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Monday, 2 March 2015

Flowers for Gay Weddings

I'm always interested in what James Emery White has to say about church and culture.   This post addresses an issue that we will find more and more in the UK and it's worth giving some thought to.   It reminds me of DA Carson's book "The Intolerance of Tolerance" in which he says that it's no longer enough to permit and accept things you don't agree with, you have to support them and be in favour of them if you're to be tolerant.  

By now, most have heard of the many and varied court cases related to conscientious objection, usually of a religious nature, to serving gay weddings. They are filling the courts as bakers and florists, bed and breakfast operators and caterers, are being sued for not wanting to engage in activity they deem supporting the wedding itself.

But now we are starting to get the decisions.
A judge ruled that a Washington state florist who refused to provide a flower arrangement for a gay wedding "because of [her] relationship with Jesus" violated the state's anti-discrimination and consumer protection laws.
Background: the couple asked the florist to provide flowers for their wedding in March 2013, three months after Washington state legalized same-sex marriage. The florist had served the couple at least twenty-times before, and knew they were gay. But when the request came to provide flower arrangements for their wedding, she said that she could not provide the arrangements because doing so would have constituted a demonstration of approval for the wedding itself.
"I just put my hands on his and told him because of my relationship with Jesus Christ I couldn't do that, couldn't do his wedding."
The charge against the florist was discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The State Attorney, who brought one of two lawsuits against the florist (the other came from the ACLU), said "If a business provides a product or service to opposite-sex couples for their weddings, then it must provide same-sex couples the same product or service."
But the legal team for the florist said she hadn't denied the couple flowers, just the arrangements. An arrangement, it was argued, was a form of free speech. They were welcome to her flowers. Further, they argued the florist's faith should exempt her from anti-discrimination laws.
In a sixty-page opinion, the judge maintained that "religious motivation does not excuse compliance with the law…In trade and commerce, and more particularly when seeking to prevent discrimination in public accommodations, the courts have confirmed the power of the legislative branch to prohibit conduct it deems discriminatory, even where the motivation for that conduct is grounded in religious beliefs."
More specifically, the judge maintained that while religious beliefs are protected, religious actions are not. When the state of Washington approved gay marriage, a Christian refusing to serve gay weddings became illegal.
The florist's attorney, Kristen Waggoner with Alliance Defending Freedom, said of the pending appeal: "The ruling basically said that if you dare to not celebrate same-sex marriage because it violates your religious convictions, that the government has a right to bring about your personal and professional ruin…Her home, her business…her life savings and retirement, these are all in jeopardy…all because of her deeply held religious views."
Many Christians are conflicted about such stories, not to mention verdicts. No one wants to see true discrimination take place.
But there is a significant difference between serving a wedding and, say, serving a meal. Many in opposition to the florist's stand want to link it to the civil rights movement and the abhorrent Jim Crow laws that were in effect until the mid 1960's.
However, the analogy is specious on several fronts, but most importantly because a wedding has always been a deeply religious event. Among many Christians, it is one of the holy sacraments. It is not about a general refusal of service on the basis of race, gender or even sexual orientation. It is about forced compliance in regard to what has historically been, and continues to be for most, a sacred act being treated in a sacrilegious way, and people being forced into participating in that sacrilege.
She would sell them flowers. She just didn't want to create something that would be used for the wedding itself. She didn't try to stop the wedding, or refuse them flowers for their wedding…she just didn't want to be aparticipant. They could use the flowers for whatever they wanted, but that was their concern. She didn't want to have to create something expressly used to, in her heart and mind, dishonor God.
Think of it this way: suppose she had been asked to make a floral arrangement for a Hindu wedding, a floral arrangement that was destined to be given as a sacrifice to a particular Hindu god. To make such an arrangement would be, for a Christian, unthinkable. It would be making something for a purpose that they simply could not bring their hands to craft. And for some reason, I think the court of public opinion would be with her.
To say that belief cannot be linked with action is to say that religion is fine as long as it isn't real. As long as it doesn't result in an actual lifestyle of conviction. It should be treated as a personal, private preference, but not a transcendent reality. As such, it must compromise itself to anything society deems desirable.
Let's not be naïve about the not-so-subtle agenda that seems to be creeping into the cultural discourse on such matters. For many, it is not enough for homosexuality to be allowed; it is not enough for it be accepted; it is not enough for gay marriage to be legal. The end game for some seems to be the penalization, if not criminalization, of any and all convictional opposition.
To my thinking, this is the heart of the "religious freedom" concern.
And this is the heart of the matter for the florist as well, for after being offered a settlement in this case she responded by saying:
"Your offer reveals that you don't really understand me or what this conflict is all about. It's about freedom, not money. I certainly don't relish the idea of losing my business, my home, and everything else that your lawsuit threatens to take from my family, but my freedom to honor God in doing what I do best is more important."
So when the argument goes, "Yes, of course I believe in religious freedom. But if you're going to be a photographer, you will have to subvert that to your role in society as a photographer. After all, you don't have to be a photographer!"
"Of course clergy and churches should not be forced to officiate gay weddings. But if they don't, they should lose their tax exempt status,"
...let's call it what it is. This is the active penalization of religious conviction, and the polar opposite of religious freedom.
Of course the photographer has to be a photographer. It is their vocation, their livelihood, the fruit of their training and education. If you want discrimination, here it is: you are saying you can't be a Christianphotographer, at least not a practicing one.
So there you have it.
A judge has ruled that a "relationship with Jesus" doesn't justify acts of conscience. The only problem is that a relationship with Jesus demands just that.
James Emery White


  1. Response to Keeping Attentive March 3rd

    Jesus welcomed sinners and ate with them. This damaged his reputation with detractors and disciples alike. His presence in these settings by no means changed all of the sinners, but it dramatically changed some of them.

    Jesus said, in various ways, that not only was judging people contrary to His kingdom, but that He had not come to judge the world but to save it. More than that Jesus cautioned His disciples not to judge others, lest they invite judgement upon themselves in the act of so doing: “by the measure you use, it will be measured to you”.

    Jesus, as is obvious, loved recklessly, this is our gospel. He loved those who loved Him and those who hated him. He was silent before His accusers and did not call down curses on those who tortured and murdered Him. Rather, He called down forgiveness on them. This, in part, is the gospel of Jesus Christ, the one who stood in the midst.

    So we come to our Florist. Is it not the case that she has missed the fullness of this gospel in her actions here or, worse still, defamed it slightly? She is reading the lives of these people through a filter of righteousness. She does not want to be associated with their sinning. Thus, she judges them as sinners and refuses to serve them. Is this not the very opposite of what Jesus did when He saved her?

    The Florist had a choice when she made her stand. She chose the way of righteousness and to be ruled by her conscience. She drew a line in the sand for us. However, when Jesus has that choice He walks along the beach with us. As Paul points out, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us”. Jesus, with a wry smile, insisted on limitless forgiveness. Thus, the Christian who copies this must process the grace of God by practicing forgiveness as a “way” not as an act. This means that we, as Jesus did, must seek to actively see and treat people as forgiven whilst they are still sinning.

    The purpose of Jesus standing in the midst with us (walking along the beach) is that we copy Him. The purpose of the gospel is to inject hope right into the midst of the lives of sinners - sinners like you and me, sinners like the florist, the gay couple, the judges, the American legal system. The saddest part of this florist’s well-meaning actions is that, after she drew her line in the sand, she was left defending the gospel of grace as an idea in a law court.

    The florist had another way open to her. She could have agreed to make a beautiful arrangement for them. She could have risked being friends with them. She could have been invited to the wedding and (with troubled conscience) accepted. If she’d done that, and all of us with her, we’d be found following a saviour who was criticised for His presence at the feast of sinners. He did not care about that more than He cared about loving people in the midst of their wrongs and in the midst of their lives.

    James Emery White says that a relationship with Jesus demands acts of conscience. I disagree. Relationship with Jesus is to have a conscience that demands acts of love.

    1. Thanks Jon. Couldnt disagree more.

      Jesus said "do not judge" but he clearly wasnt saying "never express any judgement about anything ever". The sermon on the mount has a reasonable amount to say I would suggest about morality and certain things being right or wrong. There are two gates, two paths, two types of house being built, not to mention the ethical stuff like anger, truth telling and sex. Jesus isn't saying "never express whether anything is ever right or wrong" he is saying that we should not be judgemental of others. We must not stand over others as if we are better. If someone is beating their wife Jesus says we should make a judgement on that. What we cannot do though is look down on such a person as if he needs more grace than we do. So, let's not have any nonsense about Jesus saying "dont judge anyone".

      The florist doesnt want to give the impression that she is condoning sinful behaviour that is leading the relevant people to destruction. How loving is it to affirm people in their suicidal choices? Obviously you have to have a view about whether sin leads you towards destruction of some kind and whether same sex marriage is one of these such sins. If you dont think it is then of course you're not going to agree with the florist; of course she's doing the wrong thing. But if, if sinful behaviours are detremental to us then to ask that you not be compelled to support such behaviour sounds fair enough.

      It's not correct that she doesnt want to be assoociated with sinning. That's a cheap shot. She's willing to supply flowers just not arrange them. It sounds a lot like Daniel 1 to me. "This far and no further".

      We have to treat people as forgiven even when they're sinning. Really?? So to return to the wife beater. We tell him he's forgiven. Not that we're judging him in the first place of course. He doesnt have to stop, change his mind/pick up a new agenda (repent). He's forgiven! "Wow that is good news....I can live however I want and I am forgiven....Please tell me how I can become a Christian!"

      God takes sin so seriously that the Son of God had to bleed and die on a cross. That's how much of a problem sin is. God loves people so much that the Son of God was willing to die. That's how much he loves us.
      The God you're describing doesnt sound very loving. He just forgives everyone and says none of it matters.

      Yes she could have gone to the wedding and supplied the flowers and then everyone would have thought how marbelous the Chrsitain gospel is. No they wouldn't. They would have thought precisely nothing of it.

      Sorry Jon but I dont find your version of the gospel the least bit compelling.

    2. That might be because you didn't accept, or address, the premise. Jesus associated with sinners and, by so doing, brought the gospel to them where they were whilst they were still sinners. The Pharisees on the other hand condemned sinners from a distance and told them that the gospel was only available if they stopped being sinners first. I'm not suggesting for a moment that the florist give up her position on sin. I'm suggesting that the gospel of grace is brought to sinners in an incarnate form. First, Jesus. Next us. How can you disagree with that? Your suggestion that the people affected would think precisely nothing of the manifest witness of a christian in their midst suggests two discomforting things. One, you know in advance how people will react to the gospel. Two, you are wasting your time encouraging the members of your church to go into all the world and seek to bring gospel values to bear in all places. I know you don't believe that. Your argument suggests that I think the Florist should be passive in her faith and thus, by your reckoning, condone sinful choices. I didn't suggest that any more than I suggested that Jesus ate with sinners because sin was no big deal to Him either. You need to take another look at what I said...

    3. But Jon we bring the gospel as we show that we are compellingly different. If there are no lines we won't cross in our deisre to be inclusive we have no distincitive.
      Let me ask you, where should the florist draw the line given her convictions about sexual ethics? She does the flowers and attends the wedding. What happens if she is asked to be an usher. Presumably she should accept becasue to say no would be to casue offense and not be like Jesus. What if she was asked to sing a song at the ceremony? Again she'd have to say yes. What if she was asked to make a speech saying how wonderful same sex marriage was. I guess she would have to do that as well. To hold back at any point would be discriminatorry.
      And that's the problem. I dont think that's what Jesus requires. I think we can say "I can do this but not that".

  2. Apologies if this is a repeat, but as far as I can tell, my original comment got eaten by not being properly signed in.

    Fundamentally I think the florist is confused, and certainly with regard to the law was always on a losing wicket. As a florist, supplying flowers for a wedding in no way indicates that you condone the wedding. I would be very surprised if she/the business hadn't previously supplied flowers and arrangements to various individuals and couples of whom she did not wholeheartedly approve, it would just have been less obvious.

    Further, supplying an arrangement for the wedding is no greater or lesser condoning of the relationship than supplying the flowers to the couple/individuals pre-wedding.

    So her whole premise is flawed, which doesn't help her case.

    There's then the wider issue of standing on points of Scriptural principle. I don't have a problem with that as a concept, but I think you're going to struggle to defend it successfully in this instance. Is one going to perform a full moral audit of all customers, or is one happy to trade with fornicators, adulterers, gluttons, cheats, liars etc.? What elevates gay marriage to such a special place?

    If you do want to make special pleading for marriage between two people of the same sex/gender, try the thought experiment of keeping the words and actions the same, but substitute an inter-racial marriage, or good wholesome white folk supplying services to blacks. We're not so many years from people deeply and sincerely arguing against racial equality, and against inter-racial marriage on what to them were clear, plain, coherent Scriptural foundations. Probably a small minority still would, although they'd be likely to do it quietly and with the rest of us raising eyebrows and shaking heads.

    If you are a business offering a product/service to the public without explicit limitation, then you have to comply with whatever equalities legislation is out there. We'd be outraged if someone refused to sell their goods/services to someone of a different ethnicity, or if an atheist refused to deal with a Christian, or any one of many other scenarios. I fail to see why the marriage of two people of the same sex (or gender, depending on how finally you wish to dice this) should be exempt. If you feel strongly enough, by all means refuse in a spirit of civil disobedience, but hand-waving for exemptions is just daft.

    For what it's worth I've had to give a lot of thought to the whole issue of "Is it right to refuse to deal with someone because I disagree with them" and "Does supplying a service constitute implicit support", so this isn't just off-the-cuff (although it is dashed off rather than studied). Ironically, the client that gave me pause for thought is a Christian organisation with whom I have some profound theological disagreements :)

    I've also given quite a lot of thought, time and study to the wider issue of homosexuality and Christianity, and suspect that we would differ in our conclusions. In love, of course :D

  3. Oh, and whilst I'm here, why on earth wouldn't a Christian florist make an arrangement for a Hindu wedding? What utter tosh. If you're going to take that line, then the shop needs to advertise as "Christian Florist for Christian People - for list of acceptable customers, please see terms and conditions inside" and then make sure that everyone signs a statement of faith and set of creeds to ensure that you're the right type of Christian.

    Legalistic hogwash.

    I presume such folk are going to have a coronary when they find out that their are homosexual Christians, and some of them will be getting married ...


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