By Lee Duigon
“Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him.” 1 Kings 19:18
Can “gay rights” and faithfulness to God’s Word peacefully coexist? As the state of New Jersey tries to force a small, conservative church to allow lesbian “marriages” to be performed on its property, we suggest the answer must be “no.”
Ocean Grove, on the Jersey shore, is a unique enclave of the United Methodist Church. For more than a century it was governed by the church, through the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association (OGCMA). Its streets are narrow, lined with brightly painted shore cottages, and rather difficult for cars to navigate. Until recently the town was famous in New Jersey for its strict Sabbatarianism: every Saturday night, at midnight, church officials put up chains to close the streets to vehicular traffic. The streets have not yet been widened; but thanks to a lawsuit some 30 years ago, the chains are gone and the town has been made a part of Neptune Township. Today, a more drastic change has been proposed.
Church “On the Run”?
The Camp Meeting Association has filed a lawsuit in federal court (New Jersey District) to stop the state of New Jersey from “investigating” its refusal to allow its property—in this case, a large “pavilion”—to be used for a “civil union ceremony” by a pair of lesbians (see “News … OGCMA Sues to Prevent State of New Jersey from Forcing Church to Violate Its Religious Beliefs,” http://www.ogcma.org/).
“We have flatly refused to do it,” OGCMA spokesman Rev. Scott Hoffman told Chalcedon, “and because we refused, the Civil Rights Division of the Attorney General’s office filed a complaint against us.” In fact, he added, the division has since filed a second complaint on behalf of another pair of lesbians. “They asked us, first, to attempt mediation,” Rev. Hoffman said. “but the mediation they wanted was for us to agree to do it—which we will not.” Why, then, did the church file a lawsuit of its own? “We didn’t want to be subject to being on the run, being on the defensive all the time,” Hoffman said.
Although it seems incredible that any federal court would rule that the church must violate its beliefs by performing “gay weddings” on its property, we asked Hoffman what the church would do if the court did rule against them.
“We would have to proceed through the regular process with the state,” he said. “We’d just be back to where we are now. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. But my opinion is, we probably wouldn’t allow this under any circumstances.”
Asked if he would rather see the church demolish its pavilion brick by brick, Hoffman laughed and said, “That’s an option! I can’t speak for the whole board [of the OGCMA], but personally I’d be in favor of it.”
A Broken Covenant
The two lesbians who filed the complaint with the state are residents of Ocean Grove. Although Ocean Grove is technically part of Neptune Township, Hoffman said, the Camp Meeting Association still owns 100 percent of the land in Ocean Grove.
“If you want to live here,” he said, “you buy your house, but you rent the land from us. Before we give anyone a lease, they have to sign a document stating that they understand the mission of the Camp Meeting Association and are supportive of it.”
Those two women signed that document. Did they sign it in good faith? In light of their subsequent actions against the church, it would certainly seem they didn’t. The issue of the covenant will probably be raised in court.
The church will be represented in its lawsuit by Brian Raum, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund. Attempts to interview Mr. Raum were unsuccessful.
A practicing lawyer in New Jersey, however, remarked that “contracts in New Jersey are not as binding as they used to be, if it comes to promoting public policy.” (This attorney did not give permission for his name to be used here.) So it is possible that the state of New Jersey will not see the covenant as a contract that must be honored.
Meanwhile, the controversy in Ocean Grove has attracted nationwide media attention. The New Jersey news media have, predictably, favored the lesbians, given short shrift to the issue of religious liberty, and interviewed liberal United Methodist clergy who side with the lesbians. A reader might easily get the impression that the Camp Meeting Association is all alone in its determination not to celebrate homosexual civil unions.
That impression would be false, Rev. Hoffman said. “Actually, we’ve gotten a fair amount of support from all over the country,” he said. “I’d say the emails are running about 10-1 in our favor; but of course the media report only the negative. “The opposition to us, in this scenario, is a very well-oiled machine.”
A Zero-Sum Game
“[W]e are in a zero-sum game in terms of moral values … [T]he dignity and equality of gay people should almost always outweigh considerations of religious freedom …”
—Chai Feldblum, law professor and gay activist, Georgetown University Law Center
We couldn’t have put it better: this is a zero-sum game. The religious freedom guaranteed to Americans by the First Amendment to the Constitution is not compatible with radical statists’ attempts at social engineering. One or the other must give way.
A church that performs “gay marriages,” in opposition to the Bible’s clear and unambiguous condemnation of homosexual practices, is not a church. It might as well hold ceremonies celebrating the consummation of an adulterous affair or a successful stock swindle.
The lesbians in this case could have taken their request to any one of hundreds of liberal “churches” in New Jersey and been welcomed with open arms. Instead, they presented it to the church in Ocean Grove, knowing that the Camp Meeting Association would refuse them.
But it seems that the United Methodist Church in Ocean Grove is resolved not to compromise God’s Word, despite the state’s efforts to intimidate it. We cannot know how far the state is willing to go.
The only way to make “gay rights” stick is for the state to launch a full-blown persecution of Biblically faithful churches. Otherwise, these churches, by their very existence, will be a thorn in the side of the social engineers and a perpetual witness against them. “[I]f a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand,” says the Lord (Mark 3:25).
For the sake of “the dignity and equality of gay people,” the state may subject the faithful churches to civil rights investigations, hate speech prosecutions, tax audits, and all the rest of the coercive machinery at its disposal. For the sake of their integrity, these churches must resist. If they yield up their faithfulness for the sake of property, no matter how profitable or beautiful, they will have yielded up their very reason for being.
We pray for our brethren in Ocean Grove that they might have the strength to remain true to God’s Word, no matter what the state does to them. The state has power to jail church leaders and seize church assets, but to do any of those things is to do but little real harm to the church.
The only one who can truly harm the church is the church itself—by caving in to coercion, by lapsing in its commitment to the Word of God, by trying to cling to a building more than a conviction. If a church does none of those things, then the gates of hell cannot prevail against it.
The state will employ the weapons of this world against the church in Ocean Grove.
If the church puts her trust in Christ, the King of Kings, and employs the spiritual weapons of faithfulness, courage, hope, and charity, her King will not desert her.
 Quoted in Timothy Bloedow, State vs. Church: What Christians Can Do to Save Canada from Liberal Tyranny (self-published, 2007), 35.
Lee Duigon is a Christian free-lance writer and contributing editor for Faith for All of Life. He has been a newspaper editor and reporter and is the author of the Bell Mountain Series of novels.