Navigating Christian commerce in a secular society
If you consider yourself a gay rights supporter, I’d like to ask you a question: Do you or have you tried to understand what we Christian business owners struggle with regarding providing services for same-sex marriages? I hope that in the interest of fairness you’ll take a minute to read this, and you might be surprised to learn what my introspection has led me to conclude.
My husband and I own and operate a small, outdoor party center. Before our season last year I gave some considerable thought to what we would do if approached by a same-sex couple to rent our facility for their wedding, and I talked about that here. Since then two things have happened: same-sex marriages have become legal in every state, and ours has become a popular wedding venue. So I’m thinking it’s only a matter of time. What should I do as a Christian who is also a law-abiding citizen?
First of all, I hope you can appreciate and affirm the conclusion that if God exists, his law supersedes man’s. So believers like me know that when the government tells us to do something that God forbids, we must choose to obey God. That is what the freedom of religion guaranteed in the First Amendment is supposed to protect. Some laws are obvious infringements, like forbidding the free assembly for worship, as we see in many Muslim countries. Others are not so clearly discerned, so that even Christians will disagree with each other about them. Same-sex marriage in the marketplace presents us with one such debatable dilemma. Please come with me as I navigate the largely uncharted waters of faithful Christian commerce in an increasingly sin-approving society. ’Cause it’s gonna’ be a bumpy ride and I’m a little scared.
One thing is crystal clear to me – that homosexual activity is a sin. I won’t defend the evidence for that here, but I can. Two men or two women entering into a legal contract that they consider a marriage, however, is something different. I see same-sex marriage as a legal fiction gone awry, and a cultural accommodation for sin. It’s certainly not a legitimate marriage in God’s eyes. But though he disapproves, I don’t believe he requires me to disengage from all involvement in or association with people or activities that are not aligned with his will. That’s what the apostle Paul seems to be saying in his first letter to the Corinthians.
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” – 1 Corinthians 5:9-13
Paul’s concern here is for the purity of the church, that what is sinful is identified and shunned, sometimes necessitating the shunning of church members who are loving their sin instead of God. But, he says, if they were to separate themselves from all persons who are sexually immoral, greedy, drunkards, etc., they’d have to build themselves a little commune and never leave. Just as God had very specific requirements and restrictions for the Israelites because they were a people chosen and set apart for himself, so is the church to be holy (the word means set apart for God). Accommodation must not be made for those who identify as believers but whose lives are anything but holy.
But the unholy unbelievers are not to be judged in the same way; in other words, not to be convicted and sentenced to a boycott or blacklist. We are called to judge sin the way a jury determines the guilt or innocence of a defendant. But we are not the judge who condemns and sentences.
Well, it’s getting late and I need to pull into port. Tomorrow I’ll explore the sometimes dangerous deeps of living out this distinction as a Christian business owner. I hope you’ll return for the second leg of my journey.