Activism or apathy. Those are the two predominant political responses of Indiana Christians to the coming campaign for sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) anti-discrimination laws. If the typical pattern of the culture war holds true, we can predict an oversimplified version of the next legislative session: a bill will be put forward, a political gun will be pointed to the head of legislators, and the SOGI lobby will ask the question, “Are you a bigot, or not?” What are the options for Christians in Indiana or in other places facing similar circumstances?
Christian activists want to rally the crowd to the statehouse, pound the pitchforks, and take back our state for the Lord. Admittedly, that statement oversimplifies the strategy, but it captures the essence of it. Strategically, it will not work. Proponents of the law are amassing millions of dollars for the campaign. They will gather far more protesters than Christians will. They are rallying business leaders to support the cause, and threaten dire economic consequences for the state if the law does not pass.
Christian apathetics, on the other hand, shrug and presume that the law is probably inevitable in light of the cultural-change locomotive that is moving full speed. They also believe that it is better to put our strokes in the arts, academia, and the church since politics is the fruit of these other roots of culture. This approach fails to appreciate the dramatic impact the law could have and our calling to testify to Jesus’ Lordship over all of life. First, the obvious strategy is to cast legislators who object on moral grounds as bigots and remove them from office in the next election cycle – a trajectory with wide-ranging consequences. Next, the bill will likely cast SOGI rights as a civil rights matter, yet it will come without definitions of sexual orientation and gender identity. The law will have real teeth with which to penalize violators who can be selectively targeted – think of organizations that refuse to allow men claiming to be women to use the women’s restroom – while the lack of definition will give the impression that the purpose of the law is simply to be nice to the friends all around us who are homosexual. Only the Lord knows what the future holds, but only the naïve should believe that there will be no significant implications to the harm of everyone in our society.
What both approaches tend to minimize, is a true sense of humility before the Lord. One side places the burden of failure on non-Christians in our culture, the other side places the burden of failure on the Christian relationship to culture.
What is the answer? Perhaps we have not seriously enough considered seasons of sincere fasting and prayer among God’s people – days of affliction of the body for the sharpening of the soul. In Scripture we see God’s people fasted for two primary reasons. First, they fasted and prayed when facing an insurmountable enemy or daunting task (e.g. 2 Chronicles 20:3ff, Ezra 8:21ff, Esther 4:15ff, Joel 2:12ff, Acts 13:2-3). Second, they fasted and prayed in brokenness over their sin and seek God’s forgiveness (e.g. Leviticus 16:30ff, 1 Samuel 7:5, Ezra 9:4ff, Nehemiah 1:3ff, Daniel 9:3ff, Jonah 3:5). Usually, the two purposes were intertwined.
Fasting is hard. It teaches us in the body that we are weak and sinful. It humbles us. It reminds us that we lack the strength and ability to effect any good or positive change in and of ourselves. The Lord gives this physical expression to accompany and intensify prayer as we are reminded that we are weak and that our enemies are far greater than we can overcome on our own.
Personal, secret fasts are appropriate, but the Lord also approves of public fasts, which are prominent in Scripture and are reflected in historic church documents like the Westminster Confession of Faith chapter 21. What would or should it look if churches across our state called for a special day of prayer and fasting?
History helps envision what such religious fasting would entail. One of the most active, documented eras of fasting among Protestants was that of the American Revolution. When the prospects of the Patriots’ success grew dim, which was often, public fasts were published. Strikingly, these regular proclamations focus especially on seeking the Lord for the forgiveness of sins. The petitioners recognized that their greatest threat was not their political opponent or the sins of their opponents; rather, it was their own sin.
Two examples out of many documented by William J. Federer will suffice. In the spring of 1775, Connecticut Governor Jonathan Trumbull called for a day of fasting and prayer asking that: “God would graciously pour out His Holy Spirit on us to bring us to a thorough repentance and effectual reformation that our iniquities may not be our ruin; that He would restore, preserve and secure the liberties of this and all the other British American colonies, and make the land a mountain of Holiness, and habitation of righteousness forever.”
On March 17, 1776, General William Livingstone’s resolution passed the Continental Congress which read, “We do earnestly recommend Friday, the 17th day of May be observed by the colonies as a Day of Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer; that we may, with united hearts, confess and bewail our manifold sins and transgressions, and, by sincere repentance and amendment of life, appease God’s righteous displeasure, and, through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, obtain this pardon and forgiveness.” Many more proclamations from our nation’s seminal days could be cited.
Should our fasting have any different focus? Are our sins today any less or any fewer? Christians bear great guilt for sin in the sexual revolution. We have all too often denied God’s purposes for marriage and children, we have embraced no-fault divorce, treated pornography permissively, overlooked abuses, and the list goes on. We are guilty. We deserve none of the Lord’s favor. Our right response can only be to join Ezra of old in fasting and prayer, saying, “O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens” (Ezra 9:6).
The original day of affliction or fasting each year as recorded in Leviticus 16:31 was the Day of Atonement. The affliction of fasting was to point God’s people to their need for the gospel of forgiveness of sins through the shedding of blood – ultimately pointing to the Lamb of God who would come to take away the sin of the world. Christians in our state need to acknowledge their own sin and need for gospel mercy mercy more than ever. It is not time for activism. It is not time for apathy. It is time for affliction. Those in leadership should give serious consideration to leading God’s people to the throne of grace in days of fasting and prayer.