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Is Sexual Orientation the New Civil Rights Issue?

  • Debbie Holloway
    What topic related to Christianity, faith, and the Bible is trending online and in social media today?
  • 2014 Feb 25
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wed photo

In light of new (and proposed) legislation in Kansas, Arizona, and other states, pitting “gay rights” against “religious rights,” social media is bursting with commentary on whether or not sexual orientation is analogous to race, and whether Christian business owners have the right to refuse services to customers based on sexual orientation. Even in the Christian community, sparks are flying and heated words are being exchanged over the truly “biblical” position that Christians ought to take. Kirsten Powers and Jonathan Merritt recently wrote pieces insisting that Christians have no leg to stand on in refusing to do businesses with homosexuals.

Powers and Merritt write that Christians should spend less energy on fighting for legal rights, and more on what the Bible truly calls them to do in a situation like photographing a gay wedding.

“[The Bible does not] teach that providing such a service should be construed as participation or affirmation. Yet Christian conservatives continue to claim that it does. So it seems that the backers of these bills don’t actually believe what they are saying.  Because if they truly believe that a vendor service is an affirmation, then they need to explain why it is only gay and lesbian weddings that violate their conscience.

If you refuse to photograph one unbiblical wedding, you should refuse to photograph them all. If not, you'll be seen as a hypocrite and as a known Christian, heap shame on the Gospel. As all Christians know, Jesus saved his harshest words for the hypocritical behavior of religious people. So, if Christian wedding vendors want to live by a law the Bible does not prescribe, they must at least be consistent.”

The article goes on to question why Christian photographers or bakers seldom investigate every client, to ensure that no fornicators, unequally yoked partners, or divorcees are among them (as all such behavior is biblically condemned).

In separate articles, Powers and Merritt also write that this issue has an unseemly resemblance to Jim Crow laws of the civil rights era – where businesses refused to serve patrons of color. Merritt even invokes the words of Martin Luther King Jr, who said:

“I don’t think America will ever rise to its full maturity until all over this country we say that anybody who’s in a public business cannot deny anybody on the basis of race or color access to that business. He should not have the freedom to choose his customers on the basis of race or religion.”

Merritt comments on King’s words:

“One might argue that King was speaking about race and not sexuality, and we must be careful not to draw too close a connection between the Civil Rights movement and our current conversations about same-sex issues, as some have been quick to do…

But we must also consider the context into which King’s words were spoken. The basis upon which many pre-Civil Rights Southerners refused services to ethnic minorities was theological, not just cultural. For them, mingling races was not just improper or wrong; it was sinful.

…We can only conclude—like it or not—that Martin Luther King, Jr. likely would agree with Powers on serving same-sex couples. When it comes to the American marketplace, the ocean of religious convictions stops at the shore of public service.”

Many evangelicals are standing firmly on the opposite side of Powers and Merritt, however. Carl Trueman pokes fun at the trans community by asking, “Hey, if the LGBTQQC etc. community can use the language of bodily confinement relative to gender, why cannot I use it relative to eminent literary critics and my pitiful ambitions?” Russell Moore insists homosexual unions are obviously sinful for Christian photographers, but most don’t have the option of investigating less-obviously-sinful patrons.

"The photographer has, in most cases, no ability or authority to find out the sorts of things a pastor or church elders would about a marrying couple…Unless the photographer has a reason to think [there is an unbiblical basis for a marriage], he needn't hire a private investigator or ask for birth certificates and court papers to make sure it's not."

The Gospel Coalition features an extensive piece by Joe Carter affirming that sexual orientation is not analogous to race, in large part because historical Christendom has overwhelmingly affirmed the moral depravity of homosexual acts:

“The reason race is a category worthy of protection is not because it is immutable, but because it is a morally neutral characteristic that has proven to have a significantly detrimental economic and political impact. And based on these criteria, sexual orientation is not analogous to race.”

Another TGC article by Trevin Wax is a short summary of what chapter 3 of the biblical book of Daniel would look like, were it written about today’s culture in the USA.

“Therefore, when all the people saw anyone bowing down to Aphrodite, people of every state and region, race and religion, clapped their hands and celebrated the gold statue that the U.S. had set up.

Some took this occasion to come forward and maliciously accuse the Christians. They said to American citizens:

‘Long live your country! Our society has issued a decree that everyone who sees anyone bowing down to Aphrodite, must clap their hands and celebrate the gold statue. Whoever does not clap their hands and celebrate will be marginalized, cast aside, and silenced. There are some Christians however, who manage businesses, hospitals, pharmacies, and adoption agencies. They are bakers, photographers, and florists. These people have ignored you, America. They do not serve your gods or celebrate the gold statue you have set up.’"

What do you think? Are Christian business owners singling out one particular brand of sin by refusing to participate in gay weddings? Or should every business be allowed to refuse customers if they feel their actions might ‘affirm’ a sinful ceremony? Leave your thoughts below!

Debbie Holloway is the Family Life Editor for Crosswalk.com

Publication date: February 25, 2014