophet Isaiah addressed the people of Israel as they faced the prospect of exile because of their sin. Speaking to those who were committing intentional sin, Isaiah says, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter” (Isa. 5:20). In Isaiah, “woe” connotes grief and consternation and is often directed at someone in grievous error. Calling something evil “good” is to invert the moral order and invite divine judgment.

This verse is relevant considering the heightened responsibility of pastors to provide sound teaching to their congregations. When giving instructions to Titus about the qualifications for pastoral ministry, Paul explained, “[A pastor] must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” For Paul, one of the chief responsibilities of a pastor is teaching the Bible and rebuking those who are in error. Again, on the issue of abortion, the Bible is crystal clear (see Ex. 21:22; Ps. 139:13-16, 22:10, 51:5-6; Job 3:3; Jer. 1:4-5; Isa. 49:1; Luke 1:39-45; Gal. 1:15). Thus, a “pro-choice pastor” is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. Of course, there are many pro-abortion advocates who hold ministerial positions in churches around the country, but I believe the Bible’s requirement of adherence to sound doctrine disqualifies anyone from true gospel work who is fervently “pro-choice.” One simply cannot condone, support, and champion the killing of preborn children in the pulpit and satisfy the requirements for pastoral ministry laid out in the New Testament.

If this is true, what does this mean for how we should think about Reverend Warnock’s ministry? To use biblical imagery, he is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Consider Jesus’ warning in Matthew 7:15-16a, where He says, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits.” According to Jesus, false teachers will be recognized by their fruit. An obviously bad fruit is teaching that does not accord with sound doctrine. Moreover, using one’s title and position of leadership in the church to provide cover for wickedness is surely a sign of rotten fruit.

Abortion remains a significant feature in our political discourse, and the U.S. Supreme Court’s upcoming decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization will not be the final word. And although Christians must continue to pray that the Court will make the right decision and overturn Roe v. Wade, pastors and Christian leaders must remember their sacred duty to lead God’s people to think faithfully on these issues. In the Great Commission, Jesus famously commissioned His disciples to “make disciples of all nations.” He also instructed them to teach people “all that I have commanded you” (Mat. 28:19-20). Included within the “all that I have commanded you” is everything Jesus taught concerning the value and dignity of human life. Thus, rather than follow Senator Reverend Warnock’s lead, faithful undershepherds must recommit themselves to the task at hand, which is not abortion advocacy but contending for the “faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3).

Senate Democrats Fail to Federally Enshrine Abortion on Demand Until Birth

by David Closson

March 3, 2022

While most of the world was preoccupied with watching Russia’s invasion of Ukraine unfold, Senate Democrats forced a vote Monday night on the deceptively-titled Women’s Health Protection Act. A more fitting name for this bill would be the “Abortion on Demand Until Birth Act” because it would codify Roe v. Wade’s precedent of allowing abortion throughout pregnancy. Although the bill failed to advance by a 46-48 vote, by bringing the bill to the Senate floor, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) sent a clear message to the country about where congressional Democrats stand on abortion in the lead-up to this fall’s midterm elections.

It is a dark, dark time for women’s reproductive rights,” Schumer said before the vote to invoke cloture (i.e., end debate and proceed to voting on final passage of the bill). “We cannot simply stand by and let this happen. There is too much at stake.” Of course, Schumer knew the cloture vote would be unsuccessful. Even if he had kept his caucus together—he didn’t; Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) joined the Republicans in voting “no”—Schumer didn’t have the 60 votes required to invoke cloture. But the Majority Leader forced a vote anyway, keen to placate the pro-abortion lobby that is anxiously awaiting the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a case that has the potential to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Thus, even though it was doomed to fail, Senator Schumer forced 94 U.S. senators—including vulnerable Democrats up for reelection, such as Mark Kelly (Ariz.), Maggie Hassan (N.H.), and Catherine Cortez-Masto (Nev.)—to officially go on the record on the most extreme abortion bill ever considered by Congress. But in one sense, Schumer’s political gambit was helpful in further highlighting the worldview divide between the major political parties.

Consider the legislation itself. The bill, which previously passed the House in September on a nearly-partisan vote (Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas was the lone Democrat to vote “no”), would eliminate almost every state-level restriction on abortion. Additionally, the bill would weaken conscience protections for medical professionals, jeopardize prohibitions on taxpayer funding for abortion, enshrine late-term abortion into law, strike down commonsense pro-life laws, and equate the death of unborn children with routine medical procedures. Furthermore, as I’ve highlighted elsewhere, if the bill were to become law, state laws requiring informed consent, waiting periods, or counseling prior to receiving an abortion would be overturned. The bill’s prohibition on protecting unborn lives at any point prior to fetal viability (generally set at 22-24 weeks gestation) means that laws like Texas’ Heartbeat Act (S.B. 8), which the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed to stand for the past six months, would be invalidated.

Additionally, the post-viability clause stipulates that health care providers (i.e., abortionists) could carry out abortions after 24 weeks if they determined that the health of the mother (the bill itself uses the term “pregnant patient” to appease LGBT activists) was in danger. Because the bill does not define the terms “health” and “risk,” the health exemption could be broadly interpreted to include mental or emotional health, effectively enshrining abortion until birth into federal law.

In short, the Women’s Health Protection Act, more aptly referred to as the “Abortion on Demand Until Birth Act,” is the most pro-abortion piece of legislation ever seen at the federal level. Its existence underscores the profound worldview divide between Republicans and Democrats, who increasingly disagree on the definition of personhood. Whereas Republicans routinely vote to recognize preborn babies as human beings deserving of the protection of our nation’s laws, Democrats now regularly vote in favor of “reproductive freedom” and a “woman’s right to choose,” euphemisms for abortion. Democrats continue to champion abortion despite advances in embryology and technology that make the medical and moral case of the humanity of preborn children undeniable.

Only two congressional Democrats, Rep. Cuellar and Sen. Manchin, voted against the Abortion on Demand Until Birth Act. Democratic senators Feinstein (Calif.), Lujan (N.M.), and Warnock (Ga.) did not participate in the vote but are all original co-sponsors of the bill. Although it comes as no surprise that Democrats are almost unanimously voting in line with their party’s platform, we should not become numb to the fact that one of America’s two major political parties sees abortion as a cause that must be taken up with a religious-like zeal. Monday’s vote highlights the current political landscape on abortion and underscores how much work the pro-life movement still has to do.

Thinking Biblically About Missouri’s SAFE Act

by David Closson

February 11, 2022

Earlier this week, Missouri state representative Suzie Pollock introduced HB 2649, the Save Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act. If passed, this legislation would prohibit puberty-blocking drugs, cross-sex hormones, and so-called gender reassignment surgeries for minors. The bill also prohibits the public funding, insurance coverage, and referral of such procedures for minors. Arkansas became the first state to pass a SAFE Act last year.

There are many reasons for Christians to support the SAFE Act. These include protecting children from experimental procedures linked to an increased risk of breast cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, and sterility. Studies have also shown that 85 percent of children experiencing feelings of distress as a result of a perceived incongruity between their psychological, self-perceived “gender identity” and their biological sex eventually come to accept their sex around or after puberty. Puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, and surgeries do not help children grow out of their gender distress. Moreover, there are risks, complications, and concerns associated with gender reassignment surgery for both males and females, as the procedures involve the alteration or removal of biologically normal and functional body parts.

In addition to practical, medical, and ethical reasons to support the SAFE Act, there are also theological reasons for Christians to support the legislation. If law is inherently pedagogical, Christians should support the passage of laws that tell the truth about the human body. And the truth about our bodies is that God made two distinct yet complementary sexes, male and female. Thus, although the SAFE Act focuses on protecting minor children for physiological reasons, there are theological reasons for Christians to support the underlying principles affirmed in this bill, namely, that one’s maleness or femaleness is inextricably tied to biological sex and integral to one’s personhood.

First, the most fundamental distinction between men and women relates to biology. Genetically, men have XY chromosomes; women have XX chromosomes. Thus, when a male asserts that he is a female, he asserts an objective falsehood in terms of biology and genetics. The reality of biological sex cannot be changed by so-called gender transition or reassignment surgery. Surgeries cannot change a person’s genetic blueprint, and while genital surgery may sterilize an individual, it cannot bestow the reproductive capacity of the opposite sex. In other words, a person remains in their biological sex regardless of the gender with which they choose to identify.

This difference between the sexes is taught in Scripture. Moreover, the nature of the difference (i.e., biology) is also affirmed. Genesis 1:26-27 explains God’s original design for the sexes:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

 So God created man in his own image,

    in the image of God he created him;

    male and female he created them.

In verse 26, the focus is on what the man and the woman have in common (i.e., they’re both made in God’s image and tasked with exercising dominion over the created world), but verse 27 highlights the difference (i.e., humanity’s creation as male and female). And this difference is crucial. According to the Bible, God did not create androgynous beings; He created two distinct yet complementary individuals. In other words, the creation of male and female is not accidental or incidental but central to God’s design of human beings created in His image.

Arising from the Bible’s teaching in Genesis 1:27 is the question of what constitutes the difference between the man and the woman. In other words, what is the nature of the difference?  Although increasingly disputed, most people agree that there is something different between male and female. However, it is the nature of this difference that is fiercely contested. Transgender ideology suggests that one’s self-perception determines maleness or femaleness; one’s reproductive structures are inconsequential to the discussion. According to this logic, one’s self-understanding would determine one’s so-called gender identity, but reproductive anatomy would not. But the context of Genesis 1 shows that biology cannot be divorced from maleness or femaleness; in fact, biology is the ultimate determiner of sex and gender.

The fact that biology determines sex is seen in Genesis 1:28 which says, “And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.’” A key component of obeying God’s direction to Adam and Eve to “Be fruitful and multiply”—often known as the creation mandate—is procreation which is only possible with two biologically and genetically sexed individuals. Neither the man nor woman could fulfill God’s charge to fill the earth alone. In context, “male and female” in Genesis 1:27 must refer to the differing ways that human bodies are organized for sexual reproduction.

The implication of this teaching is clear. Even if someone feels strongly that they are “male,” they are wrong if their perception of their sex is not in line with their biological makeup. In a fallen world where the consequences of humanity’s initial sin affect our minds as well as our bodies, what we think about ourselves can be mistaken.

In other words, if someone is struggling with gender-confused feelings, a pastor, on the authority of God’s Word, can (and should) kindly tell them that their body isn’t lying to them. A person’s maleness or femaleness isn’t socially constructed. Rather, sex is something that is revealed by God in his special design of male and female bodies.

Second, there is a social dimension to the distinction between male and female. This dimension is touched on in Genesis 2:18, 21-25 which says,

Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” …. So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,

   This at last is bone of my bones

    and flesh of my flesh;

  she shall be called Woman,

    because she was taken out of Man.”

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

This passage shows that complementarity between the sexes is embedded in God’s good creation. In verse 18, the word “helper” designates a social role for Eve within her marriage to Adam—a role that is inextricably linked to her biological sex. Adam’s creation before Eve and his charge from God designates a social role within his marriage to Eve—a role that is likewise inextricably linked to his biological sex. He is to be the leader, protector, and provider within this marriage covenant.

As ethicist Denny Burk has argued, the implication of this teaching is that God has so made the world that there is a normative connection between biological sex and the social dimension of maleness and femaleness. The social roles of the first man and woman in Genesis 2 are inextricably connected to their biological sex. The New Testament reveals that these roles are not merely descriptive of the first marriage but as normative for every subsequent marriage (1 Cor. 11:3; Eph. 5:21-33). 

Additionally, the social order of the first family presumes a normative connection between biological sex and social roles designed for that sex. It also presumes that a man understands himself to be a man and that a woman understands herself to be a woman. Self-identity and bodily identity match one another.

Finally, the Bible teaches that the difference between male and female is good. Consider Paul’s reflection on the Genesis creation account in 1 Timothy 4:4-5: “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer.”

Where does Paul get the idea that everything created by God is “good”? Paul is simply reading Genesis 1, which says that God looked at what he had made throughout the six days of creation and said that it was “good.” And when God made the first male and female bodies, he said it was “very good” (Gen. 1:31). Paul affirms that what was true about male and female design before the Fall is still true after the Fall. This means that even though God’s good design in creation may be marred by the Fall and by sin, God’s good design is not erased by the Fall and by sin.

The Bible is clear that the distinction between male and female is biological and social. In the biblical worldview, the differences between male and female are also “good” because God declared them good. The responsibility of Christians is to understand and believe these truths. Pastors especially must understand the Bible’s teaching on sexuality and disciple their congregations to think faithfully about them.

The logic of the transgender movement has become so ingrained in many places around our country that even some doctors—those who have pledged to “do no harm”—are willing to perform irreversible procedures that remove perfectly healthy organs on children experiencing gender confusion.

Our cultural moment provides an opportunity for the church to speak into this confusion. And while we pray for revival, we also need to see that barring a move of God in our nation, the culture is only going to get worse and that as the Overton Window shifts on how society thinks about sexuality, it’ll only get harder and harder to pass good legislation.

In short, the urgency of the moment and the weightiness of the subject matter (protecting children) is why legislators should take advantage of the opportunities we have to pass legislation like the SAFE Act. It is also why Christians everywhere should study God’s Word on what it means to be male and female and why we should teach these truths in our churches, Christian schools, and homes.

Counseling Bans in Canada and West Lafayette Threaten the Free Speech of Pastors and Counselors

by David Closson

January 21, 2022

In today’s sensationalized news environment, most of the stories we read or hear about rarely deserve our immediate and undivided attention. However, two recent developments related to so-called “conversion therapy bans” merit attention from Christian pastors, counselors, and parents. These bans threaten the rights and responsibilities of those tasked with teaching, discipling, and caring for the people in our churches, ministries, and families.

The first story comes from West Lafayette, Indiana, where the city council recently proposed an ordinance prohibiting the practice of so-called “conversion therapy” by unlicensed counselors. While these counseling bans are not new, the scope and reach of the proposed ordinance go beyond almost anything we’ve seen previously. By intentionally targeting unlicensed professionals, the ordinance would subject pastors and counselors to hefty fines for having conversations with church members and counselees about what the Bible teaches about unwanted same-sex attraction and/or gender dysphoria.

The proposed West Lafayette ordinance is likely unconstitutional. As written, the ordinance explicitly infringes on the speech rights of pastors, parents, and counselors. However, before taking a closer look at the shocking details of the proposed ordinance, it is important to understand the history behind the push to ban such counseling.

Counseling bans have become an important goal of the LGBT lobby. As public opinion on LGBT issues has shifted, there has been a concerted effort to enact bans on counseling pertaining to sexual orientation and gender identity. By and large, these bans mandate that counselors use a “gender-affirming” model of care with their clients, meaning that licensed health care professionals and counselors are prohibited from discussing unwanted same-sex attraction and/or gender dysphoria with their clients (even if the patient and/or parents choose such counseling).

Although the media and the LGBT lobby use the term “conversion therapy” (which evokes images of discredited practices such as electroshock or other pain-inducing methods), counseling bans intentionally use broad language that includes talk therapy. In other words, counseling bans prevent counselors and mental health care professionals from counseling in a way consistent with their sincerely-held religious beliefs and deny patients the right to choose such counseling. Currently, 20 states and the District of Columbia have counseling bans in place.

For Christian pastors and counselors, the proposed ordinance’s inclusion of unlicensed counselors is very significant. Although the city “strongly discourages” those with professional licensure through Indiana’s Professional Licensing Agency from “engaging in conversion therapy with a minor person,” it currently stops short of prohibiting the practice because the city lacks the authority to do so.

The proposed ordinance defines conversion therapy as “any practices or treatments that seek to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity, including efforts to change gender expressions or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same gender.” Because there are no ecclesial or ministerial exceptions, any guidance, advice, or encouragement from a pastor or Christian counselor about addressing unwanted same-sex attraction is prohibited. Violators of the ordinance would be fined $1,000 for every violation.

If passed, the ordinance would immediately affect a West Lafayette counseling ministry operated by Faith Church. Faith Biblical Counseling Ministries provides 60-80 hours of counseling each week and follows a counseling model known as biblical counseling, which offers support and guidance by applying biblical principles to people’s needs.

The second recent development in this area comes from Canada, where parliament recently passed a new law that bans so-called “conversion therapy.” Passed without debate or discussion, the bill, known as “C-4,” went into effect on January 7. C-4 amends the criminal code to criminalize conversion therapy, which is broadly defined as a “practice, treatment or service” designed to:

  • change a person’s sexual orientation to heterosexual,”
  • change a person’s identity to heterosexual,”
  • change a person’s gender expression so that it conforms to the sex assigned to the person at birth,”
  • repress or reduce non-heterosexual attraction or sexual behavior,”
  • repress a person’s non-cisgender gender identity,”
  • repress or reduce a person’s gender expression that does not conform to the sex assigned at birth.”

Moreover, the legislation describes as a “myth” the belief that “heterosexuality, cisgender gender identity, and gender expression that conforms to the sex assigned to a person at birth are to be preferred over other sexual orientations, gender identities, and gender expressions.”

Although it is unclear how C-4 will be enforced—and there is hope that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which explicitly protects the “freedom of thought, belief, opinion, and expression” (as well as the freedom of conscience and religion) will protect the speech of pastors, counselors, and parents—the fact remains that Canadian law now equates orthodox Christian beliefs about human sexuality with harmful “myths” and “stereotypes.”

Describing the biblically-based views of millions of Canadians as “myths” is discriminatory and intolerant, but that’s not even the worst thing about C-4. Under the guise of preventing “conversion therapy,” legislators in Canada have enshrined contested gender ideology into law. The broad manner in which this new counseling ban defines “conversion therapy” opens the question of whether Christian pastors and ministers will be in violation whenever they preach and teach about Christian sexual ethics. Moreover, it would appear that talk therapy—the practice of simply having conversations—related to sexual orientation and gender identity would transgress C-4. If so, Christian counselors and even parents could face criminal penalties for talking to children about the Bible’s teaching on sexuality.

Pastors in Canada and the United States are speaking out about C-4. In Canada, the Canadian Religious Freedom Summit encouraged pastors to read a statement to their congregations on January 9 expressing their concern about the new law and their intention to continue preaching the “whole counsel of God.” In the United States, John MacArthur, the pastor of Grace Community Church, encouraged pastors to preach on biblical sexual morality on January 16. According to The Daily Wire, at least 4,000 pastors in the United States responded to MacArthur’s call by preaching on texts such as 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, Romans 1:26-27, and 1 Timothy 1:10.

Incredibly, but not surprisingly, YouTube removed a clip from MacArthur’s sermon that Grace Community Church had posted to the site. In the clip titled “Transgenderism is a War on God,” MacArthur stated, “God made man male and female. That is determined genetically, that is physiology. That is science. That is reality. This notion that you are something other than your biology is a cultural construct intended as an assault on God. The only way you can address it, honestly, is to say, ‘God made you and God made you exactly the way He wanted you to be. You are not only fighting God in His physical creation, you are fighting God in His sovereignty. You are fighting God in His spiritual relationship to you.’ This is a war on God.”

For the offending statements, YouTube censored MacArthur, claiming that the comments on transgenderism violated their “hate speech policy.” This is just the latest example of Big Tech suppressing Christian views on sexuality.

Although it remains to be seen how C-4 will be enforced, the passage of this bill is not promising for pastors, counselors, and other ministry leaders in Canada. They need support, encouragement, and prayer as they face an uncertain legal terrain. And those of us in the United States must remain vigilant to ensure that lawmakers in the United States understand that tens of millions of Americans do not want their freedom of speech or religion infringed in a similar fashion. Counseling bans are wrong and have to go.

Like Canada’s new law, the West Lafayette counseling ban discriminates against orthodox Christian beliefs pertaining to sexuality. Although courts could find the ordinance unconstitutional, the discussion and debate surrounding it reveal the growing hostility toward those who hold orthodox Christian beliefs. The utopia of the cultural revolutionaries is a world where the teaching of Christian sexual ethics is outlawed, counselors are restricted to providing so-called “affirmative” practices only, and parents are prohibited from raising and discipling their children in line with biblical principles. Coming at a time when a Finnish member of parliament is being criminally prosecuted for her biblical speech on sexuality (her trial begins next week), these developments paint a foreboding picture.

Christian pastors, counselors, parents, and policymakers need to recognize our cultural moment and push back against this growing threat of counseling bans. If we don’t, the next generation will have less freedom to teach and live out God’s Word.

Religious Freedom Day: The Biden Administration Is Failing To Uphold Our First Freedom

by David Closson

January 18, 2022

Since 1993, the United States has formally observed Religious Freedom Day on January 16. The day honors the nation’s first religious freedom law, the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, passed in 1786. Like other presidents before him, President Joe Biden released a proclamation acknowledging the day. Although the president’s comments on religious freedom were mostly encouraging, it is difficult to appreciate his rhetoric when many of his actions throughout the first year of his presidency have undermined the freedoms he claims to support.

In his proclamation, President Biden described religious freedom as a “cornerstone of who we are as a Nation” and a “vital aspect of our American character.” The president also said that “protecting religious freedom is as important now as it has ever been.” On these points, the president is right. Enshrined in the First Amendment of the Constitution, religious freedom is central to our national identity. But even though the president’s comments rightly place religious freedom as essential to the American way of life, his administration has unfortunately failed to meaningfully protect the rights of the faithful.

For example, following his inauguration on January 20, 2021, the new president issued an executive order that requires federal agencies to interpret federal laws that prohibit sex discrimination as also prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. In doing so, Biden expanded the holding of the problematic Bostock v. Clayton County U.S. Supreme Court decision far beyond its intended scope of employment discrimination.

On February 4, 2021, President Biden issued a memorandum on “Advancing the Human Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex Persons Around the World.” This memorandum “reaffirms and supplements” an Obama administration executive order that sought to ensure “United States diplomacy and foreign assistance promote[s] and protect[s] the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons everywhere.” What this really means is imposing the far Left’s human sexuality agenda onto other countries, including U.S. allies with laws upholding natural marriage and human sexuality. This is just one example of how instead of prioritizing religious freedom overseas, the Biden administration has given preference to radical LGBT policies.

Another example is a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) memorandum issued on February 11, 2021, which applied the Supreme Court’s Bostock decision to the administration and enforcement of the Fair Housing Act. The likely ramifications of this action could include HUD-funded shelters for battered women being mandated to allow biological men to be housed alongside women, where they may share private spaces such as sleeping quarters and bathrooms.

On February 14, 2021, President Biden issued an executive order dismantling the previous administration’s White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative, replacing it with the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. The accompanying fact sheet revealed that the office would function as an intersectional advancement of progressive policies—a shift away from preserving religious freedom and towards ensuring religious entities that want to work with the government do not operate according to their religious beliefs that are counter to the LGBT agenda.

On March 8, 2021, President Biden issued an executive order establishing a White House Gender Policy Council. The accompanying fact sheet states that the council will “aggressively protect” certain groups, including the LGBT community, in its endeavor to “advance equal rights and opportunities, regardless of gender or gender identity, in advancing domestic and foreign policy.” The removal of the scientific and biological parameters of sex will prevent this council from adequately protecting and addressing the needs of biological women.

The same day, President Biden issued another executive order declaring that “the Secretary of Education, in consultation with the Attorney General, shall review all existing regulations, orders, guidance documents, policies, and any other similar agency actions (collectively, agency actions)” to ensure they line up with the LGBT agenda.

On March 26, 2021, the Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a memorandum on the application of Bostock to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, paving the way for schools’ mandatory acceptance of gender identity ideology. In addition, President Biden issued a statement on May 17 recognizing “International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia,” which celebrates the anniversary of the World Health Organization’s declassifying homosexuality as a mental disorder. He touted the administration’s work on the issue and called on Congress to pass the Equality Act, a bill that would erode the freedom of houses of worship, religious schools and students, and faith-based organizations.

When he was inaugurated last year, President Biden inherited a federal bureaucracy accustomed to defending religious freedom. Under the previous administration, America’s “first freedom” had been prioritized and actively protected. For example, the DOJ vigorously enforced laws that protected prayer and religious expression. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) launched a new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division within its Office of Civil Rights to enforce federal laws that protect conscience rights and religious freedom. The U.S. State Department hosted an annual ministerial highlighting religious freedom issues abroad. In other words, the Trump administration embraced policies that valued religious freedom and actively protected the rights of people of faith.

Unfortunately, the Biden administration has managed to undo or undermine many of these policies, relegating religious freedom to the backseat while pursuing radical policies couched in “anti-discrimination” language.

Less than a decade ago, President Barack Obama commemorated Religious Freedom Day by declaring, “individuals should be free to choose and live their faith based upon the persuasion of the mind—and of the heart and soul.” The idea of living out one’s faith means that one’s convictions apply to the whole of life. True religious freedom means someone should have the freedom to believe what they want in terms of doctrine and theology and have the freedom to order their life according to their deepest convictions.

Unfortunately, despite the pro-religious freedom rhetoric, the Biden administration is failing to protect these rights and is seemingly working overtime to roll back some of the hard-won protections secured by the previous administration.

Year in Review: 10 Stories From 2021

by David Closson

December 17, 2021

2021 has been a year full of important cultural, political, and legal developments. In a year that witnessed the inauguration of a new president, the conclusion of America’s longest war, and the ongoing fight against COVID-19, there was much to track, analyze, and discuss. Although Democratic majorities in Congress required conservative policymakers to play defense at the federal level, there were still notable (and significant) legislative victories throughout the states.

2021 was an active year for Family Research Council, and there are several new initiatives, events, and legislative victories that merit gratitude and reflection as we prepare to ring in the new year. What follows are 10 stories from 2021 that provide a summary of God’s faithfulness and kindness to us and lay the groundwork for an exciting 2022.

1. Oral Arguments Heard in Case that Could Overturn Roe

On December 1, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a case that has the potential to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion on demand in America through all nine months of pregnancy. 

In Dobbs, the Supreme Court is considering the constitutionality of Mississippi’s Gestational Age Act, bipartisan legislation that prohibits elective abortion after 15 weeks gestation. The Gestational Age Act offers a direct challenge to the jurisprudence of Roe and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the U.S. Supreme Court decisions that made legal abortion through nine months the default law of every state. Under Casey, states may prohibit abortion post-viability and restrict abortion prior to viability so long as the restriction does not place an “undue burden” on the woman. In Dobbs, the court will consider whether all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortion are unconstitutional. The court’s decision, which is expected in summer 2022, could return the ability to legislate abortion back to the states and will have major implications for the future of the unborn in America.

In the weeks leading up to the oral arguments, FRC provided leadership to the pro-life community in a variety of ways. First, FRC filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court urging the justices to overturn Roe and its companion case, Casey. Second, FRC teamed up with other national pro-life groups, including the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and Alliance Defending Freedom, to host a “Pray for Dobbs” national webinar for pastors. Over 4,000 pastors joined the October broadcast and learned about the case. Then in November, the “Pray for Dobbs” coalition hosted a national prayer event. Over 18,000 people joined national leaders on the broadcast to pray for the upcoming case. Third, on November 28, FRC hosted a prayer rally titled “Pray Together for Life” in Mississippi. Among the national leaders who participated was Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves. Finally, FRC also published resources and articles about the case, and on the day of oral arguments, FRC’s Katherine Johnson spoke at a rally outside the Supreme Court.

To learn more about the case and for a list of recommended ways to pray, see my article in The Gospel Coalition.  

2. Vaccine Mandates Struck Down

On September 9, President Joe Biden issued an executive order that all employers with more than 100 employees must require their workers to receive the COVID-19 vaccine or submit to weekly testing. Noncompliant businesses could be fined. Biden’s private employer mandate came on the heels of a federal mandate requiring all federal employees to receive the vaccine, get tested weekly, or face dismissal from their job.

After the announcement, several organizations and schools (including The Daily Wire, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Asbury Theological Seminary) sued, alleging the Biden administration lacked constitutional and statutory authority to issue such a mandate to private employers. Both schools also argued that the administration lacked jurisdiction to dictate employment practices to religious institutions. On Friday, November 12, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issued an order staying enforcement and implementation of the executive order. On November 16, 2021, the Judicial Panel of Multidistrict Litigation consolidated all petitions for review of the Emergency Temporary Standard (including the Fifth Circuit ruling) before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

Moreover, on November 29, a U.S. district court in Missouri issued a preliminary injunction for health care workers in 10 states. On November 30, the U.S. District Court of Western Louisiana issued a nationwide injunction prohibiting the enforcement of Biden’s national vaccine mandate for health care workers. Additionally, on December 7, a U.S. district judge in South Georgia temporarily blocked President Biden’s vaccine mandate for federal contractors and subcontractors.

President Biden’s vaccine mandate has proven to be divisive. Thus far, courts around the country have halted the implementation of the mandate. As we move into 2022, Christians will need to think carefully and biblically about vaccine mandates, as it seems they will continue to be part of the national conversation.

Concerning whether Christians should use religious exemptions, see my article “How Should Christians Use Religious Exemptions for Vaccine Mandates?

3. Off-Year Election Results

While 2021 is not a major election year for most states, a few states and cities still held important elections. The most significant of these was the Virginia gubernatorial election, in which Republican nominee Glenn Youngkin faced off against the Democrat Terry McAuliffe. Even though Joe Biden had won Virginia by 10 points the previous year, Youngkin surprised political pundits by defeating McAuliffe and becoming the first Republican to win a statewide race in over a decade. Furthermore, Republican nominees for lieutenant governor and attorney general both won, and Republicans retook the majority in the House of Delegates. Many election observers cited parents’ outrage over public school officials’ cover-up of a biological male student’s rape of female students in Loudon County school bathrooms. Abortion and the teaching of Critical Race Theory in schools were also motivating factors for many voters.

Elsewhere around the country, conservatives demonstrated that the political climate has soured against Democrats and their progressive agenda. For example, the Republican nominee for governor in New Jersey nearly pulled off a shocking upset against incumbent Democrat Governor Phil Murphy. In perhaps the most stunning race, New Jersey Senate president Stephen Sweeney (D) was upset by a Republican truck driver who only spent a few thousand dollars on his campaign.  

Additionally, ballot measures to defund the police department were defeated in Minneapolis, and the mayor of Buffalo waged a successful write-in campaign against a progressive candidate endorsed by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). FRC Action (FRC’s legislative affiliative) endorsed their first candidate for school board, David Anderson, in Washington state. Anderson won the election. Only a year after the 2020 election, voters are clearly concerned about the country’s direction, and these results are encouraging for conservatives headed into next year’s midterm elections. 

4. FRC Launches Center for Biblical Worldview

In May, FRC launched the Center for Biblical Worldview (CBW) with the goal of equipping Christians to advance and defend their faith in their families, communities, and the public square. We also added researcher George Barna and Professor Owen Strachan to the CBW team.

The need for the CBW was underscored by an FRC-commissioned survey that revealed that only six percent of Americans have a biblical worldview, despite 51 percent thinking they do. Furthermore, only 21 percent of those who attend evangelical churches have a biblical worldview. Biblical illiteracy is a significant problem in America, one the CBW hopes to help counteract.

The CBW hit the ground running, publishing numerous resources in its first year, including newly re-branded Biblical Worldview Series booklets covering important topics such as religious liberty, the sanctity of life, human sexuality, and political engagement. These booklets are now available in English and Spanish. The CBW also produced dozens of articles, interviews, and other resources to help pastors, churches, and Christian laypeople think through the year’s most contentious and confusing political and moral questions.

In 2022, the CBW is planning to publish a Sunday school curriculum, a video series, and a web-based resource for parents and students to evaluate the faithfulness of every Christian college and university in America. To stay informed about all of the exciting projects we expect to release next year, you can sign up for the CBW’s monthly email here.

5. Texas Heartbeat Act Saves Thousands of Babies

The Texas Heartbeat Act, which took effect on September 1, has saved an estimated 150 babies from abortion per day. This will result in upwards of 18,000 babies saved by the end of the year. The Texas law bans abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, typically at about six weeks gestation. Texas’ 230 pregnancy resource centers (PRCs) have been meeting the needs of mothers that otherwise might have undergone abortions prior to the Heartbeat Act.  

Unsurprisingly, Texas abortion businesses sued the state over the Heartbeat Act. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case and in December issued an opinion permitting lawsuits to proceed against licensing officials but no one else that the abortion lobby had named as defendants. SCOTUS also made the rare move of dismissing the Biden administration’s suit saying they never should have accepted it in the first place. Overall, the opinion was a win for pro-lifers. Although the law is currently facing challenges from the outraged abortion lobby, it is still in effect today. 

While holding her three-month-old son, FRC’s Mary Szoch spoke outside the Supreme Court as arguments about the Texas law were heard. FRC’s Katherine Johnson also published an explainer about the law, combatting lies spread by the abortion lobby (and unfortunately parroted by many in the media). Christians must continue to pray for a favorable outcome for Texas as the Heartbeat Act continues to face litigation in 2022.  

6. Win in Congress: NDAA Passes Without Conscripting Women

Every year, Congress passes the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), legislation that is required to fund the military. Legislators have managed to pass the NDAA for 60 years. However, it is not always an easy or smooth process. This year, Democrats dug in on adding a proposal to mandate that women register for the draft.

Over the past few months, as the bill moved through Congress, FRC argued that women should continue serving honorably in the military on a voluntary basis only. Including women in any future drafts would subject them to being mandated into combat roles, which is unnecessary and dangerous. It has been proven that women in combat situations have a higher likelihood of injury than their male peers and thus affect the lethality, readiness, and cohesion of certain combat units.

FRC facilitated more than 200,000 messages to Congress opposing this dangerous mandate. Pro-family leaders in the House and Senate such as Sens. Hawley (R-Neb.), Inhofe (R-Okla.), and Lee (R-Utah) and Reps. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) and Chip Roy (R-Texas) led the charge. In an about-face that Politico described as a “stunning turnaround,” this mandate on women and other anti-life and anti-religious liberty provisions were dropped from the bill.  

7. Hyde Amendment Preserved

The 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion through all nine months of pregnancy. However, since 1976, Congress has worked to ensure that federal funding does not go toward abortion. In 1976, Congressman Henry Hyde introduced an amendment to the Health and Human Services (HHS) appropriations bill, prohibiting federal Medicaid funds from paying for abortions. This amendment to the annual spending bill, known as the Hyde Amendment, has been approved every year since 1976 and has saved an estimated 2,409,311 lives.

However, because of the nature of federal spending, this measure must be passed annually in order to remain in effect. In recent years, Democrat lawmakers have openly lobbied to remove the Hyde Amendment. In fact, the U.S. House of Representatives passed an HHS spending bill without Hyde for the first time since 1976. Moreover, the Senate introduced a spending bill without Hyde protections. Thankfully, despite fierce attacks from pro-abortion lawmakers, Hyde was preserved in the spending bills passed in 2021.

There are several ways in which FRC was involved in preserving Hyde. For example, FRC worked to secure 199 signatures from House members calling for the preservation of Hyde. Additionally, FRC worked to educate members of Congress about Hyde and worked with them whenever the issue was brought up in committee or came up for a vote. When the spending bill came through committee in July, FRC staff helped committee members with speeches and media interviews. Every Republican on the appropriations committee gave a speech defending Hyde and opposing taxpayer funding of abortion. While it is normally difficult for outside groups to muster five to seven members to speak out in committee on a given issue, FRC helped get 25 members to speak in favor of Hyde. Even though it remains under attack, the Hyde Amendment received more vocal support from Republican lawmakers in 2021 than in any year in recent memory.

8. Pray Vote Stand Summit

The inaugural Pray Vote Stand Summit was held October 6-8 at Cornerstone Chapel in Leesburg, Virginia. The thousands of social conservatives who attended in-person and the tens of thousands who attended online heard from nationally-recognized religious and political leaders on the most pressing issues facing the nation, including religious freedom, abortion, national security, and education.

Speakers included Mike Pompeo, Glenn Youngkin, Michele Bachmann, Sam Brownback, Carter Conlon, Os Guinness, Sen. Josh Hawley, Sen. James Lankford, Jack Hibbs, Nancy Pearcey, Allie Beth Stuckey, Chad Wolf, and many others.

In addition to plenary addresses from speakers, attendees benefited from hearing panel sessions on topics such as abortion, worldview, Christian persecution, vaccine mandates, and keeping children safe from radical gender ideology. Coinciding with the Summit, FRC also hosted a training for those interested in running for their local school board. 

FRC’s communications team credentialed 47 members of the media from 26 outlets to cover the Pray Vote Stand Summit, including Fox News, CBN News, and One America News. Additionally, 34 media outlets published 45 articles about or referencing the conference including Fox News, Breitbart, The Blaze, CBN News, The Daily Wire, The Christian Post, and The Epoch Times.

9. International Religious Freedom Summit

On July 13-15, FRC participated in the 2021 International Religious Freedom (IRF) Summit. Unlike the Trump-era Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, this year’s IRF gathering was organized by private organizations, not the U.S. government. Hosted by 81 convening partners (including FRC), the summit highlighted the issue of international religious freedom, an area of increasing concern. In fact, almost 80 percent of the world’s population live in countries with high levels of religious persecution, much of it perpetrated by government actors.

At the summit, participants heard reports by FRC’s Andrew Brunson and Bob Fu. FRC president Tony Perkins hosted a panel discussion and a sponsored lunch where he interviewed Grace Gao, who shared about her father, a human rights lawyer, who has been targeted by the Chinese government and whose exact whereabouts have been unknown for four years. FRC’s Lela Gilbert moderated a side event on religious freedom in Nigeria, which included two survivors of persecution.

For more information about FRC’s Center for Religious Liberty, specifically its work on international religious liberty, see FRC.org/irf.

10. SAFE Act Passes in Arkansas

On April 6, the Arkansas legislature enacted House Bill 1570, the Save Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act. This made Arkansas the first state in the nation to ban the use of puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, and gender reassignment surgeries on individuals under 18 for the purpose of “gender transition.” Of the many similar bills introduced across the nation, Arkansas’ law is the most comprehensive ban addressing this issue. It initially passed the Arkansas House 70-22 and the Senate 28-7. When Governor Asa Hutchison vetoed the bill, the House voted 72-25 and the Senate voted 25-8, providing the first veto override in Hutchinson’s tenure as governor. FRC awarded Rep. Robin Lundstrum the Samuel Adams Award for State Legislator of the Year in recognition of her leading role in getting the bill passed.

For more information about FRC’s work with state legislatures around the country and some of the pieces of legislation we support, see FRC.org/legislation.

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