In the month since the Supreme Court decided Oberfell v. Hodges, a ruling which prohibited states from banning same-sex marriage, sermon after sermon at Minnesota’s conservative churches has directed the faithful to weep, pray, and despair in the ruling. Some warned it was a war against God. Others told parishioners that their churches will be fined, that their pastors may be jailed, and that Satan has won an important victory every time a gay or lesbian couple takes a vow of love and commitment to each other. One pastor even told his church he is “preparing us to live as cultural exiles.”
In all, The Column reviewed dozens of sermons from every corner of the state, and found that while a large majority of Minnesotans have either celebrated marriage equality or simply moved on from the issue, there’s still a seething anti-LGBT theology among some faith traditions.
‘We are at War’
At Riverview Baptist Church in West St. Paul, Pastor Levi Secord was livid in his June 28th sermon. It had been two days since marriage for gays and lesbians had been legalized coast to coast.
“As an American, you should be livid. I’m livid even talking about it right now,” he said. “But as a Christian, we shouldn’t even be surprised. It’s just a drop in the bucket. The kingdom of darkness hates the truth, and it is warring against God’s church with everything it has, and yes America has been spared from this for quite some time.”
For Secord, the Supreme Court decision was an act of war. “We don’t recognize we are at war with men and women who have no remorse whatsoever for their sin and then they bring it out into the street.”
Secord said it is Christians who are the victims in the culture wars. “They host parades in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and anybody that looks at that and says it’s wrong, we are the ones that are backwards. People will chase after you and say we are born this way and ‘who are you to tell me what’s right?’ While they simultaneously tell you you are wrong. And then they turn and they show no pity on God’s people and they attack them.”
“If you think about it, the gay rights movement said… ‘We just want equal protection under the law. We don’t care what the Christians believe. We just want equal protection under the law.’ That’s not what they just wanted, right?”
Secord mentioned bakers in Oregon who were fined for refusing service to a same-sex couples, and implied that the Obama administration wanted to take tax-exempt statuses away from Christian colleges.
“Because it was never just about equal rights. There’s a larger agenda behind it and that agenda is that of the enemy of God’s church.”
Pastor Mike VerWay of First Calvary Baptist in Inver Grove Heights, a suburb just south of St. Paul, called homosexuality “vile behavior” and accused supporters of marriage equality of “hate speech.”
“What happened with those five justices is that there is now state recognition of vile behavior against the holy God. What has happened is public approval of self-destructive behaviors of the most hideous kind,” VerWay told the congregation in a July 12 sermon. “Brothers and sisters, we have moved past homosexuality and sexual perversion being characteristic of our society. We have regressed to the point of affirming and approving and promoting as the people’s house was ablaze in rainbow colors following this verdict. So that we now promote this sinful perversion of God’s creation. The Bible could not be more clear on this subject.” He followed that by reading from Leviticus.
”It is actually hate speech to affirm homosexuality as if there is no consequence.”
VerWay added, “It is actually hate speech to affirm homosexuality as if there is no consequence. Effectively such affirmation damns souls to God’s wrath in eternity for hell. It is hate speech of the highest level to affirm [homosexuality]. It is the epitome of the highest love to warn and to show the way of escape.”
Changes in Church Policy
“I want you to know that along with many others, the elders were anticipating this decision and therefore we have been discussing the implications,” Pastor Matthew Molesky of Calvary Community Church in St. Cloud told his congregation two days after the ruling. “For months we’ve been talking about the changes that we think we are going to need to make in things like church member agreements and facility use rental documents and many others.”
Molesky’s church is one of many conservative churches in Minnesota that are changing their policies in light of the marriage equality decision.
He said the church was getting input from the Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission from the Southern Baptist Convention and the Alliance for Defending Freedom on how not to get sued should a same-sex couples show up asking for a wedding. “We will continue to do this work and there will be more to come. Pray for your elders.”
His church will also be holding trainings, he said. “One of the things that we are going to be doing this fall is launching Wednesday evening services for the whole family and in those services I will be teaching from First Peter preparing us to live as cultural exiles.”
His last words of advice on the issue: “But for now, in this moment, what I want to encourage us to do is to weep.”
Grand Rapids Assembly of God, near the childhood home of Judy Garland, announced in a sermon that the church would be changing its legal documents in light of the ruling.
“It was big. There’s no way around it. It’s big. It’s going to change a lot of things,” pastor Jason Kirschenmann told the congregation the Sunday after the Supreme Court decision. “It’s going to affect some of the policies we are going to have to enact here at the church to avoid lawsuits to do those kind of things. It will affect some policy. Alright do you understand that? Policy. Not doctrine, policy. That’s it. That’s how it’s going to change for that, that’s number one.”
Kirschenmann was concerned that church could get sued if gay or lesbian couples tried to marry there.
“We are going to change a few policies to be worded in a way that protects us from legal action and that’s really all we are going to do,” he said. “I’m going to keep loving Jesus. I’m going to keep loving people and that’s it.”
Kirschenmann noted the Bible verses that condemn homosexuality and same-sex marriage, and that his church followed those, but he also had some strong words for his fellow Christians following the decision.
“I think that almost a greater tragedy maybe a greater tragedy than what was decided on Friday is how Christians have represented themselves for the last 3 days,” Kirschenmann remarked. “Because I have seen a lot of hate. I’ve seen a lot of burning. I’ve seen a lot of judgement. I’ve seen a lot of those kinds of things from the mouths of people that absolutely shocks me that it is coming from. The way we handle ourselves is important we cannot it is not our job to change a heart. That is only the job of jesus. Our job as Christians is to represent him well.”
At First Assembly of God in Bemidji, just blocks from the banks of Lake Bemidji, Pastor Matt Lewandowski warned that churches may find themselves forced to perform same-sex weddings.
“In light of recent events, there’s a good chance the most recent rulings will give the government the ability to clamp down on religious freedom,” he told his flock of pentecostals. “Again, I suspect in the coming days, weeks, and years, this ruling will be used to prohibit free speech and matters of conscience. It will only be a matter of time before they try to force churches and ministers to marry same-sex couples and so on and so on. It’s only a matter of time.
He directed his followers to follow God’s laws, not man’s.
“In light of recent events, we must take a stand and be resolved to honor God; his word above man’s laws. We do not fear what man can do, we fear God alone. We are not swayed by what culture says is good. We follow God and his word, what he says is good, what he tells us is sinful. We must do everything in love and respect, something we need to swallow hard this morning, is we must do everything in love and respect. We have no right to act in anger, contempt, arrogance, or viciousness. We don’t play by those rules. We don’t play the games the world plays.”
In St. Peter Minnesota, Greg Kalyvas of the Sunrise Assembly of God had strong words about “tolerance.”
“Two citizens of the same city, the same state can’t have a conversation and disagree. That’s what really irritates me. If I disagree with someone who is a gay activist I’m accused of a hate crime. Excuse me?” Kalyvas told the congregation. “That’s like a Neo-Nazi King George, you don’t pay your taxes, we are going to crush this colony. Who are you to tell me we can’t have a disagreement? I don’t believe that we as Christians should go out and make yourself a political minority. I am totally against that.”
He added, “If I have a problem with society, I do it as a citizen informed by my Christianity. We don’t need more fundamentalist groups out doing dumb things to government. Can somebody say amen? We just need to be intelligent, informed, impassioned yes, but respectful. Just because we are tolerant doesn’t mean we condone, we are citizens of this land and of a greater land.”
They are coming after the churches
Many pastors accused the LGBT community of going after the churches. At Chisago Lakes Baptist Church and School, just northeast of the Twin Cities, pastor Pastor Kraig Keck was convinced that eventually his church, and others like it, would be forced to pay taxes because of same-sex marriage.
“This ruling by the Supreme Court sets the stage for the elimination of certain government privileges and constitutional safeguards for religious groups,” he told the congregation. “I suspect that they’ll start with Christian businesses and nonprofit parachurch organizations like Christian colleges and finally churches. If you disagree with same-sex marriage, you will lose your nonprofit status eventually. Christian colleges will lose their accreditation. The government will be used to pressure you to conform.”
“This ruling will not provide the happiness that homosexuals want.“
He said that same-sex couples cannot possibly be happy to be able to marry.This ruling will not provide the happiness that homosexuals want. They believe that they are unhappy and this is caused by the bigotry of others,” he said. “One of the arguments at the Supreme Court was that the only reason for preventing homosexual marriage is animus, strong dislike or hostility to homosexuality. If you eliminate animus, they assume they will be happy but that’s not true.”
Elder Darren Johnson at Victory Baptist Church conducted a wide-ranging missive about the evils of homosexuality and the Supreme Court’s decision.
“Our children are hearing the message in schools that homosexuality should be an accepted behavior. We are bombarded on TV constantly with the notion that homosexual behavior should be accepted and that we are to be tolerant of their behaviors. So let me ask you this, do we accept murderous behavior?” he asked the congregation. “Do we accept that type of behavior? Are we asked to accept that? No. But essentially that’s what they are asking us to do. It’s sin. It’s sin.
Johnson went on to say that “the homosexual agenda has had one of the most successful marketing campaigns” in history, and then concluded that “homosexuality is a choice.”
“Just like stealing is a choice. Just like murder is a choice. Just like lying and cheating is a choice. We choose to participate in sin and you know what? God let’s us choose. God let’s us choose these things.”
He added that it would bring about the destruction of America. “You know as a nation, the United States we’ve never really given hearty approval of the sin of homosexuality and because of this, I believe God’s going to hasten his judgement. So if you are in the nation this will affect you.”
Johnson also related to the congregation that being “homosexual” is demonic: “The choice to be gay however has far greater risk in that it ties one to lust, illicit passions and unclean practices that quite frankly open up a person to the demonic. And I think of any this particular demonic is one that is I think the hardest one to be cleansed of.”
“Believe me persecution is coming,” he said. “It is coming to us. Did you know right now, in Denmark, the government has made it mandatory to conduct gay marriages regardless of religious beliefs or conscience or conviction. Could America be next? Could a law be passed that would order American churches to perform gay weddings if they want to maintain tax exempt status? The writing is on the wall. So what will the church do? Will we obey man or will we obey god? Well this I can affirm right now: The pastors and the leadership of this body will hold true to what the Bible says.”
The congregation applauded (but what Johnson did not mention is that in Denmark, the Evangelical Lutheran Church is part of the government, subject to Parliament and the monarchy).
“We may very well lose our exempt status,” Johnson concluded. “We may be the front page of the story of the newspapers but know this: the paper is going to read that Victory Baptist Church held true to our convictions and our beliefs based on the living and unchanging word of God.”
Homosexuality is sin
Most pastors, such as Pastor Scott Wade of Coon Rapids Evangelical Free Church in the northern suburbs of Minneapolis, used the sermons to preach that homosexuality is a sin.
“Then Friday came and the Supreme Court ruled on the idea of same sex marriage in our country, and I believe God was not honored,” he said. “Throughout the pages of scripture, it is also clear that homosexuality is sinful behavior. This is also not up for debate but it is, at this point, that many will try and argue… So if you hear people out there telling you that scripture is accepting of homosexuality, then I have to say they simply haven’t read the Bible, because it is very clear, very straightforward that homosexuality is sinful. So to get around it you’ve either got to redefine it or toss it out completely. And we simply cannot go there as Christians.”
Dave Foss, Bethel Lutheran Church in Fergus Falls in the west-central part of the state was also quick to point out that God says homosexuality is wrong.
“I’m going to say this morning I believe that gay marriage is not good,” Foss said. “It’s not good for anyone. It’s not good for our nation. It’s not good for society… Homosexual behavior is wrong not because I say so or anyone else says so but because God says so. God is not homophobic. God is not a hater. God is love… He’s not a hater. He’s love. He does not have a political agenda. He has a spiritual agenda for every person in the world, for every person no matter what their sin issue is.”
Suffer the children and the family
At Northfield Evangelical Free Church just south of the Twin Cities, Pastor Daniel Runke was concerned for the nation.
“I think we’ll be able to look back on that decision and they will see and acknowledge that that decision did significant damage to the nation,” he said. “Because it will have done significant damage to the family, and the further the family is destroyed the impact that it has on the nation.”
Dr. Jeff Rich of Grace Community Bible Church in Lakeville in the southern suburbs of the Twin Cities worried about the children.
“God loves marriage and he gave it to us as a great gift. This first institution is a foundational institution and frankly when a nation abandons the biblical definition of marriage, the very foundation, the very foundation of that society has been fatally compromised,” said Rich in his June 28 sermon. “And brothers and sisters our children are the ones who are going to suffer for this more than us, and our children’s children. Friday didn’t change anything homosexuality is still a sin. Didn’t change anything.”
It’s not only the children that will suffer, according to Rich. Christians will suffer as well.
“They are slandering us as evil-doers...“
“Now is it going to be easy to be a Christian in the years to come in the United States? No, no, and I know of the supernatural ones that saw that,” he continued. “It’s never been easy to be a Christian in the United States but I would tell you what it’s gotten harder since Friday. To be a true christian in the United States. God has been preparing us. He put us by his grace in the book of First Peter that’s his sovereign grace the book of first peter has been equipping us for a year and will continue to equip us for unjust suffering for suffering persecution for the sake of Christ.”
He added, “They are slandering us as evil-doers not because we helped an old lady across the street. They are slandering what we believe and calling it evil.”
Reclaiming the Rainbow
Pastor Dan Johnson of Plymouth Covenant Church in the western Minneapolis suburbs want Christians to take back the rainbow.
“About 10 days ago our Supreme Court made a decision that they thought was good for us,” Johnson said in an early July sermon. “They served it up and said, ‘This tastes good,’ but for me personally, it left a bitter taste in my mouth. I think it’s going to cause our nation to get sick. Of course that decision was ruling that legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states, no longer a decision by the states, every state would have to legalize and perform and officiate these ceremonies.”
For Johnson, it was the use of the rainbow as a symbol of the LGBT community — and he wants Christians to take it back:
Some people say I’m tired of that picture. Everywhere I go. It’s on facebook. It’s on flag poles. It’s illuminating the white house lawn: the rainbow. Dan, I don’t want to have to look at that today. Well I just need to tell you we need to reclaim a symbol that’s been stolen from us. This symbol is a marvelous reminder of why I am filled with hope today, why I can respond to people with mercy today. This is — in many ways — what I cling to in times when there challenges. How do I navigate through so many situations? it’s through this symbol. Of course today, this symbol has been kind of stolen by another culture. They’re saying that this represents diversity which I understand…but when I say that I hold on to the scriptures and I say we need to reclaim this symbol, you know the rainbow was God’s symbol…
Johnson told the congregation the myth of Noah and the ark, and how God flooded to the Earth to kill every living thing including people. According to the myth, God created the rainbow to remind humans that he wouldn’t destroy the Earth again.
“He put this rainbow in the sky and with Noah, he pointed to it and said, ‘Now this rainbow, when you see, it’s a reminder to you that I am merciful. I’m a grace filled God. And I’m faithful. I will keep my promise and never do this again.”
Mr. Nice Guy
At Oxboro Baptist Church in Bloomington, Pastor Bill Culbertson chastised right wing commentators for bashing President Obama over the decision, before he spoke about homosexuality being a heinous sin and that LGBT people should leave the lifestyle.
“I also have a concern with angry rhetoric instead of sad rhetoric. I am concerned because I’ve seen a lot of things on Facebook… outright lies about things that are going on coming from the far right, some against our president,” he said. “I’m concerned because in the same list that says those who practice or continue acting out on homosexuality will not inherit the kingdom, It also lists slander and so I’m concerned that we don’t just grab another equally heinous sin and say that sin is worse than this sin. So be concerned about this. Be in prayer.”
He was careful to note that “homosexuals” can leave the “lifestyle” — and should — citing a friend of his who claims to have done just that:
“But I grew up with many people who claimed to be homosexual. One of my key mentors and the key disciple of me was a man who came out of the homosexual lifestyle. Somebody I still know to this day and have talked to on this issue and we have to love these people. My good friend Gary was not brought into the kingdom by hate but by people loving him even though he was in sin as he calls it now. Don’t compromise but love. Speak the truth but seek it with grace. We will lose some people in the churches over this on both sides by the way. We will have people who will retrench and will grow angry and hateful, and we will lose some people that will say what used to be wrong isn’t wrong anymore. It’s culturally determined, relativistic, subjective but hopefully the church will grow as people are coming to the truth.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article attributed a sermon to Pastor Joel Detlefsen. The sermon was actually given by his co-pastor Levi Secord. We regret the error.