I’ve been wrestling with the rightness or wrongness of SB 1062 the controversial bill passed by the Arizona Legislature but vetoed by the state’s Governor Jan Brewer which would have granted private businesses protection if they chose not to offer services that violated their religious beliefs.
Usually I find myself firmly on the conservative end of controversies like this, but I’m finding it hard to land foursquare for or against this type of legislation which has been, by the way, considered in Kansas, Tennessee, Idaho, South Dakota, Mississippi, and Utah.
Full disclosure: I believe homosexuality is one of many sins falling short of God’s will and standards, and that attempts to revise the Bible to say otherwise amount to mental gymnastics. I regret America’s general drift towards sanctioning same sex marriage, as I believe it’s a social experiment we’ve entered into at the expense of future generations. Obviously, then, I oppose most though not all goals of the gay rights movement, which makes me, I’d say, a religious conservative’s religious conservative.
So my indecision on SB 1062 has nothing to do with my view of human sexuality, and everything to do with my pondering how we as Christ’s followers are to live in tension with societal trends, love our neighbors, remain faithful to God and godly standards, and, in essence, comply with what John observed so well: “He that saith he abideth in Him ought himself also so to walk, even as He walked.” (I John 2:6)
In support of such bills, it’s obvious that America’s legitimization of homosexual marriage has put many Christian business owners in a quandary. Paul said, after all, to “Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather, reprove them”(Ephesians 5:11) and he admonished Timothy to “not be a partaker of the wrongdoing of others” (I Timothy 5:22) while reminding all of us that “whatsoever is not done of faith is sin.” (Romans 14:23) So when bakers, florists or photographers who’re trying to live according to scripture are asked to lend their service to a ceremony they know to be wrong, they have an understandable crisis of conscience. To them, and perhaps to us, the answer’s simple: Politely decline on religious grounds, refer the customer to someone with different views, and move on. I’ve no doubt that in doing so, the Christian business owner has no desire to hurt or insult anyone. Rather, he’s just wanting to operate within the parameters of his own faith-based conscience. In most if not all cases, plenty of other suppliers will gladly accept the gay couple’s business; no undue burden has been placed on anyone. Fair enough.
Or not. In criticism of the bill, it’s fair to note what may be a hefty double standard. Christian suppliers inevitably, it seems to me, provide goods and services to people whose way of relating is un-Biblical. A Christian baker has quite likely whipped up a cake or two for couples who are unequally yoked – a Christian marrying a non-Christian – in violation of II Corinthians 6:14. A godly florist may well have provided color and beauty to the union of people who were previously married and divorced on totally unscriptural grounds. And the photographer who loves the Lord has quite likely said “Smile” to couples who lived together unrepentantly before the Big Day. Maybe I’m wrong here; maybe folks in those situations took as strong a stand as some are now taking on the gay issue. But to be candid, I doubt it, which raises the problem of imbalance. Heterosexual sin? Wink-wink; nod-nod. Same sex marriage? Unthinkable.
But OK, maybe I’m all wet, assuming too much and unfairly pre-judging. But there’s also the problem of consistency across the board. After all, if providers can withhold their services based on religious conviction alone, aren’t we all endangered? I know many liberal Christians who believe, based on their religious convictions, that I’m reactionary, homophobic, prejudiced. Good grief, if such folks were caterers, florists or photographers when I married my wife back in 1987 they could easily, under this bill, have refused my business. Could I have gone down the street to get the same services from someone more likeminded? Probably. And yet —
What if current trends continue and the general public becomes convinced that the traditional view of sexuality is dangerous and exists in the same camp as racism? Is it so far fetched to assume many, if not most, service providers would consider serving religious conservatives like me to be akin to serving the KKK? Could they not then say, “We can’t offer services to religious bigots like Joe Dallas, based on our own deeply held religious viewpoints?” It seems to me that the very laws we’re considering to be protective of our beliefs could ironically become legislation empowering the majority to discriminate against Bible believing Christians. And while it’s true that “all who live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution”(II timothy 3:12) do we really want to have a hand in needlessly making that persecution happen?
All of which leaves me, I hate to say, a little bewildered and not quite able to fully support or resist laws like SB 1062. I’m still wrestling with it, and still very open to the opinions of my fellow believers. Yes, the bill’s been vetoed, but no, that doesn’t make it a moot point. Other states will consider similar laws, calling us to thoughtfully, prayerfully consider where we land on the matter.
But let’s not kid ourselves into thinking discrimination policies for business owners will be the end of the story. I’ve no doubt that the gay rights movement fully intends to pressure the Christian Church into either adopting a pro-homosexual viewpoint, or remaining silent on the issue altogether. Either through the revocation of tax exempt status for churches who don’t toe the politically correct line, or through lawsuits, or hate crime legislation, we will surely see Christian churches and organizations either cave to or resist the pressure to bow to Nebuchadnezzar’s idol or face the fire.
That’s when there’ll be no room for wrestling, no question about the rightness or wrongness involved, no place for indecision. Because when the Church chooses to preach what the world approves, rather than face the world’s wrath, then there’s no longer a discernible reason for Her existence. So God help us to be wise and discerning while asking ourselves which battles to fight, but to be unmovable when the answer is clear, compelling and non-negotiable.