By Bob Allen
American Christians are on the verge of having their faith criminalized, Fox News pundit Todd Starnes warned a Southern Baptist church in Georgia in a July 5 “Faith, Family & Freedom Celebration” aired on local television.
“There is a war on religious liberty in the United States of America, and this war is not targeting people of the Muslim faith or the Jewish faith or the Hindu faith,” Starnes said in a Sunday morning sermon at Abilene Baptist Church in Martinez, Ga. “This war on religious liberty is targeting people of the Christian faith.”
“I believe that we are just a few short years away from the government imposing their will on Christian churches, and I believe that pastors could find themselves at odds with the law of the land,” Starnes said in excerpts from a WAGT broadcast posted on YouTube by Raw Story.
Starnes, author of God Less America, a collection of stories about clashes between the freedom of speech and the separation of church and state, urged defiance against the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states.
“Brothers and sisters — my fellow Southern Baptists — the Supreme Court may have redefined marriage, but God hasn’t redefined anything,” Starnes said.
Starnes said at least two federal lawsuits have been filed against county clerks who refuse to grant marriage licenses to same sex couples, and more than a dozen have resigned their positions, “including a fellow Southern Baptist.”
“Her name is Linda Barnette from Grenada, Miss.,” Starnes said. “She spent more than 24 years on her job — this lady, a member of her church’s WMU with the Friendship Baptist Church, a church in good standing with our great Southern Baptist Convention — and this is what this dear saint wrote in her resignation letter: ‘I am a follower of Christ, and I believe strongly that the Bible is my final authority.’ This is a fellow Southern Baptist.”
Starnes said the Supreme Court decision “now means that gay rights trump religious liberty.”
“Churches and faith-based organizations must prepare for the lawsuits and government investigations that are on the way,” Starnes warned. “Pastors who refuse to perform gay marriages and preach from the Bible should prepare for hate crime charges. All dissent will be silenced.”
Starnes said he is thankful for preachers like Abilene Baptist Church Pastor Brad Whitt, “who is willing to stand up to the government and stand up for the word of God.”
“And I want to say thank goodness there are men like Dr. Ronnie Floyd, the president of our great Southern Baptist Convention, who declared that we, the Southern Baptist Convention, will not bow down and we will not be silenced.”
Starnes, 47, a Louisiana native, once worked as a reporter for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s official news service. He was fired in 2003 for alleged “factual and contextual errors” in a story that created controversy for then U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige. After reading the interview transcript, Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State concluded that after refusing to repudiate his own comments, Paige “later appeared to be shifting the blame to the Baptist Press reporter, who was fired over the incident.”
After a stint as communications director for Baptist-affiliated Union University in Jackson, Tenn., Starnes moved into talk radio, starting with local station WTJS. He left Tennessee for KFBK in Sacramento, Calif.
While recovering from open heart surgery in 2005 — a time described in his first book, They Popped My Hood and Found Gravy on the Dipstick published in 2009 with a foreword by Mike Huckabee — Starnes moved to New York to work as overnight news anchor for Fox News Radio.
Today Starnes is heard daily on hundreds of radio stations as the host of FOX News & Commentary. He is a regular contributor to FOX & Friends and FoxNews.com and writes a weekly column for Human Events and TownHall.com.
Starnes specializes in culture war stories often characterized by the left as alarmist. He is a frequent target of Right Wing Watch, a project of People For the American Way.
In his sermon at Abilene Baptist Church Starnes applauded other Southern Baptists he views as being on the front line of religious liberty disputes. They include former Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran, who was fired after writing a book condemning homosexuality; Barronelle Stutzman, a florist in Richland, Wash., who broke the law when she refused to provide services for a same-sex wedding; and Roy Costner, a South Carolina high school valedictorian who in 2013 tore up his pre-approved speech and recited the Lord’s Prayer in an act of civil disobedience.
“My fellow Southern Baptists, I want to ask you this morning — right here, right now, I’ll put you on the spot — who among you is willing to stand with the Roy Costners of the world?” Starnes asked. “Who among you is willing to stand with the Chief Cochrans and the Baronelle Stutzmans of the world?”
“They may demand to know the content of our prayers,” Starnes said. “They may try to shut down our bakeries. They may try to silence our voices, but we will not be silenced. We will not be intimidated.”
Founded in 1774, Abilene Baptist Church is the second oldest Baptist church in the state. A Christian Index editorial June 22 criticized the U.S. Army for refusing to provide an honor guard this year for the church’s July 5 patriotic service due to a change in military policy.
“Interestingly, in the minds of those who make policies for our military gay pride has begun to receive preferential treatment over churches when it comes to providing color guards,” commented Editor Gerald Harris. “Unfortunately, the church now has to take a backseat to every sporting event and every sideshow that blows into town. The days of the Christian consensus in America are gone with the wind.”