February 26, 2014

3 questions about this weeks’ gay marriage controversy

by Jesse Johnson

Plodding through the news this week has been an attempt in both Arizona and Kansas to pass laws that specifically protect business owners from being forced to sell their services to celebrate gay “marriage” ceremonies.

Some Christians have quickly distanced themselves from these laws (Andy Stanley, Jonathan Merritt, Kirsten Powers), while the media has shown that, as a general rule, it lacks even a rudimentary understanding of what is at stake here. The net result is that anyone who doesn’t have a firm grasp on the Bible’s teaching about this issue is being swept up in the tide of public opinion. So swift is the tide that even the senators who voted for the law in Arizona a few weeks ago are now publically renouncing their “yes” vote and asking the governor to veto it.

There are really three practical questions for Christians to wrestle through here: 

1. Should Christians in any business  decline to serve homosexual customers? The answer is obviously “no,” and even more telling is that I’m not aware of any case where that has happened. I don’t know of a single example where a Christian McDonald’s manager has refused to serve homosexuals, or a Christian car dealer has declined to sell cars to the LGBT community. In all the coverage of these bills there has not been one reported either. This is telling, especially when it is contrasted with people (like Merritt or Powers) who make it seem like Christians are really just looking for ways to close their doors to immoral customers.

2. Should Christian business owners use their business to celebrate or advance gay marriage ceremonies? The answer here is likewise “no.” And that is where the current debate comes in. When a wedding photographer in New Mexico refused to shoot a gay marriage, she was sued, and lost. When an Oregon baker refused to make personalized wedding cake for a same-sex marriage, the state ordered the business to close.

But I also grant that there is a lot of gray area here. The biblical principle in play is that believers should not “approve” of gay marriage (Rom 1:32). But what is “approving” of a wedding? Certainly attending one is approving of it. But what if you own a light business, and they want to rent lights from you? Is that approving? It seems clear cut if you are photographer or pastor or DJ—those are three people whose participation requires celebratory conduct—that selling your services to a ceremony would require celebrating it. But what if you are just renting out chairs?

This is why those decisions are best left to individual conscience. If you are a believer, don’t violate your conscience. It really is that simple.

3. Should Christians push for laws granting us the right to refuse to sell services to gay weddings? Well, it would be nice for those laws to exist (and even nicer if they were unnecessary to begin with). But I honestly can’t see how they would make any difference to anyone’s actions. Christians should not violate their conscience by going against God’s word—and it doesn’t really matter if its legal or not. I also can’t help but lament the legal fool-hardiness of these laws. If one of them does become law—which is looking very unlikely—it would obviously be struck down by a court in a matter of weeks. This past summer the US Supreme Court ruled that marriage should be defined by the states, and only a few months later federal judges began striking down state marriage laws. In New Mexico, the Supreme Court there granted that the laws protecting religious freedom and laws banning discrimination against homosexuals were contradictory, but they then ruled that where they contradict that the anti-discrimination laws should be followed. Nobody can really think that this new legislation would last at all. People are showing an alarming naiveté in thinking that these laws would last.

But that’s not really the point. The point is that as this culture continues to attack God’s word, it will turn on God’s people. And when that happens, persecution comes. When persecution comes, it will not do any good to look for laws to justify your conduct. If you are not rooted on God’s word, then you will be swept away with the tides of public opinion.

Jesse Johnson

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Jesse is the Teaching Pastor at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA. He also leads The Master's Seminary Washington DC location.
  • Christina

    Thank you for this post. The part I don’t understand is if I felt a wedding photographer or some other business owner was uncomfortable serving me (in my case it would be due to my race I guess), I would not want them to serve me. I realize it is considered discrimination to refuse participation in a wedding (as a business owner) based on sexuality, but I would fear the product/service received from someone forced to help me would be inferior because they wouldn’t want to be there in the first place. I pray I am never put in the position where I have to decide between possibly being sued or following my beliefs….but in this world it is highly possible that I will at some point.

    • Exactly, Christina. But I get the sense (esp. in the case of the Colorado couple suing the baker) that the gay couples were shopping for someone to turn them away, so that they could sue. It is not a wedding cake they are after, but unmitigated approval of their lifestyle. And if “religious” people won’t approve, then the government will compel them to.

      • Terry Call

        Your accusation has no merit and is a disservice to your cause. The baker acknowledged the couple had been customers for years.

        • JD Taliaferro

          If that’s true, then why did they “introduce” themselves when they came into the shop? Where did the baker (John Phillips) say that they ‘had been customers for years'”?

          “They introduced themselves as “David” and “Charlie” and said that they wanted a wedding cake for “our wedding.”


          • Wiless

            Well, well, look at that. The yappy poodle there is a liar.

          • Wiless

            Looking at its 124 Disqus comments, they’re all combative lefty comments on gay issues. Telling.

        • I think you are confusing the florist in WA (that is the couple that had been friends with the lady for years) and the most recent case in CO.

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  • Beau Weber

    “If you are not rooted on God’s word, then you will be swept away with the tides of public opinion.” Great sentence! Truth!

  • Web Tileston

    Thanks for you unwavering stand for the truth. Am member of the MOB Bible Study at IBC and a guy in my small group alerted us to thecripplegate site. I’m so thankful. Web

    • Thanks for your comment Web. Thanks for reading, and thanks for your faithfulness.

  • kevin2184

    Thanks Jesse for putting perspective here. The irony is why would a gay couple want to trust such celebratory services (wedding photography, wedding cake baking) to someone who objects to their marriage…and then pay them for it! Obviously, the lawsuits that have occurred have been done so out of spite (and “intolerance” on the plaintiff’s side), and as you point out, provide an ominous warning that biblical-based Christianity is becoming more and more marginalized in this country. Nevertheless, in fact because of this, we must be even more vigilant to lovingly and waveringly proclaim the gospel to those who even hate us. The power of the cross can save those lost and enslaved by any sin, including homosexuality; and for that I can personally rejoice.

  • 4Commencefiring4

    In 1967, American Nazi Party founder George Lincoln Rockwell took some clothes to a dry cleaner over here in Arlington. Although that trip notoriously ended in his assassination in the parking lot, the business transaction there relates: if the cleaners had been christians, would they have been justified in refusing to do his laundry (assuming they recognized him)?

    I bring this up because of the chairs and the lighting examples. One might say it’s just chairs, it’s just some light. Who sits in them, or turns them on, is not my affair. But what if the chairs were for an Aryan Nation gathering or the Klan or the CPUSA?

    I think the decision has to go to the business owner who has no choice as to who walks into the store. But the customer has a choice as to whom to patronize.

  • Ray Adams

    Clear and concise. Which helps sort through all the nonsense out there. Thanks!

  • NCHammer

    If I may respectfully add another question. Are we taking Scriptures like 1 Peter 3:13-17 to heart?

    For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil.
    13 And who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good?
    14 But and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled;
    15 Butsanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an
    answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you
    with meekness and fear:
    16 Havinga good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of
    evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good
    conversation in Christ.
    17 For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing.

    May God strengthen all of us for what is already beginning.

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  • Dan Heizinger

    Jesse, I understand and respect your realism on this issue, but are you suggesting Christians and other people who are concerned about the First Amendment just remain silent as a new secular kritarchy overrules popular votes and persecutes us? I am given a right as an American under the Constitution, to Freedom of Religion. You seem cavalier about giving that up and do we not know from history that when the religious are silent, there persecution does not relent, it only increases?

    Christians should display civil disobedience. We should flout the law as much as we can when the law is a persecution, and not allow the public to forget that they are persecuting us and denying us our constitutional rights. When the Israeli government demanded the Haredi Jews violate their faith in various ways, they were anything but quiet! We are sleep-walking to Sweden unless we stand up for ourselves.

    • Mark

      The statement, “Christians should display civil disobedience” is against what the Bible teaches. 1 Pet 2:13 states, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution…” In this letter Peter wrote to an audience who were being persecuted. Yet he calls them to submit for the sake of Christ and for the gospel. This also reminds us our weapons of warfare are not swords, politics, or even laws, but rather God’s word which is truth. Our calling is to submit to government (even under persecution), whether good or evil, so long as we are obeying God’s words and to proclaim the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

      On another note, there are no such things as rights – even those granted by the constitution. These labeled and perceived rights (if good) are blessings and privileges from God. They are not inherent to humanity. If we were truly given our rights we would all be condemned to hell.

      • Rogue Leader

        So you are saying African Americans shouldn’t have engaged in Civil Disobedience against Jim Crow Laws as that would have made them bad Christians?

    • Giving it up? Its left Dan. That horse is trotting down the street, and around the corner. It can’t even see the barn any more. Listen, I worked the Prop 8 thing. Door-to-door. Fliers and whathave you. And we won the election, TWICE! And that lasted, what? five months?
      But I am not advocating silence. Certainly not. Witness away. Win the lost, spread the gospel, serve your church. But holding on to hope that you will be able to do that w/o the threat of jail…well that is so 1990’s 🙂

  • NCHammer

    It will be interesting if/when the federal government starts threatening churches with the revocation of their 501c3 tax status for refusing to allow homosexual marriages in their church. Will churches at that point, finally acknowledge there is no end to this without full capitulation? Will churches who take in literally millions of dollars each year, tax free, find the financial pain of holding firm to Biblical standards too great? (I don’t intend to only question the staying power of mega-churches or those with extremely large budgets, but they obviously will have more at stake purely financially). Those choices are upon us.

    1 Peter 4 v. 12-16 “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But
    rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that,
    when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding
    joy. If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit
    of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken
    of, but on your part he is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters. Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf”

    • I think you have a slightly flawed understanding of what “tax free” means is. Churches are a non-profit, so they don’t pay income tax. But when they spend their money on salaries, it is taxed. People receive a tax-deduction on charitable giving, such as churches (and many political organizations as well). Honestly, the tax-free thing (and I write this as a pastor of a ‘mega-church’ is not as big of a deal as some people make it out to be.

      • Rogue Leader

        i know what tax free means, and I know this is what those supporting the Gay Agenda and who supported the two already stated examples of business owners being litigated for their faith, want. Do you think they can’t pass a law that would strip a church of its non-profit status if it practice “sexual discrimination”. You can already lose your non-profit status if you support or explicitly go against a political candidate. I imagine that the ultimate goal of many of these groups is to strip away the tax free status of churches via the law or some regulation, maybe go the Canadian route, make any talk about homosexuality being a sin become “hate speech” or have the courts say that churches have to open their doors to homosexual weddings as doing the opposite would be “discrimination”, then strip churches of their status based on the tax code prevision that a 501c3 “organization’s purposes and activities may not be illegal or violate fundamental public policy”. You being the pastor of a “mega-church” it may not mean anything to you, but smaller churches may very well be hit by this, hard. Ultimately, however, this is all part of a consistent effort by GLAAD and their allies to push Christians to the periphery and ultimately force their beliefs on the people. If you live in this country, and you want to maintain freedom of religion and freedom of conscience, then you can’t just take this defeatist attitude of, “its all over”, or they are destined to win. People’s opinions on abortion have changed for the better, then we can change people’s opinions on this issue. Fundamentally, I think the best way to fix all this is to not make marriage a political issue at all. Remove it from the public sphere period. The state has no say in marriage, they don’t control the marriage licenses, no special rules, they can’t undefine it redefine it or abolish it, nada, the state will recognize a marriage if its recognized by a church, and if you can’t find a church that will marry you and what ever you want to marry (be it a man, a woman, a group of women, a horse, your car – yes someone tried to do this), oh well, the state has no obligation to give it to you. Marriage is religious business, let religious organizations (or non-religious ones in the case of atheist churches) handle it, the government has its own business, and Caesar and God will get their’s. You’re gay and want to get married, find yourself a nice church that agrees with your decisions (they are a dime a dozen these days) and get hitched. You want a wedding cake? find someone who will provide you with one. They don’t want to do it because they are Christian? Oh well! That’s a religious issue, not our business. Find someone else.

      • Sir Aaron

        501c3 means that those who donate would be eligible to deduct those donations on their own tax returns. This is a big desk to me personally as it lowers my taxes but probably wouldn’t affect my local church much.

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