A few months ago, political pundit and columnist Kirsten Powers wrote about her conversion to Christianity in a first-person Christianity Today article. She began with this sentence:
Just seven years ago, if someone had told me that I’d be writing for Christianity Today magazine about how I came to believe in God, I would have laughed out loud.
Given the column she wrote last week for USA Today (“Jim Crow Laws for Gays and Lesbians?“), however, it’s not clear just what she thinks becoming an evangelical Christian means. I say this because her moral compass seems to point in the same direction it always has. Just as she presumably thought homosexuality was acceptable behavior before she was a Christian, she still thinks so today. Rather than changing her mind to think like Jesus, it seems she has just assumed that Jesus thinks like her.
I’m going to go through her USA Today column step by step, and demonstrate where and how I think she gets the issue wrong. Along the way, I hope to demonstrate how a disciple of Jesus actually should think about this issue.
What’s the matter with Kansas? A bill protecting the religious freedom of businesses and individuals to refuse services to same-sex couples passed the state House of Representatives last week. It was blessedly killed in the state Senate on Tuesday.
“Blessedness,” is, of course, in the eye of the beholder. She signals in her first sentence that religious liberty is not an important value in her mind. She apparently thinks it’s a blessing for religious freedom to be denied. Let’s keep reading and see how she intends to justify such a strange view. By “strange view,” I mean a view that is not American, much less Christian.
Similar bills have cropped up in a half-dozen states in an effort to protect anti-gay religious believers against lawsuits. A florist in Washington state, a Colorado baker and a New Mexico photographer have been sued for refusing to serve gay couples getting married. They say to do so would be to “celebrate” nuptials at odds with their Christian faith.
Is it really fair for her to call the various bills “anti-gay”? Rather, they are pro-religious liberty. They are about protecting the rights of citizens for whom participation in a same-sex wedding ceremony would be a sin. Homosexuality per se is not the issue. The issue is the desecration of the God-given institution of marriage.
It is one thing to legalize “same-sex marriage.” It is another thing entirely to mandate participation in the affair by anyone whom the principals choose to designate.
It’s probably news to most married people that their florist and caterer were celebrating their wedding union. Most people think they just hired a vendor to provide a service. It’s not clear why some Christian vendors are so confused about their role here.
The issue is not exuberance or any other aspect of “celebrating,” as Kirsten seems to define it. Vendors know they are expected to be professional; they’re not there to join in the festivities. Rather, the issue is the vendor’s participation in facilitating a ceremony that by its very exercise affirms as right something the Christian vendor believes to be wrong.
Whether Christians have the legal right to discriminate should be a moot point because Christianity doesn’t prohibit serving a gay couple getting married. Jesus calls his followers to be servants to all. Nor does the Bible call service to another an affirmation.
Kirsten seems aware that Jesus calls His followers to be servants to all, but she doesn’t seem to be aware that He calls them to exercise that service in righteousness. For a Christian to participate in a “same-sex wedding” just as he or she would participate in a real wedding is to legitimize the former and cheapen the latter. A wedding ceremony is the way society sanctions marriage. Christian vendors would be violating their faith to sanction something that their Lord has called sin. The biblical view of sex is that it is the province of marriage. Therefore, the Christian is loathe to “put asunder what God hath joined together.”
Adam Hamilton, pastor of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, the largest church in Kansas, pointed out to me what all Christians should know: “Jesus routinely healed, fed and ministered to people whose personal lifestyle he likely disagreed with.” This put Jesus at odds with religious leaders, who believed they were sullied by associating with the “wrong” people.
Jesus fed the people who were listening to His teaching. He did not bring sandwiches to people who were actively engaged in practices He was preaching against.
Hamilton suggested that “if this legislation were to pass … those who wish to refuse service to gay and lesbian people (should be required) to publicly post (their policy). This would allow gay and lesbian people and all other patrons to know before entering a business.”
This is a baseless accusation. There are, for example, Christian bakers who are serving homosexuals all the time without requesting a law to relieve them of the responsibility to do so. It is the marriage ceremony that is the problem. It’s one thing to sell a person a donut. There’s no reason to ask – or even think about – the customer’s sexual activities when taking the order and providing the donut. A wedding cake, however, is symbolic of what is taking place, and forcing a Christian to prepare that symbol is to strip him or her of any religious liberty they may have thought they had.
He’s right. Christians backing this bill are essentially arguing for homosexual Jim Crow laws.
This is a particularly inappropriate analogy. Jim Crow laws were designed to enforce segregation – in its best formulation, “separate, but equal” status. Christians are not arguing for separate, but equal status for homosexual marriage. The whole idea of “homosexual marriage” is an oxymoron and an anathema to them. We live in a democracy, so if the country is foolish enough to vote for such a thing, so be it. But a Christian cannot for that reason take part in or facilitate such a practice. A follower of Christ cannot forsake the laws of God in order to follow the laws of man. Nor, according to the Christian view, can human beings pass laws that overturn the laws of God. Can we pass a law against gravity?
Evangelical pastor Andy Stanley leads North Point Ministries, the second largest church in the U.S. He told me he finds it “offensive that Christians would leverage faith to support the Kansas law.” He said, “Serving people we don’t see eye to eye with is the essence of Christianity. Jesus died for a world with which he didn’t see eye to eye. If a bakery doesn’t want to sell its products to a gay couple, it’s their business. Literally. But leave Jesus out of it.”
Again, the Christian position is being misrepresented. I know of no Christians who are saying that their consciences won’t allow them to serve people who are homosexual. The issue is being forced to participate in what for the Christian is sinful activity – the “marriage” of who people who by definition can never be married. For a Christian, a homosexual act would be a sin. To be a part of a ceremony that celebrated a permanent union based on regular repetition of that sin is not just an outright defiance of God – it’s a mockery of His authority. Pastor Andy Stanley doesn’t want Jesus brought into it? If Jesus can’t be brought into a discussion of what is and isn’t moral, what sort of conversations would be appropriate to reference His views?
Christians serve unrepentant murderers through prison ministry. So why can’t they provide a service for a same-sex marriage?
There are indeed lots of Christians who do serve the homosexual community in the same sort of way as a prison ministry – but the homosexuals hate them for it. The homosexuals, generally speaking, do not think they are doing anything wrong, and therefore resent any sort of intimation that they are.
Some claim it’s because marriage is so sacred. But double standards abound. Christian bakers don’t interrogate wedding clients to make sure their behavior comports with the Bible. If they did, they’d be out of business. Stanley said, “Jesus taught that if a person is divorced and gets remarried, it’s adultery. So if (Christians) don’t have a problem doing business with people getting remarried, why refuse to do business with gays and lesbians.”
The accusation of a double standard is simply not true. Indeed, Christian vendors generally don’t make inquiries into the private lives of those they serve for weddings, nor should they. A “same-sex marriage,” however, is completely different. No one can ignore that two people of the same sex are trying to get “married.” This is why the Christian baker is selling donuts all day long to people whose private lives are none of his business. However, when two people of the same sex try to get “married,” they make it the vendor’s business. They are shoving the issue in the vendor’s face.
Most bakers, photographers, and florists are small businesses. They’re run not by big corporations, but by individuals and couples in the neighborhoods where we live. Are we really going to force our neighbors to be a part of something they consider to be highly offensive to the God they love?
Given the current state of American culture, I cannot imagine that a homosexual couple would have any trouble finding vendors for their wedding. There are enough non-Christians, plus Christians like Kirsten, to do the work. Why then force people to do it for whom it is a painful violation of conscience?
Am I arguing that Christians ought to be protected from persecution by law? Not really. We should be prepared to suffer any injustice for the love of our Lord. What I am arguing against is Kirsten’s notion that Jesus is on the side of those who want to destroy marriage and family – the very institutions He established for our good.
Maybe they should just ask themselves, “What would Jesus do?” I think he’d bake the cake.
I think He’d rather be crucified.