Kristen Powers and Jonathan Merritt had a great article the other day pointing out the hypocritical nature of these new “religious freedom” laws that are cropping up in many states. Such laws are clothed in terms of freedom for Christians, while being incredibly un-Christian at the core. In short, these laws are designed to give Christian business owners the right to decline providing products or services for weddings that don’t meet their stamp of approval– namely, same gendered weddings. The problem that Powers and Merritt point out, is how a refusal to provide products or services for a same sex wedding typically require an incredible amount of biblical picking and choosing, combined with a healthy dose of hypocrisy. And, the reasons they give are completely correct– I discovered this truth not from their article, but because I once was that conservative Christian wedding vendor.
I got through seminary as a professional photographer shooting domestic and international weddings, and still take on a few clients a year though I’ve significantly limited my schedule so that I can focus on writing books. When I was full-steam-ahead in the wedding industry, I secretly dreaded the day a same-sex couple called me, because I had no idea what I’d say.
Would shooting the wedding be an endorsement of the marriage? Would it be a sin for me to be a part of their day? Lots of questions swirled around in my mind, and there were no easy answers. I sought out counsel of Christians I admired (even had a class discussion on it in my Christian Ethics class), but even for them, answers didn’t come easily. However, it was actually a “Christian” wedding that ultimately helped me decide how I would navigate this issue when the time came.
It was a beautiful day when two believing Christians married before God by a member of their clergy, surrounded by their family and friends. Everything met the Christian stamp of approval… until the reception.
As I looked throughout the room at the drunken debauchery taking place on the dance floor, I turned to my assistant (also a Christian) and said:
“Here I am, taking photos of a bunch of drunk people like I do every wedding. If I turn down a same sex wedding because it somehow ‘conflicts’ with my Christian standards, I’ll be the biggest hypocrite ever.”
Looking back, it wasn’t just drunkenness that made me realize I was at risk of hypocrisy, there were plenty of other weddings I photographed that did not jive with my belief system. Most notably, there was the time mystics prayed to “the mediators” (really did not sit right with me) or even Roman Catholic weddings that prayed to Mary (something that still makes me uncomfortable). Truth be told, very few weddings lined up with my personal expression of faith, but I served all clients equally because I was a private citizen conducting business in the public sphere. In the end, I was having a hard time justifying same sex couples as being the only group of people I wouldn’t serve– thankfully, I never did turn any of them away.
Like mentioned in the article I referenced, I realized I had two choices: be consistent in my application of this ethic and basically not participate in any wedding, ever, or (b) be consistent in my role as a private business owner in serving all clients who wish to purchase my services, regardless of my opinion of their marriage.
I went with the later– and I’m glad I did. It was the right choice and the choice that kept me from becoming a hypocrite in this area (and ironically, the time I actually ended up photographing a same sex wedding it was a Christian ceremony without drunkenness at the reception).
For me, I am now able to see this issue from multiple angles– as a theologian, Christian author, and a Christian wedding vendor. In the end, my view from all three of those hats actually harmonize with one another.
You see, I do actually think that there is a clear answer on what a Christian business person should do in this matter:
Serve the clients and do it with all your might as if you’re serving God.
These religious freedom laws are actually Un-Christian, because they are positioned against the central teaching of the New Testament: love your enemies. Of course, gay people aren’t “enemies” (certainly not mine as an outspoken supporter of marriage equality) but they are functionally being treated as such by conservative brands of Christianity, in which case, I think the biblical mandate on dealing with enemies should also functionally apply. The mandate is simple:
And, before you say “love means to tell them they’re wrong“, let’s look at what the Bible actually says:
“If your enemy is hungry, give them something to eat. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink.” Romans 12:20, Prov. 25:21
The biblical teaching? Bake their cake. Take their photographs. Let them stay at your hotel. Love them generously!
Context in the passages on enemy love are important: this audience was actually being hunted and killed by their “enemies”. Yet, the command of Jesus and Paul become: respond with generous love even if it cost you your life.
Treating our gay brothers and sisters with less love than we’re commanded to treat people who are trying to murder us, is un-Christian. And that’s what makes these laws wrong– instead of encouraging a love of neighbors or even a love of enemies if you treat them that way, these laws exist to protect Christian business owners who rebel against the teachings of Christ and the New Testament by refusing to love neighbors and enemies alike.
These laws say , “If I’m asked to carry my enemy’s shield, I should have the right to not even touch it”, when Jesus says: “Don’t just carry it, but carry it further than what they ask you to.”
Instead of applauding and supporting such laws, the Christ follower should lament such a departure from biblical standards that require a generous, active love of enemies. We should be known as the people who radically love and freely give to anyone (Luke 6:30), as Jesus pointedly commands us:
30 Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back. 31 Do to others as you would like them to do to you.
32 “If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them! 33 And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you get credit? Even sinners do that much! 34 And if you lend money only to those who can repay you, why should you get credit? Even sinners will lend to other sinners for a full return.
35 “Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. 36 You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.
Last night I was reading “Love Of Enemies: The Way to Peace” by Klassen who had a fitting quote for a summary:
“Jesus nowhere prescribes regular church attendance or the tithe. He did not issue detailed instructions on sexual morality for his followers or whether they should drink wine or dance. But, he does tell them that they are to love their enemies. The more this fact comes home to us, the more any form of Christianity which does not take this teaching seriously is called into question. Judged in this light, the most popular forms of Christianity today stand condemned.”
These “religious freedom” laws are un-Christian because they encourage Christians to disobey the clear teachings of scripture to love and give generously. Instead of adopting “stand your ground” laws for marriage, we would be wise to embrace the biblical truth that love gives to all who asks. It bakes the cakes, it takes the photos, and yes– it even goes to the wedding.