February 12, 2014

Same-sex marriages and segregation

by Jesse Johnson

I’m sure you’ve heard the argument: A Christian who refuses to support  same-sex marriage is like a business owner in the segregated South who refused to serve black people. If you refuse to use your skill to profit off something that you find sinful, so the argument goes, are you not exactly like those businesses that turned African-Americans away?

waiting room

Here are two real-life examples: there was a baker in Oregon who refused to make a cake for a same-sex wedding. The Oregon Labor Commission found that this was illegal discrimination. The baker was forced to go out of business, or face fines of hundreds of thousands of dollars. He ended up closing his doors.

Then there was the photographer in New Mexico who was asked to shoot a same-sex wedding. She refused, basically saying because she thought the marriage was sinful, she was not sure her pictures would present the ceremony in the best light, so to speak (she in turn recommended other photographers who could do the wedding). The New Mexico Supreme Court found her guilty of “human rights violations” by discriminating.

By refusing to promote the same-sex weddings, are these businesses discriminating illegally? Well—yes. At least according to the Supreme Court in New Mexico and the Labor Commission in Oregon. But is this morally the same thing as those who discriminated against people on the basis of skin color? Absolutely not. Here are three reasons why:  

First, the businesses were not discriminating against people, but against an act that they found sinful. In other words, these businesses all served homosexual customers for years without refusing. The photographer in New Mexico told the New York Times that she would “gladly serve gays and lesbians” by doing portraits or other work. It was only when she was asked to use her services to promote a certain event that she refused. These owners did not discriminate against a person, but instead simply refused to violate their consciences by promoting a wedding that they found immoral.

Second, and most importantly, the distinction between racial discrimination and same-sex marriage is a moral one. The Scripture condemns racial discrimination (eg. Gen 1:27, John 7:24, Acts 10:34-35, Romans 10:12, 2 Cor 5:16, Gal 3:28, Eph 6:9, James 2:9). The Scripture also condemns homosexual actions (Lev 18:22, 20:13; Rom 1:26-28, 1 Cor 6:9-11, 1 Tim 1:10, Heb 13:1-5, Jude 7). So the discriminating owners in the segregated south and the religious business owners in a post-gender America are on two opposite ends of the moral spectrum.  But typical of our culture, we have become completely adept at confusing something that is immoral with something that is moral.

Third, there is the element of human nature and dignity. One of the reasons racial discrimination was so wrong is because it had as its goal the denial of basic human dignity to people based on their ethnicity. But saying that you believe that marriage is between a man and woman is not a denial of the human dignity of either (Gen 1:27, Matthew 19:4-5, Mark 10:6-9, 1 Cor 7:2). Instead, it is an affirmation that the genders were created differently and uniquely by God.

Beyond those reasons, there is the element of speech. Taking pictures at a ceremony or making a cake for a wedding are active forms of positive expression. It is not a coincidence that the first lawsuits of this kind were designed to compel people to make an expression that celebrates something they find sinful. The point is that people who are redefining marriage are not after wedding cakes as much as they are after affirmation–and the legal system is more than willing to compel religious people to speak in favor of gay marriage, or lose their businesses all together. There really is no parallel to that in the segregated South.

The couple suing the baker in Colorado. Photo by the AP (used under fair use).

The couple suing the baker in Colorado. Photo by the AP (linked under fair use).

There is a current case working its way through courts in Colorado with a different baker who was sued for refusing to make a cake for a same-sex wedding. He was found guilty and liable by the State Civil Rights Commission. It has been suggested that the best course of action for bakers, photographers, florists and the like is that they accept these jobs, and simply do a sub-par job at them. In other words, take their money and deliver an inadequate product—that will teach them! But has anyone ever heard of someone doing that? The truth is, Christians care more about providing a good product (as we glorify God by how we work) than avoiding lawsuits.

It is definitely time that Christians come to terms with the concept that our legal system is not interested in protecting our freedom to live and work in a way that is in keeping with biblical ethics. More and more people are being forced to choose between finding themselves on the wrong end of legal judgments and violating their basic sense of morality. When you find yourself in that situation, don’t compromise. There is a fate worse than a fine—and it has nothing to do with the hollow judgments of labor boards and human rights commissions.

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.
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  • That would be interesting, to do subpar work on purpose. Never thought of that.

    Of course, there is the basic fact that “race” (or at least racial characteristics) is genetic, & yet there are no studies that have shown that homosexuality is (as the famous study of identical twins indicated).

    • Sure, but I think we would agree that discrimination is wrong based on things that are not genetic, right? Like religion. Or disability. It would be wrong to say that only certain religions should be allowed to marry, or that disabled people cannot.

      • Ah. Great point. Thanks for your response. I guess the reason I thought of it is because how people try to equate gay “civil rights” with race-based civil rights.

      • Demer Webb

        Thanks for a helpful article. Even if someone gives evidence that
        homosexuality is genetic, that shouldn’t change our response. It
        certainly doesn’t change God’s word. Some people think there are
        genetic factors in alcohol, some people look to things malfunctioning in the brain and suggest that contributes to a mass murderer’s behavior. Well, regardless, these behaviors are still sinful. Are people born gay? Well, in the end, we all have a “genetic” predisposition to sin and rebel against our creator. Sin is woven into our spiritual DNA. We are all born sinners.

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  • tarcil

    “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds” James 1:2

    The “doing sub-par work” idea doesn’t seem entirely honest to me. I also suspect that if there was any whiff of doing that intentionally, it might lead to additional legal trouble. And if that idea is floating around, and the customer doesn’t consider the work satisfactory, that accusation might be thrown out, even if it wasn’t intentional.

    Otherwise good points, especially in the difference between the person as a whole (in segregation) vs. only very specific events (with gay “marriages”).

    • I hope it was clear that I wasn’t advocating that, right? I’d heard others (ironically a gay-rights blogger) suggesting it.

      • tarcil

        Yes, it was clear that you don’t support that kind of action; I suppose I was thinking ahead about responses to those who might think it is a good idea, as I daresay some would. It was a suggestion I hadn’t heard before.

  • george canady

    Yes, this is quite a paradox we the church have created for ourselves.

    • Not sure I know what you mean George.

      • george canady

        Thanks Jesse for your response. I would say it seems that many illegitimate “civil rights” rode in on the back of the legitimate fight for the declaration that all men are created in the image of God and therefore to be treated as such. I believe the ones that knew/know that best, was/is the church. I think that even further responsibility was/is at the feet of those who knew/know the biblical message best; the reformed. It is a sad thing to see in scripture God finally have to use a people who are not his people to get His people’s attention. Of course this would assume truth that includes Black Christian historians.

  • T Howard

    Jesse, I remember interacting with Mike about this on his post “Here We Stand.” My point then and (still) now, is that long before pastors are persecuted for taking a stand against the homosexual agenda, people in their congregations will be affected. Your post is a perfect example of that. I also believe that Christians in the workforce will also suffer repercussions if they make known their opposition to homosexuality and so-called same-sex marriage. I trust that pastors truly realize what they’re asking their congregants to do by “not compromising.”

    That being said, I’m not entirely convinced that taking pictures or making a wedding cake = endorsement of homosexual marriage.

    • T. Howard,
      By attending a same-sex fake wedding, you give it tacit approval. By providing services for a same-sex fake wedding, you give it tacit approval. If you think differently, then what about if you were asked to photograph people in the act of having sex – i.e. make pornographic photos? What if you were asked to bake a cake for a Ku Klux Klan celebration? What if Muslims wanted you to photograph female “circumcision”? After all, what is the problem with giving service to any of these (or a zillion other immoral things I could think of)?

      • T Howard

        Attending to support and attending to providing goods & services are to two different things. The former is a statement of affirmation. The latter is a business transaction.

        • Oh, so you wouldn’t have a problem as a photographer with photographing pornography? After all, it’s just a business transaction. You wouldn’t have a problem with baking a cake for the celebration of female “circumcision”? After all, it’s just a business transaction.

          Right. That is downright foolish.

    • Robert

      THoward, I agree completely with the first part of your reply and have been saying for a few years now that the homosexual agenda will be the vehicle for the persecution of the modern American Church.

      From the original post, “The point is that people who are redefining marriage are not after wedding cakes as much as they are after affirmation–” and this is why this is likely to be the defining issue of the American Church. Capitulate or suffer persecution are the only choices being given.

      It also has highlighted the obvious lack of serious Biblical handling of Law and Gospel in the mega and seeker driven church worlds. Louie Giglio almost bragged that he hadn’t mentioned homosexuality from the pulpit in 15 years. Poll any church youth group and you’re likely to find a high percentage of self professed Christian teens who are both sexually active and also believe people are born gay, concluding that homosexuality is probably not a sin.

      It also leads me to this question for Jesse Johnson and the other keepers of the site. A gay man in a “married” relationship with another man comes to Christ through true repentance. He then seeks Christian counsel on if he continue in his “marriage” or if he has to leave the relationship. What should he be told and why?

      • Well, biblically speaking he wasn’t in a “marraige” to begin with.

        • Robert

          I agree. But, if the gay couple has a history of 15 years, for example, and adopted kids, etc. You’re going to get serious pushback.

          Just as importantly, how does this translate to the man or woman or both, who have, as professing Christians, left their spouse and entered another “marriage” and while continuing to be professing Christians? Are they, Biblically speaking, in a “marriage”? Shouldn’t they be counseled to leave their new “marriage” and either return to their first marriage or remain single? If we can expect the gay man to undo his life, cannot the remarried straight man be asked to do the same, Biblically?

          The Church has let down on Biblical standards regarding marriage and divorce. The same-sex marriage dilemma may open some eyes to that fact and cause some to repent and return to teaching against divorce and remarriage.

          • Yes. When the couple gets married after an illegitimate divorce, they are still married. THat’s Jesus’ whole point! They got themselves in some moral swamp because they got an illegitimate divorce and are now in a second marriage. That has about zero parallels with a same-sex marriage. Sorry if I seem short with you here, but your logic seems to be: some people get divorced, and that’s not good, so what’s the big deal about selling your work to celebrate redefining marriage?
            And then to turn around and blame the church (!?!) for lax standards? The one place in the whole culture that is speaking out against the redefinition of marriage, you blame them for the slide in the morality of marriage? That’s rich.

          • And to answer your question: no, they should not get divorced. A second sinful divorce does not undo the first sinful divorce. Two wrongs don’t make a right. And they definitely don’t justify same-sex marriage.

          • Robert

            Jesse, Forgive my inability to be clear. Allow me to try again. In today’s Church, we barely notice when Christians divorce. The divorce rate among Christians bears no significant difference to that of non-believers. When those same, now divorced Christians, find another person to marry, possibly even another already divorced Christian, we don’t flinch. In fact, those two divorced Christians will likely be married in a Christian church by a Christian pastor.

            Now, allow me to quote Jesus from Matthew 5:32. “But I say unto you, That
            whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication,
            causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is
            divorced committeth adultery.”

            You see, He plainly states not only is divorce a sin, which you correctly note. Marrying a divorced person is also a sin, not a moral swamp. Sin.

            How is it that a Church and a pastor are willing to assist two professed believers in entering a sinful relationship? How can a pastor, officiate as two of his flock willfully sin and attempt to bestow God’s blessing on that sin? How is it that the Church can believe that God sanctions or recognizes a sin willfully committed by believers? I would submit that God has no part in sanctioning or joining people into sin. How can Jesus have part in a sin? He cannot.

            What do I mean when I
            blame the Church for lax standards? This weekend, all around the
            country, the above scenario will take place among heterosexual,
            divorced, Christian couples. And the Church doesn’t bat an eye. We join them at the ceremony and celebrate their new lives together. Yet, clearly, according to the very plain words of Jesus, we are celebrating their sin.

            To complete the parallel to same-sex marriage; you and most Christian leaders would have no trouble counseling (rightly according to the Bible, I agree) a “married” gay man to leave his relationship and pursue celibacy until God delivered him from same-sex attraction. We are willing to tell the Christian who struggles with that sin it is better to never marry and remain single and unhappy in that aspect of their lives now, than to pursue that same-sex attraction sin, fulfill their desire for companionship now, and spend eternity in hell. We’re willing to tell them (rightfully so) “biblically speaking (they) he wasn’t in a “marraige” to begin with.” Why do we not hold the same standards for divorced Christians?

            “The one place in the whole culture that is speaking out against the redefinition of marriage” the Church, has held no such standard on heterosexuals divorcing and remarrying at will, and thus redefining God’s plan. I would submit to you that rare would be the pastor or church that would refuse to perform a marriage among divorced believers. Even if one or both had multiple failed marriages in their past. We affirm multiple marriages, in spite of clear Scripture to the contrary.

            Lax indeed. And, it has robbed the Church of credibility in dealing with the homosexual community as they attempt to force the Church to provide affirmation to their sin.

            I’ll close by stating that it is very possible you would not participate in a marriage between divorced Christians. In that case, I would salute your Biblical standards and pray that many more would follow your lead. Yet, as a whole, the American Church leadership has failed it’s flocks in this area.

      • He should be told it wasn’t a marriage, and the relationship should be terminated, as well as having it legally terminated. WHY? Because God has condemned homosexual behavior – period.

    • Yeah, I get you point T. That said, in the cases above it obviously did violate those people’s consciences. So, as a point of fact in these situations, the government is telling Christians they must choose between violating their conscience or closing their doors.

      I’d encourage you to think of the nature of those jobs. Both of them involve using art to promote a message of celebration. There is a reason people don’t just have their friends snap a few shots at a wedding, or simply grab a cake from Costco (ok, at my wedding we used Costco, but there is a reason many couples don’t!). There is an actual advancement of a message, or celebration that takes place in that medium. It’s not the same thing as just doing a service. And if you see your vocation as your calling (a sort of Protestant work ethic) than that is problematic.

      • Robert

        I had this exact discussion with a pastor who told a congregation during a Q&A session that he saw no issue in attending a gay friends wedding (mainly on the basis of building relationship, that seeker driven holy grail) I emailed him privately and warned that at some point he will have gay couples approach him about performing a weeding as a pastor and how could he tell them no, when he had publicly stated no objection to attending a wedding. I cautioned him that being there, is by definition, celebrating the occasion. How can you, as a Christian and especially a pastor, say to the couple, “congrats”, or “good luck”, or any such thing?

        The modern American Church has largely painted itself into the corner on this issue, all in the name of wanting to show grace in the hopes of building some mythical bridge of relationship to the lost so that they can then lead them to Christ.

  • kevin2184

    “I am a former homosexual who repented of that lifestyle upon receiving the gift of salvation from our God and Savior the Lord Jesus Christ. According to His very words, unrepentant homosexuals are destined to Hell. Yet he offers all sinners instant and complete forgiveness when one comes to saving faith; a faith demonstrated by the turning from sin (as the Bible defines it) and turning to God in loving obedience to His commands and all through the power of the Holy Spirit.” – Why do I feel that in my lifetime and in this country these very words will land me in jail? So be it.

  • This is an important discussion and I agree (no surprise there) with it. Thank you.

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  • Kent Maitland

    Great post! I was telling my wife just the other day that she–an African American woman–ought to be the most offended by the gay rights endeavors we are witnessing. I can’t think of anything more “racist” than equating the dignity of a person’s skin color with another’s sexual perversion.

  • CB

    Can they take the jobs and then hand out tracks and speak against gay marriage the whole time they are working? Wouldn’t the couples just fire them then?

    • Well, again that’s not really the point of working, right? The point of working, as I understand it, is to create a product of value as your vocational calling, and as part of our fulfilment of the subdue/multiply mandate in Scripture. But also, its not very practical–take the case of a baker. Isnt that pretty much like “ok, see you tomorrow then.”

      • CB

        Oh, its an untenable situation no matter what. My suggestion was half in jest and half in frustration. I fear the only thing we are going to be able to do, both those of us in ministry and those of us who are bakers and photogs, is to eventually accept fines and jail time for refusing to take part in false wedding ceremonies.

        What else is there in a world where the Constitution has been downgraded to meaninglessness?

  • Randy Littmann

    Here’s an idea, rather than do ‘sub-par’ work for the event, charge more than the going rate in order to cover the cost of going against your conscience. Not that there is enough money available to cover that fee, but it might help. Would also be worthwhile tacking a sign in the business that management reserves the right to refuse service for any reason and that the listed charges for service are general estimates. The contractors I have to deal with make it pretty obvious when they do not want a job by overpricing their estimates.

    • Although these cases have pretty much established that a “right to refuse service” sign is completely meaningless, legally speaking. It only has the effect of irritating your customers.

  • Steve Lamm

    Let’s broaden this a bit. I have a relative who owns a fast-food franchise. Obviously, that’s a partnership with the corporation who operates the restaurant chain. Since the obvious trend of the courts is to continually support these claims of discrimination by homosexuals, the parent corporation would likely not support him if he chose not to serve homosexuals for any reason, regardless of the occasion. (Example: his restaurant sometimes hosts or caters special occasions like birthday parties, makes cakes, etc.).
    Should a Christian even be a part of such a business where he most likely will be legally required to offer services to homosexuals (sometimes service that calls attention to their lifestyle)?
    By the way, he is acutely aware of all these cases and situations and he and I have talked about different scenarios.
    I have other thoughts on this, but I’ll leave it there for now.

    • So I’d say that it would be wrong, illegeal, and Scripturally unsupported to say that you wouldn’t serve a homosexual (or any particular class of sinners) at your work. A person who thought that should spend a little time in 1 Cor 5-6, and understand that we live in the world. So work in the world. It should not violate your conscience, if you work at a restaurant, to serve any particular kind of sinner (other than a glutton!).

  • ed

    Would it not be possible to simply say “No, thanks” to the job, with no reasons given?

    • Unlikely. I mean, how if you are the baker? “I”m sorry, but we are closed that day”? Maybe something, but I think in a few of these cases there was a bit of shopping by the “customers” looking for businesses to decline so that they could be sued. Probably a simple “no” is not going to fly.

  • Joe

    I’m not a lawyer, but aren’t these cases unconstitutional in the sense that they are encroaching on a person’s first amendment right? In other words, aren’t they extorting business owners to act against their religion, thereby denying them their first amendment right to freedom of religion? We as Christians shouldn’t be surprised when we are persecuted, nor should we complain, but if we live in country whose laws offer protection against persecution, it is a means of God’s grace which should be exercised.

    • Well, what the courts have found is that infringing on that right to freely practice your religion is preferable to infringing on the right a homosexual couple has to have a Christian baker make their cake. Sort of silly, I know. The NM court even said, “Thats the price we pay for living in a democracy.”

    • Dan Heizinger

      Of course it is unconstitutional, but that does not matter to anti-Christian courts

  • I wonder in the case of the baker, if there was a Christian couple coming in to get married, and this was his second marriage (the first ending in a divorce that did not fall under the Biblical “exception clause”) would he have refused to make the cake? Does he ask all customers to specifiy if they are being equally yoked – and what if the baker held to a permanence view of marriage – would he deny cake to a remarrying divorcee?

    Part of me thinks that when you choose to do business in Rome, don’t be surprised when Romans show up.

    • There is no need to grill customers as to their marital history. It is a business transaction, and it is no-one’s business. IF they volunteer the information, unless they provided the entire story, how can you judge whether or not it was a biblical divorce? Even then, there are many further examinations to be needed.

      But with same-sex fake weddings, it is as obvious as one’s nose on their face that it will not be a real wedding/marriage.

    • I agree with Glenn–its not that Romans show up, or that I’m somehow advocating not doing business with Romans. Its that you dont’ want to use your skill/service to advance something against the gospel. And look, when Jesus talks about a couple marrying after an illigitimate divorce, the second marriage is still a marriage. That’s his whole point! Now the person is trapped in a moral swamp because he got married again. That has about zero parallels with a same-sex “marriage.”

  • Vinod

    This sums it all “There is a fate worse than a fine—and it has nothing to do with the
    hollow judgments of labor boards and human rights commissions”.

    Thanks Pastor Jesse for the explanation. I always struggled how to counter these popular arguments in favour of same-sex marriage by the liberals.

  • 4Commencefiring4

    I wonder what the courts would decide if a liberal painting contractor were to refuse to paint the exterior of the Westboro Baptist Church? You suppose the MSM would defend the contractor, or defend the right of the painter to refuse to serve the church?

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