byFaith | 5.25.16
By Alan Dowd

I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman. For me as a Christian, it is also a sacred union. God’s in the mix.

Before I’m hauled before the speech police, I should note that those words are not mine, although I agree with them. In fact, it was President Obama who expressed this commonsense view a long, long  time ago—in 2008. Of course, by 2012, he changed his opinion and declared, “Same-sex couples should be able to get married.”

Some argue that the president was merely reflecting the nation’s evolution on this issue. Indeed, marriage-redefinition advocates, from the White House to the Supreme Court to Hollywood, say this light-speed change in public opinion is a sign of progress. This calls to mind a wise word from C. S. Lewis, who observed, “We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.”

Regardless of whether our culture is progressing or regressing, this change in public opinion has triggered chaos in public policy. Defenders of marriage and religious liberty are derided as bigots. Marriage-redefinition advocates say they are being treated like second-class citizens. Powerful corporate forces—NASCAR, the NFL and the NCAA, GE and HP, Pepsi and PayPal—are threatening boycotts. And policymakers are caught in the middle, trying to represent and serve all of their constituents.

Let’s give policymakers the benefit of the doubt: The courts want to prevent discrimination. State legislatures want to protect people of faith from being forced into violating their conscience. Governors want to balance business interests and individual rights and religious liberty.

And let’s not lose sight of the timeless truth that God loves all people. That is His nature. He loves us so much that “while we were still sinners” He came to rescue us. He loves us as we are, and He loves us too much to leave us that way. In other words, He really does love sinners (see here, here and here) and hate sin (see here, here and here).

As His people, we are called to imitate Him. But what does that look like in a culture where anything goes, where the only wrong behavior is judging something to be wrong, where an ethos of live-and-let-live tolerance has been supplanted by an attitude of fall-in-line-or-else conformity? More specifically, what are Christian-owned businesses—florists, bakeries, caterers, photographers—to do when they’re compelled by the force of law or the fear of a lawsuit to participate in same-sex ceremonies?


To begin, we’re not supposed to conform to the pattern of this world, but that doesn’t mean we’re supposed to withdraw from the world, either. God wants us to be engaged in the world around us. That goes for Christian-owned businesses, Christians who work in secular businesses, Christians in government, Christians in retirement, Christians at school, Christians on vacation. That goes for all of us.

It pays to recall that Jesus and the disciples were not monks cloistered and closed off in some mountaintop monastery. They were out in the world, interacting with pagans and polytheists, politicians and priests, generals and governors, rich men and tax collectors, beggars and lepers, Jews and gentiles, Greeks and Samaritans. In short, they were in the world, but they were not of the world.

Specific to doing business with the world, it pays to recall that Abraham bought land from pagans. Jacob sent his sons to buy grain from pagan Egypt. Solomon had trading partnerships with pagan Tyre and Sidon. Jeremiahinstructed God’s people in pagan Babylon to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile.”

We can gather from context that doing business with the world is not immoral. In fact, not doing business with the world is impractical. However, doing business like the world, imitating the customs of the world, condoning or encouraging immoral behavior, doing immoral business—these things are immoral. Thus, it’s understandable that a Christian photographer or florist would feel uncomfortable providing services for a same-sex ceremony. This could be viewed as encouraging something that is at odds with scripture.

Homosexual behavior is at odds with scripture. On this and other matters, we can reject or ignore what scripture says, but we can’t pretend scripture doesn’t say what it says. Homosexuality is not condoned by the Bible, and same-sex “marriage” is not contemplated by the Bible.

Let’s look first at marriage. God has always intended marriage to be the lifelong union of one man and one woman. To be sure, some of the people in God’s family tree engaged in polygamy and adultery, but that was not God’s will. We know that multiple wives and sex outside of marriage brought huge problems—moral, spiritual, practical—for David and Solomon. That’s because they ignored God’s plan.

“A man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh,” Genesis 2 declares, adding: “Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” The text doesn’t say Adam and his girlfriend (sorry, King David), Adam and his wives (sorry, King Solomon) or Adam and his husband (sorry, President Obama). In Matthew 19 and Mark 10, Jesus echoes the words of Genesis, explaining, “At the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife,and the two will become one flesh.’” Again, Jesus doesn’t say partner or lover. He could have taken the opportunity to revise the Law and redefine marriage—homosexuality was practiced in those days—but He didn’t. 

As for homosexuality, the Bible speaks early, often and consistently about homosexuality, and the verdict is that homosexual behavior is wrong. See Genesis 19, Leviticus 18 and 20, Deuteronomy 23, Judges 19, I Kings 14 and 15, 2 Kings 23, Romans 1 and I Timothy 1. That doesn’t give us the right to be hurtful or hateful, or to elevate any particular sin above others, but if we accept the Bible as the ultimate source of truth, then we shouldn’t discount what it says about marriage and sexuality.

Christians can and do disagree about whether a person might be born with a predisposition to be homosexual. Regardless of where we land on that question, it doesn’t follow that a person has biblical license to engage in homosexual behavior. After all, a person might be born with a predisposition to alcoholism or overeating or philandering or lust or fits of rage or any number of other human frailties—also known as sin. All of us are born with a sin nature. That doesn’t justify succumbing to that nature.

In the marriage-redefinition debate, as in all of our dealings with the world, our motives and means matter. If our motive is to hurt or hate—if our means are humiliating or un-Christlike—then we are failing our Savior and our fellowman. But if our motive is to honor God in the work we do and how we do it, in what we say and how we say it, then we are fulfilling our duty to Christ and our fellowman.


Of course, to some ears, our means and motives are secondary to our message. The very fact that we oppose the redefinition of marriage is offensive to them.

That brings us back to public policy. There are rare instances when the government has to intervene to prevent a religious practice from harming someone. In those cases, the government is obliged to prove a “compelling state interest” to justify any infringement on or impingement of religious practice.

But forcing a person of faith to do something that violates her conscience, her deeply held beliefs, seems to turn this principle on its head. Requiring a devout Christian to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex ceremony would trample her religious beliefs, thus harming her liberty.

America’s government is not supposed to tell those with religious beliefs how, where, when or whether to practice those beliefs. We don’t have to worship on the same days or in the same ways—or at all—to recognize this truth.

Consider this public-policy conundrum from a slightly different angle: Would it be right to compel a Muslim or Jewish restauranteur to serve bacon, an atheist bookstore to sell Bibles, a lesbian author to write an article condemning same-sex ceremonies? Of course not. In the same way, it is not right to demand that a Christian business provide services to a same-sex ceremony, lest it face a crippling lawsuit or be forced to close its doors.

The vast majority of the time, our government finds a way to protect minority rights while ensuring majority rule, especially in cases dealing with religious liberty. Mark Rienziof the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty points to religious exceptions for Quakers drafted into the military who have moral objections to war, corrections workers who oppose capital punishment on religious grounds and health-care personnel who view abortion as the taking of innocent life. This is why state lawmakers have tried to protect religious freedom, even as society tries to change the definition of marriage. But in the face of lawsuits and boycotts, it seems religious freedom is losing ground to cultural conformity.


Moments like this are clarifying for people of faith. They remind us that “our citizenship is in heaven,” as Paul observed. There’s a reason Peter described us as “strangers and aliens” in a foreign land. Peter and Paul knew from experience that there are here-and-now consequences to following the call of conscience.

When ordered not to teach about Jesus, Peter boldly replied, “We must obey God, not human authority.” Peter was flogged and imprisoned.

Likewise, Paul was jailed and beaten for opposing Rome’s laws. It pays to recall that Paul’s unwillingness to bend to the mores of the culture around him—indeed the impact of his religious views on commerce in Ephesus—led to riots.

“A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought in a lot of business for the craftsmen there,” Luke explains. After noting how “We receive a good income from this business,” the silversmith told his fellow businessmen that “Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia… There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited.” With Ephesus in an uproar, Paul was spirited out of the city.

Now, as then, there is a cost when we follow our conscience—a price to pay. For those of us who oppose the redefinition of marriage, it might mean losing customers or clients or readers, congregants or parishioners, friends or elections. But there is also a reward. When we do what’s right, for the right reason, in the right way, we store up treasure in heaven.