By JOHN FORTMEYER
SALEM — What was billed as a “church and government briefing” here for Oregon’s pastors almost took on the flavor of an old-fashioned revival meeting, thanks to the fervency of both a nationally known news reporter and a local attorney.
“Hope is not lost!” declared Fox News correspondent and columnist Todd Starnes to the rousing applause of the hundreds of pastors and ministry leaders in his audience at the Salem Convention Center. Sounding more like a preacher than a newsman at the close of his featured talk at the Pastors Day at the Capitol April 27, he called for churches and the clergy to hold firm for religious liberties despite fierce opposition.
“Let the cry go out from Oregon to the concrete canyons of New York, that this is still one nation under God!” he exclaimed.
But it was Canby attorney Anna Harmon, now playing a key role in one of the nation’s biggest religious freedom battles, who brought the crowd to their feet prior to Starnes’ talk when she admonished the pastors to contend for traditional marriage and other long-held values.
“Continue to preach truth!” she passionately urged, asking that they “not bow to the idea that what you are preaching is hateful… Stand firm!”
This year’s Pastors Day was the fifth sponsored by the Portland-based Oregon Family Council, which for more than three decades has encouraged Christian in-volvement in the elections and legislative process. Following a luncheon at the conference center, pastors were urged to head to the nearby state Capitol to meet with their local legislators.
Harmon, fellow Canby attorney Tyler Smith and Beaverton attorney Herb Grey are representing Gresham bakers Aaron and Melissa Klein in their nationally publicized legal battle for conscience rights as Christian business owners. A state Department of Labor and Industries administrative law judge determined that the Kleins discriminated against two women in 2013 by declining to bake a cake for their same-sex wedding, and is recommending that the Kleins pay $135,000 in emotional damages to the women.
Such challenges to religious freedom are daily fodder for Starnes, openly conservative Christian author of God Less America who stays well occupied documenting for Fox News the battles faced by Christians from coast to coast.
Noting Portland’s ranking as one of the most “godless” big cities in America, Starnes joked that he “packed a few extra Bibles” in his suitcase in coming to Oregon.
Starnes charged there is an outright war taking place against religious freedoms, and that the ramifications of inaction by churches and pastors are ominous.
“If we allow these attacks on religious freedom to go unchecked, I believe we are just a few short years away from government imposing their will on Christian churches,” he said.
He gave several examples of the multitiude of incidents he has covered:
• Catholic and evangelicals in the military labeled as religious extremists, with chaplains who hold to traditional values increasingly threatened with the end of their careers;
•Gender-inclusiveness training in the Lincoln, Neb., public schools that suggested teachers no longer call students boys and girls, but instead nongendered names or even an invented class mascot, “Purple Penguins.”
•A Christmas pageant in a Long Island, N.Y. public school that saw all religious references removed from the song “Silent Night.”
•The Atlanta, Ga., fire chief who was recently fired, claiming that it was because of his religious beliefs against same-sex marriage and homosexual conduct.
•Richland, Wash., florist Barronelle Stutzman, who, like the Kleins, is in a lengthy legal battle and facing potentially large monetary penalties because she declined to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding.
•The attempt by the lesbian mayor of Houston, Texas, to subpoena the speeches and sermons of five pastors there who publicly opposed an ordinance banning discrimination of gay and transgender residents. Starnes noted that after 7,000 people rallied against the mayor, she backed down.
•The federal Internal Revenue Service targeting churches and pro-life organizations. He noted that even Billy Graham’s organization was audited after Graham “dared to put an ad in a state Baptist newspaper supporting traditional marriage.”
Part of being “salt in society” as Scripture urges, Starnes said, is courageously standing up against such injustices.
“Unfortunately, the Body of Christ has taken on a salt-free diet,” he said.
Nevertheless, Starnes expressed his belief that “God is raising up a new generation of champions for Christ.”
He cited, as one example, a South Carolina high school validictorian, Roy Costner, who defied a Wisconsin-based atheist group when he ripped up his pre-approved graduation speech and instead led a cheering audience in reciting The Lord’s Prayer.
In her brief comments, Harmon — whose father is pastor of Greater Portland Baptist Church — also urged pastors to become as knowledgable as possible regarding their free speech rights, and to get their congregations positively influencing society through the ballot box.
“The church should be voting,” she said. “You have a say. I beg of you — encourage your congregations to vote.”
Jack Louman, Oregon Family Council executive director, both began and concluded the event by commending the pastors for all they do and also for showing their concern by attending.