Yesterday, President Obama signed an executive order to prohibit the federal government from contracting with anyone who “discriminates” on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

In short, it forces the 24,000 entities who contract with the federal government and employ 28 million workers -about one-fifth of the nation’s work force-to promise that they will never decline to hire someone based on their sexual activity or desire to be a different gender.

As a result, any church, non-profit organization, or business that believes marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman – a position the President agreed with only two years ago – could be ineligible to compete for public contracts or grants.

The executive order also bans “discrimination” against federal employees based on their gender identity.

In recognition of the fact that every major religion has taught that sexuality is best confined to natural marriage for thousands of years, a request for religious exemptions from the mandate was made.

That request was denied.

Explaining why the religious exemption was not included, one administration official said, “You can use religion to only hire people who share your religion, but you can’t discriminate against someone who is of your faith who happens to be LGBT, unless they fall within the ministerial exception.”

In other words, if a job applicants says he is part of your religion, the church cannot conclude that his lifestyle shows otherwise.  The federal government now says the individual, not the church, determines whether a person is in good standing with the church.

This is the new, progressive understanding of the separation of church and state where the state tells the church how to operate.

The full impact of this executive order remains to be seen, but it could be significant.

Catholic, Mormon, or Christian colleges who require employees to refrain from sexual activity outside of natural marriage could see all their student’s lose access to federal student aid.

Religiously affiliated hospitals and social services organizations, like Catholic Charities USA that have served the most destitute, could find their government unwilling to partner with them any longer.

Para-church organizations or non-profit organizations that would like to apply for federal grants to run mentorship programs, adoption services, or convict re-entry programs could find themselves automatically ineligible.

Businesses that would like to compete to work on federal highway projects, provide school lunch programs, or fill defense contracts could be required to affirm the government’s statement of faith to be eligible.

It remains to be seen whether the government will ask entities to affirm the state’s sexual values as a condition of partnering with them or if they will simply cut-off those who have been part of a controversy.  But no one should feel particularly safe.

If the left is good at anything, they are good at sniffing out people who disagree with them and making it harder for them to live their lives.

Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, the President is ordering American believers to bow to the golden image he has erected or be thrown into the proverbial fire.

This executive order raises a myriad questions, not the least of which is, who will the government partner with to help serve the needy if the churches are disqualified?

To my knowledge, neither the Freedom From Religion Foundation nor the American Atheists have a robust national network that exists largely to serve the less fortunate.

Perhaps that isn’t as important as making sure your child’s Christian college can’t object if her male teacher begins showing up in class as a woman.

Of course the loss of funds will not stop the church from being the church.  Being disentangled from government will likely be a good thing in the long-run.

But it is not encouraging that the disentanglement is happening as the government forces people who want the freedom to follow their faith into ghettos where full participation in the market place is not allowed.

Unfortunately, this executive order may only be a foreshadowing of things to come.

A logical next step will be to condition a church’s tax-exempt status on their willingness to affirm a non-discrimination statement that is likely inconsistent with their faith.

It would be no small irony if all the churches lost their tax-exempt status because they weren’t involved in politics.

In the same way, business licenses may soon be conditioned upon agreement with a non-discrimination statements that orthodox believers would be unwilling to sign.

There isn’t much that can be done about this executive order in the short-term because Barack Obama will be President until January, 2017.

But there is a tremendous amount that can be done to delegitimize this war on pluralism and conscience rights moving forward. Politicians have taken away religious freedom because those affected have not, en masse, been willing to defend themselves.

The American church gets to decide if they prefer to be patted on the head and congratulated for their commitment to being non-political or if they want their grandchildren to be free.

Yes, it would be more comfortable and perhaps better for our reputation to focus all our energy inside the four walls of the church.  But we don’t always get to choose our battles.  Sometimes they’re chosen for us by virtue of the time in history God ordained for us to live in.  The choice we do have is whether to engage or surrender.  As the 19th century novelist Elizabeth Rundle Charles once wrote:

If I profess, with the loudest voice and the clearest exposition, every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christianity. Where the battle rages the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle-field besides is mere flight and disgrace to him if he flinches at that one point.”