A Middle Ground in the Religious Freedom Debate

By Mark A. Taylor

Does any Christian, in the name of religious freedom, really want the right to refuse service to a gay or lesbian? I doubt it. Christian restaurant owners, gas station operators, and Wal-Mart managers have been doing business with gays and lesbians for years, without a problem.

April7_MT_JNThe issue isn’t service—whether I’ll fix a grilled cheese sandwich for a hungry gay guy or sell a dress to a lesbian she’ll wear at her wedding. The issue is endorsement.

No one does a morality check before someone enters his business. Every day Christians do business with adulterers, fornicators, swindlers, liars, blasphemers, thieves—and practicing homosexuals. We repeat the mantra “in the world but not of the world,” and the best among us seek to show the love of God to every customer, both the holy and the horribly messed up.

We understand that Jesus had friends among prostitutes and swindlers and he loves all our neighbors, no matter what they do in their bedrooms. He wants us to do the same.

I don’t have to agree with someone to love him. But when he does something that violates my ethics, loving him does not mean I must participate with him in what I abhor. I will serve him, but I can’t endorse him.

This takes us to the dilemma of Christian bakers, photographers, and florists asked to help stage gay wedding ceremonies.

Trevin Wax, in a Religious News Service commentary posted last week, makes this clear. He proposes a situation where a woman seeks a professional to provide the cake for her divorce party. (Yes, Wax assures us, parties thrown by couples having an amicable divorce are becoming more common these days.)

Unfortunately, their wedding vendor is a devoted Catholic who believes marriage is a sacrament, divorce a grave sin, and a party celebrating a divorce a kind of blasphemy. “I’m sorry, but I don’t think I’m the right person to help with this event.”

“Oh, we’re religious too!” Cindy says. “We believe Jesus would rather us separate with a smile than soldier on in frustration.”

“I recognize your right to a divorce,” the wedding vendor says. “But I disagree with your take on what Jesus thinks about it. I still don’t think I’m the right person for this job. I don’t know how to decorate a divorce. I don’t know how to make blasphemy beautiful.”

What happens next? Switch the scenario from a “divorce party” to a “same-sex wedding,” and the vendor may be sued for discrimination or face heavy fines until she is forced to comply.

Wax points out that voices on one side of this argument believe forcing this baker to compromise his conscience is a violation of the First Amendment.

And, although there are activists on the other side who are “coercive and dismissive of any kind of objection to their agenda,” he doesn’t believe they’re in the majority.

The LGBT folks I know are respectful of people who are respectful of them—even if they disagree on the nature and meaning of marriage. Just as we wouldn’t support laws that force a Muslim to print magazines portraying Muhammad, or a businesswoman who opposes abortion to make signs for a Planned Parenthood fundraiser, I don’t believe that all gays and lesbians want to see people of faith jailed or fined for declining to participate in a same-sex wedding.

Wax’s conclusion: “Treating the LGBT rights/religious freedom conversation as a zero-sum game where one can only ‘win’ at the expense of the other is actually a ‘no-win’ for all of us.”

I agree with him. There is a middle ground. No one should be allowed to refuse service to someone in the LGBT community. But no one should be forced to endorse a proposition or practice he believes God forbids.

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  1. charlie maloney
    April 8, 2015 at 2:40 pm

    well said

  2. April 21, 2015 at 5:34 am

    This is a well reasoned article, and the distinction between service and endorsement is an important one. It is also one that will continue to be lost in the current political climate.

    As I understood it, a business can refuse to service customers anyway – I did not realise that there was a compulsion to serve “all” customers regardless. Will this “right” be extended to drunks, and to the verbally abusive?

    Other than special provisions for monopoly or near monopoly situations, I can’t see how a business can be compelled to serve all customers.

    Although the majority of LGBT may not be “coercive and dismissive in their objections” they are certainly in the “vocal” majority.

    Let’s continue to pray for them and for wisdom, temperance and respect in their conduct with others.

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