The issue before us isn’t unlike what the church has faced in times past. In times past, entry into the civil sphere and marketplace were contingent on Christians paying homage to idols or pinching incense before the imperial cult. The question now is whether the state should use its police powers to be able to force people to do what they believe is a denial of their deepest convictions. That’s not just a question for Christians by Christians, but of the common good for everyone else.
Political columnist Kirsten Powers has earned the respect of the Evangelical community. The story of her conversion was an unambiguous home run. She’s also responsible for helping raise attention about the atrocity of the Kermit Gosnell case.
She’s a sharp, intellectually honest thinker who does a good job of keeping conservative evangelicals on their toes. I don’t know Kirsten well, but in October, I was honored to moderate a panel with her and other leading thinkers on the subject of religious liberty.
Her most recent column, though, doesn’t fit with her commendable work on international religious freedom. Conflating theological categories, her column missed the concern that Evangelicals have over the creeping hostility to religious liberty, particularly in the context of gay rights.
I won’t take time to review her column in length, so I suggest you read it.
But the essence of her argument is this: In the context of legislatures trying to brace for the coming day of a fifty state same-sex marriage ruling, Christians are arguing for religious liberty legislation that is tantamount to “Jim Crow” laws. The concern is over advocacy for language that strips homosexuals of basic rights and creating de jure segregation.
Let me say upfront, some legislation contains confusing bill language and is indeed in need of clarification. Few dispute that fact. I don’t think this debate is or should be about denying gay persons public services available to the general public. That’s deplorable.
Were a national fast-food chain to begin prohibiting homosexuals from dining in their facilities, I would no longer dine there myself. Even the Washington state florist, for example, is well documented to have provided flowers for gay customers. What’s at stake in this context is when individuals who provide material and artistic craft for weddings are then forced to take their talents and their creative abilities and use them for purposes that go against their consciences.
The mistake is this: The idea that forcing persons to participate in activities they consider sinful is the equivalent of Good Samaritan mercy ministries.
Jesus was a friend of sinners, the argument goes, so Christians should sacrifice their “rights” for the sake of loving and serving their neighbor, the dispossessed, the marginalized.
Jesus was a friend of sinners, indeed, but Jesus wasn’t a friend of sin. His infectious holiness led him to love and befriend sinners, but all of this was aimed toward a particular end.