By Shane Kastler
This week the Louisiana House of Representatives passed House Bill 597, also known as the “Pastor Protection Act.” As a Louisiana pastor, you might think I would be excited about this bill, but I am not. While I agree with the basic philosophy of the bill which states that pastors who refuse to participate in same-sex marriages, cannot face punitive damage. My problem is that this would be a redundant bill, if the state of Louisiana would simply honor the U.S. Constitution’s first amendment. And the fact is ANYTIME a governing agency butts its nose into a wedding ceremony, then it is breaking the first amendment which states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” When the government states who can and cannot be married, then they are infringing on “the free exercise thereof.” And rather than pass yet another law that will systematically be ignored, government should instead get out of the marriage business altogether since it does not belong there anyway.
As a pastor, it should be my prerogative to perform weddings for whomever I wish. And to refuse whomever I wish. But a Pastor’s right to perform or refuse a marriage should extend to any union he’s uncomfortable with. An amendment to HB 597 places an exclusion on biracial, heterosexual couples. So does this mean I am required by law to perform all such marriages? What if it’s a marriage between a black Muslim and a white Christian and I refuse to do the marriage on religious grounds? Would I be sued and smeared as a racist? Would I be fined or imprisoned? Whom I marry is my own business, and I need not provide the government with ANY REASON whatsoever. The fact is, I have refused heterosexual marriages numerous times because I didn’t believe the marriage was Biblical or wise. Whatever my reasoning for not performing a ceremony, it is none of the state’s business. The couples could still marry legally, but I am not required to perform the ceremony. Who I choose to marry is between me and God; or me and the couple; or me and my church. At no point should the government butt their nose into these religious matters. And to many Christians like me, this is a religious (not a government) matter. The solution, of course, is for government to get out of the marriage business and leave such decisions to individual pastors and the churches to which they and the couple belongs. The state doesn’t tell us who we can or cannot baptize or give communion to. Why should they tell us whom we can and cannot marry?
The very idea of government licensing spits in the face of American liberty. To say we are a free people is total mythology. We are not free when we have to get the government’s permission to catch a catfish, shoot a deer, or cut someone’s hair. We are not free when we have to get the government’s permission as to what type of lightbulb we use, how big our toilet can be, or what way we choose to educate our children. And no, we are not free when we have to get the government’s permission to get married. Who do they think they are? The answer of course, is God. Eliminating God from the equation and setting themselves up as the highest authority is the goal of all oppressive governmental regimes. The idea of submitting to God as my master, or even the idea of a non-religious self-ownership is eschewed by the dictatorial state. In their minds, you and I are THEIR property. And for most things we must seek THEIR permission. America is no different than the Soviet Union, China, or Nazi Germany in this regard. The only difference is America has done it subtly and with a smile on its face, claiming “diversity” and “equality” and “tolerance” when they really mean coercion, destruction, and subjugation. And sadly, many American Christians have taken the bait and bowed the knee to the American Caesar rather than the Lord Christ.
The fact is, marriage licenses are a relatively new phenomenon. They didn’t exist in America until the 1880s when they were introduced so the government could prohibit interracial marriage. Yes, that same benevolent government that now wants to enshrine laws forcing certain types of marriages has also sought in the past to forbid the very same type of marriages. If they really cared about interracial couples they would simply abolish the practice of state licensing as a requirement for marriage. But amazingly, this idea spooks many people who assume that marriage simply cannot exist without governmental approval. I think most Christians are surprised to learn that the Bible does not require you to get a state license to get married; and that Joseph and Mary did not need approval from the Nazareth Court House before they tied the knot. Marriage was considered a private, religious entity. It still should be.
The amendments to HB 597, open up a potential Pandora’s box where government might eventually provide a litany of situations in which they will force pastors to participate in. Personally, I would gladly marry an interracial couple, provided they met the Biblical qualifications for marriage. And I would refuse to marry a “same race” couple if they didn’t meet the Biblical qualifications, as I interpret them. The point is, those Biblical qualifications, or even my own personal views on marriage, are none of the government’s business. The solution is fairly simple. Get government out of church matters such as marriage. And leave pastors and churches alone to perform whatever ceremony they deem appropriate. We have the right to view marriage however we wish. And others have the right to disagree and go to church elsewhere. But the government does not have the right to step in and dictate whom we will or will not marry.
In fact, I would even go so far as to say the government does not have the right to force acts or purchases on anyone for any reason. Be they a pastor or not. We shouldn’t be forced to buy insurance, buckle our seat belts, or incriminate ourselves by filing a tax return. But those are articles for another day. My point today is that I shouldn’t be forced to marry anyone I don’t want to marry; and the so-called “Pastor Protection Act” could easily end up being the “Pastor Incarceration Act” before it’s all said and done.
Shane Kastler is Pastor at the Heritage Baptist Church, Lake Charles, LA and Co-Host; "Church & State" KELB Radio, 100.5 FM. He blogs at The Narrow Road.