Florist Rejects AG’s Offer, Stands Courageously on Principle, and Risks Everything

Barronelle Stutzman stands to lose everything—her home, her savings, her business, her livelihood—if she does not comply.

Your offer reveals that you don’t really understand me or what this conflict is all about. It’s about freedom, not money. I certainly don’t relish the idea of losing my business, my home, and everything else that your lawsuit threatens to take from my family, but my freedom to honor God in doing what I do best is more important. Washington’s constitution guarantees us “freedom of conscience in all matters of religious sentiment.” I cannot sell that precious freedom. You are asking me to walk in the way of a well-known betrayer, one who sold something of infinite worth for 30 pieces of silver.  That is something I will not do.”

 

If you haven’t been following Barronelle Stutzman’s case in Washington State, you need to be. She is the florist being sued by the state attorney general for refusing to participate in a gay wedding. The attorney general is trying to compel her to ignore her Christian faith and to participate in gay weddings. If she refuses, he is threatening the full coercive power of the state to force her to do it. She stands to lose everything—her home, her savings, her business, her livelihood—if she does not comply. I have an article today at CNN.com explaining the situation. The conclusion reads like this:

Barronelle Stutzman’s case is nothing less than an egregious violation of our first freedom. It is Caesar saying, “Conscience be damned. Submit to the new sexual orthodoxy or risk losing everything.”

This is not tolerance. This is injustice that flies in the face of this nation’s laws and traditions. And if this kind of thing can be done to a 70-year-old grandmother running a small flower shop in rural Washington State, then it can be done to you. No one’s conscience is safe if this precedent becomes the norm.

Late yesterday after news began to spread that a 70-year old grandmother was being threatened with financial ruin, the attorney general proposed a settlement that offers a small fine in exchange for Mrs. Stutzman’s agreeing to admit wrongdoing and to violate her conscience going forward.

Today, Mrs. Studzman has released a statement through her legal team that is as astonishing as it is courageous. Rather than accept the nominal fine and surrender her principles, she has decided to risk everything to stand for religious freedom. In her own words to the attorney general:

Thank you for reaching out and making an offer to settle your case against me.

As you may imagine, it has been mentally and emotionally exhausting to be at the center of this controversy for nearly two years.  I never imagined that using my God-given talents and abilities, and doing what I love to do for over three decades, would become illegal. Our state would be a better place if we respected each other’s differences, and our leaders protected the freedom to have those differences. Since 2012, same-sex couples all over the state have been free to act on their beliefs about marriage, but because I follow the Bible’s teaching that marriage is the union of one man and one woman, I am no longer free to act on my beliefs.

Your offer reveals that you don’t really understand me or what this conflict is all about. It’s about freedom, not money. I certainly don’t relish the idea of losing my business, my home, and everything else that your lawsuit threatens to take from my family, but my freedom to honor God in doing what I do best is more important. Washington’s constitution guarantees us “freedom of conscience in all matters of religious sentiment.” I cannot sell that precious freedom. You are asking me to walk in the way of a well-known betrayer, one who sold something of infinite worth for 30 pieces of silver.  That is something I will not do.

I pray that you reconsider your position. I kindly served Rob for nearly a decade and would gladly continue to do so. I truly want the best for my friend. I’ve also employed and served many members of the LGBT community, and I will continue to do so regardless of what happens with this case. You chose to attack my faith and pursue this not simply as a matter of law, but to threaten my very means of working, eating, and having a home. If you are serious about clarifying the law, then I urge you to drop your claims against my home, business, and other assets and pursue the legal claims through the appeal process. Thanks again for writing and I hope you will consider my offer.

I am amazed that the attorney general is really going to press this. I am even more amazed at Mrs. Stutzman’s courage. The case will be on appeal very soon, and we will be following very closely. In the meantime, pray for Barronelle. She has chosen the difficult path, and she really is risking everything to follow her Christian conscience.

Denny Burk is Associate Professor of New Testament and Dean of Boyce College, the undergraduate arm of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. This article first appeared on his blog and is used with permission.