Did Andy Stanley Misspeak? Should Christians Violate Their religious Convictions?
In light of the Kansas bill that died in committee and the Arizona religious freedom bill that made national headlines for several weeks before being vetoed by Gov. Jan Brewer, mega-church pastor Andy Stanley made some troubling remarks that have evangelicals questioning his intentions.
According to a recent article Stanley said that he:
“..finds it ‘offensive that Christians would leverage faith to support the Kansas law. Serving people we don’t see eye to eye with is the essence of Christianity. Jesus died for a world with which he didn’t see eye to eye. If a bakery doesn’t want to sell its products to a gay couple, it’s their business. Literally. But leave Jesus out of it.’”
It didn’t take long for commentators to seize on the comment with a flurry of question as to what exactly Stanley meant. There’s no doubt that the plain-text meaning of his statement is troubling as it seems to indicate that Christians should leave God and their faith at home rather than bring it to the work-place. But surely a pastor would not believe such an erroneous idea, and he certainly wouldn’t teach it. Would he?
While I have been a fan of Dr. Charles Stanley, Andy’s father, for many years, I will confess my own growing hesitation to be as supportive of Andy. This stems from my own personal experiences in attending several North Point conferences in which Andy made statements that I found equally troubling. But this latest statement is one that will require further clarification in order to assure people that Andy is not treading into dangerous waters.
Michael Brown, writing at Charisma News, poses several poignant questions that Andy and others opposing such protections for Christians must answer. He asked:
“Why do you find it ‘offensive’ that people of faith also ‘leverage faith’ when it comes to freedoms of conscience, speech and religion? If the government told you that you were required to perform same-sex weddings in your church, would you not ‘leverage faith’ in your response?
“You stated, ‘Serving people we don’t see eye to eye with is the essence of Christianity,’ and I absolutely understand the point you are trying to make. But are you telling me that, if I am in the medical supply business and I am asked to supply medical equipment for a late-term abortionist, I should do so, since ‘serving people we don’t see eye to eye with is the essence of Christianity’? Are you saying that it is the ‘essence of Christianity’ to help a late-term abortionist rip up a baby in the womb?”
Those questions are critical to this discussion as it continues to take place across our country. For Andy Stanley’s part this could be a case of a leader that spoke without having all the facts or knowing the scope of the discussion. If that’s true Stanley should simply apologize and provide clarification to his remarks. But for many Christians there is a belief that other Christians have no right to refuse service to any person, even when that service would violate their religious convictions. That is a dangerous position to take.
The issue at hand is not about whether a Christian “should” celebrate a same-sex wedding by providing services. The issue is whether a Christian should be forced to do under threat of government penalty. There is a very big difference. In one you are talking about the individual beliefs that determine whether or not someone will or will not do something. In the other you are talking about being coerced and forced by the government to violate religious convictions under threat of penalty.
Anyone taking the position that the government should have the right to tell another person to violate their religious convictions needs to consider how far that logic goes. Does the government then have the right to tell a Jewish person to serve a communist/nazi group? Does the government also have the right to tell a black person to serve the Klu Klux Klan? Does the government have the right to tell a homosexual to serve a pro-traditional marriage group? Can the government tell an evolutionist to serve a procreation group? Where exactly does it end?
Those believing the government have the right to tell any person to violate his or her convictions is short sighted and cannot see that eventually the government will tell every person to “conform or else.” The end result will be the breakdown of individual rights and the ability to live according to conscience or religious convictions; or the lack of religious convictions.
Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association asks another very pertinent question:
“One question remains for Stanley: would he himself perform a homosexual wedding ceremony? If he would not participate in a gay wedding because of the moral standards of Scripture, how in the world can he condemn a Christian businessman for doing the same thing? I have to believe that Andy Stanley has simply not thought this issue through. His analysis here is perilously shallow and superficial…but it’s not too late for Stanley to issue an apology for his alarmingly misguided pastoral advice.”
Along with this question I would ask “If Christians cannot refuse to partake in something they believe is sinful on the basis of their religious convictions and faith, what other basis is legitimate?” You see this is what the liberal left if seeking to accomplish: remove the only legitimate and Constitutional basis on which a Christian can refuse to serve and create a system where no one has the right to refuse service. If a Christian, as Stanley suggests, leaves Jesus out of it what other reason could be stated for such a refusal of service? Anything else would immediately be deemed pure discrimination.
Erick Erickson also weighed in on the controversy by saying:
“Andy Stanley says, ‘If a bakery doesn’t want to sell its products to a gay couple, it’s their business.’ Actually, gay rights activists have made it the state’s business. They cannot refuse to cooperate without losing their businesses. Is Andy Stanley so out of touch with the world that he does not realize this is happening? Or does he think it is okay that Christians can, in violation of their conscious, provide goods and services to a ceremony they think is sinful?”
This is an important point, I think, because many pastors across America seem naively ignorant of what is actually taking place in our country. They are content to build their kingdom while the land providing that opportunity is being attacked. Christian pastors that want to take advantage of federal tax breaks and other religious freedoms granted not by God but by the Constitution and federal law have no business being “offended” by other Christians that simply want to live by their convictions without fear of government retribution.
There is a clear distinction that must be communicated during this discussion. This is not a debate on whether or not a Christian “should” serve homosexuals. That is a discussion that needs to be given attention by theologians rather than politicians. This is a discussion about whether a Christian should be “forced” to violate his or her conviction by taking part in something they believe is sin. If Andy Stanley doesn’t understand that distinction he should say so, apologize, and clear up any confusion. If he does understand the distinction and still believes the government should be allowed to force someone to violate their convictions, he’s wrong.
I hope from this point on that anyone not understanding the distinction and clearly communicating their position based on the distinction will keep silent. Thoughts like those given by Stanley are not helpful and only serve as ammunition for liberals that desire to revoke and strip religious freedom protections in our Constitution. It’s those freedoms that many of us fight for, the same freedoms that give Andy Stanley the ability to build North Point Ministries. Rather than be “offended” by people that want the freedom to live according to their religious convictions we should all seek to defend religious conscience protections. The reality is that if one group is not protected, no one will be protected.