Does the Bible Justify Refusing to Serve Homosexual Weddings?
Note: This article is a follow up to yesterday’s post in which I discussed the article by Kirsten Powers and responses to her article.
Predictably, the pending law in Arizona that would allow businesses to refuse service to homosexuals based on their religious convictions has stirred up controversy around the nation. Proponents of the legislation say it is needed to ensure the religious and conscience rights of Christian business owners are protected from government coercion and mandate. Opponents say the bills are just an excuse for people to discriminate.
What was not predictable in this discussion was how divided Christians themselves would be on the issue. Some Christians are saying no one should have the right to refuse service – not even Christians, and not even when rendering service would violate a person’s convictions. Other Christians are baffled by that position and reiterate that the government should not be allowed to force a person to violate his or her deeply held religious convictions. Dr. Albert Mohler recently said that this was “perhaps the strangest and most disappointing dimension of the current controversy.”
How we got to this point is best summed up by an article at National Review which made the statement: “It is perhaps unfortunate that it has come to this, but organized homosexuality, a phenomenon that is more about progressive pieties than gay rights per se, remains on the permanent offensive in the culture wars. Live-and-let-live is a creed that the gay lobby specifically rejects…And the so-called liberals answer: ‘To hell with your consciences.’”
At the crux of this discussion is not whether it is biblically appropriate to refuse to serve someone – though that has been brought into the conversation. As Citizenlink legal analyst Bruce Hausknecht identifies, the intention behind these bills is the protection of religious convictions for all people:
“Whether or not the Arizona bill gets signed into law, understand this: These laws are a shield to protect everyone’s religious freedom, not a sword to harm gays and lesbians or anyone else. Christians are merely the target of choice at the moment, but tomorrow it will be another religious group. People of all faiths (and no faith) need to band together to protect the religious freedom of all.”
Far from the picture the media is trying to paint in order to sway Gov. Jan Brewer and others from supporting these bills, they are designed to ensure that no person can be forced under threat of government penalty to violate his or her deeply held religious convictions. This does not mean everyone will agree on what those convictions are; it simply means that religious freedom and conscience will be protected. It’s hard for me to see why any person of faith would advocate the government’s position that it be allowed to force another person of faith to violate his or her convictions.
Mohler went on to say that consigning Christian conscience to the coercive power of the state is a regrettable position for anyone, let alone for a Christian to take. He wrote:
“The state might decide to recognize a same-sex union as a marriage, but to coerce a Christian to participate in a same-sex wedding is a gross violation of religious conscience…This argument would force a Christian who writes for hire to write a message that would violate the deepest Christian convictions. To be forced to participate in an expressive way is to be forced to endorse and to celebrate.”
But Mohler also pointed out, as did Russell Moore in his follow up article that at the heart of this discussion for Christians is not just forced coercion and participation in something we believe is sinful, but forced recognition of something we believe is null and void. A Christian wedding photographer can photograph the wedding of a divorced couple, provided it does not violate her conscience, because in the end that is still a legitimate marriage. Whereas, as both Mohler and Moore point out, there is not ever a circumstance in which a homosexual wedding produces a valid marriage:
“But the fact remains that the marriage of a man and a woman is, in the biblical point of view, still valid. No union of same-sex couples is valid according to the Bible. This is a huge and consequential matter of conscience and conviction. Jesus, we should note, was often found in the presence of sinners. He came, as he said, to save those who are lost. But there is not a shred of biblical evidence to suggest that Jesus endorsed sin in any way. To suggest otherwise is an offense to Scripture and to reason.”
Also offensive to Scripture and reason is the idea that a person can lend God-given talents to sin and somehow not be offended and have their conscience seared by such actions. Addressing this issue is Sean Davis’ article at The Federalist. He writes:
“…the teachings of Paul in 1 Corinthians 10 could not be more relevant to the discussion of whether Christians should partake in ceremonies they believe to be sinful…So what does Paul say about whether Christians can in good conscience participate in ceremonies that willfully reject God’s commands (1 Corinthians 10:14-15)? ‘Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say.’ And then there’s the specific command in Romans to not offer yourself as an instrument of sin (Romans 6:13): ‘Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness.’ The Bible says many, many things about sin, but it never tells faithful followers of Christ to actively condone sinful behavior or to use their God-given gifts and abilities to knowingly aid or abet sinful behavior. ‘So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God,’ Paul wrote to the Corinthians.”
Again, what must be understood here is that intrinsic to religious freedom is the ability of each individual to decide for himself what violates his own conscience. The idea that there can somehow be a standard for conscience violation that applies equally to every person is absurd. For some, photographing a same-sex ceremony will not violate his conscience, but for others it will be a gross violation of conscience and religious convictions. So what’s at stake is not whether should or should not render services to homosexual weddings, but whether they should be forced to do so. This is a critical aspect to this discussion.
Mohler, Moore, and several others that have responded to the Kirsten Powers article which criticized Christians that don’t want to be forced to participate in celebrating same-sex weddings, jump on the idea that it is society that determines whether or not the conscience has been violated. This idea is implied in both Powers’ article and in many mainstream media articles, saying that society is really the determining agent in whether or not a person’s conscience has been violated so Christians can’t make that claim because society doesn’t support it. But this line of thinking removes both religious freedom and individuality and replaces them with government mandated standards applicable to all.
Responding to this aspect of the discussion is an article by Andrew Walker at Canon And Culture:
“A problem, though, beneath the surface of their argument is the very rationale of how they reach their conclusion: Powers and Merritt put themselves in the untenable position of telling private actors in these scenarios how to think about their services and talents (that their making a cake isn’t an “affirmation”), rather than deferring to the internal reasoning left to the actor to decide for his or herself. Powers and Merritt are not in the position to do the cogitating for those they write about. Indeed, only the individual should be able to decide for his or herself the interpretation of their conscience.”
This discussion will continue, it’s far from over. But here is what must be understood in order to have an informed view of the issue. First, each individual, not the state or society in general, should be free to decide when his or her conscience is violated. Without this fundamental aspect of religious freedom all other rights are open to interpretation by the state or society and at risk of being lost.
Second, legislation protecting religious freedoms for business owners are not a matter of whether or not a Christian should render services to a homosexual wedding, they are about whether a Christian can be forced, under government threat of penalty, to participate in what they believe is sin. The difference between should and forced is critical and Christian must come down on the side that protects religious freedom and prevents any person from being forced to violate his or her conscience.
Finally, it is absolutely false to say the Bible does not give Christians the freedom to abstain from taking part in what they believe to be sinful. The very idea of Christian conscience comes from Scripture and Paul clearly teaches that conscience is a personal matter and that each believer must abstain from taking part in anything that would violate his or her conscience. While I cannot dictate what violates the conscience of another, neither should anyone be allowed to determine for me what violates my conscience. It is neither hypocritical nor an abuse of Scripture to refuse to take part in a homosexual wedding in order to keep from violating religious convictions and conscience.
Let’s hope that those with a belief that the government should be able to force participation in sinful events, such as Kirsten Powers and Jonathan Merritt reconsider their position. If the government can force someone to participate in one activity they believe is sinful, what other events and activities can the government force acceptance and participation? That thought alone should be enough to bring any person of faith – or person without faith – down on the side of individual liberty and religious freedom.