For the past few weeks, I have watched the furor in Indiana over their Religious Freedom Restoration Act. I have watched with a mixture of amazement, concern, and frustration. I am amazed at how quickly this argument has degenerated into the worst aspects of the “culture wars” – name-calling, threats, and hatred. I am concerned because in a “war” someone always loses. I am frustrated because the argument goes crazy and real answers become clouded in rhetoric and confusion.
Opponents of the RFRA say it is a cunning endeavor to allow mean-spirited discrimination at all levels of our society. Proponents say it is a needed defense against forcing anyone to actively participate in ceremonies or religious services that are against their beliefs.
As I understand the intent of the law, at issue is NOT who gets served at a restaurant, but rather who is forced to celebrate a wedding. The battle has escalated into something far broader. It pits all civil rights of gay people on the one hand vs. the ability of anyone to in any way express their objections to the LGBT agenda on the other.
This sounds like the proverbial zero sum game. Any gain on one side is mirrored with the exact loss on the other side. In such cases, one side has TOTAL victory while the other side has TOTAL defeat. I hope and pray we are not at such a debacle. If we are, everyone loses. We can, under God, find a sane, biblical, and compassionate way to communicate and co-exist.
Three episodes lie at the core of the current legal debate. A fourth was added in the past three weeks. The first three are a florist, a photographer, and a baker. In each case, a small, privately-owned business was approached about providing services to a same-sex wedding. Each refused and was sued. Result: they each went out of business.
The fourth, most recent event took place in Walkerton, Indiana. A TV reporter canvased local businesses about their willingness to cater gay marriages. One such business was Memories Pizza. Owner Crystal O’Connor responded, “If a gay couple came in and wanted us to provide pizzas for their wedding, we would have to say no… we are a Christian business.” Whether you agree or disagree with her decision, it does not warrant what happened next. When the newscaster reported this, the internet exploded with threats, insults, and outrage. One high school golf coach tweeted, “Who’s going to Walkerton, IN to burn down #memoriespizza w me?”
Memories Pizza closed. They say they will reopen, but for now the public intimidation has shut them down.
Is this the America envisioned by the Pilgrims who came from England seeking religious freedom? They had been hounded out of their homeland because the free expression of their religious beliefs elicited civil and governmental oppression. Should Memories Pizza have been willing to serve pizza to gay wedding? (Who ever heard of pizza at a wedding anyway?) That’s not the point. They were driven out of business not because of what they DID, but because of what they THOUGHT.
At the core of this debate are some common sense truths we need to get clear about.
- I know of no one (legislators included) who want restaurants or landlords to refuse business to gays. If that is at issue, then let’s be clear. All people are deserving of respect and service in the workplace and in our society.
- The focus of the current conflict is PARTICIPATION in wedding ceremonies. That’s where the line needs to be drawn. It’s the wedding ceremony itself. All of the businesses mentioned above (except the pizza parlor) were being asked to enter into a religious celebration about which they felt their conscience could not allow. They were being asked to use their skills to beautify and celebrate something they believed was wrong.
- The ultimate question will be: Should churches and ministers be forced to condone and perform gay weddings? Of course, I say NO. The push for acceptance of gay marriage and gay lifestyle must not be forced on anyone who holds to the belief that to do so would violate Scripture.
- Freedom of religion is at the core of America. That may mean a Jehovah’s Witness not being forced to recite the Pledge of Allegiance or Muslim prisoner not being forced to shave his beard. Individuals and businesses must be allowed to live by their consciences so long as doing so does not actually inflict harm on someone else (and I’m not talking about just hurting someone’s feelings).
Religious liberty is not the freedom to hate. It is not the ability to exercise prior prejudices in the name of sanctity. It is not an attempt to force biblical standards upon an unregenerate society. Non-Christians should not be forced to live up to Christian standards.
At the same time, every follower of Jesus should be able to walk, talk, and live by the commandments of Scripture. In the words on the great Reformer, Martin Luther, “our consciences are captive by the Word of God.” I hope the dictates of “Caesar” do not again demand that we violate our consciences in order to survive economically. We are closer to that than we might think.