by Al Mohler
A moral, political, and cultural earthquake tremored last Thursday night as CNN’s Equality Town Hall featured the leading contenders for the Democratic Nomination for President of the United States. The rhetoric of the candidates finally bared the teeth of a Democratic Party sold out to the most radical proposals of the LGBTQ movement.
Indeed, a particular exchange between CNN anchor Don Lemon and former Congressman Beto O’Rourke revealed to what extent contenders for the Democratic Nomination will go to deconstruct religious liberty in the name of the newly declared sexual liberties.
Lemon asked O’Rourke, “This is from your LGBTQ plan, this is what you wrote: “Freedom of religion is a fundamental right, but it should not be used to discriminate.” Lemon then pressed the question: “Do you think religious institutions like colleges, churches, charities, should they lose their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage?”
Without skipping a beat or drawing a breath, O’Rourke answered, “Yes.” After that “Yes” came momentous applause from the studio audience. O’Rourke went on to say, “There can be no reward, no benefit, no tax break for anyone or any institution, any organization in America that denies the full human rights and the full civil rights of every single one of us. So as President, we’re going to make that a priority and we’re going to stop those who are infringing upon the human rights of our fellow Americans.”
O’Rourke’s answer dropped like a neutron bomb on the American political landscape and is indeed the clearest picture of the collision between religious liberty and sexual liberty. The dismantling of religious liberty for the sake of LGBTQ liberty has long been the aim of secularization—but after Thursday night, it is clear that the Democratic Party now marches to the tune of the LGBTQ movement.
Indeed, during the oral arguments for the Obergefell Decision—which legalized same-sex marriage across the country—the then Solicitor General of the United States, Donald Verrilli, said that religious liberty “will be an issue” for Christian colleges or universities who will refuse to alter their sexual ethics and religious convictions.
That “will,” was a future tense. After Thursday night, we are now speaking in the present tense. O’Rourke positioned himself, to the sound of thunderous applause, as a threat to religious liberty. He openly declared that he will strip religious organizations, even churches, of their tax-exempt status if they refuse to adopt his secular orthodoxy.
While O’Rourke was the only candidate who used such explicit language, the other candidates offered similar positions, veiled behind more politically acceptable rhetoric. Still, the trajectory of the Democratic Party is such that no potential nominee for President could ever walk back a statement like this, not even a millimeter.
Indeed, shortly after the Town Hall, O’Rourke tweeted his statement, as if proud of his rhetoric. He made it very clear that he did not intend to walk back his statement until 24 hours later, when he said that he did not want to remove tax-exempt status for religious institutions and churches merely for their beliefs—he would, however, deny tax-exemption for discriminatory actions.
The press seemed satisfied with this “clarification.” O’Rourke’s explanation, however, in no way abrogates his brazen rhetoric during the CNN Town Hall. Indeed, the intersection of beliefs and practices is exactly where the battle is being waged for religious freedom. Can Christian institutions, schools, or congregations for that matter, act in accordance with and not contrary to its own theological beliefs?
The battle for religious liberty does not exist in some hypothetical, dystopic future. The collision between religious freedom and the newly declared erotic liberties clashed on prime-time television. Each and every candidate during CNN’s Equality Town Hall, in one way or another, unleashed a full broadside against the most essential quality and virtue of any government or civilization, namely, the freedom of the conscience.
Each candidate for the Democratic Nomination was allowed 30 minutes, and the night’s charade began with New Jersey Senator Cory Booker.
Booker was asked, “How would you address the, at times, juxtaposing issues of religious freedom and LGBTQ rights?”
Book responded, “It’s a great question, and thank you very much. Look, this is something I’ve been dealing with all my life… And so, for me, I cannot allow as a leader that people are going to use religion as a justification for discrimination. I can respect your religious freedoms but also protect people form discrimination.”
This is the same stance articulated later in the night by Beto O’Rourke, only slightly more veiled behind the idea of “discrimination.” In essence, the New Jersey Senator will champion religious freedom until it actually means anything.
Immediately thereafter, he called for the passage of The Equality Act, which the House of Representatives passed earlier this year. The Act accomplishes exactly what Booker and O’Rourke articulated during the Town Hall—it ends all discrimination on the basis of LGBTQ identity without any adequate provision for religious liberty.
Thus, because each candidate during the Town Hall supports passage of the Equality Act, they effectively support the same argument made by O’Rourke, just without the candor and honesty.
Dana Bash ask Senator Booker, “Do you think that religious education institutions should lose their tax-exempt status if they oppose LGBTQ rights?” The Senator responded, “We must stand up as a nation to say that religion cannot be an excuse to deny people health insurance, education and more.” Again, what must be noted is that “education and more,” affirms the stripping of tax-exempt status to any Christian institution that maintains biblical principles and holds fast to its theological conviction.
Then, Booker was pressed with the follow-up question: “So, would they lose their tax-exempt status?” The Senator responded, “Again, I, I will press this issue, and I’m not, I’m not saying, because I know this is a long legal battle, and I’m not dodging your question, I’m saying that fundamentally that discrimination is discrimination.”
If he didn’t dodge the question, he certainly squirmed, not wanting to say out loud the essence of his position, namely, the reduction of religious liberty and all the freedoms protected in this constitutional right. Indeed, for Senator Booker, if religious conviction conflicts with his political stance, then it is dubbed discriminatory.
After Senator Booker, former Vice President Joe Biden took the stage, where he declared, “I suspect… this is going to be one forum where you’re going to get very little disagreement among the Democratic candidates. I’m proud of the position they all have because every one of us, if there are differences, they are just in degree and emotional concern.”
It is difficult to know exactly what the Vice President meant by those words—at the very least, it appears to be a way to catch himself up with the dizzying pace of the left wing of his party, which threatens to leave him behind. Indeed, during his 30 minute segment, the Vice President told a lengthy story of his childhood, aiming to show that he has never harbored discriminatory feelings towards homosexuals because, since his boyhood, he’s supported LGBTQ issues. In other words, he tries to position himself as way ahead of the curve on same-sex marriage and the LGBTQ movement—that he did not have to evolve on these issues like other Democrats.
After the Vice President came Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and the only openly gay candidate running for President. Indeed, he is the only candidate married to an individual of the same sex.
Hours before the Town Hall, Buttigieg released an entire platform on LGBTQ issues entitled, “Becoming Whole: A New Era for LGBTQ+ Americans.” At 18-pages long, it includes a laundry list of every goal of the LGBTQ movement, as well as some interesting items like, “Expand the representation of LGBTQ people and history in our national park system.” No one can accuse Mayor Buttigieg of leaving anything out.
During the Town Hall, CNN anchor Anderson Cooper asked him about religious liberty. Buttigieg stated, “Religious liberty is an important principle in this country, and we honor that. It’s also the case that any freedom that we honor in this country has limits when it comes to harming other people. We say that the right to free speech does not include the right to yell fire in a crowded theater. And the right to religious freedom ends where religion is being used as an excuse to harm other people.”
Harm means any kind of policy or action that could be perceived as discrimination against LGBTQ people. This would include a Christian college requiring its faculty to hold to certain doctrinal convictions as well as requiring faculty and students to live by a certain biblical, moral code.
Moreover, Buttigieg tries to present himself as the new icon of the theological left in the United States. Indeed, theological issues arose during Buttigieg’s time when Anderson Cooper asked him, “Is being gay a sin?” The Mayor responded, “I don’t believe it is. I also get that people reach their own understandings of their own faith. I guess where I try to reach people is that, can we at least agree that whatever faith tradition or commitment they have agrees with mine? That we are called to compassion? That we are called to seek out in one another what is best? And that we are supposed to protect those who are vulnerable?”
Mayor Buttigieg, in a few words, concocted his own theology—he just made up his own religion. While he claims a Christian identity, nothing he attests remotely resembles orthodox, biblical Christianity. Homosexuality is declared to be not a sin because Pete Buttigieg does not want it to be a sin. He simply ignores the Bible.
After Mayor Buttigieg came Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. During her time, a member of the audience asked her what she would do if a supporter approached her and said, “Senator, I’m old fashioned, and my faith teaches me that marriage is between one man and one woman. What is your response?”
Senator Warren shot back with a condescending putdown that was widely celebrated in the press and clearly loved by the audience at the Town Hall. She said, “Well, I’m going to assume it’s a guy who said that, and I’m going to say, ‘Then just marry one woman. I’m cool with that.’” Then, during the loud applause that broke out, she quipped, “Assuming you can find one.” Laughter erupted in the auditorium.
By an average of the polls, Senator Warren enjoys front-runner status. The front-runner for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States condescendingly said to Americans, in effect, “If you do not hold to my view of marriage and homosexuality, you are not even worthy of anyone marrying you.”
It should tell us a great deal that this kind of sentiment is applause worthy for millions of Americans. In short, if you will not capitulate to the sexual revolution, then you are so backward that you do not even deserve to be married yourself. No one should want to marry you.
Following Senator Warrant was Senator Kamala Harris of California. She was questioned by CNN anchor Chris Cuomo and in the first few seconds of her interview, Cuomo found himself in an explosive situation that went viral on social media.
Senator Harris walked onto the stage after being introduced and said that she identifies herself with the gender pronouns, “she, her, and hers.” This is a nod to the semantics of the LGBTQ movement, which views gender pronouns not as contingent upon one’s biological sex, but however one subjectively identifies. It is a way to “honor” the dignity of an individual who wants to be identified as either male, female, or any other fanciful identity on the chaotic spectrum of the LGBTQ sexual ethic.
Cuomo, attempting to make a joke, simply said, “Mine too,” with a quizzical look on his face. Harris responded, “All right.” The days following the Town Hall, Cuomo has attempted to overcome this enormous gaffe that just may cost him the liberal influence and stature he worked so hard to build over his media career.
He should have known the trouble he put on his own shoulders when he made a joke with pronouns, especially with the militancy of the LGBTQ movement. Indeed, reports around the globe detail the consequences of those who will not capitulate the new sexual ethics demanded by transgender activists. In the United Kingdom, a doctor lost his job over failure to recognize an individual’s self-prescribed pronouns. In the United States, a teacher lost his job because he would not refer to a transgender student by that student’s preferred gender pronoun. Chris Cuomo, attempting to recover his image, may receive a pass from the LGBTQ activists, but only because he’s practicing the art of groveling.
While Cuomo’s gaffe stole the attention way from his segment with Kamala Harris, it is important to note that the California Senator, like all the candidates that night, declared her unwavering support of the Equality Act—a piece of legislation she said would be her top priority to pass. Again, the legislation, in its current form, has no provisions or considerations for religious liberty.
After Senator Harris came Beto O’Rourke. His session, given its importance, will be covered in detail below. After the former Congressman, Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota took the stage—identified as something of a moderate, she positioned herself exactly in line with even the most radical elements of the LGBTQ movement.
Her first priority is the passage of the Equality Act, which will deny the rights of conscience to Christians, religious business people, and even religious institutions and schools that will not recognize the new secular orthodoxy. She attempted to veil this destruction of religious liberty with a friendly demeanor and beaming smiles. Indeed, she made her stance clear when she said, “First of all, our Constitution, as you know, has been founded on a separation of church and state, and we can have different faiths in this country, but the law rules. And the law rules when it comes to discrimination and all kinds of other things. I can just tell you that I will appoint Supreme Court Justices that understand that. That’s number one.” Case closed.
Moreover, during Senator Klobuchar’s segment, an important issue came up for many Democrats: the distinction between good religion and bad religion. Good religion is liberal religion, a set of beliefs in lock-step with the LGBTQ revolution. Klobuchar identified with it personally, declaring that she identified with a United Church of Christ congregation and, “That is the faith that I raise my daughter in and what I grew up in the last few years.”
Don Lemon then asked, “So, on that subject, should the federal government give funding to any religious non-profit organizations that oppose same-sex marriage? For example, an adoption agency that won’t work with LGBTQ parents?” She immediately said, “Yeah. I think that you’ve got to have agencies that follow the law, and that’s one of the reasons that I want to pass the Equality Act, I think that’s really important.” Even Senator Klobuchar, often identified as a moderate, holds essentially to the same position clearly articulated by Beto O’Rourke.
Former Cabinet member, Julián Castro, also promoted the good religion vs. bad religion dichotomy, even though he identifies as a Roman Catholic. Castro indicated that there are plenty of Roman Catholics who agree with the LGBTQ revolution, though he failed to mention that such positions fly int eh face of the official doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church. Once again, only good religion can be affirmed. Official Roman Catholic dogma is anathema because it remains outside the orthodoxy of the LGBTQ revolution.
The final figure on the stage was Tom Steyer, a billionaire candidate who made his first major appearance at the Town Hall as a Democratic candidate. Steyer identified a mass generational shift happening in the American public. He said to LGBTQ activists, “Don’t worry. Everything is going your way. It’s a matter of generational inevitability.”
This “generational inevitability” led Steyer to advocate for term limits on members of the United States Congress. He said, “If they are replaced by younger people, they are almost assuredly going to be in agreement with you.”
Nothing, however, competed with the candor of Beto O’Rourke. Must churches and institutions that will not adhere to the newly prescribed sexual orthodoxy lose their tax-exempt status? He was ready with the simple answer “Yes.” No equivocation. No “politically correct” veil of obscure rhetoric.
The first Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court said that the power to tax is the power to destroy. That’s what is at stake in O’Rourke’s answer.
On the left, O’Rourke met some opposition—not because they disagreed with his position, but because he let the cat out of the bag.
Michael McGough, senior editorial writer for the Los Angeles Times, ran an article with the headline, “Beto O’Rourke’s ‘church tax’ idea plays into conservative paranoia about same-sex marriage.” Interestingly, McGough describes conservative evangelicals as paranoid—probably because we actually listen to the words spoken by those who aspire to the highest office in the United States and the leaders of the Democratic Party. What McGough calls paranoia might otherwise be called reality.
The Los Angeles Times article states, “So it would seem from O’Rourke’s answer on CNN that if he had his way, the Catholic Church would lose its tax-exempt status unless it changed its teachings about marriage.” Then, McGough stated, “The idea that the legalization of same-sex marriage would lead to curtailment of religious freedom has long been floated by conservatives.”
This is categorically false. The shackling of religious freedom is not merely a fear of the religious right but a point of advocacy by the cultural left. It was the Obama appointed Solicitor General of the United States who stated, before the Supreme Court, that claims of religious liberty would be an issue in a post-Obergefell United States. Mark Tushnet, a Harvard Law professor, unabashedly declared, “The culture wars are over. They lost, we won.”
Tushnet continued, “For liberals, the question now is how to deal with the losers in the culture wars. That’s mostly a question of tactics. My own judgment is that taking the hard line, you lost, live with it, is better than trying to accommodate the losers who, remember, defended and are defending positions the liberals regard as having no normative pull at all. And taking a hard line seemed to work reasonably well in Germany and Japan after 1945.”
The William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law at the Harvard Law School said that conservative Christians, traditional Roman Catholics, Orthodox Jews, and Muslims who cannot join the sexual revolution ought to receive the treatment of a defeated foe, akin to the treatment of Germany and Japan after World War Two. This is not misguided paranoia from religious conservatives. These are the words of the left.
In the aftermath of the Town Hall, a spokesperson for the O’Rourke campaign said, “Of course Beto was referring to religious institutions who take discriminatory action. The extreme right is distorting this for their own agenda.”
This statement appeared in an article by the editorial board of The Dallas Morning News. The article went on to report, “O’Rourke’s stance invited accusations from the right that in his drive for tolerance, he would punish religious groups that disagree with him, and is therefore pushing intolerance. The outpouring from gay rights activists was enthusiastic, though some commentators warned that O’Rourke is only feeding into the suspicion some conservative Christians hold toward Democrats and their sense of persecution.”
It is at this point that I want to offer an important challenge to the other candidates vying for the Democratic nomination: If this is not your position, I dare you to say so. I dare any of these candidates to state that O’Rourke was wrong—that religious belief cannot be disjointed from religious action; that the government cannot, by virtue of its own Constitution, infringe upon the freedom of the conscience and religious conviction.
I imagine that not one of the leading candidates will walk back O’Rourke’s position to the slightest degree. They may use different language or say that O’Rourke may not have understood the implications of his language. The will evade the question and soften their tone, but make no mistake, they will hold fast to the mores of the LGBTQ revolution—they have no choice in a Democratic party, sprinting towards the left.
Indeed, the Democratic party threatens to leave behind any of its members who will not keep up the pace of its radical secularization. O’Rourke himself has had to evolve at light-speed in order to pander to the elites of the Democratic Party. To the credit of the editorial board for The Dallas Morning News, they noticed the difference between O’Rourke, the Texas Senate candidate of 2018 and O’Rourke, the Presidential Candidate of 2020. Gillman wrote, “Beto embraces divisions by wanting to tax religious organizations over gay marriage. The presidential candidate is running a different campaign than the Senate candidate. When Beto O’Rourke ran for Senate last year, he presented himself as someone who could reach across the political divide and work with those he disagrees with. Now as he runs for president this year, Candidate Beto is embracing the politics of sharp divisions.”
We cannot read the heart of any individual. That is part of the human predicament. We can, however, hear and read their words. In this case, in the span of just a few months, we have not one Beto O’Rourke, but two. Even if we cannot read his heart, we can read what this says about American culture and the shifting landscape of American politics—indeed, about the radicalization of the Democratic Party.
Just go back 12 years ago and you will find a young Senator from Illinois, attempting to secure the Democratic nomination for President of the United States. That Senator, who went on to become President Barak Obama, wanted to go on record as not supporting the legalization of same-sex marriage.
That was just 12 years ago. We are witnessing a massive revolution in morality, especially on matters of gender, sexuality, and marriage. The swiftness of this revolution’s pace leaves no time to consider the ramifications of the LGBTQ ethic.
Now, in the 2020 Democratic Primary for President of the United States, Beto O’Rourke and virtually every other candidate on CNN’s stage handed down an ultimatum: The time is up for conservative Christianity. Anyone who will not join the sexual revolution is an enemy combatant, not worthy of protection nor a voice in the public process. Indeed, according to Senator Warren, you are not even worthy to get married.
The trajectory of the Democratic Party demands the unconditional surrender of evangelical Christianity—failure to capitulate will result in the coercive power of government to silence you.
All of that took place on just one, albeit very long, night on cable news. The message is clear, and it is one that American Christians cannot forget.