Posts tagged ‘Religious Freedom’

Flowers, Same-Sex Marriage, and Responding with Grace

screen-shot-2017-02-22-at-6-43-59-am

Barronelle Stutzman enjoyed catching up with her friend, Rob Ingersoll.  He would stop by regularly to order custom bouquets from the mom-and-pop flower shop she operated, Arlene’s Flowers, and the two would talk about what was going on in their respective lives.  Everything was coming up, excuse the pun, roses, until one day when Rob stopped by Arlene’s Flowers to ask Barronelle to provide custom flower arrangements for his upcoming wedding to his partner, Curt.  According to a deposition by Ms. Stutzman, she responded by putting her hands on Mr. Ingersoll and saying, “Because of my relationship with Jesus Christ, I can’t do that.”  Understandably, he walked away feeling deeply hurt and rejected.  After that, it didn’t take long for a legal firestorm to explode.

The two men sued Arlene’s Flowers for $7.91, the price it cost to drive to another florist.  Then, on February 16, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled that Ms. Stutzman was in violation of state law, claiming that Ms. Stutzman’s actions constituted “socially harmful conduct” and that the “government views acts of discrimination,” which is how they regarded Ms. Stutzman’s refusal of service, “as independent social evils.”

In a situation like this, it can be difficult for a Christian to figure out how to respond.  Indeed, there has been a fair amount of debate among Christians over whether or not it is biblically-appropriate to provide certain services, as Barronelle Stutzman refused to do, for a same-sex wedding.

Regardless of what an individual Christian may or may not be willing to accommodate in a situation like this, Ms. Stutzman’s overall response to this controversy has been charitable and exemplary.  Shortly after the controversy erupted, she penned an opinion piece for The Seattle Times.  She opened:

Rob Ingersoll will always be my friend. Recent events have complicated – but not changed – that fact for me.

Ms. Stutzman began with a statement of love for Mr. Ingersoll.  Even if he sues her, she will not disown him.  She will always be a friend to him, even after she felt she had to have a conversation with him that was, in her words, “one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life.”

She continued by explaining her desire to balance her moral convictions with her Christian love:

I knew he was in a relationship with a man and he knew I was a Christian. But that never clouded the friendship for either of us or threatened our shared creativity – until he asked me to design something special to celebrate his upcoming wedding.

If all he’d asked for were prearranged flowers, I’d gladly have provided them. If the celebration were for his partner’s birthday, I’d have been delighted to pour my best into the challenge. But as a Christian, weddings have a particular significance…

I’ve never questioned Rob’s and Curt Freed’s right to live out their beliefs. And I wouldn’t have done anything to keep them from getting married, or even getting flowers. Even setting aside my warm feelings for them, I wouldn’t have deliberately taken actions that would mean the end of being able to do the work I love or risk my family’s home and savings.

I just couldn’t see a way clear in my heart to honor God with the talents He has given me by going against the word He has given us.

Whatever decision another Christian would have made if faced with a situation like this, it is difficult to disparage Ms. Stutzman’s desire to be both faithful to her moral convictions and loving toward her friend.

In the news, much has been made about what this story and the Washington Supreme Court’s ruling mean for religious freedom.  The questions this controversy raises about religious freedom are indeed monumental.  And the court’s ruling a couple of weeks ago is certainly open to vigorous questioning.  But in the midst of all the thorny Constitutional and legal quandaries, let’s not miss the simple story of a woman trying to live out her faith in Jesus in front of others and for the sake of others.  For this is how each of us are called to live – loving even those with whom we deeply disagree us and seeking to winsomely hold forth to the world the use of God’s gifts – like the gift of marriage – according to God’s intentions.

Whatever ultimately comes of this case, this call will not change.

February 27, 2017 at 5:59 am Leave a comment

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.

__________________________

[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

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

It’s Not About The Supreme Court Ruling

Credit:  Wikipedia

Credit: Wikipedia

There was the ruling.  And then there was the reaction to the ruling.  When the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the arts and crafts chain Hobby Lobby, saying it did not have to pay for certain types of birth control as mandated by the Affordable Care Act because it considered them abortifacients which violated the theological beliefs of the company’s owners, the reaction was swift and fierce – from both sides.  Mark Goldfeder, senior fellow at the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University, announced:

Here is what the decision means:  People have First Amendment rights, and even if the corporations themselves are not entitled to Free Exercise exemptions, the people behind the corporate veil, the business owners themselves, certainly are.

On the other side, Judy Waxman, vice president of health and reproductive rights at the National Women’s Law Center, lamented:

We think it’s a bitter pill to swallow for women, and that the decision is saying that bosses know best and their religious beliefs can trump very basic health-care coverage.  It’s especially harmful to women, but beyond this, down the line, there will be other cases, other challenges, that could have an even broader effect.[1]

Of course, along with these measured responses, there were also the less measured responses of the Twitterverse, like one post advocating arson: “#HobbyLobby are scum of the earth.  Burn every single one down, build a homeless shelter there instead.”[2]  Then, there was another very humble post from a person who agreed with SCOTUS’s ruling:  “Ha. Ha. It’s The. Law.”[3]

What fascinates me about all these responses – whether they be sophisticated or sleazy – is how little they have to do with the actual legal ins and outs of this case and how much they reflect the radically disparate worldviews of our society.  I have found no better synopsis of the clash of worldviews in this case than this from Trevin Wax:

A generation ago, a person’s religious observance was a public matter, a defining characteristic of one’s identity, while a person’s sexual activity was something private. Today, this situation is reversed. A person’s sexual behavior is now considered a defining characteristic of identity, a public matter to be affirmed (even subsidized) by others, while religious observance is private and personal, relegated to places of worship and not able to infringe upon or impact the public square.

The culture clash today is less about the role of religion in business or politics, and more about which vision of humanity best leads to flourishing and should therefore be enshrined in or favored by law.[4]

This is exactly right.  Different people value different things.  For some, their faith is their defining characteristic.  Thus, they have a strong desire to practice their faith in every area and aspect of their lives, including their business dealings.  For others, some other thing – like their sexuality – is their defining characteristic.  And anything perceived as an affront to their sexual identity is worthy of unrestrained caustic choler.

As a Christian, I really have no choice when it comes to how I will define myself:  my life must be defined by Christ.  In the words of the apostle Paul, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).  So what does this mean for my interactions with those who define themselves by other things?  A few things come to mind.

First, I must love those with differing worldviews.  As Ed Stetzer so pointedly says in his article on the Hobby Lobby ruling, “You can’t hate a people and reach a people at the same time.”[5]  People who live outside a Christian worldview are not to be destroyed or oppressed in a political or judicial power grab, but loved through a winsome witness.

Second, I must realize that my worldview is no longer a privileged majority worldview in our society.  Indeed, many people are not at all concerned that a Christian may be legislatively or legally forced to do something that goes against his conscience.  Again, Ed Stetzer writes, “Most Americans are not as passionate about the religious liberty issue (when connected to contraception, even abortifacient contraception) as most evangelicals and conservative Catholics.”  Trevin Wax reveals that “a record number of Americans (1 in 3) said the first amendment [which grants religious liberty] goes too far in the freedom it promises.”  This is just a reality.

Third, I must make the case – through both a rigorous intellectual defense and a gentle, quiet lifestyle – why my worldview should be seriously considered and why it does indeed lead to true human flourishing.  It is important to note that this case cannot be made quickly.  Indeed, it cannot even be made by just my life or in just my lifetime.  No, this is a case the whole Church must make.  And blessedly, the Church has been making it for millennia.  For instance, the Church made its case here.  And here.  And here.  And here.  This is why I doubt any Supreme Court ruling – be it in favor of or against religious liberty – will kill the Church’s case.  For this is the case and cause of Christ.

Let’s keep making it.

______________________________

[1] Ashby Jones, “Legal Experts, Advocates React to Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby Ruling,” The Wall Street Journal (6.30.2014).

[2] Costa Koutsoutis, @costa_kout, 6.30.2014

[3] Harriet Baldwin, @HarrietBaldwin, 6.30.2014

[4] Trevin Wax, The Supreme Court Agrees With Hobby Lobby, But Your Neighbor Probably Doesn’t,” The Gospel Coalition (6.30.2014).

[5] Ed Stetzer, “Hobby Lobby Wins: Where Do We Go from Here?The Exchange (6.30.2014).

July 7, 2014 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Christian Persecution Under the Stars and Stripes

Cross 9Are rabid secularists persecuting Christians in the United States?  This is the question Robert Boston of Salon takes up.  His answer is an unambiguous and unapologetic “no way.”  He opens his article in an almost combative tenor:

Certain words should not be tossed around lightly. Persecution is one of those words.

Religious right leaders and their followers often claim that they are being persecuted in the United States. They should watch their words carefully. Their claims are offensive; they don’t know the first thing about persecution.

One doesn’t have to look far to find examples of real religious persecution in the world. In some countries, people can be imprisoned, beaten, or even killed because of what they believe. Certain religious groups are illegal and denied the right to meet. This is real persecution. By contrast, being offended because a clerk in a discount store said “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” pales. Only the most confused mind would equate the two.[1]

Boston goes on to rehearse a litany of privileges that religious institutions enjoy in our society along with some examples of what he considers to be true religious persecution:

Go to Saudi Arabia, where it’s illegal to even open a Christian church, and experience the fear of those Christian believers who dare to worship in private homes, aware that at any moment they may be imprisoned.

Visit North Korea, where all religions have been swept away and replaced with a bizarre form of worship of the state and its leader that purports to promote self-reliance but, in reality, merely serves as a vehicle for oppression.

Visit any region under the control of the Taliban, a movement so extreme that, in Afghanistan, they trashed that nation’s cultural heritage by blowing up two sixth-century statutes of Buddha because they were declared false idols by religious leaders who are intolerant of any other faith but Islam.

There is real religious persecution in the world.  Right-wing Christians in America aren’t experiencing it.

On the one hand, there are some things to affirm in Boston’s article.  First, I agree that it is awfully tough to make the leap from someone wishing a Christian “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas” to religious persecution.  That is not only a questionable example of persecution, but a silly one.  Second, I wholeheartedly and unequivocally affirm that compared to what Christians are experiencing in other countries, Christians who live “in the land of the free and the home of the brave” have it great.  There is no reason – ever – for Christians in this country to compare themselves to Christians who are, let’s say, awaiting execution in North Korea.[2]

But…

There’s always a “but,” isn’t there?

For all of Boston’s bravado about how Christians in the States are not persecuted, I’m not sure he really understands Christianity or persecution.

Boston rails against what he calls “right-wing Christians” and “religious conservatives.”  Just in case we’re unclear as to what he means, headlining his piece is a picture of Glenn Beck, Phil Robertson, and Michelle Bachmann.  His implicit message seems to be that those who claim that Christian persecution is taking place in the States are nothing more than puppets and parrots of conservative political groups.  But this is not fair to the breadth or the depth of Christianity.  Christian theology is much better defined in terms of “orthodoxy” and “heresy” rather than in terms of “liberalism” and “conservatism.”  After all, Christianity is much more concerned with the right teaching of divine truths than with a particular 21st century political ideology.  This is why there are Christians who are Republicans and Democrats.  No earthly political party can claim a monopoly on the Kingdom of God.

Second, though I understand Boston’s concern with Christians who brandish about the word “persecution” carelessly, I can’t help but suspect that he is guilty of precisely that which he rails against in his article.  I find it strange that while writing about Christian persecution, Boston never pauses to consider what Christ has to say on the subject!  So let’s do it ourselves.  Jesus says, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me” (Matthew 5:11).  Notice that Jesus here explains persecution in terms of words rather than actions.  Jesus says that people will both insult and tells lies about His followers.  There can be little doubt that this does indeed happen – even in the United States.  And this, Jesus says, is part of persecution.  Thus, Boston’s stipulations on what qualifies as Christian persecution are far too restrictive – at least according to Christ.

I am aware there is quite a gap between the definition of persecution theologically and the definition of persecution popularly.  It is dangerous to throw out a word like “persecution” without any sort of background on how this word is used biblically and theologically.  Hopefully, the dust up during the Romney campaign over whether or not Mormonism is a cult taught us that not all people define all words the same way.[3]  Thus, if we’re going to apply the word “persecution” to anything that happens to Christians in the States, we need to explain what we mean.

Whatever you may think does or does not qualify as persecution, what is most important is how Christians respond to those who are against them.  Boston says Christians have reacted to that which they perceive to be persecution with “so much carping.”  This, I agree, is tragic.  When Christians are persecuted, our response should not be one of carping, whining, or fretting.  After all, according to Jesus’ Beatitudes, when we are persecuted, we are not victimized, but “blessed.”  This is why, when the apostles experience physical persecution at the hands of the Sanhedrin, they leave “rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41).

I like what Robert Morgan of the Huffington Post says about Christian persecution:

The Bible anticipated [persecution] years ago. The founder of Christianity, after all, was tortured to death and His original 12 followers were all persecuted; most were slain. Though His message was a Gospel of peace, His critics nailed Him to a cross but failed to keep Him in the tomb. They hated Him but could not contain Him. They sought to limit His influence, but they only broadened His impact.[4]

Ultimately, no matter how badly Christianity may be persecuted, threatened, belittled, cajoled, and legislatively restricted, it just won’t die.  Why?  Because its Founder lives.


[1] Robert Boston, “The ultimate guide to debunking right-wingers’ insane persecution fantasies,” Salon (3.16.2014).

[2] Cheryl Chumley, “Kim Jong-un calls for execution of 33 Christians,” Washington Times (3.6.2014).

[3] Richard Oppel & Erik Eckholm, “Prominent Pastor Calls Romney’s Church a Cult,” New York Times (10.7.2011).

[4] Robert Morgan, “The World’s War on Christianity,” Huffington Post (1.14.2014).

March 24, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


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