02/12/05 — What can preachers preach? Pa. law has them wondering

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What can preachers preach? Pa. law has them wondering

The Rev. Randy Steele’s telephone rang one morning in November. The caller identified himself as an FBI agent and wanted to know if Steele could meet with agents that afternoon.

The minister had intended to spend the day with the family of a member of his church who was dying, but he agreed to the FBI interview instead.

At the appointed time, two agents met him at his church, Southwest Christian Church of Mount Vernon, Ill.

They chatted for a few minutes, and then Steele asked why they had come.

One opened a file and said, “This is pertaining to a sermon that you preached on Memorial Day.”

Only until recently could Americans have even imagined that federal police would come to a church to investigate a preacher’s sermon.

Someone had reported that Steele advocated war against an abortion clinic.

Actually, he had not. Steele was preaching a series of sermons putting a biblical perspective on cultural issues. The Memorial Day sermon was about abortion.

He compared the number of people who have died in wars with the number who have died through abortion since 1973 when a Supreme Court ruling legalized abortion. Steele later said that his sermon “stated that we are in a different type of war that is being fought under the ‘presupposition of freedom.’”

He also mentioned a Canadian law discouraging preachers from preaching against homosexuality, and he told his congregation that if preaching the Word meant going to jail, he would go to jail.

That was why the FBI agents “felt like they could come here and look through my sermons," Steele said.

Steele’s series of sermons was written out. He made copies for the FBI agents and they left — although, as he later said, he invited them back to church sometime to hear more of the Word.

This abominable situation is isolated, so far. In time to come, as ideas about freedom change, it could become more common.

For example, the Pennsylvania Legislature changed its “hate crimes” law last year to make it illegal to harass certain people, including homosexuals, by “the spoken word.” Pastors are concerned that they could be prosecuted if they preached sermons against homosexual behavior.

Their fears are well founded, based on what has happened in Canada, which is only slightly ahead of America in the move toward legally constituted political correctness. There, the undefined term “sexual orientation” has been added to laws against “hate speech.” The ultimate result is that the Bible may be considered a form of hate literature that is criminalized, and criminal charges could be brought against those who teach that homosexuality is sinful.

In the case of the Rev. Steele, the authorities came calling because someone had told them something that was untrue. Will they someday come because a sermon did not meet government standards?

Published in Editorials on February 12, 2005 10:28 PM