Versus and clobber verses: ‘It’s an almost impossible situation’

Travis Loller’s Associated Press piece, “Churches Changing Bylaws After Gay Marriage Ruling” offers a decent overview of how some local congregations who have implicitly opposed marriage equality are now making sure this isn’t just an unwritten rule, but a part of their explicit policy.

That’s a legitimate concern for faith-based non-profits, schools and other agencies who want to practice religious-based employment discrimination — they need to get that down in writing as an explicit religious conviction. But it’s unnecessary for churches imagining some nonexistent threat of the government telling them who they can and cannot marry. The right of religious institutions to marry or not marry as they see fit has always been, and remains, unquestioned and unchallenged. (Divorced Catholics looking to remarry, for example, can’t hope to take their local Catholic church to court to force the local priest to bless their wedding. And I couldn’t sue the local synagogue for refusing to allow me to marry there because I’m not Jewish.)

Loller notes that the panic leading to some of this rewriting of marriage bylaws is unfounded. But, of course, being an AP reporter, he can’t just supply those corrective facts. He has to do so in “he said/she said” style by attributing them to the “other side.”

“Critics, including some gay Christian leaders, argue that the changes amount to a solution looking for a problem,” Loller writes in the same way that AP reporters always write things like, “Critics, including some scientists who have studied the matter, argue that the Earth is not flat.”

Still, though, this may be a useful exercise for some churches. Attempting to articulate their implicit beliefs as a formal policy requires them to examine and justify those beliefs in a way they may have avoided doing previously:

In more hierarchical denominations, like the Roman Catholic Church or the United Methodist Church, individual churches are bound by the policies of the larger denomination. But nondenominational churches and those loosely affiliated with more established groups often individually decide how to address social issues such as gay marriage.

Eric Rassbach is an attorney with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a public interest legal group that defends the free expression rights of all faiths. He said it is unlikely the government would try to force a pastor to perform a same-sex marriage, but churches that rent out their facilities to the general public could face problems if they refuse to rent to gay couples.

Although his organization has not advocated it, he said it could strengthen a church’s legal position to adopt a statement explaining its beliefs about marriage.

Rassbach is right that it is “unlikely the government would try to force a pastor to perform a same-sex marriage” — although “unlikely” seems a bit understated for something so pointless, illegal and unprecedented. We could also, I suppose, say it was “unlikely” that the government would force churches to baptize unbelievers. Or that it was “unlikely” that the government will mandate conversion to a particular religious sect. Those statements would be true as well if we use “unlikely” in the Rassbachian sense of utterly impossible.

Justin Lee is the reality-based “some critic” Loller allows to speak in lieu of reporting fact as fact:

“They seem to be under the impression that there is this huge movement with the goal of forcing them to perform ceremonies that violate their freedom of religion,” said Justin Lee, executive director of the Gay Christian Network, a nonprofit that provides support for gay Christians and their friends and families and encourages churches to be more welcoming.

“If anyone tried to force a church to perform a ceremony against their will, I would be the first person to stand up in that church’s defense.”

Loller also allows some unnamed attorneys to correct the misimpression otherwise reinforced by this article:

Some denominations are less concerned about the Supreme Court rulings. The Assemblies of God, the group of churches comprising the world’s largest Pentecostal denomination, sought legal advice after the rulings. An attorney for the group distributed a memo to ministers saying there was no reason to change their bylaws.

But what fascinated me most in this article was Loller’s conclusion, which captures the way the culture is knocking at the door of the church, leaving many in it perplexed:

The bylaw changes are coming at a time when many churches are wrestling with gay marriage in general and are working hard to be more welcoming to gays and lesbians.

“It’s probably one of the most difficult issues our churches are facing right now,” said Doug Anderson, a national coordinator with the evangelical Vineyard Church. “It’s almost an impossible situation to reconcile what’s going on in our culture, and our whole theology of welcoming and loving people, versus what it says in the Bible.”

Poor Doug Anderson can’t reconcile this “impossible situation” because he’s constructed it as irreconcilable. He’s created a contrast and a contradiction, and now he despairs of any way to resolve it.

Just look at that phrase: “Our whole theology of welcoming and loving people versus what it says in the Bible.”

Where does that “versus” come from? Anderson’s “theology of welcoming and loving people” is “what it says in the Bible.” That’s where the command to welcome and love people — all people — comes from.

But doesn’t the Bible also say that some people must be excluded? Yes, it does. It says that we mustn’t welcome foreigners or the uncircumcised or the unclean. It says that in many places, you can look it up. But it also says the opposite.

So how can we “reconcile” this “impossible situation” in which we have the Bible versus the Bible? Well, for Bible-based believers like Anderson, maybe it would be good to look to the Bible. How does the Bible itself reconcile these conflicting demands of the Bible?

Anderson, in other words, is in very much the same bewildered state that the apostle Peter was in the story in Acts chapter 10. “Peter was greatly puzzled about what to make of the vision that he had seen,” Acts says.

In that vision, he had been shown all kinds of unclean food and God had commanded him to eat it. It was “almost an impossible situation to reconcile” that command “versus what it says in the Bible.”

And that’s when a bunch of unclean Gentiles knocked at his door. That’s when “what’s going on in our culture” forced Peter to resolve his impossible situation. He accompanied those unclean outsiders back to a house filled with even more unclean outsiders — the very people “the Bible says” he was forbidden to associate with. That was, in fact, the first thing he said to them: “The Bible says I’m not allowed to go near you.” (“You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile.”)

“But …”

But the next word Peter says is “but.”

“The Bible says one thing, but …”

That’s terrifying for folks like poor Doug Anderson. They revere the Bible as their authority, their lifeline and lifeblood. And so, for them, if “the Bible says” we must never say “but.” If “it is unlawful” then it is unlawful no matter what else the Bible says about a whole theology of welcoming and loving people.

Who are we to question what “the Bible says”? Who are we to think that it could ever be acceptable for us to say, “The Bible says one thing, but …“?

But here’s the thing: “The Bible says one thing, but …” is something the Bible says.

Throwing off the shackles of clobber texts that force us to contradict love is biblical.


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  • Becca Stareyes

    More and more I remember a Simpsons scene where Ned Flanders, in a conundrum, goes through and lists all the Bible verses supporting each side of his dilemma, in hopes that he can figure out the right thing to do by majority vote.

  • Fusina

    I’m reminded of the bit in Huckleberry Finn where he decides that if his choices are to turn Jim in or go to hell, that he will go to hell.

    For what it is worth, I have also chosen to “go to hell”.

  • Hexep

    But do you believe in hell, the way that he believed in it?

  • Fusina

    When I chose, I did. I no longer believe there is a hell. I do not believe this makes my choice invalid, as I did believe in hell when I decided I would prefer to go there rather than to be unloving.

  • Hexep

    Well, that’s real courage, then.

  • Naymlap

    Short answer, yes with an if; long answer, no with a but.

  • Michael Pullmann

    “I’ve done everything it says to do in the Bible, even the stuff that contradicts the other stuff!”

  • Fusina

    Isn’t there a bible verse about there being no greater love than to lay down your life for a friend…

  • ReverendRef

    No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. — John 15:13

  • Fusina

    Aww, I was hoping someone would bring up the other verse

    Romans 5.7-8
    7Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die.
    8But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.

    Umm, I like Romans. It is delicious in its playing about with concepts, and repeating endlessly stuff, and there are some passages that are quite fun to read aloud–and then reread to see if you can figure out where the author was trying to go. YMMV, of course, but I find it to be good fun.

  • ReverendRef

    quite fun to read aloud–and then reread to see if you can figure out where the author was trying to go

    A reader at church was scheduled to read from Romans (I do believe) and he got going, sort of stumbled around, paused, looked around and said, “I’m lost.”

    It was a great moment and lived on for several years.

  • Fusina

    There are a few passages that can happen in.

    Having now gone back and skimmed over the first eight or so chapters, thank you for playing, I’m going to be reading the whole thing now–it is such a wonderful read.

    I know that for some it is fashionable to hate Paul and his epistles, but I like them. I feel sometimes like he is working things out verbally by writing them down (or dictating to reread later) and so sometimes it comes out overly verbose–but not in the way of cough cough jenkinsandlahaye cough cough.

  • Lunch Meat

    I’ve always wanted to perform/see a dramatic reading of Romans and the other epistles.

  • Fusina

    That would be fun both to watch and to perform.

  • Lunch Meat

    This is what it comes down to for me, when the rubber finally meets the road and I have to make a decision. Is the Bible a list of rules to follow, or is it a guide to help me hear the Spirit as I make my choices?

    If it’s the former, then it doesn’t matter how Peter came to the conclusion Gentiles should be welcomed. The important thing is the rule: before Peter had his vision, the rule was that Gentiles should be excluded; afterwards, the rule was changed. There may be reasoning behind the change or it may be arbitrary; it doesn’t matter. The rule is the rule as the rule was when the Bible was written. And you can’t use this story to extrapolate to other rules because no other rules were mentioned; if God had wanted us to extrapolate to something else than God would have just changed the rule for that other thing at the same time.

    But when I look at the Bible and I try to read it for what it is rather than what I need from it, I can’t believe that it’s a list of rules that I’m supposed to apply literally and absolutely to every situation. I just can’t. I believe that faith is more than that. I believe that faith is bigger and more dangerous than that.

    I believe that faith requires humility, forces me to admit that I don’t know the answer and no matter how much and how hard I study the Bible, sometimes the answer’s not there because it’s not supposed to be there. I believe that faith requires ambiguity, insists that I refuse a “one size fits all” answer and instead enter into relationship with people where they are, not where I am and not where I want them to be. I believe that faith requires that I give up my need to know what everyone else should do. I believe that faith demands that I place more emphasis on loving people and trusting God to sort them out than on making sure everyone knows the rules. And I believe that sometimes–not all the time–when it comes down to it and someone demands that I make a decision, give an answer to “Is this person right or wrong, what side are you on”… that I must answer “I will not.” Because sometimes it is not my decision to make and all I know is that I don’t know and I have to love anyway.

  • Lunch Meat

    I should add, for clarity’s sake, that if someone is hurting someone else then I will absolutely take sides and do whatever is in my power to help the person being hurt. The “sometimes” I refer to is if the action in question is not hurting anyone to my knowledge.

  • A

    if someone is hurting someone else then I will absolutely take sides and
    do whatever is in my power to help the person being hurt

    That very much depends on the situation. Normally, if someone is about to be stabbed with a knife, then it would be a good idea to step in and grab the knife. But if the person about to do the stabbing is a surgeon trying to cut out a tumour, maybe things might be different.

    (Which is to say: sometimes what ‘hurting’ means is not as simple as all that, and even the person who is supposedly being hurt or helped might not be the best able to decide which it is.)

  • Lunch Meat

    This is true, but I didn’t want to add qualifiers upon qualifiers.

  • swbarnes2

    So you know what the Bible REALLY is, unlike the 90-95% of Christians, past and present, who thought it meant something very, very different.

    Is that what you think of as humble?

    Even if the author of Exodus thought that the 10 plagues did not literally happen, he sure as hell thought that the children of Egypt, even the sons of the prisoner and the slave girl, deserved what they got in the story. But I guess you know what the Bible is better than the guy who wrote part of it? Is that what humility looks like?

    So, are you sure that YOU are reading the Bible as it really is, and not as you wish it were? There is a difference, you know, between the Bible giving no answer, and it giving a wildly inaccurate, or a morally reprehensible answer. Don’t you have to admit that there is a lot of those last two in the text?

  • Amaryllis


  • StevenAppelget

    Don’t? you have? a lot? of? questions?

  • Lunch Meat

    I don’t think I said what the Bible is (except for “guide,” which is quite vague). I meant to say what it is not. I apologize if that was unclear.

    And while I wouldn’t say that I know what the Bible is better than the people who wrote it, I would say that I wouldn’t trust the-writer-commonly-known-as-Moses’ opinion of “the Bible,” given that very little of it existed when the Pentateuch was written/orally handed down.

    Yes, there are parts of the Bible that are inaccurate and are based on a moral code I disagree with.

  • Isabel C.

    Don’t you have a dorm room to be smoking up in about now?

  • swbarnes2

    When I was in college, I would have thought that all this was marvelous, taking every stupid thing that Fundies believed, and laughing at it. Then I realized how childish that was. That people like fundies aren’t doing a crappy job of drawing conclusions based on 21st century Western liberal premises, they just had a completely different set of premises, and they are drawing conclusions from those, so of COURSE they will be different, and that cataloging and mocking every point of departure from liberal thinking or liberal Christianity is a waste of intellect; that the real question is to figure out what everyone’s premises really are, and how people ought to pick premises.

    If you take as a premise that God is real, and wants to be understood, and the Bible is how that was done, why is it so ridiculous to conclude that it therefore has to be understandable to people without fluency in ancient languages, or PhDs in Near Eastern ancient culture? If people don’t like all the moral conclusions that come from that, people should be arguing against the premises at the core of the thinking, not lobbing spitballs at the conclusions.

    My premises are pretty simple, and it’s easy as pie for me to state them clearly; 1) people make mistakes 2) other people matter as much as I do. Those axioms are utterly incompatible with burning witches alive, or torturing people for believing the wrong thing. You can’t follow those axioms, and think that the Passover story, or the Flood story is moral. But self-labeled Christians have thought that all of that was okay, because they held different axioms.

  • Isabel C.

    So instead you’ve decided to nitpick everyone’s personal belief systems on the Internet because blah blah logic blah blah premises? Because that’s…not Hey I’ve You Guys Heard How I’ve Just Taken Philosophy 201 or anything, no sir, not at all.

    I myself can think of several reasons why God could be real and benevolent and use the Bible as a communication tool while still having translation errors or being open to interpretation. I’m not Christian, but it doesn’t take much thought.

    And it’s not that fundies pick “faulty” interpretations based on yadda yadda philosophy major yadda that makes them mockable; it’s that they pick interpretations that go against humanity and compassion.

    “Simmer down, freshman,” is what I’m saying here.

  • Michael Pullmann

    “people should be arguing against the premises at the core of the thinking”
    And there’s your problem: You have an erroneous impression of the premises at the core of the thinking.

  • Isabel C.

    This entire line of conversation is making me crave Duncan-Hines brownies, for some reason. ;)

  • Amaryllis

    Is the Bible a list of rules to follow, or is it a guide to help me hear the Spirit as I make my choices?

    I have learned …
    That the truth is not in the stones
    But in the architecture;
    Equally, I am not deceived
    By the triumph of the stuffing
    Over the chair.
    If I must build a church,
    Though I do not really want one,
    Let it be in the wilderness
    Out of nothing but nail-holes.

    – Stanley Kunitz,, from “Revolving Meditations”

  • LL

    “It’s almost an impossible situation to reconcile what’s going on in our culture, and our whole theology of welcoming and loving people, versus what it says in the Bible.”

    (Jesus facepalm)

    I must not have heard of that part in the Bible that says, “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. Except for homos. And feminazis. And the undeserving poor. And Muslims.” Must be some new edition.

  • Daniel

    More and more I think the anti-gay marriage movement (particularly the ones mentioned in these articles) is driven by terrified men (as it does seem to mostly be men) desperate to be important. People who confuse certainty with strength, even when their certainty is in something false, and so will not back down or admit they are wrong or worse, irrelevant. That “our culture” has so widely rejected their anti-gay views means they are losing their relevance- if only in one area of life. They want to cling to whatever power they have, even to the point of drafting rules that allow them to claim victory when no-one actually attempts to make them perform a gay marriage. They can say “we’ve sent a message and now people respect us enough not to mess with us and MAKE us marry gay people.” They can delude themselves that they are strong, and that though they are a “persecuted minority” they are still a force to be reckoned with. Again they detract from the actual persecuted minority, turn their sympathy on themselves and then congratulate themselves for overcoming an enemy that doesn’t exist.

  • Invisible Neutrino

    whole theology of welcoming and loving people, versus what it says in the Bible.”


    When it can be shown that the Bible itself indicates why the Mosaic laws can be largely disregarded as a product of their time and no longer generally applicable, or for that matter a number of Jewish experts have sat down and concluded that there are aspects of the Mosaic law that no longer hold true today, then all I can conclude is that the only reason for continuing to regard Leviticus as having any force of validity is the EWW GAY PEOPLE reflex.

    God did not give people working minds in order that they refuse to use them.

  • MaryKaye

    “Ew gay people” PLUS “I don’t want men looking at me the way I look at women” PLUS “I want to feel superior to someone else” PLUS “My gender roles are threatened” plus….

    It’s a darned useful form of bigotry. I think it was CS Lewis (doubtless others too) who pointed out that if you rail against, say, greed, your whole congregation will feel uncomfortable; but if you rail against homosexuality only a small proportion will. That’s a lot more lucrative.

  • Jeff

    The concern isn’t that churches will be forced to marry gay couples, it’s that they will lose tax exempt status for refusing to do so. There’s no point in debating whether this might possibly happen; it already /has/ happened. cf: Indeed, I fully expect there will be responses to this comment arguing that churches /should/ lose tax exempt status for refusing to perform or host ceremonies for homosexual marriages or civil unions.

  • phantomreader42

    Your link didn’t work. I’m betting you’re referring to a church that was renting to the public and got caught violating laws against discrimination. That’s not the same thing. You’re not allowed to rent to only straight people, just like you’re not allowed to rent to only white people. Lying doesn’t help your cause.

  • Michael Pullmann

    The date on that link is also from four years before NY legalized gay marriage.

  • phantomreader42

    Of course, everyone knows causality is a commie librul conspiracy. :P

  • Lunch Meat

    Clearly laws prohibiting same-sex marriage are a threat to religious liberty. /extrapolating wildly and inaccurately from one example

  • phantomreader42

    No, such laws are clearly a threat to the space-time continuum. ;)

  • Lunch Meat

    That’s…not a church. It was a pavilion owned by a religious organization, and the reason it was exempt from tax was because it was certified under a program designed to encourage the use of privately owned lands for public recreation and conservation. Clearly it was not open for public recreation, since the owners refused to allow groups to use it if they were not bound by its moral standard. The organization was also not being asked to perform the wedding, nor would anyone expect them to. The rest of the organization’s property is still tax-exempt. It’s obviously not being punished.

    Maybe you should read the articles you’re citing before saying they support your cause, and also read the entire original post:

    The right of religious institutions to marry or not marry as they see fit has always been, and remains, unquestioned and unchallenged. (Divorced Catholics looking to remarry, for example, can’t hope to take their local Catholic church to court to force the local priest to bless their wedding. And I couldn’t sue the local synagogue for refusing to allow me to marry there because I’m not Jewish.)

    I doubt anyone here disagrees with the above paragraph. If you have a true example of a church losing tax exempt status for refusing to perform a marriage ceremony for any couple, I would love to hear it (but please note that some places have proposed laws where it would be actually illegal for a religious minister to perform a marriage ceremony for gay couples. In other words, I don’t think you’re the one being persecuted.)

  • Jeff

    I think that if you view the article I linked to as a bellwether rather than a proof-text, perhaps the need to nit-pick the details (“it’s not a church, it’s a ‘religious organization'”) lessens somewhat, and you can see the point that it makes. I don’t share your confidence that no one here, or elsewhere, wants to see churches branded as discriminatory, and have them lose tax-exempt status. I don’t think I’d call that “persecution”, but it’s certain not “no big deal” either.

  • phantomreader42

    You said it was a church that lost its tax exemption for refusing to perform a same-sex wedding.
    It wasn’t a church.
    The non-church was never asked to perform a same-sex wedding.
    The incident happened years before same-sex marriage was legally recognized.
    The non-church did not lose its tax exemption for refusing to perform a same-sex wedding it was never asked to perform and that wouldn’t be legal for years.
    The non-church was supposedly open for public use, but refused to allow the public to use it.
    The non-church lost its tax exemption because it violated anti-discrimination laws.
    The non-church was being punished for lying and breaking the fucking law. But you can’t bring yourself to admit that, because the facts don’t support your bigotry and paranoia.
    Literally every claim you made about this situation was false. Untrue. A lie. You lied, Jeff. Isn’t that imaginary god of yours supposed to have some sort of problem with bearing false witness?

  • Lunch Meat

    The tax code is built on details and nitpicking. There is a huge difference between a church and a religious organization and a huge difference between the tax exemption given to churches and to organizations providing public recreation. I could point to a church cited for, I don’t know, building code violations and suggest that points to coming threats to religious liberty, but I wouldn’t expect anyone to take me seriously because it’s in a totally different category.

    Can you come up with any example of something even slightly similar to what you’re worried about happening? In other words, has any church or minister in the USA ever lost tax-exempt status for refusing to perform or host the ceremony for any couple in their sanctuary for any reason (I say sanctuary because a community building or rec center would not qualify; I’m looking for a room that specifically has a religious function)?

    If not, then it could happen, but it doesn’t seem very likely. Like I said, I’d be very interested in hearing about it if it does, but until then, maybe you could be less worried about something that might possibly happen someday to your freedom and more happy that some people are finally free to marry who they love.

  • Jeff

    Fair point. I don’t think the Ocean Grove is actually inapplicable, but the closest somewhat-related situation involved the Boston Catholic Charities ending decades of participation with the state in adoption placements due to a moral objection to placing children with same-sex couples and a fear of running afoul of anti-discrimination laws. Again, not a case of “persecution”, and again, it’s a bellwether, not a proof-text. I don’t have any examples of a post-DOMA-ruling incident in which a church lost its status. Will it happen? We don’t know. Could it happen? You say no, I say yes. Is it a big deal if it happens? It’s subjective, I guess; you say no, I say, well it doesn’t really matter what I say, the point is simply that, it’s what churches are worried about. That’s mostly all I wanted to say. Thanks for the discussion.

  • Kubricks_Rube

    Could it happen? You say no, I say yes.

    If it could happen now, it could have happened at any time in our nation’s history. Same-sex couples are only the newest group that houses of worship can choose to marry or not with no tax repercussions. Why would this suddenly change?

  • Lunch Meat

    If you’re out, then that’s fine, but I want to clarify: I’m not asking for an example post-DOMA-ruling of a church losing status due to discriminating against a gay couple. I’m asking if any church has ever in the history of the US been penalized for refusing to marry a couple for any reason. If not, then it doesn’t matter who wants it. It can’t happen because the government follows certain rules and one of those is a guarantee of religious liberty. You can debate about what that applies to but no one is saying marriage ceremonies performed by churches aren’t covered under the free exercise clause. I’m confident there are enough people who support the right of churches to decide who they will marry–including, in case you missed it, the ED of the Gay Christian Network–to not let that guarantee be changed. It’s a non-issue in the same way that the government suddenly saying Christians are not allowed to sing certain hymns or the press is not allowed to say anything the government doesn’t like is a non-issue: It could happen, but it would have to be in a situation far removed from this one because so many of our freedoms and safeguards would have to be dismantled first.

  • Michael Pullmann

    So “the closest somewhat-related situation” was a religious charity (not a church) voluntarily (not forced) withdrawing from adoption placement (not losing their tax-exempt status) because they didn’t want to stop discriminating against people (not because the law forced them to).
    What, exactly, is it going to take for you to admit you don’t have a leg to stand on?

  • Carstonio

    There is no valid “moral objection” to placing children with same-sex couples, just irresponsible demagoguery that the kids will grow up to be gay themselves. Catholic Charities is essentially saying that it’s better for kids to go without parents than the agency be tainted by any contact with homosexuality. By no stretch of the imagination can that position be moral. Almost like they really believe that homosexuality is contagious.

    Placing children with adoptive parents is not inherently a religious mission, although many religions do have doctrinal reasons for doing this as a public good. Religious organizations who seek to become contractors for a government service shouldn’t demand that the contracting rules and procedures be tailored for their benefit.

    Ultimately the sexual orientation of any individual or couple shouldn’t be up for approval or disapproval by anyone else. If the agency really believes that children are harmed by being raised by same-sex parents, they why isn’t it campaigning to make this illegal, to have social service agencies forcibly remove the children?

  • Jeff

    I’m not sufficiently conversant with the facts of this case in particular or the beliefs of the Catholic church in general to know what specific reason they oppose adoption by homosexual couples, but whatever the reason, quite obviously the situation they were seeking to avoid was getting slapped with a discrimination lawsuit.
    There are lots of things that churches do that aren’t inherently religious, but that nevertheless have tangible benefits to their communities. Hosting AA meetings isn’t inherently religious. Making space available to community groups isn’t inherently religious. Running a food pantry or a homeless shelter isn’t inherently religious. Running a school isn’t inherently religious. But these kinds of services, and others, do benefit people. And if churches start to get hit with lawsuits for discrimination, well, few churches have the financial resources to take on something like that, and probably the decision many will make will be to simply disengage from providing services that might expose them to such lawsuits.

  • Lunch Meat

    I think you missed the important point that Boston Catholic Charities was partnering with the state. In all of the areas you mentioned, in most cases, the church would partnering with private groups or working independently. As I understand it, non-discrimination rules do not apply to private non-profits running a homeless shelter or food pantry, and AA, Boy Scouts and other groups can choose whether or not and under what circumstances to make agreements with churches (I could be wrong in the specifics here). But I see no reason why the government can’t require groups partnering with it to follow its rules. I’m not an expert in adoption law, but I believe that there are no non-discrimination regulations applying to private adoptions, so BCC can still manage adoptions for people under its own rules, just not while working with the state.

  • Carstonio

    You and I made the same point at almost the same time. I would argue that the government has a responsibility to ensure that its partners abide by First Amendment rulings.

  • Carstonio

    Many houses of worship have long refused to officiate for weddings for interfaith couples, or couples of other religions, and I know of no lawsuits for that reason. The distinction you fail to recognize is that Catholic Charities was acting as a government contractor, not a private entity. So if it practiced discrimination while receiving government money for adoption placements, the ultimate liability belonged to the government. If Catholic Charities dealt only with private adoptions, it would be free to refuse any couples it wished. Your extrapolation seems to assume that the First Amendment doesn’t exist.

  • Jeff

    All three of you (KR, C, and LM) make good points, but I still think there are bigger repercussions to this kind of thing than you’re considering. It’s true that the BCC was a government sub-contractor in this specific situation, but the concern about anti-discrimination cuts more broadly. To wit, I’m sure you’re aware that, e.g., wedding photographers and bakers have been compelled to provide their services to same-sex weddings, even though they are morally opposed to such unions. So it’s not just as simple as saying “churches can’t sub to the gov’t” — churches participate in public life in many ways that could run afoul of anti-discrimination laws, or at least, could expose them to anti-discrimination lawsuits.

  • Carstonio

    wedding photographers and bakers have been compelled to provide their services to same-sex weddings

    Citation, please. I’ve heard only about businesses that freely chose to discontinue wedding services entirely even though no lawsuits were even being threatened.

    Please stop using “morally opposed” to describe their position, because it has nothing to do with morality. If they really felt that homosexuality was detrimental to the public good, they would campaign for it to be a criminal offense. But no, they seem more interested in swaddling themselves in their feelings of offense, at things that aren’t any of their business in the first place.

  • Lunch Meat

    This happened in New Mexico recently: One of the judges agreed this forced the photographers to compromise their beliefs, but rightly said “That compromise is part of the glue that holds us together as a nation,
    the tolerance that lubricates the varied moving parts of us as a
    people.” Although people like Al Mohler are disingenuously claiming the judge said that Christians are being forced to compromise their beliefs and the SSM movement isn’t, the fact is that this is a compromise we all make. The couple who won the lawsuit, for instance, would have to compromise if they went to work at a bookstore and had to sell Bibles that they didn’t believe. I can’t open board meetings at my job with a prayer to Jesus, but neither can it be opened with a Shema or a Pagan ritual. So yes, we all can be exposed to anti-discrimination lawsuits if we run businesses. The constitution never guarantees us a right to own a business. Business owners have the right to offer services to everyone or not run their business. It’s the price we pay for living in a society that protects differences of opinion.

  • Carstonio

    Thanks for the link, and I agree. I maintain that the photographers weren’t being forced to “compromise their beliefs” at all. Those beliefs should only apply to their own sexual orientations and no one else’s. They’re acting as if they have the right to decide what orientations other people should have. They’re arguing for a definition of the conscience that would make it impossible for them to live in a pluralistic society, and very likely that’s no accident. Far more reasonable for them to take a live-and-let-life attitude with clients, with the orientations of both owners and clients being off the table.

  • Lunch Meat

    I should add that if they love their job but can’t stand the thought of providing a service to a wedding they disagree with, they have other options than just “going out of business.” For instance, they could find a large-ish church in the area and seek to be hired as photographers for all of their services and events. Or they could be the kind of photographers that take pictures of whatever they want and then sell the prints. But again, we’re not guaranteed a right to stay in business without having to follow the rules that other businesses follow. You may be concerned about the ramifications of this, but I’m concerned about business owners being able to get out of regulations that might cost them just by citing religious beliefs.

    Also, one of the objections this particular photographer had is that by taking pictures of the wedding and making it look pretty, they were participating and celebrating it. I think–and this is just my opinion as a Christian–if they are concerned about using their skills to make something they disagree with look good, they should consider whether they may have inadvertently made (for instance) an abusive couple look good, but overlooked it because the couple was straight. If they want to use their art to only speak what they see to be true–which I understand–then their photography should be a personal service they provide to friends and relationships they support. Otherwise, it’s a business and they should treat it like one.

  • Carstonio

    Exactly. A professional photographer’s work at a wedding is not an endorsement of the couple’s union. Any photographer who feels otherwise has a highly exaggerated sense of responsibility, almost paternalistic.

  • Lunch Meat

    Well, I can see it if they have an artistic view of their work–but artistic expression mixed with a job is going to run into more problems than just non-discrimination lawsuits. Other problems are just going to be more easier to ignore.

  • Jeff

    You may be correct with regard to the photographers, I may be misremembering. What do you mean that it has nothing to do with morality? You aren’t saying that churches, and (some) Christian individuals, don’t have moral objections to homosexual behavior, are you? Because that’s obviously not accurate.

  • Ross

    And if a wedding photographer had a relgious objection to miscegenation, of course you’d stand by their right to refuse to serve mixed-race couples?

  • Kubricks_Rube

    But again, in all your examples there is nothing new. The legality of these things vary across jurisdictions, but there are a plethora of avenues for discrimination that have nothing to do with LGBT people or same-sex married couples. If an AA meeting isn’t allowed to turn away an atheist, they aren’t allowed to turn away a lesbian. If a homeless shelter can’t be whites only, it can’t be straights only. If an adoption agency can’t refuse Jewish couples, they can’t refuse same-sex couples. But if you think religious-run organizations should be exempt from non-discrimination laws, then all those examples should apply, not just the anti-gay ones.

  • Ross

    I think on some level, they actually do think they should be able to do that. They think of their choice not to exclude jews from adopting and atheists from AA as magnaminity on their part, not a right due to those people.

  • Kubricks_Rube

    This case is fairly well known but perpetually misunderstood. What actually happened:

    Ocean Grove is a ministry that owns an open-air pavilion which it rents out for weddings and other events. They refused to let two lesbians rent the space for
    their civil union ceremony, and as a result, lost their property tax exemption on the pavilion.

    Oh, the horror.

    From Ocean Grove’s lawyer:
    “The government should not be able to force a private Christian organization to use its property in a way that would violate its own religious beliefs.”

    …ignoring that the group never was forced to rent to the lesbians.

    The actual facts aren’t so ominous. Ocean Grove simply applied for the wrong kind of property tax exemption. Instead of basing it on religious grounds, they
    applied under a state program that gave non-profit corporations a tax break on property that is “open for public use on an equal basis.” Ocean Grove obviously
    violated that agreement and lost the exemption on their pavilion.

    But here’s the thing…

    Ocean Grove later applied for a religious tax exemption on the facility, and got it, leaving them free to discriminate without paying property taxes.

    And there’s more…

    Ocean Grove also owns chapels, chapels that don’t permit same-sex ceremonies, and never have. Those properties are also tax exempt. Why? Because they’re part of the group’s religious work.

    Ocean Grove’s religious freedom to discriminate against icky gay people was never violated. In fact, the full story actually affirms the religious right of the Religious Right to discriminate against us.

  • Jeff

    That’s interesting; thank you for contributing/clarifying. Too bad the NYT didn’t get the facts right (although perhaps the subsequent tax exemption on the facility happened after the original NYT article appeared).

  • Lunch Meat

    The NYT article may have left out the subsequent tax exemption or the existence of other chapels, but it doesn’t contradict anything in that account. Some people just aren’t reading closely enough.

  • Kubricks_Rube

    I’m confused by the phrase “other chapels.” There was no chapel involved in the original case. My link only mentions chapels to point out that their tax exempt status was never in question.

  • Lunch Meat

    I meant to say “other facilities, which are tax-exempt for religious reasons.” Got ahead of myself.

  • Kubricks_Rube

    No problem. Before I refreshed the page Disqus was labeling all of Jeff’s comments under your name, so I thought your comment was actually Jeff conflating chapels with other facilities.

  • Oswald Carnes

    So, in other words, you’re just another lying bigot goon. Not that it wasn’t obvious from every other think you’ve ever posted.

  • Jeff

    I’ve posted a lot of “thinks”, it is true. (Sorry to latch onto your minor typo. It’s what we bigot goons do, don’t you know).

  • Oswald Carnes

    Mostly, it’s what whiny boy detectives do, but “ignorant bigot goon” and “whiny boy detective” are not mutually exclusive categories.

  • Isabel C.

    I don’t think that churches should get tax-exempt status, at all, any more than any other community organization does. It’s not a hill I’m willing to die on, but if we get right down to it? I don’t really think I should be subsidizing your faith or asking you to subsidize mine.

    Why is this a big deal?

    I do think that “discriminatory” is a perfectly fine label for organizations that, well, discriminate–and “unfairly and bigotedy discriminatory” is a perfectly fine label for organizations that discriminate on the basis of race, sex, sexual orientation, etc. There are situations where the government should do something about discrimination and situations where it shouldn’t*, and I can see the argument that churches are a place where it shouldn’t intervene. But words mean things. I’m not going to avoid using the words that mean things just because you and other bigots might get your little fee-fees hurt.

    Why is this a big deal?

  • Jeff

    Do you mean, why should you perceive it to be a big deal? (I assume you don’t actually care why churches think it’s a big deal). Well, from a purely pragmatic perspective, if you cut off churches’ tax exempt status, you’ll reduce the amount that people will give to churches, which will reduce the amount of charitable work that churches are able to do.

  • Lunch Meat

    While, again, I don’t think this will ever happen–although I wouldn’t be particularly concerned about it if it did, given that I support house churches and the church did just fine without any government recognition or support in the first century–people who give to churches just because they get tax deductions would end up giving more money to other places that also give them tax deductions, which would result in those places doing more charitable work.

  • Isabel C.

    What Lunch Meat said, basically. There are plenty of non-discriminatory, non-religious (or at least non-church-based) charities out there. If churches are concerned about their congregations doing good in the world–which most of the bigoted sort are not, from what I’ve seen/heard–they can turn the collection-plate funds directly over to the Red Cross or Doctors Without Borders or whoever.

    In other words: nope. Next objection?

    And I assume that the reason the churches who think it’s a big deal do so is that they want to preserve their profit margin and believe they deserve tax breaks more than other nonprofits because Jesus. Can you offer an alternative explanation?

  • Original Lee

    Just as an historical aside, in many European and European colonial churches, the people were required to pay what was effectively a church tax, in many instances even if they didn’t belong to that church. IIRC in Maryland at one point, everybody had to pay a certain amount to the Anglican Church, even if they were Catholics or Quakers (not sure about Jewish), and the local government enforced collection of this tax. Even in Germany as recently as 30 years ago, the government would take part of your paycheck to support a religious organization unless you actively “stepped out of the church” by filling out some forms and jumping through some bureaucratic hoops.

    That’s part of the reason why churches in the U.S. are tax-exempt, I think. If the government is staying out of collecting taxes from the people for the churches, then logically the government should stay out of collecting taxes from the churches for the people.

  • Isabel C.


    I don’t know that the logical argument follows, though. Church tax classifies church as a government-provided service, thus violating church and state. Making churches pay the same tax as any other organization is just saying that, hey, you’re an organization that takes in money and uses US infrastructure; you pay your share for that just like anyone else does. The government isn’t “getting involved” in martial arts by collecting taxes from the karate studio in my example below, for instance, nor is it either endorsing or persecuting my brand of paganism by collecting taxes from me.

    But it’s a fascinating fact to know!

  • Original Lee

    Church tax recognizes the church as part of the governmental authority, rather than a government-provided service, so it would violate the separation of church and state. Many European governments did not recognize the separation of church and state until fairly recent times. The Founding Fathers deliberately incorporated the (then) radical notion that the church could not have governmental authority into the basic structure of our nation, which is part of the reason why there is no church tax. If the U.S. did not have separation of church and state and the Episcopal Church were the official state religion, and followed the model in use in most colonies at the time (and assuming that no changes were made between now and then), you would still have to tithe to the Episcopal Church, even though you are not Episcopalian. IIRC, Catholics in Great Britain until fairly recently had to pay a tax that went to support the Anglican Church.

  • Albanaeon

    You probably shouldn’t lead off with an argument more reminiscent of a gangster’s “be a shame if somethin’ were to happen to those poor people over there…”

    Try “separation of church and state” instead (churches not funding the govt).

  • Isabel C.

    I could see that one, though I’m actually on the other side of it–granting tax exemptions to organizations on the grounds of belief seems more church-and-state mingly than just saying hey, you take in X, you pay Y, and that’s true whether you get together to pray or learn karate or watch old cartoons.

    But that’s at least an argument I can respectfully disagree with.

  • Ross

    I’m cool with churches getting tax exemptions because they don’t get to influence or control our laws, and one of the founding principles of our nation is that taxation without representation is a Bad Thing.

    So obviously, since they have absolutely no ability to exert influence over the political discourse, they shouldn’t pay taxes.

    Wait, WHAT?

  • AnonaMiss
  • Carstonio

    That assumes that a sizable portion of the donations actually goes to charitable work and not to proselytizing. In my perfect world, the two functions would be done by separate organizations with the latter subject to taxation, since that’s not much different philosophically from a for-profit business. But pragmatically I don’t know how the tax code could be structured so that only a religious organization’s charitable work would be tax-exempt.

  • Baby_Raptor

    Nobody, not even churches, should be allowed to break the law.

    No church is going to lose their tax exempt status for refusing to marry any couple that goes against their doctrine *in their church.* Churches that lease properties for public usage have to obey non-discrimination laws for those properties. This is not persecution.

    Also, as Lunch Meat noted, you did not even read read the article you linked to. It makes no such claim that a church lost tax exempt status for refusing to marry a gay couple. Please stop lying.

  • Jeff

    Sigh. The word “persecution” didn’t come into the equation. Fred’s post said that Christians are over-reacting if they think they will be compelled to perform gay marriages. I don’t think that’s the real concern; I think the concern pertains more to churches losing their tax exempt status. Whether that’s “persecution” or not really doesn’t matter, the question is simply, could it happen? If you say “no it couldn’t”, or “no one wants that”, well, I just don’t think you’re right on either count. But we can wait and see; time will tell!

  • phantomreader42

    You said it had already happened. It didn’t. Your own example did not support your claim. You said something that was false, and that you would have known was false if you had bothered to make the slightest effort to understand the facts of the situation. You lied, and now that you’ve been caught you’re whining that what you lied and said HAD happened still COULD happen, which even if it were true would not change the fact that you lied.
    Jeff, if the truth is on your side, why do you have to lie so much?

  • Jeff

    Err…didn’t you say you couldn’t open the link? How do you know what the “facts of the situation” even are?
    No, I didn’t lie, and yes, the article supports my claim, but I’m not interested in discussing the specifics with you given your overwhelming penchant for argument-by-heckling. I won’t be responding to you further, now or ever. Adios muchacho.

  • phantomreader42

    If the article supports your claim, why did everyone who was able to open it report the exact opposite? Oh, yeah, because you’re a lying sack of shit, and now you’re running away from the facts like the worthless coward you are. Goodbye, and good riddance.

  • axelbeingcivil

    The article doesn’t actually support your claim; you said that churches would lose tax-exempt status for refusing to marry gay couples. They didn’t. Instead, they lost tax-exempt status for refusing to rent out a boardwalk property they owned to the couple for their wedding; a property that had received a lot of government money to be revitalized.

    A church losing tax-exempt status on a plot of land that is supposed to be open to use by all, and for which it has received substantial government funds for beautification and from which it receives substantial income, is quite different from the whole organization losing tax-exempt status for refusing to let gay couples marry in their church.

  • Baby_Raptor

    Yes, you did lie. You claimed that a church lost tax exempt status for refusing to host a gay marriage in their church building.

    1) It was not the church in question. It was a pavilion they owned, which was involved in a program to encourage churches to lease their tax havens for public usage.

    2) Churches are not legally allowed to discriminate when they allow property to be used by the greater public. They have to follow non-discrimination laws.

    3) The church did not lose tax exempt status.

    4) this was several years before gay marriage was even law in New York.

    So…Please explain how this supports your claim?

  • Oswald Carnes

    If churches are worried about losing their tax-exempt status it just shows all churches really give a fuck about is money. Yet another shock.

  • LoneWolf343

    Or, at least, care about it more than people.

  • AnonymousSam

    You’ve just moved the goalposts.

    The concern isn’t that churches will be forced to marry gay couples, it’s that they will lose tax exempt status for refusing to do so. There’s no point in debating whether this might possibly happen; it already /has/ happened.

    It has not happened. The church retains its tax-exempt status. The church will keep its tax-exempt status, even if they refuse to marry gay couples. The example you posted is not an example of this.

  • Baby_Raptor

    Do you actually recognize that you lied in your initial claim?

    Do you actually recognize that churches not being allowed to discriminate on lands they lease to the public *isn’t illegal,* or what you’re trying to say it is?

    The question “Could it happen?” is a bald-faced lie and moot. You know why? Because thousands of churches have been violating their tax exempt policies for years now by preaching politics and jack shit has been done. Hundreds of Right-leaning Christian leaders have been blatantly shoving your religion into everyone elses’ politics/lives, and not only have they not been punished for it, the GOTea has been passing laws to make sure they can *do it more.*

    One other thing I’d like you to think about. If this situation were reversed, and we were talking about an -insert non-Christian religion here- person who disagreed with Christianity, and their deep personal beliefs not being protected, would you be championing that person’s rights to not have to violate what they believe? Somehow, I doubt it.

  • AnonymousSam

    From what I’m reading, it isn’t because they refused to perform a ceremony — the couple wanted to rent their boardwalk pavilion for us of their own ceremony and the church refused, despite a history of allowing the public to rent the pavilion for non-religious purposes. If they had only used it for their own purposes, the judge would have ruled in their favor. In essence, by providing a for-profit, non-religious service to the public, their pavilion lost the tax exemption status associated with the church.
    It is worth noting that the church itself still has tax-exempt status, as does the beach they also own.

  • brgulker

    but churches that rent out their facilities to the general public could face problems if they refuse to rent to gay couples.

    Fred, I’m with you on everything you wrote, but I’m curious why you didn’t write about this phrase.

    It seems to me that there might be something to that.

  • AnonymousSam

    That may be in reference to what was discussed in the comments — a church which owned real estate and had tax exemption status on the property due to renting to the public refused to rent to a gay couple, losing the tax exemption on that property (but then obtaining it again when they applied for a different exemption type).

  • Lunch Meat

    I’m pretty sure there are ways to get around that if it’s the church’s own facilities used for religious functions as opposed to an outside property. I think the church we were married in didn’t rent its chapel to us, but we paid a fee for cleaning or something. It depends on how and to whom and under what rules they make the space available, I think.

  • AnonymousSam

    Right. They were basically just foisting off their taxes on the public by saying the public had a share in the ownership of the property, if I properly understand it. Now they’re straight up claiming the grounds as for use in religious functions, even if they’re still renting them out to people.

    Insert rant here about churches owning beachfront real estate.