Christians have been placed on collision-course with anti-discrimination legislation, requiring them to participant in practices that they regard as sinful. Theologian Albert Mohler has written that in order to protect the constitution right of freedom of religion:
- Several states are now considering legislation that would provide explicit protections to citizens whose consciences will not allow an endorsement of same-sex marriage… Millions of American citizens are facing a direct collision between their moral convictions and the demands of their government.
For example, the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association was fined and required to rent their boardwalk pavilion to a lesbian couple who had brought a lawsuit against this Christian association for refusing to rent them the pavilion for their marriage. However, Kirsten Powers and Jonathan Merritt deny that forcing Christian participation in a same-sex ceremony is a violation of conscience:
- “Many on the left and right can agree that nobody should be unnecessarily forced to violate their conscience. But in order to violate a Christian’s conscience, the government would have to force them to affirm something in which they don’t believe. This is why the first line of analysis here has to be whether society really believes that baking a wedding cake or arranging flowers or taking pictures (or providing any other service) is an affirmation. This case simply has not been made, nor can it be, because it defies logic. If you lined up 100 married couples and asked them if their florist “affirmed” their wedding, they would be baffled by the question.” Kirsten Powers and Jonathan Merritt, “Conservative Christians Selectively Apply Biblical Teachings in the Same-Sex Marriage Debate,”
Powers and Merritt want to limit the violation simply to instances where the State coerces Christians to verbally “affirm something in which they don’t believe.” However, coercion is not simply a matter of being forced to say something. It is also a matter of being forced to do something.
Mohler astutely observed another problem with their reasoning. Whether “violating conscience” has occurred should not be determined by the public. Instead, religious freedom has always been recognized as an issue between us and God:
- Well, the issue is really not what “society really believes” about baking a wedding cake, but what the baker believes. Reference to what “society really believes” is a way of dismissing religious liberty altogether. If the defining legal or moral principle is what “society really believes,” all liberties are eventually at stake.
Mohler is correct! Who is to decide whether or not a Christian violates his conscience – whether hiring a practicing gay as the pastor is a violation of conscience; whether being coerced to bake a cake reading, “We are glad you stood up for gay rights” is a violation? If it is the state, then all rights depend on their whim, making our constitutional guarantees irrelevant.
There are certain things in which we cannot participate, even if this participation looks benign to the State. The Apostle Paul had warned that our participation in various rituals can powerfully impact upon our relationship with our Lord:
- Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? …Do not those [Hebrews] who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar? Do I mean then that food sacrificed to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons. Are we trying to arouse the Lord’s jealousy? (1 Cor. 10:16-21)
Likewise, we cannot be participants in the Lord and sin at the same time. Paul reasoned that even though the sacrifices are nothing in themselves, our participation in them is not morally neutral. Instead, it carries weighty relational implications. Consequently, we are not free to participate in activities that are offensive to our Lord. They arouse His protective and loving jealousy over our well-being. Although we can and should assist sinners, we cannot assist them in their sinful activity or promote their cause.
Paul warned that even when we simply ordain people, we are morally responsible and participate in fruits of their ministry:
- Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, and do not share in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure. (1 Tim. 5:22)
This certainly doesn’t mean that we can’t love people who don’t believe as we do. However, we cannot do anything that will directly endorse sin. I would suspect that Ocean Grove understood that hosting a lesbian marriage represented an endorsement, at least in the eyes of God. Elsewhere, Paul warned:
- Therefore do not be partners with them. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. (Eph. 5:7-11)
However, the secular State is now demanding that we participate in the “deeds of darkness.” Powers and Merritt insist that our reasoning “defies logic” and that participation in a gay marriage does not violate conscience. However, this kind of participation violates the Word of God.
The Apostle John warned a certain unnamed woman that by merely extending hospitality to false teachers she would be participating “in their evil work” (2 John 11).
Is this reasoning really so illogical? Would Powers and Merritt have sold petrol to fuel Hitler’s tanks or provisions to build his death camps? Wouldn’t they have been complicit in his deeds? Aren’t we also complicit in gay marriage if we agree to support it by baking for it or by photographing it?
They might argue, “What harm does this form of involvement bring?” On a pragmatic level, this participation promotes a lifestyle that not only violates Scripture but also destroys people. Just look at the stats!