Kirsten Powers and Justin Meritt wrote a piece in The Daily Beast about How Conservative Christians Selectively Apply Biblical Teachings in the Same-Sex Marriage Debate. The presenting issue is recent laws in Arizona which allow individuals and businesses the right to deny service to same-sex couples. The laws came into effect in order to protect photographers, florists, and cake-makers who can be sued for refusing to provide services to same-sex weddings. In contrast, Powers and Merritt claim “Christians wrestling with this issue must first resolve the primary issue of whether the Bible calls Christians to deny services to people who are engaging in behavior they believe violates the teachings of Christianity regarding marriage. The answer is, it does not.”
Now I understand that this might have a bit to do with American libertarian culture which I’m admittedly an expert on and this issue is just one front in the culture war about sexual equality and religious freedom. That said, and with all due respect to my buddy Denny Burk, I think Powers and Meritt are basically right.
First, it does not seem biblically defensible or morally virtuous for Christians to discriminate against one group of people in the name of conscience. I do not understand why it is okay to discriminate against same-sex couples because of their unbiblical lifestyle and yet to happily provide services for straight couples who are cohabiting together, committing adultery, and then there is the entire quagmire of divorce and remarriage. Nowhere in Scripture are we told to shun homosexual men and women in the work place or to deny them our business because of their choice of sexual activity. Nowhere in Scripture is homosexual practice the one sin that is more perverse than all the others so we must flee from it at first chance. I understand if someone wants to be a Christian photographer and only do Christian weddings, then fine. That’s a niche market, operating within a particular network, and serves particular people. But there is no biblical warrant to discriminate against one particular group because it is the center of heated debates in the culture wars. So I entirely agree with Powers and Merritt:
Rather than protecting the conscience rights of Christians, this looks a lot more like randomly applying religious belief in a way that discriminates against and marginalizes one group of people, while turning a blind eye to another group. It’s hard to believe that Jesus was ever for that.
Second, I would say that refusing to serve people who are “homosexual” or “cohabiting” is actually unbiblical because it shows a failure to love one’s neighbor and inhibits our mission to be salt of the earth-people actually among the people. You cannot love your neighbor unless you are willing to talk to them, walk beside them, and work near them. The consciences of the weak – and by “weak” I mean “sensitive” not “inferior” – must not be allowed to circumvent the clear biblical command to love our neighbors and force us into some kind of Christian ghetto where gay and lesbian people are not allowed to venture. We are not Pharisees, we are not holy by separation from the world, but we are holy as we bear witness to Jesus Christ in the world.
Third, the bigger issue is how Christians perceive their place in a pluralistic, pansexual, and postmodern metropolis. We are not in a position to bargain and insist that if we can’t Christianize the city, then we are entitled to our own private ghetto inside the city. My friends, listen up, as my good friend John Dickson once said, we are not living in Jerusalem any more, we are living in Athens. We cannot barricade ourselves in one little corner of the agora and say to gays, lesbians, greenies, and left-wing academics, “You shall not pass.” We don’t have the right to a ghetto, which is actually a good thing! We need to be out and about in the agora. Me, personally, I think the best place for a Christian photographer to be is at a gay Jewish atheist wedding, doing their job, doing it well, doing it for the glory of God, and doing it in such a way as to be praised for one’s professionalism, one’s fairness, one’s graciousness, and thereby win the chance to preach what one lives: the gospel of grace!
In sum, (1) If you want to live and work in a Christian bubble in order to protect your conscience, go ahead, but don’t expect to be able to selectively apply Christian standards to those who are not Christians in the post-Christian market place; (2) Christians need to think less about preserving their own holiness from fear of contamination and starting working out instead how their holy-state-in-Christ might be a contagion in the work-place where God has called them (HT: Craig Blomberg); and (3) Its time to remember that we cannot retreat to some ghetto to preserve our way of life and instead we should focus on being the salt and light of the world. Look, Christians live in the market place and think in the public square, we cannot retreat because we are surrounded by non-Christian culture, so there is literally nowhere to go. Our escape route is cut off, there is no cavalry coming to save us, there are no wagons to circle. So its time to set up shop, get busy as tinkers, tailors, and candle stick makers or get on as journalists, academics, and pastors in the place where God has put us!