by Gregory Tomlin
Liberal Sweden, which has thrown off the shackles of “old world” sexual morality and whose government has blessed —perhaps championed—homosexuality as an alternative lifestyle, is about to take a giant leap toward reforming and shaping the behavior of some of its citizens.
Those who are about to incur the wrath of the Swedish government are not the sexually immoral; they are conservative, evangelical Christians who dare to “insult” homosexuals.
In what could be the greatest threat to religious liberty in Europe since the days when the Roman Catholic Church had a stranglehold on philosophical and theological thought, the Riksdag—Sweden’s parliament—appears as if it is about to muzzle the nation’s pastors.
Sweden already has a law that prohibits the verbal abuse and “agitation” of racial and ethnic minorities. But a draft bill passed by 56 percent of the nation’s lawmakers in May and expected to be finalized in January would make pastors who declare homosexuality “immoral” susceptible to criminal charges and prison terms of up to four years. The law might forbid even the recitation of the Roman Catholic catechism that notes the sinfulness of homosexual behavior, according to lawmakers.
If all goes as expected for the powerful homosexual lobby in Sweden, the law will become a constitutional amendment.
Swedish pastors are horrified, and with good reason. Johann Candelin, president of the Religious Liberties Commission of the World Evangelical Alliance and a Finnish pastor, told Christianity Today, “If the bill passes, it will place Sweden on level with China, with the state defining which theology is permissible.”
Sören Andersson, president of the Swedish Federation for Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Rights, said that his organization will go on the hunt and report “hate speech irrespective of where it occurs.” Lutheran, Baptist, Mennonite, Pietist, and Pentecostal ministers might find homosexual “Big Brother” in their pews.
Such threats to the freedom of pastors, or ordinary Christians for that matter, to disclose their opinions about homosexuality is not that far removed from our own borders.
In Canada three men filed complaints with the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission over an advertisement placed in a Canadian newspaper. The ad cut their feelings to the quick, they said, because it contained passages from the Bible that declared homosexuality a sin. Hugh Owens, the Christian who placed the ad quoting Romans 1:26, Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, and I Corinthians 6:9, was fined $4,500 by the Commission for “offensive behavior.”
A Canadian lawyer appointed by the Saskatchewan Commission found that while rhetoric disparaging homosexuality was permissible as free speech, such statements combined with passages from the Bible that “expose or tend to expose homosexuals to hatred or ridicule” are punishable.
This infringement upon religious speech is frightening, and the possibility that similar laws soon may be enacted here in America is a pill too difficult to choke down.
What might our nation be like if pastors were prohibited from preaching that homosexuality is a sin, or from declaring that marriage is a divine institution?
That day may be closer than we think. Americans, recent statistics reveal, increasingly do not believe that biblical teachings about homosexuality are relevant.
The Barna Research Group reported in October that “over the past 20 years we have seen the nation’s theological views become less aligned with the Bible.” In 2001 the group reported that while nine percent of Americans were uncertain about the morality of homosexuality, 48 percent of the adults surveyed said homosexuality should be legal. Forty-five percent said homosexuality should be considered an acceptable lifestyle.
Let me remind you that in Sweden the law against disparaging homosexuality sailed through with slightly more support.
What should Christians do? Paul wrote to his young protégé Timothy: “Before God and Christ Jesus, who is going to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom I solemnly charge you: proclaim the message; persist in it whether it is convenient or not; rebuke, correct, and encourage with great patience and teaching. For the time will come when they will not tolerate sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, will accumulate teachers for themselves because they have an itch to hear something new.”
We must preach the truth boldly in Christian charity, all the while realizing that the task will not earn us praise nor satisfy those who confuse loving exposition of the Bible with intolerance and hate. If we do not preach the truth, the rising tide of contempt for God’s word may bury the church in America.
Gregory Tomlin is news director at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary