In the beginning
Religious Liberty | In 1978, a pastor stood his ground against the homosexual agenda, winning a court battle that others likely will face in the days ahead
by Chuck McIlhenny, Donna McIlhenny & Frank York
Posted 5/23/15, 09:37 am
A pastor from a conservative Presbyterian denomination discovered that one of his church employees was a practicing homosexual. The pastor sat down with the man and compassionately confronted him with his sin, but the man did not see any conflict between his lifestyle and God’s Word. By the end of the conversation, the man seemed to agree that it was best for him to step down from his position as church organist. A week later, the man’s lawyer called to inform the pastor that he had violated a city anti-discrimination ordinance and that he and his church would be sued for firing someone because of sexual orientation.
You’d think this story was ripped from today’s headlines, but it took place in 1978 in San Francisco, a city that sadly has been ahead of its time when it comes to furthering the homosexual agenda. The pastor was Chuck McIlhenny, a then-31-year-old minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, who was also ahead of his time, facing persecution because of the bold stand he took against the culture’s acceptance of the sin of homosexuality.
McIlhenny and his wife Donna, with the help of writer/editor Frank York, chronicle their story, including their victory in a court of law and the resulting attacks on their family (their house and church vandalized and firebombed, their children’s lives threatened), in When the Wicked Seize a City, which was first published in 1993.
The authors have graciously allowed WORLD to republish the following chapter from their book, which covers the time between the hiring and firing of organist Kevin Walker and a judge’s ruling in March 1980 that honored the First Amendment’s free exercise clause.
“Our case was unique in legal history in that, to our knowledge, it was the first time that immorality had taken on the church for fulfilling its biblical responsibility within the parameters of God’s worship,” McIlhenny wrote.
Thirty-five years later, Americans await the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on whether there is a constitutional right to same-sex marriage nationwide and the aftershocks that will surely follow. Pastors and churches are now wondering what they should do. McIlhenny offers this advice: “Keep preaching the gospel. Homosexuality is sin and Jesus saves us from sin.” But he added that we need to “take care of the adulterers, the liars, the thieves, and then move on to the homosexuals.”
McIlhenny, now 68 and a hospital chaplain in Southern California, told me that as pastors face adversity in this moral revolution they should rely on God’s sovereignty and not let the government intimidate them. “Hey, if we have to go to jail, we go to jail,” he said. “If we lose our job, we lose our job.”
On a bittersweet note, shortly after the book was published, the McIlhennys, who had for years tried to locate Walker in an attempt to bring about reconciliation and minister to him and his family, finally were able to track him down. His parents told them that their son, just like his attorney, Donald Knutson, had died of AIDS but that he had “come back to the Lord.” —Mickey McLean
Chapter 3: This Is No Joke: You Are Sued …
For the last eighteen years, whenever the opportunity presents itself, Donna and I have tried to get acquainted with new pastors when they arrive in San Francisco. After some small talk, we often ask them a pointed question to see how they will react: “Are you planning on getting involved in this city, if necessary politically— either as an individual or through your church body?”
The answer they give is invariably the same, year after year: “No, that’s not my calling. I’m called to the ministry, not to get involved in politics.”
We then go on to explain that what’s happened in San Francisco is that morality—concepts of right and wrong—has been politicized by the radical gay movement. And, furthermore, whether they want to or not, they will eventually have to get involved in some way in the political and social institutions within this city. We make it very clear to them that if they’re going to be true to the Word of God—if they’re going to faithfully preach and teach their congregations how to act in this fallen world—they will inevitably find themselves clashing with secular humanism, the dominant religion of San Francisco.
We attempt to explain to them that the gays in San Francisco (as well as other enclaves of immorality) pose a far greater threat to the health and safety of the traditional family than the abortion industry. That may come as a shock, but hear me out.
The gays in San Francisco, unlike those in the abortion industry, have developed an entire culture based on their perverted sexual habits with same-sex partners. They have gay teacher’s organizations, Queer Scouts (a.k.a. The Boy Scouts), a Gay Men’s Chorus, newspapers, restaurants, ocean cruises (publicly advertised as such at the rail and bus stops), gay political organizations, and much more. This gay-created culture has become as all encompassing as a ghetto within the larger community. You can actually drive (or walk) into the “Castro District” with gay shops and businesses abounding within an area of a few city blocks—the same as “Chinatown” or “Japantown,” which are legitimate subcultures within the city limits.
Militant homosexuals view themselves as creating a new civilization in San Francisco. They’re more zealous than an evangelist in spreading their gospel to other cities and towns. Queer Nation, the most violent of the gay rights groups, for example, has its own flag. (They view themselves as a separate nation, much like in the movie, “Alien Nation.”)
In 1991, homosexual militants lobbied the Board of Supervisors (our city council) to declare San Francisco a “sanctuary” where homosexuals and lesbians from around the country and the world, under threat of legal persecution, could look to San Francisco as “the City of Refuge for the sexual minorities,” There has also been talk of radicals lobbying the California legislature to make sure that only gays represent the gay “district”—legislative district—in San Francisco. Nothing has come of this yet, but the intent and political machinery are there.
As we try to explain these things to new pastors, there’s a certain number who respond with alarm and concern. Others simply decide to “stay out of politics”—even though the whole definition of right and wrong has been politicized and relativized by homosexuals in our government and public school district.
When we came to San Francisco in 1973, we were of the “in the world but not of the world” attitude regarding political involvement, as was the majority of the Christian community. However, as the Lord would have it, we were jolted into reality in 1978 and our lives (as well as our theology) have not been the same since.
It all began when we were looking for an organist for our worship service. It was our custom to either hire or ask Christians (whether members of our congregation or not) to play the organ. A nice Asian couple in our church said they knew a fine young music student named Kevin Walker who might fill our need. Kevin and I talked about the needs of the church and the job description in the worship service. He gave me his personal testimony of faith in Christ, having grown up in a Bible-believing household in Michigan. His testimony was much the same as ours. We had no reason to suspect anything odd or unusual about his Christian life or walk at that time.
In August 1978, Bruce informed us that Kevin was gay! “Great!” I thought to myself, “this is all we need!”
That same year, March 1978, the Board of Supervisors had quietly passed the sexual orientation ordinance (now known as the “gay rights ordinance”). This ordinance essentially began with the preface: “To discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation poses a substantial threat to the health, safety, and general welfare of the City and County of San Francisco.” In effect, the ordinance protects gays and lesbians from discrimination in the work place. Donna and I had paid no attention to the law and were busy doing what Christians do in the church—ministering to and fellowshipping with their own. Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to go back over the news clippings describing the passage of the ordinance. There were only two letters to the Board of Supervisors protesting the possible infringement upon church and state issues if the church was not exempted in the law. One of the letters was from a gay minister who pointed out this possible constitutional conflict.
As I mentioned earlier, a few years prior to hiring Kevin, Donna and I ran into an old friend from Moody Bible Institute who had moved to San Francisco and became caught up into the homosexual lifestyle and subculture. After much personal and spiritual struggle, Bruce eventually came out of the gay community, became a recommitted Christian, and industrious member of the church.
In August 1978, Bruce informed us that Kevin was gay! “Great!” I thought to myself, “this is all we need!” How do I handle this? What will be the reaction of the congregation?
I knew from Scripture what needed to be done. In obedience to Matthew 18, I privately went to Kevin’s apartment in the Castro District to confront him with this rumor. He readily admitted he was a practicing homosexual, living with his lover in that apartment, and that he saw no inconsistency with his lifestyle and what the Bible said about homosexuality.
For nearly two hours we had a calm but intense discussion about the Bible and its proscriptions, which clearly forbid homosexual behavior. In response, Kevin repeated the gay theological line, which rejected the statements of the Word of God or else reinterpreted them to allow for certain kinds of homosexual acts! He still maintained that he, as a homosexual, was a born again Christian, living within the bounds of God’s law. (Later in the lawsuit. we saw a letter that Kevin’s mother wrote to him, pleading with him to drop the suit. It was remarkable that his parents, for the most part, sided with our church and against their own son. None of Kevin’s family knew about his chosen lifestyle before the lawsuit, so it was a double blow: his homosexuality and suing the church. It was a moving letter of a mother’s love for her son and her greater love and loyalty to Christ. During the writing of this book, we have tried to find out where and how Kevin is and also to contact his family. We have been unsuccessful in both endeavors.)
I ended the conversation by telling him we wouldn’t allow him to continue as church organist if he were going to maintain his homosexuality. I did, however, extend an invitation for him to attend church. Before leaving, he handed me the church’s organ music and key, and we seemed to part as friends.
When I got home, Donna told me that Kevin had just called to request that I publicly announce to the congregation that he had been fired, and why. Immediately I got suspicious! Why would he want me to expose him to public ridicule or condemnation? This didn’t seem to be a matter that had to be shared with the whole congregation in the worship service. I never did announce to the congregation why Kevin was fired. On that Sunday morning, I simply told the congregation that he’d been dismissed and that if anyone wanted to know why, they could speak to me privately.
I ended the conversation by telling him we wouldn’t allow him to continue as church organist if he were going to maintain his homosexuality. I did, however, extend an invitation for him to attend church.
One church-attender, a retired police officer, asked me later why I’d let Kevin go. When I told him, he became frightened and warned me that I could get into serious trouble because of what I’d done. The recently passed gay rights ordinance protected individuals such as Kevin from job discrimination based on their sexual practices. I had naively “broken” the law! I was mildly concerned, but didn’t think anymore would come of it. Kevin and I had been on good terms, so I had no fear of retaliation.
I was wrong. A week later, we got a phone call from a lawyer, Don Knutson, head of a newly formed gay rights law organization, the Gay Rights Advocates. Knutson briefly warned me that I had violated the city ordinance and would be taken to court. “Is this a joke?” I asked him. He replied, “I can assure you this is no joke. You’d better get a lawyer.” END OF CONVERSATION. I never did speak with him again.
After I hung up the phone, I was trembling inside and felt absolutely frantic. Fear gripped me, which I couldn’t shake. I knew I had to get a lawyer and fast. We hadn’t been sued yet, only warned, but I had to contact a lawyer quickly in order to prepare for the eventuality.
What in the world had I done? What terrible crime had I committed? How was my congregation going to react to the news that their pastor was being sued for firing a homosexual? When I told our elder and the congregation, a shock wave went through the church. The elder was terribly upset at what I’d done. He told me I should have found some other reason to fire the organist. He reminded me that other members of the congregation, as well as himself, owned homes and land that he feared would be jeopardized if we lost the suit. His suggestion was that since Donna and I did not own a home (we lived in the parsonage) or any other property, we should somehow absolve the church of any liability, take the lawsuit on ourselves personally, declare bankruptcy, and the church would reimburse us for any loss we incurred. “After all,” he said, “you don’t own anything, so you have nothing to lose.” How true, and at that moment, what a blessing it was not to be encumbered with material possessions that might have deterred us from taking this stand! The elder had much to lose—as did the rich young ruler.
The elder’s compromising attitude incensed me and made me more determined than ever to defend myself and the church from Kevin’s threatened lawsuit. Not surprisingly, this attitude prevailed among a majority of the congregation. The young pastor had finally overstepped his bounds! Many had believed that I was too big for my britches anyway.
Just the threat of a lawsuit caused dissension in the congregation. It virtually turned into the young members versus the older members. Sundays became the hardest day of the week to face. The older faction of the congregation would not speak to us. Mondays became the best day of the week because it was the furthest away from Sunday! Finally, after one Sunday evening service, Jean, one of the faithful few, broke the deafening silence. She took Donna aside after the service and tried to explain the feelings of the people. She said, “We’re not strong … people are afraid … we’re spiritual babes …” What an indictment on a generation who had professed Christ all their lives! “For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice, have their senses trained to discern good and evil” (Heb. 5:13-14). I believe Jean understood this and thus raised the spiritual need of the congregation.
The session (the elder and I) was stalemated. I called for a meeting with a committee of the Presbytery that was specifically designed to help in dilemmas such as we were experiencing. The committee’s own report was revealing about the split in the session and the congregation. One paragraph of their report read as follows: “One major concern at this point is the existence of a division within the congregation (and session) as to the propriety of the action taken in firing the organist. All agree that the man could not continue as organist while a practicing homosexual, but some feel that he should not have been fired until some other reason could be found to let him go, thus removing the danger of a lawsuit” (emphasis added).
Sundays became the hardest day of the week to face. The older faction of the congregation would not speak to us.
In the end, the elder and members found that, by law, they could not simply excuse themselves from the suit. It should be noted, however, that no member of the congregation, including the elder, suffered any financial loss as a result of the lawsuit. And, although individual members contributed to the lawsuit, some at great sacrifice, not a penny of “church funds” was contributed for their own defense.
I believed it was time to go—the pastorate here was too much. I had removed Kevin from participating in the worship because of immoral behavior, and here I was defending my actions against my own session and congregation! As I look back on it now, I can truly thank the Lord that I hadn’t first thought to take it to the session for approval, considering the spiritual condition of our church. Satan had attacked the heart of our church with fears of a lawsuit and possible bankruptcy. There’s nothing like fear to paralyze your motivation for the work of the church.
By the fall of 1978, nothing had happened. But we were still unnerved by what might happen and the delay just made it worse for all of us. Unfortunately, the elder and I continued to be split over this issue. In fact, earlier that year, the elder had resigned, but the Presbytery itself overruled our division and warned us to “get over our differences” and be united.
While all of this turmoil was going on, I started to get some interesting phone calls from people who claimed they were students doing research on the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in America. It seemed odd that I should be receiving these calls at this particular time. I became convinced that these were researchers working for Knutson’s law firm. They were trying to get as much intelligence information as possible on our theology and membership requirements in preparation for the pending lawsuit.
The division in our session became so serious that, by March 1979, I decided to quit and take the chapel work we had started a few years before in Marysville/Yuba City, California. I felt the spiritual difficulties in San Francisco too great to continue with the congregation, I’d already done some part-time pastoring at the Marysville/Yuba City work and felt good about leaving San Francisco. In the spring of 1979, Donna and I let it be known that we were leaving and began looking forward to moving to the quiet suburbs of central California.
“Are You Charles McIlhenny?”
On 14 June 1979, a fellow drove up to our house next door to the church, knocked on the door and asked, “Are you Charles McIlhenny?” I told him I was, and he handed me three summonses. I was caught totally off guard. Not only was I being sued, but our church and the entire Presbytery (ten other churches in northern California) were being sued for allegedly violating the gay rights ordinance. We were given thirty days to respond or else default and lose the case.
My reaction was rather unusual. Instead of panic, I was exhilarated! I was thrilled! I ran to Donna and showed her the summons. “This is fantastic,” I told her. “What an opportunity to share the gospel.” I had visions of being interviewed on NBC, CBS, and in the newspapers, boldly sharing my faith and decrying the injustice that had been done to us and our church! See how far the homosexual community had gone! Now maybe people would wake up to the danger of a promiscuous society. I could see the headlines, “SMALL CHURCH PASTOR DEFENDS SELF AGAINST GAY COMMUNITY!” How naive I was!
Since the threat of a lawsuit had now become a reality, Donna and I felt a responsibility to stay with the San Francisco congregation; so we changed our plans to move away. (However, as a result of the lawsuit, more than half of the congregation left the church over the next few years.)
Now I really needed an attorney in earnest! I started calling some of my friends to see if they could recommend a good lawyer to help defend us. The lawyer I had contacted the previous year failed to return any of my repeated phone calls to him, and the thirty-day clock was running. Theologian R. J. Rushdoony recommended a man named John Whitehead. I’d never heard of Whitehead, but time was running out and so I took a gamble and called him. He was in the middle of moving his family from Ohio to Washington, D.C., where he hoped to get involved in working on religious freedom cases. He had been with a Christian legal group but wanted to branch out on his own.
I ran to Donna and showed her the summons. “This is fantastic,” I told her. “What an opportunity to share the gospel.”
When I told John about the nature of the lawsuit, he was excited about the prospect of defending us. He immediately decided we’d go with a First Amendment defense. We would argue that our free exercise of religion had been violated by this ordinance—as indeed, it had.
We then got down to a discussion of how much I would have to pay him for his services. “How much will it cost?” I asked, “How much do you have?” he replied. “I don’t have anything.” “Fine,” he joked. “It’ll cost you as much as five hundred thousand, depending on how far we go up the appeal process.” I said, “You’re hired!”
The truth of the matter is that neither one of us had any money, but we agreed that we’d work those details out later. After talking to John, I went to a special meeting of our Presbytery, which had been called expressly to process my transfer to the new work in Marysville/Yuba City. By now, the news had gotten to the presbyters that we’d all been sued. I brought along a lawyer friend, John Stuebbe, to help convince the presbyters that now was the time to get an attorney for themselves and to act promptly. One presbyter at that meeting, who was a meticulous follower of Robert’s Rules of Order, objected, stating that we had no business bringing up the legal matter at this special meeting. We’d have to call another meeting ten days from then to make it all “legal”—according to Roberts! I was fuming. I told them they’d better get their act together—and fast—because they only had two weeks left to respond to the summons and complaint. In very strong terms I urged them to waive the “Robert’s” technicalities in the light of the urgency of the situation. I told them that it had taken me two weeks to find John Whitehead to defend me and the church. It was up to them to hire their own attorney if they didn’t want John as well. Within a couple of hours and phone calls to Whitehead from the meeting, the Presbytery decided to retain Whitehead; and a committee was set up to follow the course of the suit.
In the providence of God, we couldn’t have made a better choice than John Whitehead to defend us. Not only is he an excellent lawyer and a good friend, but our theological compatibility made for a good working relationship. John forged a team of lawyers to help us present the best possible defense for the Church of Jesus Christ. He laid down rigid conditions: 1) that he and he alone would direct the legal end of things, and 2) he had chosen to take the long-haul approach and build our defense on freedom of religion as framed by the First Amendment of the Constitution.
John assigned to me the job of raising money to fund the case. He called almost daily from Virginia to give me a list of people and churches to contact about the suit. The list was made up of potential donors who were interested in our case and its farreaching implications for the rest of the church in general. Our case was unique in legal history in that, to our knowledge, it was the first time that immorality had taken on the church for fulfilling its biblical responsibility within the parameters of God’s worship. The gates of hell were doing their best to break up the church from within and from without. Little did we realize in taking a minimal stand against the prevailing sin of the community how vehement the attack would be. The fact that they had taken on the Church of Jesus Christ was incredible to us. However, the consequences would be terrifying for them, whether they realized it or not. “Be not deceived, God is not mocked, whatsoever a man sows, that shall he also reap” (Gal. 6:7). “The gates of hell shall not prevail against [the Church of Jesus Christ]” (Matt. 16:18). Yes, the consequences would be terrifying.
As a result of endless lists of possible donors, Donna and I were on the phone for hours daily, trying to find people who were supportive of our plight. We didn’t even own a typewriter at the time; we had no church secretary. We were it! Donna was working part-time at a Christian radio station throughout the summer to help make ends meet. I remember reviewing different form-appeal letters that various Christian organizations sent out in bulk. We decided not to commercialize or technologize our pleas for donations. The letters went out one by one.
Our case was unique in legal history in that, to our knowledge, it was the first time that immorality had taken on the church for fulfilling its biblical responsibility within the parameters of God’s worship.
For a couple of months, I was writing everyone I could, running back and forth from a copy business up the block, and taking care of our two youngest children when Donna was working. After telling a local pastor friend, Rev. Richard Jefferson, about our lack of office help, he recommended a young student from his church to help out. Tomigail showed up late in August to provide any help she could. She was a Godsend. She took to our little ones immediately and was ready to care for them, as well as type letters and do the ever-growing duties of a church/legal secretary. Tomigail and her fiancé, Mark, proved to be extremely loyal and brought us the comfort that both Donna and I really needed. To this day, no one knows the frustration of the suit itself, caring for three little children, having to learn how to run an office, and John constantly assigning us more people to phone and write. The congregation never knew all this. They expected me to keep up the normal routine of the pastorate despite the tensions of the case and the anticipation of the possible ramifications when this finally hit the secular press.
Our families proved to be super supportive. My dad was so excited about the case, right from the first ominous phone call, that he immediately offered to go to jail with me if that prospect became a reality! My father-in-law, equally excited and yet concerned for our safety, offered to either bail us out or move us all to Florida. However, we knew that we were here for the duration. We couldn’t leave.
My father took our situation to his Conservative Baptist Association annual meetings and, within a few days, was able to orchestrate full denominational support and a multitude of Christians began to help finance the case. As a result of his pleas and various Christian magazine articles, checks began rolling in. By the end of July, we’d received more than three thousand dollars, and more was on the way. At its peak, we were receiving approximately ten thousand dollars per month from generous donors from all over the world. The Lord literally supplied the money from churches, individuals, and various organizations to help defend the church in San Francisco. Originally, back in 1978, the Presbytery had offered to help foot the bill, but the bill was too great even for them. Not one penny went to us personally. All donations were cataloged and receipted for the lawsuit and its expenses. The financial records were reviewed by the Presbytery, and were open to the public for scrutiny. We were concerned that there would be no impropriety regarding the donations. The thought of misappropriating funds reigned in my fears, keeping us open and above-board about the money. Later that year, Dennis Fullalove, an elder in our denominational church in South San Francisco, was appointed by the Presbytery committee and hired by the Christian Rights Defense Fund (the title by which we were formally organized) to manage the finances. He became my assistant manager for the remainder of the lawsuit. Not only did Dennis bring relief to our responsibilities, but also great personal encouragement.
Donna and I were very much in need of personal encouragement. Along with the pressures of dissension in our congregation, raising funds for the lawsuit, the possibility of fines and/or jail, there were also those Christians who were highly critical of the stand we had taken, and who didn’t shy away from letting us know.
This mindset also existed among some in our own presbytery and denomination. However, it must be said that there were those in our own congregation, in our presbytery, in our denomination, and in the Church at large, who greatly encouraged us and ministered to us at this time. (Thank you for binding our wounds and for giving a cup of water in the Lord’s name.)
In July 1979, John flew to San Francisco to introduce himself to the Presbytery and the congregation, to answer their questions, and to allay their understandable fears.
In time, John and I decided that we’d go directly to churches around the country and ask them to help us. After all, our church was under attack. If other churches didn’t stand with us, they’d be the next targets. If nothing else, their own self-interest should motivate them to get involved in this cause for religious freedom.
Along with the pressures of dissension in our congregation, raising funds for the lawsuit, the possibility of fines and/or jail, there were also those Christians who were highly critical of the stand we had taken, and who didn’t shy away from letting us know.
In the fall of 1979, John helped line up a number of speaking engagements in various churches throughout the country. Having already reached an agreement with my church that I would be there to preach on Sundays, arrangements were made for these speaking engagements during the week. What many in the church did not know was that I was speaking, debating, interviewing, etc., from Monday through Saturday in many states back East and up and down the West Coast. A few supportive pastors from our own denomination, Rev. Craig Rowe, Rev. Don Poundstone, Rev. John Mahaffy, Rev. Stan Sutton, Rev. George Miladin, and others, helped out tremendously by lining up speaking engagements on local radio and television shows as well as churches and schools. Everywhere I went I brought along a slide show, voluminous notes, and a scrapbook of photos showing what had happened in San Francisco and to us as a result of the gay rights ordinance. I warned them that this was going to happen to them if they didn’t wake up.
After an extensive speaking tour, I stayed for a week at John’s home in Manassas, Virginia, where he coached me on constitutional law; and I instructed him in Reformed theology and Presbyterian church government. We spent hours at a stretch going over questions and legal points as John prepared to take the lengthy deposition of Kevin Walker. John was meticulous in his work. We also went over my own testimony. We wrote and rewrote it until it was cleanly crafted. Kevin’s attorneys did not depose me. Instead they served me with interrogatories—a set of questions to answer. This gave us a wonderful opportunity to clearly present biblical and rational reasons why we had to dismiss Kevin.
The Day Approaches
In September 1980, John deposed Kevin Walker on his religious and political views. The following are portions of that deposition, which show how reprobate a man’s mind can become when in rebellion against God and His law:
John Whitehead: What does the phrase “sexual orientation” mean?
Kevin Walker: Sexual orientation is simply one’s—well, to be objective, it’s just one’s object of sexual attractive [sic]—in other words, what one is attracted to, sexually. That’s what I would take it to mean sexual orientation.
Whitehead: Does that apply with sex with minors?
Walker: Excuse me?
Whitehead: Does that apply to sex with minors?
Walker: If one is attracted to a minor I suppose it could be, yes, applied to a minor.
Whitehead: Could it mean sex with animals?
Walker: Sexual orientation could, yes, sir.
As the deposition continued, John asks him to describe his feelings about a law that forces a church to hire someone it believes to be a practicing and unrepentant sinner. Kevin seems to be unable or unwilling to give a coherent answer:
Whitehead: If this ordinance applies to the church, would it force the church to end up hiring someone it considers a sinner?
Walker: I can answer. Yes, if the church holds that to be—homosexuality to be sinful in nature and the law requires that a person applying for a job be granted that job, provided they are qualified, then I supposed they would be forced to hire someone that they consider to be a sinner. Although legally …
Whitehead: I am just asking you what the church believes.
Walker: The church believes? I’m sorry. I have confused—you asked.
Whitehead: I think you have answered it. The ordinance applies to the employment practices of the church. This ordinance will make the church employ somebody it considers to be a sinner to play the organ.
Walker: It doesn’t require them to hire somebody who is a sinner.
Whitehead: Again, the ordinance we are talking about it—talking about sexual orientation, which includes homosexuals.
Walker: I feel they are tying it to being a sinner.
Later in the deposition, John attempted to have Kevin clarify his position.
Whitehead: If this ordinance is standing behind the person applying, he said, ‘Hey, I’m a homosexual, and I want to be the organist and part of the worship team, worship service,’ will it [the ordinance] not force them to hire this person they consider to be a sinner?
Walker: I would think so.
A few minutes later, John asked Kevin point blank: “The fact is, in this case, to obey the ordinance means that the church must violate a fundamental tenet of their religious beliefs; isn’t that true?” To which Walker replied, “I would—yes, it’s true.”
Without knowing it, Kevin Walker had said things that would eventually lead to his defeat. He had given John many good reasons why the case should be thrown out of court. The ordinance was clearly discriminatory against freedom of religious expression and was unconstitutional on its face as applied to the church.
As January 1980 approached, we were still waiting for a court date and trying, as much as possible, to stay out of the press. However, the media eventually did pick up on the story, but the angle was slightly skewed from what I had naively imagined. The headlines of the San Francisco Chronicle read: “Gay Man Defends Himself Against Firing …” The scenario, repeated continually in the press, was that of a struggling gay musician who was being persecuted by a rigid fundamentalist pastor. I was the “bad guy,” the bigot, and meanly intolerant of the “sexual diversity” within our liberal city. I could see that an ungodly press would not give any benefit to the Christian Church! After all, what did I expect! This was San Francisco—not the Kingdom of God!
The story not only hit the front page of the Chronicle,but also local radio and television stations. I can remember getting a call at six o’clock in the morning from KGO radio news reporter Jim Dunbar, who wanted to know why we were even defending ourselves.
I was the “bad guy,” the bigot, and meanly intolerant of the “sexual diversity” within our liberal city.
The interview went very well, in spite of my justifiable fear of being misquoted and smeared by a hostile press. Jim Dunbar finally asked me, “Don’t you think you’re rather old-fashioned, hanging on to this kind of ethic?” To which I answered, without hesitation, “Oh, yes, I think so. I think this biblical ethic goes back thousands of years. I think it’s the only ethic that will ever last. It’s eternal. We don’t need another ethical standard. It’s not going to do us any good. In fact, we don’t even know where a new ethic would lead us.”
The media attention stirred up a spiteful homosexual population in San Francisco. As a result of the news articles and radio interviews, we received obscene phone calls, dozens of threatening letters, pornographic materials mailed to us, and death threats, some of which described the children in detail—their names, ages, what they looked like, where they attended school, and what sexually deviant acts were going to be performed on them before they killed the children. More than once we had to leave the city for safety.
God Deliver Us
As our March 1980 court date approached, John Whitehead and his team of attorneys, Susan Paulus and Tom Neuberger, were working feverishly to investigate the background of the judge who was to preside over the case. We needed to know as much about him as possible in order to properly frame our arguments. Rumor had it that our judge was more than slightly sympathetic to the gay rights movement—but this was more scuttlebutt than hard fact.
The day before our hearing, John and I went down to the judge’s chambers to sit in on some other hearings and observe him in action, What we found, much to our surprise, was that the judge had abruptly gone on vacation! After weeks of preparation for a hearing before this particular judge, overnight, we were to plead our case before a different judge! The switch actually turned out to be advantageous. We subsequently learned that the new judge was known as a conservative Roman Catholic who possibly shared, or would at least be sympathetic to, our biblical principles.
On the Friday evening prior to our scheduled court appearance, we held a special service to ask God for His protection and guidance. Our tiny church was packed beyond our wildest dreams with supporters coming from all over. We had to outfit the place with several closed-circuit televisions to accommodate all the people.
We asked Dr. Jay Adams, a professor from Westminster Theological Seminary in Escondido, California, to give the message. Dr. Adams didn’t hesitate one moment. From the beginning he had been an ardent supporter, and remained a good friend throughout. (Dr. Francis Schaeffer, whom I never did get to meet, also unhesitatingly endorsed our cause and wrote repeatedly in support of us, even including us in one of his books, A Christian Manifesto.) At the meeting, Dr. Adams gave a challenging message to approximately four hundred people about how important it was for Christians to stand up for biblical rights and the rights of the church. His words were so inspiring that we turned his sermon into a pamphlet and widely distributed it.
The hearing was set for 18 March 1980 at nine o’clock in the morning. The courtroom was packed with homosexual activists, Christians, and reporters. In fact, the room was so packed that there was no place for Donna to sit; and a Christian friend gave up his seat so she could hear the proceedings! Television cameras were in the hallway outside the courtroom along with many more Christians, some of whom were on their knees praying during the entire hearing. When Kevin got off the elevator, he was visibly shocked to see all the commotion. There was no place for him to sit either; so another Christian gave up his seat; and I ushered Kevin into the courtroom. Before the hearing began, John, Susan, Tom, and I prayed in the back corner of the courtroom. Attorney Mary Dunlap (who has since become prominent in gay & lesbian politics in the city) stood up and argued her case for fifteen minutes. John then argued our side for fifteen minutes. It was over that fast. Now all we could do was go home and wait for the judge’s ruling.
The courtroom was packed with homosexual activists, Christians, and reporters.
Before John left San Francisco that day, we discussed just what to expect next. If we lost this judgment, we would go to trial. This is what we expected. Whether we won or lost at trial, John was sure that either side would appeal. We all assumed that this case would go on for a long, long time—to higher and higher courts—making for everyone greater and greater reputations! (“The plans of a man are in his mind, but it is the purposes of God which will be fulfilled” [Prov. 19:21]. God had other plans!)
The judge didn’t waste time in reaching his decision. On 3 April 1980 (Good Friday) I received a phone call from a newsman asking me for a response to the judge’s ruling in our favor. That was the first I’d heard anything about the decision. Of course we were thrilled! We’d actually won it by arguing our protection under the First Amendment’s free exercise of religion clause. We were also shocked that we had won a case of this kind in San Francisco! In his ruling, the judge stated in pertinent part:
The framers of the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights wrote the Free Exercise Clause to protect religious beliefs that may not be followed by the majority, to allow every person to obey his own conscience without interference from the government.
Freedom of religion is so fundamental to American history that it must be preserved even at the expense of other rights which have become institutionalized by the democratic process. Whenever a court is asked to balance the right of one individual against a conflicting right of another, it is a serious and difficult task. The United States Constitution and the cases interpreting it make that less difficult in this case.
Defendant’s motion for summary judgment is granted.
The Price of Victory
Our court victory had not been cheap. Although we were vindicated, we had spent one hundred thousand dollars on this case and nearly two years of time and effort. We counter-sued to recover some of our costs. We eventually received seven hundred dollars from the other side. Kevin, of course, had no money—but he had received thousands of dollars worth of legal help from the gay attorneys’ association.
Kevin Walker and his gay rights attorneys filed an appeal to a higher court, just as John had predicted. Now, we were back on track and in the fight again! We were in this for the long haul! Then—for some unexplained reason—they dropped their appeal!
After all those months of preparation, speaking engagements, fund-raising events, stressful phone interviews, hate mail, and long strategy sessions, it was all over. Just like that … we had worked so hard for this victory! Now there would be no legal precedent set! What, then, could be the significance of this case? The case was significant for several reasons: First, never before had the homosexual movement directly attacked the fundamental rights of a church. It is also significant that a city government should pass a law (promoting immorality) that failed to specifically exempt religious organizations.
The case was significant for John Whitehead, because it provided him with invaluable experience in arguing First Amendment cases—and it helped to nudge him closer to founding The Rutherford Institute, one of the most effective, aggressive religious freedom organizations in the country. Since John defended us, his team of Rutherford Institute attorneys have fought similar battles all over the United States.
Most of all, the case was significant for us, because the Lord taught us a hard but wonderful lesson: in all things He, and He alone, will get the glory. He brought the lawsuit; He provided the funds; He made us able; and He won the victory in a way so totally unexpected by either side that no one but the Lord could claim the victory. We learned that God will get the glory—our responsibility is to give it.
O give thanks to the Lord. … Make known His deeds among the peoples. Speak of all His wonders. Glory in His holy name; … Remember His wonderful deeds which He has done, … His marvels and the judgments from His mouth. Ascribe to the Lord the Glory due His name. (I Chron. 16, NASV)
This Lesson Prepared Us for the Years to Come
And what of Donald Knutson and the Gay Rights Advocates? Although no direct “cause and effect” result may legitimately be implied, it must be said that the words of Scripture remain true and God will not be mocked in His promises: “the gates of hell shall not prevail against [the Church of Jesus Christ].” In 1990, Donald Knutson died of AIDS. In 1991, the San Francisco and Los Angeles offices of the National Gay Rights Advocates closed as a result of bickering and in-fighting.
“It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31, NIV).
We Won a Battle, Not the War
We were thrilled that we’d won, but we realized it was a small victory in what was going to be a very long war for control of our culture. Two diametrically opposed religions had clashed in the courtroom: secular humanism, the religion of our dominant American culture, and orthodox Christianity.
One or the other will eventually win. In light of God’s Word, we believe that it will be Christianity that will eventually win the world for Christ. I don’t believe there is any compromise possible in this war. The gay rights movement is militantly intolerant of the Christian faith. Faith is totalitarian—it encompasses a whole world and life view. The “religion” of homosexuality clashes squarely and directly with the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament. One cannot hold sincerely to the teaching of the Word of God and to the faith of homosexuality even in principle—let alone in practice. As a lifestyle, homosexuality represents a holistic culture under the dominion of man in rebellion against God.
To speak of the faith-motive of homosexuality is not to say that one necessarily practices these unnatural sex acts as such, but it is to agree with the deep-rooted religious commitment to the so-called autonomy of the natural man. To agree with the homosexual lifestyle is to completely challenge the biblical definition of man, the family (the basic biological unit of human existence), marriage, children, parenthood, etc. The religion of homosexuality challenges the fundamental structure of morality, the nature of the Word of God, and civilization in general.
We believe that the homosexual rights movement is God’s judgment upon a fearful and ineffective Church that has not taken an active role in our society.
The gay rights movement argues, “Live and let live”; yet, because it is a holistic life and worldview, it refuses such equality to those Christians who traditionally and convictionally believe and live by the Scriptures. Gays will agree to no compromise or peaceful coexistence unless Bible-believers keep the light of the gospel to themselves. A homosexual-dominated society cannot tolerate “archaic or old-fashioned” values. The enlightened society must establish its own morality, despite the disease-ridden course of its end.
We believe that the homosexual rights movement is God’s judgment upon a fearful and ineffective Church that has not taken an active role in our society. It is our deserved chastisement for failing to minister to those suffering in this sin and failing to take seriously the needs of those individuals struggling in sexual sins.
Homosexuals have been the butt of jokes and humiliation for so long that Christians have failed to realize the seriousness of their personal and public rights as human beings. God created human rights. We stand for human rights, whether a person is a homosexual, adulterer, or whatever type of sinner he may be. Nobody escapes the indictment of the Word of God, yet everybody under God’s creation is divinely accorded respect and decency despite their sinful deviance: gay or straight. “[F]or all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23, NIV). Nobody is exempt from the scrutiny of God’s Word. Nor, for that matter, is anyone exempt from the equal promise of eternal life for all who repent and believe the gospel. All men are created in the image of God and for that reason have divine rights protected by God Himself—that includes the homosexual. The Christian community, in all its spheres, ought to be the first to protect the human rights of homosexuals and lesbians. We ought to be at the forefront of defending them against unjust and iniquitous deeds, whether it’s called gay-bashing or “sexual [unsafe sexual] orientation” ordinances. Only then will the Church be effective in ministering to the needy. The true Church brings healing through the gospel, which is not a pleasant “operation” to those who need radical spiritual surgery.
I don’t credit the gay community for all of their political success. I blame the church for not standing for and maintaining the biblical message of morality in Christ. I blame the church for the moral depravity in this land, because pastors (including myself) and parachurch leaders have too often failed to speak out against immorality in the public sector.
In our case, a victory was won against the gay rights movement in 1980, but our exhilaration was to be short-lived. It’s as if the Lord said, “I’m not done chipping away those rough edges yet …” The gays were certainly not pleased and definitely were not done with us. We were to pay a price for our stand!
Reprinted with permission of the authors, Chuck and Donna McIlhenny, with Frank York. From When the Wicked Seize a City. All rights reserved. ©1993, 2000 by Chuck and Donna McIlhenny. Published by Authors Choice Press, an imprint of iUniverse.com Inc. Originally published by Huntington House Publishers. Available through iUniverse or Amazon.com.