A Difficult Standard, a Tricky Balance

By Mark A. Taylor

The September 20 issue of The Wall Street Journal quoted from a 12,000-word interview Pope Francis had given to the Italian Jesuit journal Civiltá Cattolica. “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage, and the use of contraceptive methods,” he said. While affirming that the teachings of the church are clear about these matters, he added, “It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time. We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards.”

While many Evangelicals would agree that the church’s message must be broader than sexual prohibitions, it appears that another “house of cards,” religious liberty in the U.S., has already started to collapse.

Sept24_MT_article_JNMollie Ziegler Hemingway, also in the September 20 Journal, chronicled a spate of new actions against small business owners because they refused to violate their conscience by offering their services to gay wedding celebrations. Examples included a florist in Richland, Washington, a bakery in Gresham, Oregon, and a photographer in New Mexico. Meanwhile a host of civic officials have resigned their posts rather than process documents for same-sex weddings. Hemingway mentioned county recorders, magistrates, and judges in Iowa; justices of the peace in Massachusetts; and town clerks in New York. Many of these were told “refusing to perform services for same-sex couples will result in criminal prosecutions for misdemeanors or other sanctions.” And so, because of their deeply held religious beliefs about marriage, these civil servants just quit.

Most chilling in her column was the quote Hemingway included from legal scholar and gay-rights activist Chai Feldblum. In 2006, long before President Obama appointed him to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Feldblum said this:

There can be a conflict between religious liberty and sexual liberty, but in almost all cases the sexual liberty should win because that’s the only way the dignity of gay people can be affirmed in any realistic manner.

But Christians follow the One who always affirmed the dignity of even the vilest sinner before him. It’s a tragedy when homosexuals don’t feel that respect from Christians today. And now we have an even more complicated problem: How do we demonstrate the love of Jesus while also resisting the destruction of our country’s religious liberty?

We may feel the only way to do one is to ignore the other. But love does not force us to deny what we believe to be true, that the Scripture forbids same-sex practice. (The pope, by the way, has not denied that he believes this too.) We may encourage the church to be a place where homosexuals find a listening ear instead of a condemning stare. But this needn’t force us to seal our lips.

“Go and sin no more,” Jesus told the condemned adulteress, setting the stage for the goal his apostle would later set: “Speaking the truth in love.” It’s a difficult standard and a tricky balance, but never more needed as we navigate the waters of today’s emotional debates about gay lifestyles and gay rights.

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