Let me start off by saying this is not an easy issue to write about, so many people feel passionate about both sides of this debate. Homosexuality, for many Evangelicals, is being forced on us, our beliefs, and soon our churches. There is a growing alarm and concern that the “liberal gay agenda” will force the Church to submit or be persecuted. The dictates of conscience seem to be on the line, and for many it is just further proof that our increasingly anti-Christian society will soon feed us to the lions.
There is legitimate fear motivating a lot of this protest over the Kansas law (and similar laws) that are trying to make it to where vendors can openly discriminate against gay couples if it they feel it violates their religious beliefs or conscience.
And that is the problem: it is mostly motivated by fear.
We should not, no matter what our position is, be motivated to action by the fear of anything; the last I read in Scripture we are the Church that is ultimately triumphant. Christ has died and been raised to life, and greater is he that is in us than is in this broken, fallen world. Period. What we do, brothers and sisters, should be done from a desire to love and serve our neighbor as unto the Lord. Now, sometimes that means telling our neighbor something they do not want to hear (e.g. that you believe their homosexual relationship is morally and theologically wrong), but it should always be done with the desire to bring those individuals into the gospel of reconciliation. When we fail to do this, it does not matter what position we take on the issue.
Perfect love casts out all fear, and it is filled with grace and truth.
Let me also say that it is difficult for homosexuals to hear that we believe that their consensual, loving relationship is ultimately sinful and against the design of their Creator. Homosexuals make the same mistake many minorities have done and make their identity all about their sexual orientation, so when Christians critique this view (in both loving and unloving ways) they see it as an attack on who they are. In reality, the Church is always supposed to attack who we naturally are: sinners, traitorously rebelling against the sovereign goodness of our God; in his abundant mercy he has sought us out again and again, and we have chased our own whims and the guides of our twisted, broken images. This is true whether one is a homosexual, a compulsive liar, a self-righteous Pharisee, a heterosexual pervert, etc. While some groups of Christians do not practice this fairly, the Gospel is meant to be the critique, warning, and rescue of us all, and that is always offensive to those who would rather live in darkness than come into the light (like me for instance).
I realize that this is a broad complex issue, which is why I am not just going to quote some bible verses and run away. Their are raw emotions here; both sides feel like they are the marginalized, attack minority. So, maybe the first step is to drop the shields and swords in order to come to the table and discuss what is really going on in our hearts.
I think God in Christ would be honored by that.
What is Going On?
There is a proposed Kansas law (and several others such laws pending in other states) that allows vendors and business to deny services to homosexual couples if they believe their service would be objectionable to conscience or religious belief. The law has been proposed because several vendors (particularly dealing with weddings) are being sued for not providing their services to homosexuals willing to pay for them. For the business it is a matter of conscience, and for the homosexuals it is a matter of civil rights.
So, in response to this, Jonathan Merritt and newly converted atheist, Kirsten Powers wrote the following article about the issue claiming that conservative Evangelicals were hypocritical for denying a wedding service to a homosexual, but being willing to do that same service for a couple that was heterosexual but deviant in another manner. You can read the full article here:
This touched off a firestorm of people who immediately began to attack Merritt and Powers, many of them claiming to be legitimate followers of Jesus Christ. I personally observed the comments and I was shocked at the lack of love (and in many cases truth) that was being shown to these individuals. Now, before yesterday I had never even heard of these two; they are not people of whose fan club I have run in (though after yesterday, that might change). I was, however, saddened and not surprised by the vitriol spewed out over this issue, and the unwillingness of many brothers and sisters to re-think their own beliefs, if only for a second.
What is My View on Homosexuality and the Rights of Homosexuals?
I have always been upfront about my disapproval morally and theologically of homosexual relationships (not people who are born homosexual), while at the same time affirming that they have a civil right in our pluralistic, secular republic for them to have all the rights and privileges of a married couple. I do not call such unions marriage, because my definition of marriage is biblically defined as a man and woman, faithful and forgiving for life. I believe this because it demonstrates a broken, but more complete picture of who God is (he has aspects of both genders, both genders complement each other well) and because marriage is a picture of Christ and the Church. While I have read, pondered, and wrestled with interpretations of the “anti-homosexual” texts that are not conservative, I have found such interpretations to be wanting, and I am bound to follow what I believe is clear biblical exegesis. Homosexuality, in my view of what Scripture says, is wrong when practiced, and embraced as an identity; but it is no more evil than any other practice or embraced identity other than God in Christ.
Still, homosexuals are people made in the image of God and it is not a sin (but rather a product of the curse of sin) to be born a homosexual. We cannot be so concerned about the sin that we ignore the sinner. It is also not right for Christians to deny these individuals the right to sin, as it is only with the right to sin (free will) that we have the opportunity to repent. Christians are not supposed to control society, but influence it with the love and truth of the Gospel; that means we need to let go of political and economic devices, and begin to pray and fast earnestly about what God wants us to do in this increasingly sick, broken nation. We cannot deny homosexuals their rights, any more than we can deny anyone else their rights, unless we want to leave the door open for people to challenge our rights.
Hate me if you want to, that is my gut-wrenching position.
How Complex is this Issue?
It is so easy for both sides to offer simple answers to this problem, so I am going to explore both faces of this issue in an attempt to be fair and just. I want my comments to be more about seeing the other sides’ viewpoint, rather than being purely dogmatic about my own, often fallible view.
It is right for Christian (or even religious) vendors to deny service to homosexuals based on the keeping of their beliefs and the dictates of their conscience.
The individual conscience is what led to founding of this nation (or at least that was on the mind of people not just concerned with wealth and power). Men (and later women) have died to make this country a free nation of individuals who can to live by their conscience without government interference (within the reasonableness of the law).
When Christian vendors refuse to offer homosexuals the same service as heterosexuals it is not hypocritical. In chapter fourteen of Romans, Paul discusses the need to hold to the “weaker” conscience of the believer. He writes,
“I know and am convinced on the authority of The Lord Jesus that no food, in of itself, is wrong to eat. But if someone believes it is wrong, then for that person it is wrong.” (Rom. 14:14 NLT)
The issues in this passage is food knowingly sacrificed to idols; Paul says that while he considers such food perfectly fine, if another brother or sister does not and then eats it (or sees him eat it), then it becomes wrong for both Paul and the offended believer.
This principle should be applied to any situation where a Scripture informed conscience dictates abstaining. For these vendors, Scripture says that homosexuality is wrong, and therefore they see themselves as violating their own beliefs if they even offer homosexuals services for their wedding. To not allow them to follow their conscience is to force them to either 1) sin or 2) to abandon their livelihood because they could be sued by the homosexual couple.
Is it constitutional to prohibit discrimination? An honest look at the constitution reveals that it is not (at one point the document even advocated discrimination). So, these believers feel it is within their moral, theological, and constitutional rights to deny services to these weddings they find objectionable.
Could the argument, however, be made that this is similar the discrimination from racism that has occurred throughout the history of this nation? First, it must again be pointed out that discrimination is constitutional; in many ways the Federal government overstepped its bounds to try to force racial harmony and diversity. Second, even if you are not racist, the discrimination in this case is about a chosen behavioral practice not because of something they were born to be. Even if homosexuality is a genetic abnormality, there are those who do not act on those impulses; one cannot help being a minority (and the Scriptures do not say being a minority is sinful), but one can and must choose not to embrace the homosexual identity and lifestyle.
So, proponents of these laws point to the rights of individual conscience dictated in Scripture and granted by the constitution. To deprive these believers of being able to act on their conscience would be a cruel and unnecessary dismantling of their means of living and livelihood. It is not hypocritical to follow your conscience; it is hypocritical to know something is wrong and not do anything about it.
It is wrong for religions vendors to deny services to homosexuals based on religious belief and dictates of their conscience.
Discrimination is indeed constitutional; the founding document of our nation has been used at one point to justify slavery, make minorities 3/5 human, and to deny women the right to vote. That is why the constitution has to be amended with social conscience; that is why laws sometimes need to be put in place to move the country in that direction.
The question that needs to be asked is, is this a form of discrimination? The answer is a resounding “yes.” Using the same passage from Romans 14, we can clearly see that Paul had no problem with the objectionable meat, and it needs to pointed out that this, in context, is dealing with meat sacrificed to idols. A homosexual wedding, while it may be wrong in many eyes, is definitely not a pagan worship service. So, when believers decide they cannot even be a part of what is important to a homosexual couple, they are essentially reinforcing a prejudicial stereotype, not living out their conscience.
Would Jesus go to a homosexual wedding? Would he bake a cake for the couple? The answer is that Jesus would have done everything necessary to connect this couple with their need for God. Going on the belief that the marriage is wrong, Jesus would want to be a part of their lives; he would want to be around them to be able inject truth in their lives. And what he would start off with is not that they needed to stop being homosexual, but that they needed to repent of their original sin nature and be reunited, through him, to the Father. How could he do that if he was never around them?
Then there is the charge of hypocrisy. If you can single out homosexual weddings as a deprivation of conscience, why not a couple that has been “shacking up” or a couple that is “unequally yoked?” Why would you only apply this rule to homosexuals unless your refusal was based on prejudice rather than biblical conscience?
Finally, do Christians have the right in our pluralistic, secular society to dictate what ought or ought not to be done consensually, legally, and in private? What is to keep a hotel chain from objecting to house homosexuals? What is to keep Chick Fil A from refusing to serve chicken sandwiches to homosexuals? Where do you draw the line? I thought we were only supposed to deprive or shun erring believers, not those in the world? If left unchecked, conscience could potentially be used to justify the systematic segregation of a whole group of people from society.
So the question is not whether believers are able to follow their conscience, but rather whether believers are following the right conscience.
What is My View on this Complex Issue
I can honestly see both sides of this argument. In an increasingly anti-Christian society it is becoming more and more difficult to live by a conscience guided by Scripture. However, I need to also ask myself whether my providing a service is necessarily an affirmation of a decision. There are many parents who love and care for their children, giving them shelter and support; a lot of these children do not necessarily do things that their parents agree with. This however, does not stop a parent’s loving generosity. The parents disagree with the life choices of their children, but they are not going to pull out of their lives, or let them be in need.
First, let me say that it is sad that the primary motivation is fear of the law. If you are believer and you wish to live by conscience, you often do it in spite of the law, not because of it. The cost of following Jesus is sometimes high, and you need to ask yourself whether your attempt to protect yourself is just a way to avoid persecution and suffering for what you believe. Does the gay couple want to sue you? Let them do it! And while they are doing it, you serve them, love them, and maybe you will get a chance to share Christ with words. Overcome evil with good; mercy always triumphs over judgment. If you are only willing to follow the convictions of your conscience when the law permits and/or people approve, you are a coward not a martyr.
Second, I think Christians need to really examine their knee jerk reactions to things like homosexual rights. Is my reaction to these issues based on sorrowful, broken love for these sinners (who are a lot like me), or is it a hateful, ignorant, and disrespectful mocking of people I do not understand or that I am scared of…that I am prejudiced against? Can I morally and theologically disagree with someone and still afford them the same civil rights as any other citizen? I think that this is not only possible, but necessary in order to faithful practice what being a follower of Jesus is and to allow us to have any chance of actually speaking truth in their lives. Do we care about them being reconciled to God more than we care about ending their homosexual behavior?
Third, it is absolutely crucial that Americans protect one another’s rights. It is not just about my rights, it is about the rights of those around me. Now this is just from an American perspective (as a Christian the only right I have is to live in Christ and to die for my gain), so bear with me. I love John Leland because he understood what it would take for Christianity to flourish in the new republic. Leland wanted the Church off the purse strings of government, and he wanted the government to protect everyone’s freedom of conscience (within reason and societal stability) no matter how different and objectionable. He took Voltaire dictum of, “a do not agree with you, but I will defend your right to believe it to the death,” and applied it to the hope of true religious freedom. When we start to allow religion to unduly govern (not influence, you need the influence and stability of religion) the rights of the American populace, you get a different nation than the one that was begun with our constitution and the bill of rights. It is imperative that we protect and promote each other’s freedom, even if we have convictions against the behavior (unless someone is in true physical danger or their survival is at stake). There can be as many laws for or against discrimination as we can put out, but they will not ultimately succeed without a respect for the rights of our neighbors.
Fourth, any time the Church has tried to enforce its views on the world it has become more corrupt than world it is trying to reach. As much as we hate to admit it, our God is perfect but his Church is not…or at least not yet. The American church is losing its influence on culture and society and so it is making a mad grab for power through political and economic means. It is kind of like being in the French Revolution and making as many decrees and laws as possible while you still have your head. The Church was always meant to gently, but unyieldingly persuade men and women about the truth of the Gospel. It is time for the American church to accept the persecution that is coming, persecution that it frankly has brought on itself. If our confidence is in the God of Angel Armies, then we should not fear that we are marginalized and hated…that is where the Scripture says that we belong.
And perhaps, just maybe, we will understand what it is like to be the homosexual for once.
Finally, the Gospel is too important and salvation too critical to not stand on conviction, no matter the cost. If you believe it is wrong to even to provide a service for homosexual wedding, then do not do it. However, know that when you choose not to, you accept the consequences. We teach our kids to be responsible and accept the consequences of their actions, well now it is time for us to the same. If heaven and hell is real, and judgment is coming on the tail end of salvation, then it is imperative that we speak the truth in love. However, when we really pray and think about it, we may find that we too quickly make ourselves the martyr and deprive ourselves of the opportunity to speak and demonstrate the Gospel in the lives of others…in the lives of homosexuals. As a church, we have a serious problem getting beyond the homosexual’s behavior; maybe if we really want to have a conversation, we ought to allow ourselves to be in the lives of homosexuals.
And that may mean baking a cake for a wedding…or it may mean being sued for not doing so. Both could be opportunities for us to share and demonstrate the Gospel.
Grace and Peace.