Dr. Gerald B. Kieschnick, president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, issued a statement today in response to the signing of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act:
“Today President Obama signed into law the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The bill extends federal hate-crime laws to include crimes motivated by a victim’s gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.
“The bill is named after Matthew Shepard, a homosexual 21-year-old college student who was killed in 1998 in Laramie, Wyo., reportedly because of his sexual orientation. Byrd was an African-American lynched in Texas in 1998. Members of Shepard’s family were in attendance at the White House signing today.
“Critics of the bill contend that its language creates the potential for federal prosecution of anyone whose speech (or sermon) ‘incites’ an act of violence against someone who is, or is perceived to be, homosexual, and that religious ministers and teachers may face possible prosecution if someone who commits a crime claims to have heard a religious leader speaking against homosexuality.
“Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund, said although he doesn’t believe there will be ‘immediate’ prosecutions of pastors and churches for teaching the biblical injunction that homosexual behavior is sinful, ‘I think the effect on speech and religious speech is nonetheless real.’
“Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.), a supporter of the bill, told the media after the Senate’s passage of the bill, 68-29, that religious leaders can continue to express their beliefs on homosexuality as they wish. The bill, he added, applies only to bias-motivated crimes of violence and includes strong protections of speech and association.
“Although we don’t know the full ramifications of this bill as of yet, my staff and I will be watching closely for any possible infringement on the rights of our members and pastors to speak out against the sin of homosexuality based on the Word of God (Lev. 18:22, Rom. 1:26-27, and 1 Cor. 6:9).
“We live in difficult times, when the traditional moral and religious foundations of our country are being slowly but steadily eroded. In the days ahead we may face persecution because of our pronouncement of the truths of Holy Scripture, God’s revealed, inspired, inerrant, infallible Word. Meanwhile, the LCMS, in deep humility and repentance, strives to remain faithful and steadfast in our calling to, ‘Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction.’ (2 Timothy 4:2).”
The St. Louis-based Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, founded in 1847, has 2.4 million baptized members in 6,170 congregations and more than 9,000 pastors. The church body, which ranks as one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, owns and operates KFUO radio, two seminaries, and 10 colleges and universities. Its congregations operate the largest Protestant parochial school system in America. The LCMS has relationships and active mission work in 88 countries around the world and is in full doctrinal fellowship with 34 other confessional Lutheran church bodies on six continents. Also, the LCMS is a founding partner of Lutheran Services in America, a social ministry organization serving one in every 50 Americans. For more information, visit www.lcms.org.