“It’s the economy, stupid!” For those who remember the 1992 Presidential Election, we remember those famous words of Bill Clinton. Simple, short and successful toward helping Clinton become President.
It’s time for another simple, short and hopefully successful saying - “It’s the Gospel, saints!”
If you follow the news, you know this week that Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona, typically a staunch Conservative, vetoed a bill that would have allowed business owners to discriminate against same-sex couples and avoid lawsuits if they refuse services. This is no doubt a complex and divisive issue, even among Christians.
Many Conservative Christians responded with alarm, while Liberal Christians applauded the decision. Many others no doubt just avoided the sticky subject. Some probably prayed “Maranatha!” Certainly, I’ll agree with that prayer but I’m challenging myself again to rethink this “Culture War.”
In response to Brewers decisions, the Conservatives spoke out about how Jesus would not have “baked the cake.” Some pointed to the women caught in adultery to whom Jesus said, “Go and sin no more.” Some railed against the fact that Christian business owners should not be forced to go against their conscience, because same-sex couples are “living in sin.”
Other used slippery slope arguments that this opens the door to all kinds of other decisions. Why that is a result I’m not sure but slippery slopes arguments are typically logical fallacies. In this case I think they miss the point of what this decision was really all about, which I’ll get to in a moment.
On the Liberal Christian side, Jim Wallis weighed in with this statement:
“But the perception of Christian faith is in grave danger when Christians try to use the law to publically discriminate against those who don’t adhere to their point of view. I am a deep believer in religious liberty, but it must not be used as an excuse for discrimination in the public square or the public marketplace against people with whom we disagree.”
Jan Brewer said of her veto, "Senate Bill 1062 does not address a specific or present concern related to religious liberty in Arizona. I have not heard one example where business owners' religious liberty has been violated."
I know my Conservative friends are not going to like what I’m about to say next but it needs to be said - Wallis and Brewer are right.
Wallis is most certainly right about the negative perception of Christians. Even if we are living by the Gospel and loving our neighbors as ourselves, the “world” will still hate Christ followers (Matthew 10:22). But we don’t need to give them more reason to do so (Matthew 5:44).
Wallis is also correct that it’s not serving the public well by seeking to pass laws that discriminate against anyone on the basis of religious liberty. In fact, and while I’m no Constitutional attorney, it seems to me to fly in face of one of our most cherished American values - the 1st Amendment. Asking the government for the right to discriminate, on the basis of religious liberty, sets the government up as an overseer of religion - certainly never a good thing and not very Conservative.
Jan Brewer is right that by serving same-sex couples a business owner’s religious liberty has not been violated. No one is saying that a business owner cannot believe what they want and practice their religion. But doing business is not a religious practice. The only thing that may be violated is the business owner’s conscience - not their religion - and there is a difference.
Strongly held personal convictions are not what Christianity is all about. Jesus is! We need to draw a distinction between our religious liberty to follow Jesus and our values that inform our conscience. It’s not about our conscience. In fact, we may have to violate our conscience, or at least recalibrate it, to live our faith publically, because all that we do should be about one thing - “It’s the Gospel, saints!”
The Apostle Peter needed to recalibrate his conscience so that the Gospel would go forward. Peter didn’t need to agree with what the Lord would reveal to him but he was compelled to obey it. We read the account in Acts 10:9-23:
“About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. Then a voice told him, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.’‘Surely not, Lord!’ Peter replied. ‘I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.’The voice spoke to him a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.While Peter was wondering about the meaning of the vision, the men sent by Cornelius found out where Simon’s house was and stopped at the gate. They called out, asking if Simon who was known as Peter was staying there.While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, ‘Simon, three men are looking for you. So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.’Peter went down and said to the men, ‘I’m the one you’re looking for. Why have you come?’The men replied, ‘We have come from Cornelius the centurion. He is a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people. A holy angel told him to ask you to come to his house so that he could hear what you have to say.’ Then Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests.”
For a faithful Jew like Peter it was a cultural sin to eat anything impure or unclean. Moreover, it was a cultural sin to enter the house of or entertain a Gentile. But we see Peter here recalibrating his position. We don’t know if Peter’s conscience found acceptance with what the Lord was doing. Peter seems to struggle with the idea at first. What we do know is that Peter obeyed.
Obedience is better than sacrifice! (1 Samuel 15:22)
Apples and oranges some will argue, comparing eating to doing business with a same-sex couple. Not really. The point is that our conscience is not greater than the love God has for the lost. If what we believe erects a barrier to the Gospel it needs to be torn down.
As one commentator said, “It’s hard to witness to people that you won’t serve.” We can agree that the same-sex couple is “living in sin.” We can agree that God will judge them for their “sins,” apart from Christ’s forgiveness. But we should also agree that what this couple needs is a loving witness of the power of the Gospel.
Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey what I command” (John 14:15, NIV). The Lord calls us to be “servants of all” (Mark 9:35). Perhaps that is the real issue, the crux of the matter, not wanting to or knowing how to keep Jesus command properly. But that’s what we’re called to for Living Sent Today.