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by Brian Blackwell, Baptist Message Staff Writer

Louisiana State Sen. Gerald Long challenged students, pastors and community members to become difference makers and shape the culture in Louisiana and beyond during Louisiana College’s second annual Values and Ethics Series, Oct. 9.

“What are you willing to die for?” Long asked a near-capacity crowd in Martin Performing Arts Center. “There’s got to be something in your life far more than just the everyday ordinary things that we do. I challenge you to look deep within and find that thing that can be a game changer and can touch the lives of people for years to come.”

A state senator from District 31 since 2007, Long said the concept of government is biblical, grounded in Romans 13. Because of that, Christians are needed to be salt and light. “We need men and women who are willing to step up and enter the public arena of public service,” said Long, a member of First Baptist Church in Natchitoches. “There is not a more noble cause than when men and women say ‘I want to serve for the right reason; I want to be a game changer.’”

If a Christ follower accepts the call to politics, the temptation persists to establish one’s position based on party affiliation, Long said. However, he cautioned that Christian elected officials must base their decisions on principles of faith, such as respect for opinions of others with whom they disagree.

Long was one of four presenters for the V&E Series, titled “Religious Liberty: A National Treasure.” Panel members also spoke to several LC classes Oct. 10.

Greg Baylor, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, told the audience government officials now are more willing to try and force people to do things that violate their conscience.

One such example is an upcoming case that will be heard before the U.S. Supreme Court involving Jack Phillips, a cake decorator in Colorado, who in 2012 refused to bake a cake for two men because his belief of marriage is between a man and woman. However, after the men filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, Phillips was ordered to create custom cakes for same-sex ceremonies or quit designing wedding cakes.

The commission also ordered him to re-educate his employees on complying with the Colorado Anti-discrimination Act, which it found Phillips had violated. When Phillips appealed, the Colorado Court of Appeals upheld the commission’s order and the Colorado Supreme Court declined to review the decision.

The Alliance Defending Freedom is representing Phillips before the Supreme Court, with arguments beginning in December.

“The government is trying to force Jack to do something that violates his conscience,” Baylor said. “This is incredibly serious because he has no choice. He either has to bend the knee or he has to get out of his profession, one he has done virtually his entire life.”

“The worse-case scenario in Jack’s case is the Supreme Court says it is acceptable to violate somebody’s conscience, someone’s freedom of speech, someone’s religion in the interest of eradicating so called sexual orientation and discrimination,” he said. “That can be used to justify all manner of rules that would punish mostly Christians but other faith-filled people who hold to traditional views of marriage and sexuality.”

Warren Smith, vice president for mission advancement at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, encouraged those who believe in religious liberty to sign the Manhattan Declaration. Written in 2009, the document outlined the importance of religious liberty, traditional marriage and the sanctity of life.

Less than a decade after it was signed, the words of the Manhattan Declaration were prophetic, Smith contends. He said the ability for Christians to live out their beliefs in their vocations and in the public square is under assault and defending religious liberty is a core biblical issue, one that advocates for true freedom.

To become more effective advocates for religious freedom, Smith said others should learn the facts of religious liberty cases and become a voice for truth, which will help influence judges and elected officials.

“Judges and elected officials are people, too,” Smith said. “They read newspapers, watch television and listen to the radio. They need to hear the voices of religious liberty advocates. So write letters to the editor, support organizations that protect religious liberty, and attend events that promote religious liberty in your community.”

Becket Gremmels said religious liberty extends beyond the church walls and into the everyday lives of Christians in public. “Faith without works is dead,” said Gremmels, system director of ethics for Christus Health. “If that faith is not manifested upon those actions both in the private square but also in the public square it isn’t true faith. Faith calls you to action.”

Reflecting on the presenters’ remarks and the V&E Series, President Brewer said in a follow-up interview, “Louisiana College is always pleased to join the broader Church community in engaging the cultural issues of our day, and I am grateful for such evangelical leaders who will inform and inspire us just as these men did.”

Saying that “all other freedoms we enjoy rest upon religious freedom,” Brewer added: “Without religious liberty, no other forms of liberty are possible.”

Brewer also noted his “deep appreciation” for the sponsorship by the St. Francis CHRISTUS Cabrini Health System. “For two years running, Cabrini has been a strategic partner, tangibly supporting our mutual concerns and convictions about issues affecting our society. We are gratified to have such a partner.”