When We are Out of Season
Presidential elections have a way of creating arguments and angst as candidates seek to gain the attention of the American people. Often, candidates lagging in the polls will lob a political grenade into the discussion for this very reason. Sometimes, these bombastic ideas are forgotten as quickly as the failed candidate; however, sometimes these ideas have a way of migrating from the fringes and into mainstream public sentiment. One such grenade that was recently lobbed should pique the attention of Christians.
Trailing badly in most polls, former Texas congressman Robert “Beto” O’Rourke has sought to gain footing in a crowded race for the White House, before ultimately withdrawing from the contest. Seeking to show his acceptance and tolerance for the LGBTQ+ community, he recently stated, “There can be no reward, no benefit, no tax break for anyone or any institution or organization in America that denies the full human rights, and the full civil rights, of everyone in America.” The targets of his remarks are churches unwilling to refrain from teaching against the sin of homosexuality and same-sex marriage. In short, such an idea would mean that contributions to churches would not be tax-deductible, churches would lose tax-exempt status, and a preacher’s housing allowance tax deduction would be taken away. The proponents of such measures believe this would allow the government to use financial punishments to bring “wayward” religious groups into the mainstream fold.
As Christians come to terms with proposals of this nature, they should remember that the government is not required to provide any type of tax relief to either churches or preachers. The fact that this has been the case in the United States for well over a century is a blessing; it has allowed churches to fund men and their families to go into “all the world” to preach the gospel with money that would otherwise have been used for tax payment. It has also allowed men who preach the gospel to have their incomes fully provided by churches rather than being involved in secular work. However, a government choosing to remove such provisions would not constitute some type of “governmental heresy.” Christians, therefore, need to be aware of the greater issue at hand.
For over 200 years, preachers and churches have grown accustomed to minimal government interference in what is taught in the United States. Primarily, government has only involved itself in these matters when the health or safety of an individual or group is at stake. Because of this blessing, “freedom of religion” has provided those loyal to God the great liberty to teach His word in its purity. However, Christians must understand that the time may not be too distant when such liberties will be reduced or removed. Because of this, Christians must begin strengthening themselves with the necessary courage to stand for truth, even in hard times. The apostle Paul admonished Timothy concerning this very idea. To the young evangelist, he wrote, “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (II Timothy 4:2). The willingness to stand for truth in “out-of-season” times is a testimony to one’s faith in God. The Lord made this abundantly clear in His inaugural sermon on kingdom citizenship. He taught, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10-12). Regardless of the favor shown by government, the Christian’s allegiance is first to God; the faithful stand firm no matter what others may say or do.
In relation to the specific issue that motivated Mr. O’Rourke’s comments, Christians must continue maintaining love. Sadly, the sin of homosexuality has grown both in its practice and acceptance; however, this should not bring Christians to view these proponents with hatred. All preaching and teaching against this sin should be done for no other motivation than love for the souls of others. In this, love for one’s neighbor (Mark 12:31) is demonstrated. Under no circumstances should a child of God resort to violence, either through word or action, toward those involved in this sin. Preaching truth in love must always prevail.
With all these things in view, Christians must not borrow trouble from the future; yet, they should begin discussing how such a change in relationship to the government would be handled. Most of all, every Christian should pray! To this end, the apostle Paul admonished, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (I Timothy 2:1-2). A God powerful enough to create the world certainly has the power to defeat those hostile to His word. Still, there have been occasions throughout history in which He has allowed His people to face challenges to their faith. Regardless of what earthly governments may do, may each child of God commit to the eternal King, fully trusting that all things will work together for good.