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September 2021

Living Lessons


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Slowing the Momentum of the Secular Left Against the First Amendment Rights of Traditional Religious Colleges


Fighting for the First Amendment

By J. Matthew Pinson


A recent lawsuit filed by the Religious Exemption Accountability Project against the U.S. Department of Education took aim at the funding of colleges and universities with policies that prohibit LGBT conduct.

The class action lawsuit named 25 conservative religious colleges including Baylor, Bob Jones, Westmont, Fuller, Union, Liberty, and Lipscomb. Specifically, the suit holds that the Department of Education should not allow such schools to claim religious exemptions to orders and statutes prohibiting discrimination against LGBT individuals.

The timing of the suit is obvious in light of the recent passage of the Equality Act by the U.S. House and the introduction of the Bill in the U.S. Senate. It reveals the careful strategy of the LGBT lobby to silence traditional religious groups and their institutions from the public square, when their sincerely-held religious beliefs limit homosexual and transgender identification or behavior.

Free Will Baptists need to understand the seriousness of this assault on First Amendment freedoms. Students from most Evangelical, Catholic, Orthodox, Mormon, Jewish, and
Muslim colleges, universities, and K-12 schools with traditional views on sexuality and
gender receive funding from the federal government. Many of these schools would be
forced to close their doors if students were deprived of these funds, since many of these students could no longer afford to attend these institutions.

This situation represents the first in what is sure to be a long line of attempts by the secular left to drive these institutions out of operation. LGBT rights groups have openly declared their intentions to go beyond removal of Title IV funding from the U.S. Department of Education and continue toward the removal of tax exemption, the removal of all forms of federally recognized accreditation, and more.

In short, this powerful lobby believes that policies precluding LGBT conduct are the same as excluding people on the basis of racial or ethnic identity. If this approach takes hold in the wider political culture, soon all non-profit institutions with traditional beliefs regarding sexual morality and gender identity will be deprived of their historic First Amendment rights to the free exercise of their religion.


What Can I Do?

What can an ordinary Free Will Baptist do to countermand this situation?

Educate yourself. I recommend that you familiarize yourself with the current conversation on these issues. One helpful resource is The Briefing by Dr. Albert Mohler, a daily update on this and other critical matters concerning Christians and culture. Also helpful is the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the legal organization that has successfully argued so many religious liberty cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. This organization provided legal counsel for Welch College in 2019 when the college came under fire for its traditional Christian stance on sexuality and gender. I strongly recommend ADF.

Other good organizations defending religious liberty and providing helpful resources include Dr. David Black and the Religious Liberty Coalition and David Gibbs III and the National Center for Life and Liberty.

Exercise your rights as a citizen in a representative democracy. Exercise your influence as a citizen by kindly and humbly communicating with your U.S. representatives and senators and state legislators. Keep them informed of the impact of the Equality Act and similar initiatives on the existence of traditional religious nonprofits. This includes colleges, universities, K-12 schools, and thousands of other religious nonprofits that save the state billions of dollars each year in costly educational and social services.


Political engagement exists in the context of broader cultural engagement and does not function in a vacuum. Yet we have the ability to exercise the rights of our citizenship in a democratic republic that governs through representative democracy.

Unfortunately, the religious liberty community does not have as loud a voice as many other liberal or even conservative interest groups. Consider, for example, the LGBT lobby, the environmental lobby, and even the gun rights or pro-life lobbies. Elected representatives are kept apprised of what those groups deem important. It is incumbent for us as Christians to communicate concerns about religious liberty to our elected representatives on the federal and state levels.

Particularly, traditional religious people need to make their elected representatives aware of the effect the Equality Act would have on religious liberty. It would be the most sweeping legislation threatening religious freedom in the history of the U.S. If the act passes, most traditional colleges, schools, social service agencies, and other non-profits sponsored by traditional churches, denominations, synagogues, and mosques simply could not survive.

For example, the accreditation of traditional religious colleges, schools, and seminaries, whose deeply held religious beliefs prohibit their hiring of LGBT individuals and admitting of LGBT students, would be endangered. Furthermore, student access to Title IV funds would be eliminated. Thus, such institutions, which have saved the states billions of dollars and have educated citizens and community leaders for decades—even centuries—would immediately be forced out of business.

This is because the Equality Act explicitly states organizations will not be protected by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) of 1993. RFRA was introduced by Congressman Chuck Schumer of New York. Passed unanimously in the U.S. House, with only three dissenting votes in the U.S. Senate, it was eagerly signed by President Bill Clinton. This act guarantees the freedom of conscience for traditional religious people promised in the First Amendment. Yet the Equality Act would do away with these protections.

Even elected representatives who do not share our deeply held religious beliefs need to be made aware of the valuable role traditional religious colleges, schools, adoption and other social services agencies, and religious non-profits have long played in our society. They need to understand clearly the existential threat this entire sector faces should the Equality Act pass.

Financial support. Concerned churches and individuals also can increase charitable giving to institutions like Welch College. Christian colleges and universities stand to lose the most the fastest as a result of the momentum the LGBT lobby is gaining.

Quite simply, if the Equality Act passes, the only thing that will ultimately sustain Welch is the financial support of its denominational, church, alumni, and donor base. This financial support has never been so important. Its increase is the greatest bulwark against the loss of Title IV funds and tax exemption.

Speak the truth in love. Love is the final apologetic, as Francis Schaeffer used to say. If we are not careful to love individuals whose human flourishing and spiritual lives are being harmed by LGBT ideology, and show that love observably, we will not have the right, spiritually, to speak the truth we say we believe.

In this regard, I highly recommend the writings of Rosaria Butterfield, an evangelical pastor’s wife who used to be a lesbian critical theory professor. Dr. Butterfield came to faith as a result of the humble, hospitable witness of a conservative evangelical pastor and his wife in a small congregation.

This pastor, his wife, and their church bore witness to the truth of Holy Scripture regarding what kind of sexual identities and relationships honor God and His creative design and foster human flourishing. They were loving and kind and hospitable to Butterfield and her friends, who were at the vanguard of the LGBT movement.

Pray. Ask God to provide wisdom for people in leadership. Ask Him to help legislators on the federal and state levels to understand what is at stake with the Equality Act and other initiatives that jeopardize the First Amendment rights of every citizen.

And pray for God to renew faithful churches that confidently teach and model the doctrine and practice the Spirit gives us in His Word, speak the truth in love, and spread the gospel of Christ, which is the power of God to salvation to everyone who believes.

About the Writer: J. Matthew Pinson is president of Welch College and chairman of the Free Will Baptist Commission for Theological Integrity.


©2021 ONE Magazine, National Association of Free Will Baptists