Posts tagged ‘Gay Marriage’

It’s Not About Gay Rights Versus Religious Freedom

Same-Sex Marriage

Frank Bruni, columnist for The New York Times, has written a refreshingly honest, even if somewhat frightening, piece in response to the passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Indiana, which was signed into law last month by Governor Mike Pence.  The Act prohibits “a governmental entity [from] substantially burden[ing] a person’s exercise of religion.”[1]  LGBT groups are furious, arguing that this Act will open the door for Christian business owners to discriminate against LGBT people by refusing to offer them certain services because these business owners will be able to claim that offering these services, particularly services that have to do with same-sex weddings, would violate their religious tenets.

Mr. Bruni offers the following take:

The drama in Indiana last week and the larger debate over so-called religious freedom laws in other states portray homosexuality and devout Christianity as forces in fierce collision.

They’re not – at least not in several prominent denominations, which have come to a new understanding of what the Bible does and doesn’t decree, of what people can and cannot divine in regard to God’s will …

In the end, the continued view of gays, lesbians and bisexuals as sinners is a decision. It’s a choice. It prioritizes scattered passages of ancient texts over all that has been learned since — as if time had stood still, as if the advances of science and knowledge meant nothing …

So our debate about religious freedom should include a conversation about freeing religions and religious people from prejudices that they needn’t cling to and can indeed jettison, much as they’ve jettisoned other aspects of their faith’s history, rightly bowing to the enlightenments of modernity.[2]

Mr. Bruni is not only interested in whether a Christian small business owner should be forced to, let’s say, bake a cake for a gay wedding, he also launches into a critique of traditional Christian theology as a whole, stating that the faith should be “rightly bowing to the enlightenments of modernity.”  This assumes, of course, that modernity is, in fact, enlightened – an assertion that Mr. Bruni seems to feel little need to defend.  This also assumes that the Western version of modernity that embraces LGBT beliefs about human sexuality is the rightful moral pacesetter of our world, something with which many modernized Eastern nations may take issue.  This also assumes that Christians should not only love LGBT individuals, but endorse LGBT lifestyles as morally acceptable.

The irony is not lost on me that although Mr. Bruni does address “the florists and bakers who want to turn [LGBT customers] away” because of the owners’ moral convictions, he is silent concerning the many businesses that are jettisoning the state of Indiana in light of its religious freedom law because of their owners’ moral convictions.  Why the inconsistency?  Because, for Mr. Bruni, this is not an issue of religious freedom or even of gay rights.  This is an issue of what version of morality should hold sway in our society.  In Mr. Bruni’s worldview, for a Christian to try to avoid baking a cake for a gay wedding is morally reprehensible.  For a business to avoid a state because of a religious freedom act is morally commendable.  Thus, it is not inconsistent that one business, whose owners are working out of a set of traditional Christian moral convictions, should not be able to avoid providing services for a same-sex wedding while another business, whose owners have more secularized moral convictions, should be able to dump a whole state.  After all, the Christian set of moral convictions is, for Mr. Bruni, immoral!  And immorality must be squelched.

Pastor Timothy Keller explains the necessary moral entailments of the debate over gay marriage using a brilliant analogy:

Imagine an Anglo-Saxon warrior in Britain in AD 800. He has two very strong inner impulses and feelings. One is aggression. He loves to smash and kill people when they show him disrespect. Living in a shame-and-honor culture with its warrior ethic, he will identify with that feeling. He will say to himself, That’s me! That’s who I am! I will express that. The other feeling he senses is same-sex attraction. To that he will say, That’s not me. I will control and suppress that impulse. Now imagine a young man walking around Manhattan today. He has the same two inward impulses, both equally strong, both difficult to control. What will he say? He will look at the aggression and think, This is not who I want to be, and will seek deliverance in therapy and anger-management programs. He will look at his sexual desire, however, and conclude, That is who I am.

What does this thought experiment show us? Primarily it reveals that we do not get our identity simply from within. Rather, we receive some interpretive moral grid, lay it down over our various feelings and impulses, and sift them through it. This grid helps us decide which feelings are “me” and should be expressed – and which are not and should not be.[3]

Being LGBT has often been cast in terms of identity.  Pastor Keller argues that the issue at hand is really about morality.  Is it acceptable or unacceptable to be a violent aggressor?  Is it noble or troublesome to be in a same-sex relationship?  Feelings and impulses do not give us the answers to these questions.  Only moral grids do.

Frank Bruni offers some refreshing candor in his column.  He knows that, ultimately, the fight over gay rights and religious freedom isn’t a fight over gay rights and religious freedom.  It is a fight over what’s moral.  And his conclusion bears witness to his moral conviction:

Creech and Mitchell Gold, a prominent furniture maker and gay philanthropist, founded an advocacy group, Faith in America, which aims to mitigate the damage done to LGBT people by what it calls “religion-based bigotry.”

Gold told me that church leaders must be made “to take homosexuality off the sin list.”

His commandment is worthy – and warranted.

Mr. Bruni is clear.  Christians must be made to accept homosexuality.  To settle for anything less would be unworthy and unwarranted.  In other words, it would be immoral.

I would beg to differ.

But at least we know where he stands.

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[1] S.B. 101, 119th Leg., 1st sess. (Indiana 2015)

[2] Frank Bruni, “Bigotry, the Bible and the Lessons of Indiana,” The New York Times (4.3.2016).

[3] Timothy Keller, Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism (New York: Viking, 2015), 135-136.

April 18, 2016 at 5:15 am 2 comments

A County Clerk, Gay Marriage, and What’s Right

Credit: Ty Wright/Getty Images

Credit: Ty Wright/Getty Images

It’s not often a small town county clerk becomes a household name. But Kim Davis has managed to pull of just such a feat after going to jail last week for refusing to issue marriage licenses from her office. The Washington Post reports:

The Kentucky clerk drew headlines for refusing to issue marriage licenses to all couples, gay and straight, after the Supreme Court ruled earlier this summer that same-sex couples have the right to marry. An Apostolic Christian, Davis has said it would violate her faith to put her name on a marriage license for two people of the same sex.

She was sued by several gay couples and was ordered by [Judge] Bunning to begin issuing the licenses this week. When Davis defied the judge’s order, the couples asked for Davis to be held in contempt and fined.

But Bunning decided to jail Davis, saying fines would not be sufficient to compel compliance because Davis’s supporters could raise money on her behalf.

“The idea of natural law superseding this court’s authority would be a dangerous precedent indeed,” Bunning said.[1]

Not surprisingly, demonstrators, both in support and in protest of Mrs. Davis, gathered outside the courthouse where she was sentenced:

Ashley Hogue, a secretary from Ashland, held a sign outside the courthouse that read, “Kim Davis does not speak for my religious beliefs.”

“This is so ugly,” she said, wiping away tears. “I was unprepared for all the hate.”

Demonstrator Charles Ramey, a retired steelworker, downplayed the vitriol.

“We don’t hate these people,” he said, holding a sign that read, “Give God his rights.” “We wouldn’t tell them how to get saved if we hated them.”[2]

On the one hand, I am somewhat puzzled why Mrs. Davis, if she could not in good conscience carry out one of the duties for which state taxpayers are compensating her, did not simply resign her position.  After all, for Mrs. Davis to refuse to issue marriage licenses not only to same-sex couples, but to all couples, and to make it incumbent on the clerks who work for her to follow suit hardly seems the best way to handle a personal religious objection, as Ryan T. Anderson, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, makes clear in this thoughtful article.  Mrs. Davis explains her reasoning in the USA Today article: “‘If I left, resigned or chose to retire, I would have no voice for God’s word,’ calling herself a vessel that the Lord has chosen for this time and place.” Her explanation begs the question: would she really have no voice for God’s Word if she was not a county clerk? Couldn’t she be a witness for Christ in ways that involve less emotional, political, and rhetorical volatility than refusing to issue marriage licenses?  And what does she do when she has to perform other duties that could – and perhaps should – violate her conscience, such as legally licensing divorces for couples who are not splitting for biblically appropriate reasons?  I’m not sure I completely understand Mrs. Davis’ thinking.

On the other hand, I am also not unsympathetic to her plight. Here is a government worker who was thrown in jail because she, in her vocation, was seeking in some way to abide by what God’s Word says about sexual boundaries. A Christian theology of work says that no matter what we do, we ought to view ourselves as “working for the Lord, not for men” (Colossians 3:23).  Mrs. Davis seems to be trying to put this theological truism into everyday practice.  I should also note that she does not appear to have arrived at her practice of refusing to issue marriage licenses lightly. Her conversion to Christianity came on the heels of a history littered by broken marriages and broken hearts. Since her conversion, however, she has maintained a strong stance on biblically informed sexual standards.

This is one of those theologically, ethically, legally, and relationally thorny situations that seems to be increasingly common in our day and age. As Christians, how do we respond? Is Kim Davis right? Or should she resign if she cannot, in good conscience, issue marriage licenses?

In the book of Daniel, we meet a man who, like this county clerk, held a government job. Indeed, he held a very prominent government job. Under the reign of the Persian king Darius, this man Daniel “so distinguished himself among the administrators and the satraps by his exceptional qualities that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom” (Daniel 6:3). Daniel’s upward mobility, it seems, was virtually limitless until, one day, as he went about carrying out his duties, the laws of the land changed in a way that violated his conscience:

The administrators and the satraps went as a group to the king and said: “O King Darius, live forever! The royal administrators, prefects, satraps, advisers and governors have all agreed that the king should issue an edict and enforce the decree that anyone who prays to any god or man during the next thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be thrown into the lions’ den. Now, O king, issue the decree and put it in writing so that it cannot be altered – in accordance with the laws of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be repealed.” So King Darius put the decree in writing. (Daniel 6:6-9)

As a worshiper of the God of Israel, Daniel could not, in good conscience, follow the king’s edict to pray only to the king – even though he was serving the king as a public official. So what does Daniel do?

Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before. (Daniel 6:10)

I have sometimes wondered why Daniel didn’t try to negotiate some sort of compromise. Couldn’t he have stayed downstairs in a private room to pray to the true God rather than going upstairs and kneeling before an open window so everyone below would know exactly what he was doing? Couldn’t he have simply put off praying altogether in order to comply with the edict without committing idolatry against his God? After all, the edict was only in place for thirty days. In this instance, Daniel, according to his conscience, could do neither. He had to live out his faith, even if his faith was in conflict with his vocation as a public official and his status as a citizen of Persia.

You probably know the rest of the story. Daniel’s sentence was not just a jail cell, but a lions’ den. Daniel was willing to go to his death for his confession of faith. But, miraculously, “God sent His angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions” (Daniel 6:22).

It’s not difficult to draw parallels between Daniel’s story and Mrs. Davis’ story, save that we do not yet know how Mrs. Davis’ story will end. For us who are looking on, there are a couple of lessons I think we can take away from Daniel’s story. First, Daniel’s refusal to obey Darius’ edict had nothing to do with a political victory and everything to do with theological fidelity. I fear that, all too often, we can prioritize the politics of an issue like gay marriage specifically over a biblical theology of what marriage is generally. Any stand that we make must never be simply for the sake of winning a political battle, but for the sake of staying true to God’s Word. If people perceive that our theology is being leveraged merely as a means to political power, they have every right to be cynical of us and even angry at us. I’m fine if people, as I’m sure they did when Daniel was willing to be thrown to the lions, question our sanity, but we must never give people a reason to question our spiritual sincerity. Second, Daniel served and supported his governing authorities in every way he could until he couldn’t. This couldn’t have been easy for him. The Persians, after all, were pagans who shared none of Daniel’s theological commitments. But rather than fighting them, Daniel supported them in his work. He took a contrarian stand only when it was theologically necessary. I worry that, because of the deep suspicion and animosity that plagues our political system, we have become so devoted to fighting with each other on every front that we have lost our ability to take credible stands on the most important fronts. This is not to say that we can never be engaged in the political process – we do live in a democratic republic, after all – but it is to say that our governing authorities are first and foremost gifts from God to be supported by our prayers rather than political enemies to be bludgeoned by our anger.

As I think about Mrs. Davis’ predicament, I can appreciate her stand.  My prayer for her, however, as she remains steadfast in her opposition to a Supreme Court ruling, is that she also proves stalwart in her commitment to love those with whom she disagrees. A strong stand may be good in the face of a morally untenable court decision. And she has decided to take one. But love – even when it’s love for the gay couple that comes walking through the door of the county clerk’s office – is absolutely necessary for Godly, gracious relationships.  I hope she’s decided to give that.

______________________________

[1] James Higdon and Sandhya Somashekhar, “Kentucky clerk ordered to jail for refusing to issue gay marriage license,” The Washington Post (9.3.2015).

[2] Mike Wynn and Chris Kenning, “Ky. Clerk’s office will issue marriage licenses Friday – without the clerk,” USA Today (9.3.2015).

September 7, 2015 at 5:00 am 3 comments

Obergefell v. Hodges

Arguments at the United States Supreme Court for Same-Sex Marriage on April 28, 2015When the Supreme Court ruled on Obergefell v. Hodges[1] a little over a week ago, the verdict was not a surprise, but the reaction was fierce. Facebook profiles and even the White House went rainbow. Crowds gathered to celebrate and shed tears of joy. Others were not nearly so jubilant. Jonathan Saenz, President of Texas Values, issued this statement:

This decision is the most egregious form of judicial activism of our time, overriding the votes of over 50 million voters, including millions in Texas. The freedom to democratically address society’s most fundamental institution is central to ordered liberty. The Court has taken that freedom from the people.

This decision has no basis in the text of the Constitution and will never be accepted by millions of Americans and Texans that understand that marriage, by nature and God’s design, can only be the union of a man and woman, husband and wife, mother and father. No decision by five judges can ever alter this fundamental truth.[2]

As Christians, it can be hard to know what to say or where to stand. The day the Supreme Court’s decision came down, I offered some initial reflections with the promise of more to come. These are those further reflections.  Though these reflections will not address every concern, they will hopefully give us a way to begin to think theologically and pastorally about what has transpired and help us live together peacefully and in love.

What Scripture Says

As I said in my original blog on the Supreme Court’s decision, we need to remain committed to what Scripture says about all our relationships and, specifically, those that are deeply intimate in nature. But we also must remember that our understanding of Scripture can prove fallible. It is easy to fall prey to foolish and sloppy readings of what the Bible has to say on sexual ethics, making assumptions that are based more in our cultural biases than in careful exegetical study. As William Eskridge explains in an article for The New York Times:

Biblical support for slavery, segregation and anti-miscegenation laws rested upon broad and anachronistic readings of isolated Old Testament passages and the Letters of Paul, but without strong support from Jesus’ teachings in the Gospels … The current … view that God condemns “homosexual behavior” and same-sex marriages comes from the same kind of broad and anachronistic scriptural readings as prior support for segregation.[3]

Although Eskridge’s assumed contradiction between what Jesus taught and what the rest of the Bible has to say is problematic, he does have a point: we have not always gotten things right.

So how do we avoid misreading Scripture on gay marriage? To begin with, we must never handpick proof texts without context. Arguments made in this way against gay marriage are not only not persuasive theologically, they’re also not solid methodologically.  A better hermeneutical case for traditional marriage can be made by looking at the sweep and scope of Scripture. Scripture begins (Genesis 2:24) and ends (Revelation 19:7) with the wedding of a bride and her groom. Jesus affirms both God’s creational and eschatological pattern for this staid institution as one that involves a husband and a wife (Matthew 19:4-6). Furthermore, when this pattern for marriage is abandoned, the results never seem to be good (e.g., Genesis 29:30; 1 Kings 11:1-4; Proverbs 6:32; 1 Corinthians 5:1-2).

The Bible does not seem to be nearly so concerned with condemning gay marriage specifically as it is with affirming God’s design for marriage generally – and not just because deviating from God’s design is morally wrong, though, in fact, it is, but because it is personally hurtful. Marriage has not only a moral design; it has a compassionate intent. This is why God institutes it as gracious gift (cf. Genesis 2:18).  The biblical authors do not want people to miss out on God’s gracious gift by not receiving it as God intended it.

How We Say What Scripture Says

When speaking about same-sex marriage, we must stop embracing and employing over-the-top rhetoric. A pastor who threatens, even if figuratively, to immolate himself if the Supreme Court allows for nationwide gay marriage sounds, and perhaps is, insane. A preacher who drops the Supreme Court’s ruling to the ground while holding up the Bible in the middle of his sermon may garner some applause from the faithful, but such grandstanding does nothing to contribute to civil and important conversation.

I can’t help but wonder if the reason we are sometimes tempted by such silly stunts is because we live with a kind of Chicken Little apocalypticism. We really are afraid the sky is falling. But it is not.

Chief Justice John Roberts, in his dissenting opinion, writes:

The Court today not only overlooks our country’s entire history and tradition but actively repudiates it, preferring to live only in the heady days of the here and now. I agree with the majority that the “nature of injustice is that we may not always see it in our own times.” … As petitioners put it, “times can blind.” … But to blind yourself to history is both prideful and unwise.

This is well stated. As Justice Roberts notes, the ethical stances of yesteryear are by no means unimpeachable, but they are also not meant to be thoughtlessly discardable in an assumed inexorable evolutionary advancement toward ethical nirvana. C.S. Lewis would remind us that there is a “great cataract of nonsense that pours from the press and the microphone of [our] own age.”[4] In other words, we’re not as enlightened or as advanced as we think we are.

Thus, we need not fear. What is happening now does not mean the sky is falling. It simply means that history is marching – sometimes wisely and sometimes foolishly. Waiting and watching to see what comes of “the heady days of the here and now” is a much smarter – and, I would add, much less stressful – option than opining about the doom and gloom that lurks around the corner.

Religious Liberty and Pastoral Care

Sadly, the Supreme Court’s decision does raise real concerns over religious liberty. In the majority opinion, Justice Kennedy addresses these concerns, writing:

It must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered.

Justice Kennedy’s synopsis of the First Amendment is interesting – and troubling. He sees the First Amendment as protection to “teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to … lives and faiths.” This is well and good. But what happens when teaching faith translates into living faith?  What happens when those living their faith intersect with others who do not share their faith? Does religious protection now extend only to what one says?

The dissenting justices are rightfully skeptical of the majority’s nod to and definition of religious liberty. Justice Thomas Roberts warns:

Religious liberty is about more than just the protection for “religious organizations and persons … as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths.” … Religious liberty is about freedom of action in matters of religion generally, and the scope of that liberty is directly correlated to the civil restraints placed upon religious practice.

It is not just paranoid, martyrly Christian activists who have concerns about the narrowing parameters for religious liberty; it is a sitting justice of the Supreme Court. So how are we to respond?

I would argue that the best way to respond to threats against religious liberty is not politically, but pastorally. This is not to say that Christians should never be involved in politics; it is only to say that politics must take the backseat to love. So rather than offering a political strategy, allow me to share a few pastoral thoughts.

What makes same-sex marriage an ethically thorny issue is that it simultaneously aches for something that deserves our compassion while also promoting something that calls for our repudiation. On the one hand, the desire to marry someone to whom you are attracted, whether that person is of the same or opposite sex, represents an ache for companionship. This is why, in the majority opinion, Justice Kennedy writes:

From their beginning to their most recent page, the annals of human history reveal the transcendent importance of marriage. The lifelong union of a man and a woman always has promised nobility and dignity to all persons, without regard to their station in life. Marriage is sacred to those who live by their religions and offers unique fulfillment to those who find meaning in the secular realm. Its dynamic allows two people to find a life that could not be found alone, for a marriage becomes greater than just the two persons. Rising from the most basic human needs, marriage is essential to our most profound hopes and aspirations.

Such an ache for companionship not only ought to be acknowledged, it ought to be affirmed by all Christians. God did, after all, create us as relational beings (cf. Genesis 2:18). Desire for companionship, regardless of whether you are gay or straight, is perfectly normal and natural.

At the same time the Bible affirms the human ache for companionship, however, it also puts boundaries on how such companionship is expressed erotically and, ultimately, maritally. Again and again, the Bible calls upon us to control our desires – erotic and otherwise (cf. James 1:14-15). Though such a call runs quite contrary to the spirit and sensibilities of our age, Christians must continually uphold this call in their speaking and living.

Tragically, many Christians have spent so much time proclaiming that people must control their desires that they have forgotten to empathize with them in their loneliness. People who are romantically attracted to the same sex have much deeper and more profound needs than just sex. They, like everyone, need love, which we must be prepared to show, lest we defy the command of Christ: “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).

Ultimately, we must never forget that same-sex marriage involves people. Indeed, though nearly everyone knows the Supreme Court has now legalized nationwide same-sex marriage, few know the particulars of the plaintiff who brought the case. Jim Obergefell married John Arthur three months and 11 days before John died. Jim knew their marriage would not last long because, when they wed, John was in the dying throws of ALS. Jim brought a case to the Supreme Court because he wanted to be listed as the surviving spouse on John’s death certificate in Ohio, a state that heretofore did not allow for gay marriage. Their story, then, is not just about gay marriage. It’s also about sickness, sadness, and caregiving – all universal themes to the human experience. Even as we express concerns over same-sex marriages, we must also recognize that the people in them do things that are noble and hold values that we share.

Decrying same-sex marriage with protests, rallies, and votes will not change hearts. Love, however, just might. So let’s focus on what people actually need – not a vote against them, but love for them. In today’s milieu of broad and fierce political support for same-sex marriage, it is probably our only option. But that’s okay. Because it just so happens that it’s also our best option.

_________________________________

[1] Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U.S. (2015).

[2] William Eskridge cited by David Walls, “Supreme Court’s Marriage Ruling Is Egregious Attack On Democracy, Will Never Be Accepted,” Texas Values (6.26.2015).

[3] William Eskridge, “It’s Not Gay Marriage vs. the Church Anymore,” The New York Times (4.25.2015).

[4] C.S. Lewis, “Learning in War-Time,” The Weight of Glory, Walter Hooper, ed. (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001), 59.

July 6, 2015 at 5:15 am 3 comments

A Pastoral Statement on Today’s Supreme Court Decision

Supreme Court InteriorAs you have no doubt probably heard by now, the Supreme Court of the United States has legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states. At the church where I serve, the pastoral team is working to address some of the issues involved in this ruling, including potential repercussions for religious liberty, but for now, I want to offer three brief thoughts.

First, as Christians, we need to continue to be committed to what God’s Word has to say about all our relationships and, specifically, those relationships that are deeply intimate in nature. Sexual integrity is a much bigger issue than whether or not you support same-sex marriage. Sexual integrity touches nearly every aspect of our lives – from how we guard our purity if we are single to how we appropriately relate to our coworkers and friends to how we hold sacred our most intimate moments if we are married.  God has put boundaries on sexuality and intimacy not to needlessly constrict us, but to lovingly protect us.

Second, as with any major cultural shift, reactions to the Supreme Court ruling have been instantaneous and, in many cases, extreme. Some are unfettered in their celebration. Others are paralyzed by deep trepidation. As Christians, we are called to be measured in our words and peaceful in our hearts, always and fully trusting in God’s providence. We do not need to join our culture in its emotionally charged reactions. We have nothing to fear.

Third, please remember to be kind in any reactions and responses you may offer to the Supreme Court ruling. Chief Justice John Roberts, in his dissenting opinion, expressed concern about how we regularly feel “compelled to sully those on the other side of the debate.” As Christians, we should never sully others. We can disagree with others without hating them. On Facebook, I saw a simple thought that expresses well how we ought to dialogue about the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage: “We don’t have to agree on anything to be kind to one another.” This is exactly right. For this reflects the very character of our God. As the Psalmist says, “God’s merciful kindness is great toward us: and the truth of the LORD endures forever” (Psalm 117:2). Like our Lord, may we be people of merciful kindness and truth. It’s what our world needs – now, more than ever.

June 26, 2015 at 1:33 pm 7 comments

Why I Agree With Tim Cook

Credit:  ABC News

Credit: ABC News

I agree with Tim Cook.

When the CEO of Apple writes, “Discrimination, in all its forms, is bad for business,” I agree. Discrimination in its civil rights sense of, ironically, indiscriminately hating a whole group of people simply because of a particular characteristic, practice, or belief is unacceptable. When Cook says, “This is about how we treat each other as human beings,” I agree.[1]  Treating each other without so much as a modicum of dignity and understanding is inexcusable.

I agree with Tim Cook. But I don’t think Tim Cook agrees with me.

In what has become the latest kerfuffle over religious rights and gay rights, Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed into law Senate Bill 568, stating:

A state or local government action may not substantially burden a person’s right to the exercise of religion unless it is demonstrated that applying the burden to the person’s exercise of religion is: (1) essential to further a compelling governmental interest; and (2) the least restrictive means of furthering the compelling governmental interest.

Almost immediately, a furor erupted. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Calls to boycott Indiana dominated Twitter on Friday. Tourism officials in Indianapolis fielded an onslaught of questions from convention planners … Even the NCAA, which is based in Indianapolis and is planning to host more than 100,000 basketball fans next weekend, expressed concerns about what the law means.[2]

At the root of this riot is a concern that this bill’s protection against government actions that “substantially burden a person right to the exercise of religion” could lead to public accommodations refusing to serve LGBT people because their owners may have ethical convictions that conflict with the convictions of many in the LGBT community. One thinks of the Oregon baker who refused to make a cake for a same-sex couple for their wedding and the Washington florist who refused to sell flower arrangements to another same-sex couple for their wedding.

The New York Times pulled no punches in its disdain for Indiana’s bill, publishing and op-ed piece by its editorial board titled, “In Indiana, Using Religion as a Cover for Bigotry.” And, as with Tim Cook, I can say that I agree with the editorial board of The New York Times insofar as I abhor the thought of religion being used to mask bigotry.

But at the same time I agree with them, I still don’t think they agree with me. Here’s why.

Tim Cook and The New York Times editorial board have taken up a moral crusade against bigotry. And I am happy to join them. Bigotry is wrong. But where they have one moral concern, I have two. Because at the same time I despise bigotry, I am also heartbroken by shifting social mores on human sexuality. Like bigotry, for me, the twisting of human sexuality is a moral issue that is tearing at the fabric of both our society and our souls. Lust is hurting us. Pornography is hurting us. Affairs are hurting us. Domineering husbands who demand sex from their wives are hurting us. And yes, sex outside of the context of marriages between husbands and wives is hurting us.

But to operate – even when I’m doing business – under such Christian conviction does not automatically equate to discrimination. And to say that I think something is wrong in a loving, thoughtful, and gentle way does not ineluctably constitute bigotry.  In many ways, Christian conviction has proven itself an an indispensable blessing to business.  Christian commitments to faithfulness, honesty, integrity, graciousness, and generosity can have amazingly positive impacts in cutthroat corporate cultures.  Why would we not surmise that a loving commitment to some sort of sexual morality might not have a similar impact?  This is where I think Tim Cook and the editorial board of The New York Times get things wrong – not in their moral repulsion at discrimination and bigotry, but in their use of the terms.

It is true that Christian conviction has sometimes been twisted toward bigoted ends. I think of the man in Colorado who marched into a bakery and ordered cakes with slogans like “God hates gays” written on them. When the bakery refused to make the cakes, he filed a lawsuit. That is not living by Christian conviction. That’s being a jerk. But that is not what I’m talking about. I’m simply trying to make the case that at the same time the likes of Tim Cook, The New York Times editorial board, and, for that matter, many Christians around the world believe that bigotry is a moral issue that needs to be addressed and confronted, many Christians around the world also believe that shifting ethics on human sexuality is a moral issue that needs to be addressed. I think it’s only fair and right to hear them out – and to refrain from labeling them as bigots. I also think it’s only decent to respect their consciences – especially when their consciences express themselves in love – even when they’re running public accommodations.

So let’s make a deal: let’s stand against bigotry together while respecting each others’ differences in conscience.  Who knows? The result might just be a deeper understanding of each other and a deeper love for each other. And I hope those are two morals on which we can all agree.

_______________________

[1] Tim Cook, “Tim Cook: Pro-discrimination ‘religious freedom’ laws are dangerous,” The Washington Post (3.9.2015).

[2] Mark Peters and Jack Nicas, “Indiana Religious Freedom Law Sparks Fury,” The Wall Street Journal (3.27.2015).

April 6, 2015 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

S.B. 1062

Credit:  LA Times

Credit: LA Times

A funny thing happened on my way back from a recent trip I took to Arizona.  The state became embroiled in a heated political battle over Senate Bill 1062.[1]  Okay, it may not have been funny.  But these kinds of battles are common.

According to some, S.B. 1062 championed religious liberty, allowing business owners with religious convictions to deny service to a party if the business owner felt that serving that party would substantially burden or contradict his religious convictions.  According to others, S.B. 1062 violated the civil rights of homosexuals by formally and legally legitimatizing discrimination against them.

Last Wednesday, Governor Jan Brewer vetoed the bill, explaining, “I have not heard of one example in Arizona where business owners’ religious liberty has been violated … The bill is broadly worded and could result in unintended and negative consequences.”[2]  Of course, the political pressure on Governor Brewer was hot:

Companies such as Apple Inc. and American Airlines, and politicians including GOP Sen. John McCain and former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney were among those who urged Brewer to veto the legislation. The Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee, which is overseeing preparations for the 2015 game, came out with a statement against the legislation. The Hispanic National Bar Association on Wednesday said it canceled its 2015 convention in Phoenix over the measure.[3]

In observing the volley between supporters and detractors of this bill, two things strike me.

First, homosexuality – and, specifically, gay rights – is not only a hot topic in our society, it is the hot topic in our society.  Interestingly, nowhere does S.B. 1062 mention homosexuality.  It simply speaks of “the free exercise of religion.”  Yet, USA Today reported on Governor Brewer’s veto of the bill with this headline:  “Arizona governor vetoes anti-gay bill.”[4]  These days, how a piece of legislation will affect the gay community is the litmus test as to whether or not a bill can or should pass, even if that bill does not specifically mention the gay community.  Gay rights, then, are front and center.  They are the battleground du jour of our society.

Second, there are a lot of homosexuals who deeply despise Christians with orthodox beliefs concerning the sinfulness of homosexual activity and will go to great – and even duplicitous – lengths to paint Christians as homophobic bigots.  Stories abound of people who have concocted heinous hate crimes against themselves.  Take, for instance, the lesbian couple that spray-painted their own garage with the message “Kill the gay.”[5]  Or how about the Tennessee man who falsely claimed that three men beat him and robbed his store in an anti-gay attack?[6]  Then, of course, there was the famed incident of the waitress who falsely claimed she was stiffed on a tip because she was a lesbian.[7]  Personally, I don’t want to think of anyone in the homosexual community as my enemy.  Life is too short to keep an enemies’ list.  But I am not so naïve as to believe that there aren’t some in the homosexual community who think of me as their enemy.

So what am I to do?

Jesus’ admonition to pray for those who are on the outs with you (cf. Matthew 5:44) seems to be especially apropos for a time such as this.  To this end, I would invite you to join me in praying for three things as the culture war over sexual rights continues to rage.

First, pray for forgiveness.  Though it is painful to admit, it was not too long ago that it was exponentially more likely for a message like “Kill the gay” to be spray painted not by someone self-imposing a hate crime, but by someone committing one.  And sometimes, that someone was even a self-professed Christian.  This, of course, directly defies a myriad of biblical commandments concerning our conduct as Christians.  Our call to tell the truth about sin must never be a license to commit sin – especially the sin of hate.  We need forgiveness for our missteps – which are plenty – in this debate.

Second, pray for understanding.  I want to be understood.  I want people to understand and believe that I am not a homophobic hate monger who wants to oppress, humiliate, and exile those who do not share my same faith and ethical commitments.  But if I want this for myself, it is only fair that I afford the same courtesy to others.  Martin Luther summarized the Eighth Commandment by saying that, when dealing with our neighbors, we should “put the best construction on everything.”[8]  I can think of no better way to respond to those who put the worst construction on Christians’ intentions than by putting the best construction on theirs.  Generous understanding offers our greatest hope for peace in the midst of a hotly contested and, sadly, dirtily fought culture war.

Third, pray that true love would prevail.  The “true” is just as important as the “love” here, for our society has settled for a counterfeit love that reduces love to nothing more than tolerance.  Just the other day, I heard a caller to a radio talk show explain how one of the primary virtues of Christianity is tolerance.  Really?  A quick search of the word “tolerate” in the Bible brings up verses like these:

  • Whoever slanders their neighbor in secret, I will put to silence; whoever has haughty eyes and a proud heart, I will not tolerate. (Psalm 101:5)
  • Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; You cannot tolerate wrongdoing. Why then do You tolerate the treacherous? (Habakkuk 1:13)
  • It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. (1 Corinthians 5:1)

Tolerance does not seem to be the high brow Scriptural virtue that some would like to peddle it as.  This is not to say that we shouldn’t live with, work alongside with, and care for people who do not share our same moral commitments.  In this way, we should indeed be tolerant.  But tolerance does not necessarily entail endorsement.

Ultimately, as Christians, we ought to aspire to a much higher value than that of tolerance.  We ought to aspire to love.  “Love,” the apostle Paul reminds us, “does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth” (1 Corinthians 1:6).  To love someone well, we must tell him the truth, even when the truth is unpopular.  This is our calling with all sin – sexual and otherwise.

So these are my prayers.  Now, it’s your turn.  Will you join me in praying the same?


[1] S.B. 1062, 51st Leg., 2nd sess. (Ariz. 2014).

[2] Aaron Blake, “Arizona governor vetoes bill on denying services to gays,” The Washington Post (2.26.2014).

[3] Bob Christie, “Arizona Religious Bill That Angered Gays Vetoed,” ABC News (2.27.2014).

[4] Dan Nowicki, Yvonne Wingett Sanchez and Alia Beard Rau, “Arizona governor vetoes anti-gay bill,” USA Today (2.26.2014).

[5] Alyssa Newcomb, “Lesbian Couple Charged With Staging Hate Crime,” ABC News (2.19.2012).

[6] Chuck Ross, “Report: Man falsified police report in alleged anti-gay attack,” The Daily Caller (12.26.2013).

[7]  Cavan Sieczkowski, “New Jersey Waitress In Anti-Gay Receipt Saga Reportedly Let Go From Job,” The Huffington Post (12.9.2013).

[8] LC 1.8.

March 3, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Chafed Over Chick-fil-A

The firestorm is burning white hot.  And it didn’t take much to spark it either.  All it took was a passing statement from Chick-fil-A COO Dan Cathy in an interview with the Baptist Press:

We are very much supportive of the family – the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that.[1]

Cathy’s qualification of “family” as “the biblical definition of the family unit” upset and offended many of those who support same-sex marriage, which, by all traditional Christian accounts, falls outside the pale of “the biblical definition of the family unit.”[2]  But Cathy wasn’t backing down.  In an appearance on “The Ken Coleman Show,” Cathy solidified his stance:

I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, “We know better than You as to what constitutes a marriage,” and I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to try to redefine what marriage is about.[3]

The reactions to these two statements have predictably ranged from the genuinely offended to the bombastically outrageous.  Equality Illinois, an LGBT advocacy group, plans a “kiss-in,” akin to the “sit-ins” of the 1960’s civil rights movement, in front of selected Chick-fil-A’s to protest Cathy’s statements.  The group has also launched a “Flick the Hate” campaign, saying, “Rather than spend money at hateful businesses like Chick-fil-A, support businesses that support LGBT rights.”[4]  Rosanne Barr tweeted, “Anyone who eats *Expletive* Fil-A deserves to get the cancer that is sure to come from eating antibiotic filled tortured chickens 4Christ.”[5]  She later apologized for her incendiary statement.  Then there was Juliet Jeske, a comedian, who posed the perennial hermeneutical quandary: “I don’t quite understand how Christians who cite these six scant verses in the Bible that condemn homosexuality conveniently ignore some of the more extreme laws. How is one verse the ‘WORD OF GOD’ and another discarded as being out-of-date?”[6]  She cites a slew of peculiar-sounding passages from Leviticus and opines on why Christians no longer follow the Good Book’s restrictions concerning menstruating women and clothing made of more than one fabric while insisting on following the Bible’s moral verdict on homosexuality.  If she is interested in the answer to her conundrum, I would suggest she read Tim Keller’s insightful article, “Making Sense of Scripture’s ‘Inconsistency.’”  Considering how many times this question concerning the so-called “inconsistent” application of the Bible has been raised, however, and how many times it has been answered – quite well, I would add – I have begun to wonder if this article, and others like it, is not more of a cheap shot at Christian biblical interpretation rather than a genuine question about Christian biblical interpretation.

What disturbs me most about the Chick-fil-A controversy is not Cathy’s statements, for the immorality of all sex outside the confines of a marriage between one man and one woman is a longstanding Christian tenant.  Nor do the objections of many in the LGBT community to Cathy’s statement disturb me, for such objections are to be expected.  What disturbs me most about this controversy is the eventual response of Chick-fil-A as a corporation to the stir.  The company issued a statement that read in part, “Going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena.”[7]  Though people may debate whether or not it is prudent for COO’s of large corporations to express their theological convictions to news outlets that often make a habit out of subjecting theological convictions to the acerbic accusations of public opinion, I would submit that Chick-fil-A made precisely the wrong move when it so willingly relinquished this debate to the arena of government and politics.

At its heart, the debate over homosexuality and gay marriage is not a political debate, but a moral one.  To relegate this debate to the realm of politics and wrangling legislators is to cheapen it and, ultimately, to give it less consideration and credence than it deserves.  Moral debate should not be settled by majority vote, but by robust and respectful conversation grounded in something steadier and more transcultural than November’s ballot box – something like Holy Scripture for Christians, or, in broader society, natural, moral law.[8]  Morality by democracy can lead only to disaster, for it encourages people to breezily act according to what is right in their own eyes (cf. Judges 17:6).

The mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, had it at least partially right when he said, “Chick-fil-A values are not Chicago values.”[9]  Though, as a Christian, I heartily disagree with Rahm Emanuel’s values as they pertain to same-sex marriage, on this much we find common ground:  this is about values and morals, not politics and opinion polls.  Let’s not turn it into anything less.


[1] K. Allan Blume, “‘Guilty as charged,’ Cathy says of Chick-fil-A’s stand on biblical & family values,” Baptist Press (7.16.12).

[2] Read Concordia’s stance on same-sex marriage in “A Pastoral Statement on President Obama’s Endorsement of Same-Sex Marriage.”

[3] As cited in “Dan Cathy, Chick-Fil-A President, On Anti-Gay Stance: ‘Guilty As Charged,’The Huffington Post (7.17.12).

[4] www.facebook.com

[5] Cited in Paul Bond, “Roseanne Barr Responds to Critics After Controversial Chick-fil-A Tweet,” The Hollywood Reporter (7.26.12).

[6] Juliet Jeske, “Chick-Fil-A, Do You Really Want to Run Your Company on Biblical Values?The Huffington Post (7.26.12).

[7] Cited in Shan Li, “Chick-fil-A steps out of public debate on gay marriage,” The Los Angeles Times (7.19.12).

[8] An examination of same-sex marriage in light of natural, moral law can be found in “A Pastoral Statement on President Obama’s Endorsement of Same-Sex Marriage.”

[9] Cited in Bill Barrow, “Chick-fil-A sandwiches become a political symbol,” The Associated Press (7.27.12).

July 30, 2012 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


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