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.
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.
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.
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