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. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Lord, Give us Passion for Worship

I would like to share the prayer I offered at the conclusion of this past Sunday's sermon. The sermon was on 1 Corinthians 14:20-33 where Paul encourages precision and care when ordering a public worship gathering. My prayer was offered in hopes that God would give our church a genuine passion for our times of corporate worship. I don’t always fully write my closing prayers, but rather have a basic outline for guidance. This is an attempt to recreate the prayer best I can remember. It is informally written the way I said it, so therefore not exactly ready for entrance in to the Book of Common Prayer.

Heavenly Father, It is our desire to worship you in spirit and in truth. It is our desire to worship you the way you call us to. Make our hearts passionate for your worship every hour, but especially in those hours of gathering with all the Saints, like this hour. When we are called to worship, jar us to life- make us know we are in the presence of King Jesus- the One who is Worthy to take up and open the Scroll and thus WORTHY of all our worship and praise. Make us to not just read prayers each week with no feeling. Cause us to be invested in the Prayer of Confession and truly relieved by the Words of Assurance of forgiveness through Christ. Make us not to mumble through the great hymns of praise and adoration. Cause us not to murmur against the speed of the music, the distraction of the baby crying, the person playing with the kneeler, or the service going a bit long. Help us as we join in responsive readings to RESPOND to your Word. Help us preachers not to be boring and help the people not to be snoring. Lord, make us prepare for our times of public worship the same way we would for anything important- that we don’t go to bed too late and get up late also. Lord, give us hungry anticipation for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper every week. Renew us and grow our faith in you by your means of grace experienced each Lord’s Day corporately. When there are unbelievers in our midst- remove the scales from their eyes as they hear and see the gospel. What glorious grace, that you would transfer someone from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light, right here in a sanctuary built for your honor! Lord, we get pumped for a party, a fine dinner, a great concert, or an exciting sporting event...but please, more than these events, make us say with the psalmist- “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD!’” Amen. 

We sang a closing hymn that really captures our desire for God to move when we gather for worship- Revive thy work, O Lord, give pentecostal showers; the glory shall be all Thine own, the blessing, Lord, be ours.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Make the Word Plain!!!

In his sermon on 1 Corinthians 14, H.A. Ironside, pastor of the historic Moody Church from 1930-48, spoke about the importance of making the message of Scripture understandable to the congregation:

The Apostle rebukes the vanity of ministers who delight to use the pulpit as a place to display their education and culture, but also the use of language that is far above the heads of the people to whom they are ministering.  Charles H. Spurgeon said: "I am afraid that many of my ministerial brethren must imagine that when Scripture tells them to 'Feed my sheep,' it means 'Feed my giraffes,' for they put the food so high that people would have to be giraffes to reach it."  

Always put the food down where the sheep can get it.  It should be the ambition of the preacher of the Word to use language so simple and so plain that everybody can understand.  A few months ago a lady brought to me a little boy about ten years of age, and she said, "I want my little grandson to meet you.  I hope you won't be offended about what he said.  I had been telling him about you and he wanted to hear you.  He said to me, 'Why grandma, he is not a great preacher; I could understand every word he said.'"  I replied, "Well, my dear madam, I consider that a great compliment."  

I hope you will always pray that when I stand up to minster the Word, I may do it in such a way that the youngest child, as well as the oldest saint, may understand every word; because if we do not, we are just speaking in to the air.  

Likewise, I ask my congregation to pray for me similarly.