Thursday, February 27, 2014

Religious Liberties related to Wedding Ceremonies need protection

I hope there can be some kind of legislation crafted to protect religious liberties related to wedding ceremonies.

The recent legalization of same sex marriage in several states has prompted efforts by various state governments to pass laws allowing for business owners, on the basis of their religious beliefs, to deny service to homosexuals. The framers of these legislative efforts have insisted the focus is narrow, intending to protect wedding ceremony related activities and businesses. Nevertheless, sufficient concern was raised that such laws would be used by all sorts of businesses, not just wedding related ones, to deny service to homosexuals. Some opposing such proposed laws painted pictures of restaurant owners standing at the entrance of their establishment forbidding homosexual couples to enter. The Washington Post described the veto of such legislation as- “The Arizona Governor vetoes Controversial Anti-Gay Bill”.  The Wall Street Journal described the same event by writing- “Arizona Governor vetoes Religious Freedom Bill.”  The issue is as polarizing as you might expect.  

I am not a legislator or a legal expert. I do know a very fine legislator who contributed to the crafting of such a religious liberties bill in Kansas.  I am 100% certain his intention was to protect religious liberty in very specific situations, not create a way for any business to discriminate against homosexuals. So far, no bills concerning this matter have passed in to law anywhere in the U.S., that I am aware of. 

I hope there can be some kind of legislation crafted to protect religious liberties related to wedding ceremonies. Traditional wedding ceremonies between a man and a woman have been around a lot longer than same sex ones. Even in modern times, legalized same sex marriage is in the overwhelming minority globally.  There should be an appreciation for the antiquity and earth-wide majority practice of traditional, heterosexual marriage and the attending ceremony, that allows for such religious liberty protection. It is certainly not unreasonable to expect religious people in favor of traditional marriage to be alarmed and reactive by how quickly the legal situation has changed. 

I am not sure of the best way to craft a bill that will please everyone.  I do think, at this point, Christians should focus on being specific about wedding ceremony related activities and businesses in proposed legislation.  Here’s my reasoning today (I am open to biblical correction):

As a pastor committed to the Bible as the Word of God and ordained by a denomination that upholds the authority of the Bible, I would not perform the marriage ceremony of a same sex couple. As a church, we would not rent our sanctuary for a same sex wedding. If I was in a wedding ceremony-related business (photographer, florist, cake maker, limo driver, etc), I would not offer my services to a same sex couple.  The basis for my choosing not to do business with a same sex couple related to their wedding ceremony is based on my religious belief about marriage and wedding ceremonies, not because I am afraid of or hate homosexuals.    

If I owned a non-wedding ceremony related business, I would not deny service to anyone on the basis of their sexual practice or marital situation (even assuming I would be able to know either of these). There are probably businesses I would not choose to run because of how complex the current cultural climate is (like a health club or hotel), but I can’t imagine discriminating against anyone.  I oppose same sex marriage as an institution, not gay people personally. No, I don’t agree with homosexual practice, but I don’t agree with sex outside of marriage, lying, stealing, and all the other sins people commit.  Why would I discriminate against one sinner and not another? If I know a guy is a serial player, bedding every woman he can, should I deny him service?  What about a glutton who keeps coming to my buffet restaurant?  The alcoholic who buys beer at my supermarket? How would you even be sure who is gay?  What about other sins and sinners?  

Frankly, if I wasn’t a pastor, I think I would like to own or work for an Italian restaurant.  I would welcome anyone and everyone.  I would try to meet everyone personally. I would love to dress in a pin striped suit with my hair greased back and walk people to their tables. I would tell them what the specials were, a bit of Sicilian lore, and try to make relationships with frequent customers.  Eventually, if the situation was right, I would tell them about my love for Christ.  Maybe over time I would have a chance to share Christ and His gospel with them. I think I would approach any business enterprise similarly, or at least I hope I would.  Honestly, I don’t think most Christians would discriminate against any sinner in their business practice, even if there was a law that said you could.

It seems to me that Christians should stick to advocating for the passage of legislation that is wedding ceremony specific.  If a Christian so opposes homosexual people, I would challenge them to reconsider such a stance, in light of Christ’s example of love and care.  Jesus didn’t compromise concerning God’s standard, but he was kind to everyone no matter who they were and what they had done. If you just can’t get over homosexual sin, don’t be a non-wedding ceremony related business owner, because at very least, you risk representing Christ and Christianity poorly.  

For those who scoff at the notion of not providing wedding ceremony related services to same sex couples, will you please do your best to appreciate our deep-seated religious beliefs and convictions in this area?  

In the Christian Faith, marriage is a divine institution and the associated covenant-ratifying ceremony is sacredly connected. It has been recognized by millions, for centuries, that marriage has been explicitly ordered by God as a male-female union. This union forms the foundation of society and serves as a picture of Christ and His Church.  For eons, marriage and wedding ceremonies have religious significance for a great many people, and so these folks should have protections if providing a directly related service- that’s all I am advocating for.  

Disclaimer: I fully realize there are probably a thousand “what if’s” related to businesses and situations that could cause a sense of compromise for a Christian.  I am not suggesting I have covered every angle here, but I think a dose of reality is needed on the part of Christians in Post-Christian U.S.A.  The thing to be guarded is the Christian view and practice of marriage and wedding ceremonies.  The horse is out of the barn related to the movement to nationwide legalized same sex marriage. The best thing Christians can do now is to keep their religious liberties intact related to wedding ceremonies and then to exhibit faithful, Christian marriages.  The tide can only be turned back when Christians model godly marriages before a watching world and people come to Christ. 


cara erickson-park said...

Thank you, Pastor Tony. Your leadership and gentleness in doing so are a blessing to us.

Adam said...

Tony, good post and your speaking faithfully on this topic is appreciated.

I can't say I agree 100% that the law should be related to weddings alone. Say for example, if I own a photography business and a gay couple says they adopted a newborn and want me to take pictures of their child and I refuse, should I not have protections under the law? God's design for the family is for a father, mother and children - I may not wish to promote a corrupt view of the family. (However I should absolutely seek to serve people regardless of their sins as you point out) The example here is when there is a 'celebration' or 'recognizing milestone' in culture which says "you made this sinful choice, congrats, way to go". So while I think both of us would agree, I as the photographer wouldn't ask people who are say high schools senior photos "what sins do you struggle with" and debate serving them and showing them the love of Christ, -- there is the larger question at every business transaction "What am I endorsing?". Again, that comes up where there are larger issues, would you let a gay couple at your Italian Restaurant hold a 20th Wedding Anniversary? It's not a wedding but celebrating the past event. Maybe a better question is should religious freedoms apply to the same restaurant owner if he doesn't want to allow a specific LGBT group to reserve a private dining room?

My main point here is that there is more than just weddings that indicate some level of endorsement of a particular sin. In those instances Christians and others should be granted religious freedom protection to choose to serve or not serve others.

However, I completely understand that is very gray and tough to say what does and doesn't promote sin, and to legally write a law that protects Christians and religious freedom proponents and also protects others from wanton discrimination is extremely difficult (if even possible). It is for this reason I'm not hopeful (though I wish they would be passed) for these type of laws to be enacted. Even if people see Christians loving others and serving them through their businesses - (I'm sure that's the majority of the cases) it's the conflict when people are not served that the media blows up this issue.

In any case, great distinction on serving people and showing them Christ's love in many situations that we can. Also, I would definitely frequent your Italian restaurant.

M J Mounts said...

AMEN! And we'd love to come to your Italian restaurant. Kris says no parmesan cheese, please. We know this is un-Italian like, but so be it. BTW,,, I LOVE PARMESAN CHEESE!

Anonymous said...

Well said Tony and I totally agree. We should love the sinner and hate the sin. But I find many Christians think that homosexuality is the greatest sin. The greatest and unforgiveable sin is not believing in Jesus Christ. As followers of Christ we are called to love everyone above ourselves(yes even homosexuals, enemies, dirty smelly street people, ladies of the evening and I could go on). I could not be a member of a church domination that would openly condone the marriage of two males or females and gay priest or pastors, their openly saying it's ok to sin. The Bible is very clear that this is a sin just a drunkenness, gluttony etc.
Thank you for standing up for our faith and our Lord Jesus Christ.

Mike Bigg said...

Tony, while I agree fully with what you said about the importance of marriage as designated by God, and of Adam's to family, I believe the issue is even broader and one of liberty. The focus of this discussion is correct, but too narrow. They are building a straw-man argument. Any private individual has the right to refuse service based on their personal beliefs. No shirt, no shoes, no service. If you don't like that I have facial hair when I come into your establishment, you have the right to refuse service. In some states you still have the right to allow or prohibit smoking. However, as businesses and individuals we will have to face the repercussions of any stance we take. You may lose business from the bikers and rednecks, but that is your choice. You will live with the success or failure of your business decisions. The problem here is a government body coercing a private organization to follow it’s dictates. What if a Muslim couple asks you to perform their Muslim wedding and the state says you have to? Or an atheist, or Mormon, or . . . I believe the principle is much deeper than weddings. The issue is elitist statism. Where is the line? Where do we stand? Where do we fall? May God grant us the grace and courage to fight with wisdom and to submit with humility.

Woody Woodward said...

Some good posts and some might discerning thoughts we all need to ponder. Tony, the terrible direction our culture is rapidly running towards, makes us all aware of the fact that it won't be long until you and Nathan will have to face this issue. With most of the main line denominations embracing the compromise and accepting this sin as natural and anyone who disagrees being intolerant, we know that day will come. Maybe sooner than later. And when it does, may God grant you and Nathan His wisdom and His humility to stand firm and speak the word of truth in love.