CNN commentator Don Lemon made headlines last year with his announcement that Jesus “was not perfect when he was here on this earth.” Now he’s back in the news for his attack on the Vatican’s refusal to bless same-sex marriages.
In an interview he gave last Monday, Lemon stated that the Catholic Church and other churches should “reexamine themselves and their teachings because that is not what God is about. God is not about hindering people or even judging people.”
Lemon’s belief that he can dictate theology to the Catholic Church reflects the postmodern claim that personal beliefs are truth. If he says that God is “not about hindering people or even judging people,” it must be so, at least in his mind.
This despite the biblical fact that “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:10). And the biblical fact that “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). We could go on (see Revelation 20:12; Matthew 25:46; 1 Peter 4:17; 1 Corinthians 4:5; Revelation 22:12).
Lemon’s belief that his beliefs reflect reality is akin to the man who once told me “I don’t believe in hell” as though his belief changed the existence of hell. If I were to claim that “I don’t believe in Canada,” does that change the existence of Canada?
But there’s a larger story behind this story, one that we urgently need to understand.
The “god” of American culture
Dr. Albert Mohler published an article this week in Public Discourse that every Christian should read. Titled “The Equality Act and the Rise of the Anti-Theological State,” it sets out in stark terms the unprecedented threat this radical legislation poses for all religious freedoms in America. I have issued the same warning repeatedly in the past.
Here is how the Equality Act’s attack on religious liberty and Don Lemon’s attack on the Vatican are related: if we agree with the latter, we are exempt from the threat of the former.
Don Lemon’s “god” is the god of American culture today. He said in his interview, “I respect people’s right to believe in whatever they want to believe in their God, but if you believe in something that hurts another person or does not give someone the same rights and freedoms—not necessarily under the Constitution because this is under God—I think that that’s wrong.”
I am certain that a large number of Americans would agree. You are welcome to your beliefs in God unless someone disagrees. If anyone considers your beliefs to be hurtful to anyone, they must therefore be hurtful. And if they are hurtful, they must be disallowed.
The Equality Act poses no threat to such a religion. Rising opposition to biblical morality as homophobic and dangerous poses no threat to those who abandon such morality. The simplest, easiest thing for Christians to do in the months and years to come will be to agree with Don Lemon.
“We must obey God rather than men”
This choice between compromise and courage is not new for God’s people.
Think of the prophet Jeremiah, imprisoned in a cistern because he would not stop preaching God’s word (Jeremiah 38:1–6). Remember Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace (Daniel 3), Daniel in the lions’ den (Daniel 6), Peter in Herod’s prison (Acts 12), and John exiled on Patmos (Revelation 1).
The compromise we will be encouraged to make was just what the apostles were ordered to do by the supreme court of their day: “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching” (Acts 5:28). If these believers would keep their beliefs to themselves and go along to get along, they would get along.
However, the apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than men” (v. 29). When the council then “beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus” (v. 40), they left “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” (v. 41).
The real story of St. Patrick
Such courageous faith is on display around the world today, though most don’t know it.
St. Patrick’s Day is being celebrated with green rivers and beer, shamrocks and Irish folklore. But many do not know that the historical St. Patrick was a hero for his time and ours.
Patrick was born in England around AD 389 but enslaved at the age of sixteen and sold to a farmer in Ireland. Somehow, he came to faith in Christ. Six years later, in response to a vision from God, he risked his life and returned home to England.
However, God gave him a deep burden for the salvation of the Irish people.
He spent seven years in Bible study, then returned to Ireland, not as a slave but as a missionary. He founded two hundred churches and led one hundred thousand people to Christ over his career, surviving twelve attempts on his life along the way. His death on March 17, 461, is the historical reason today is St. Patrick’s Day.
Patrick’s courageous compassion for people who had enslaved and threatened him is a model God invites us to imitate today. (For more, see my paper, Who was St. Patrick? What does the Bible say about luck and divine providence?)
“I am greatly a debtor to God”
Tomorrow, we’ll explore practical ways we can emulate St. Patrick. For today, we’ll close with a call to the humility that empowers courageous compassion.
Standing for biblical truth does not mean that we condemn others or consider ourselves to be better than them. It means that we love them enough to tell them the truth even—and especially—when they do not want to hear it. It means that we share with them the good news that has given us hope in the belief that it will do the same for them.
In his Confessions, Patrick made such humility clear: “I am greatly a debtor to God, who has bestowed his grace so largely upon me, that multitudes were born again to God through me. The Irish, who had never had the knowledge of God and worshiped only idols and unclean things, have lately become the people of the Lord, and are called sons of God.”
St. Patrick said of his ministry, “Let it be most firmly believed, that it was the gift of God.”
How will you share your gift today?