U.S. President Barack Obama signed into law Oct. 28 a new “hate crimes bill” that extends federal prosecution to include crimes motivated by a victim’s gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.
Some church leaders have expressed concerns about the law’s possible implications for pastors who speak out against homosexuality from the pulpit. Supporters of the new law, however, state that pastors (and laity) can continue to express their beliefs on homosexuality, and that the bill applies only to acts of violence against people perceived to be homosexual.
Missouri Synod President Gerald Kieschnick offered this statement Oct. 28:
“Today President Obama signed into law the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The bill extends federal hate-crime laws to include crimes motivated by a victim’s gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.
“The bill is named after Matthew Shepard, a homosexual 21-year-old college student who was killed in 1998 in Laramie, Wyo., reportedly because of his sexual orientation. Byrd was an African-American lynched in Texas in 1998. Members of the Shepard family were in attendance at the White House signing today.
“Critics of the bill contend that its language creates the potential for federal prosecution of anyone whose speech (or sermon) ‘incites’ an act of violence against someone who is, or is perceived to be, homosexual, and that religious ministers and teachers may face possible prosecution if someone who commits a crime claims to have heard a religious leader speaking against homosexuality.
“Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund, said although he doesn’t believe there will be ‘immediate’ prosecutions of pastors and churches for teaching the biblical injunction that homosexual behavior is sinful, ‘I think the effect on speech and religious speech is nonetheless real.’
“Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.), a supporter of the bill, told the media after the Senate’s passage of the bill, 68-29, that religious leaders can continue to express their beliefs on homosexuality as they wish. The bill, he added, applies only to bias-motivated crimes of violence and includes strong protections of speech and association.
“Although we don’t know the full ramifications of this bill as of yet, my staff and I will be watching closely for any possible infringement on the rights of our members and pastors to speak out against the sin of homosexuality based on the Word of God (Lev. 18:22, Rom. 1:26-27, and 1 Cor. 6:9).
“We live in difficult times, when the traditional moral and religious foundations of our country are being slowly but steadily eroded. In the days ahead we may face persecution because of our pronouncement of the truths of Holy Scripture, God’s revealed, inspired, inerrant, infallible Word. Meanwhile, the LCMS, in deep humility and repentance, strives to remain faithful and steadfast in our calling to, ‘Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage — with great patience and careful instruction’ (2 Tim. 4:2).”
Posted Nov. 4, 2009