Friday, August 23, 2013

Religious Freedom and Business Owners

I suppose it shouldn't be surprising that this topic is still fighting for center-stage. This time it is in the form of an absurd law-suit targeting a Christian couple's photography business for declining services for same-sex ceremony. After finding a favorable alternative for the desired photography, the offended party decided to sue the Christian couple for discrimination wherein the state courts ruled against the refusing photographers. Apparently, owning a business obligates the owners to provide demanded services. At least, it does in New Mexico...

Reading the story from a conservative newspaper, it is also not surprising that the majority of the comments fall on the side of the couple's rights with a small portion vilifying that position as being the same as old time segregation. People. We've been here before and it's just going to keep coming up. The right is terrified of the liberal encroachment upon their moral conscience and the left if offended that the right would even consider that liberal alternatives are inappropriate. As I've said in a previous post, there are unfortunately bigots on both sides of the fence. I also said there, and say again here, that I don't care to try to stare down either set of bigots.

Most of the comments after the Deseret News article are actually fairly tame if rather irritated at the situation. I confess that I also find it concerning that the government thinks to rule on a matter of moral conscience and I came across many responses stating many of my own thoughts on the matter. They also make the points as clearly as I could hope to so I shall refer you to them rather than quote them here. (I highly recommend reading through comments - they are my favorite part of controversial issues as the debate gives a broader perspective than I could create with only my own thoughts to work with and have not infrequently caused me to adjust my own position on a matter.) I have made it about 100 comments in and it occurs to me that one issue has so far been missed.

What has been a bit surprising to me is not that atheists or others in the LGBT community attack the Christians in saying that Christ loved and sat with the sinner so 'they/you must not be good Christians' but that other Christians are attacking from the same ground. One might suppose that this is evidence on the side of the suing party, but everyone seems to be missing the fact that there is a relative issue directly addressed in the New Testament dealing with this.

In Romans 14, Paul takes the Romans to task for the contention arising around the issue of meat sold in the marketplace. The truth was, though, you couldn't actually be sure which meat had been offered to idols and which had not. Therefore, it became a risk in buying and eating meat that one might end up with meat that had been used in the offerings. Some only saw it as meat and did not find offense in the buying and eating of it. Others felt that to eat of that meat meant they were participating in the pagan worship and, after all, is not the first commandment, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me"? It went against their conscience and so they avoided contact with it. It became an even bigger issue when eating at the house of one who saw no problem with it (it's only meat after all) and they were then placed between holding to their beliefs and not offending their fellow Christian friend.

So what does Paul say about it? Mostly he agrees that God knows that meat is meat is meat, but he also says that it is uncharitable for those who are unbothered to force those who are disturbed by the origin to hold to one or the other for he says that it is the conscience of the person that determines their reality. If to eat means to participate in pagan worship, then that person is right to avoid the meat and their friends would do well to respect and support them in maintaining a conscience void of offense. If the person has a clear conscience knowing that not knowing leaves them innocent of accidental 'participation', they are likewise uncondemned of God in that thing. 

19 Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.
 20 For meat destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence.
 21 It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.
 22 Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth.
 23 And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.
I honestly can't say whether I would have been willing to accept an obligation to participate in an event that is clearly stated as against God's law. I think it's easy to understand that it could feel like being forced to witness idolatrous offerings (even greater than the risk of meat of unknown origin).  Many would say that is discriminatory and Jesus says love everyone, but there is a difference between loving a person and participating in improper events. One (attacking) commenter condemned (illogically as it has no evidence outside of the speaker's imagination) the photographers because they 'would deny service to provide individual portraits to homosexuals which proves they are discriminating and were right to have lost the suit' (not exact words, but the gist of the statement). Honestly, I doubt the sexual orientation would have had any bearing on services provided outside of the union ceremony. Yes, we are to love everyone, even the sinner (aren't we all?). That does not equate to being forced to support the sin. And a concerned Christian can be easily understood to have such a reaction in this situation.

Government cannot dictate every element of the business sector without becoming their own entity of monopoly and therefore tyranny. Free enterprise dictates that if a business chooses to engage in undesirable practices, they will face the natural consequences from the consumers by losing business. It is their right to do so. It may not lead to commercial success, but in the 'pursuit of happiness', if one values his values more than his monetary gain, I see no justification for the government stepping in to say otherwise.

As Christians, how can we think to condemn and force a straying from the dictates of conscience of another Christian? Are we not all metaphorically part of Christ's body? Has the hardened skin of the heal a right to condemn the sensitivity of the eye-lid? I could say I fear the way the tides are turning if I did not understand what we have been warned and prepared for its happening ahead of time. Those of other persuasions often mock such feelings and outlooks, but truly, time will tell all things. I simply hope that all who are not interested in the impending violence, figurative and literal, will seek to support and strengthen each other in the ways of peace taught not only by Christ but by the other main religions as well. And that we will focus on it without tearing ourselves down in the process. 

I believe my God is the same God the Jews and the Arabs worship and that He will truly guard those with an honest heart. I warn that we lose integrity when we target others in a misguided sense of superiority and that leaves us vulnerable to falling further. Let us not fall, but let us stand together and stand strong against the coming times.

(Mormon Articles of Faith # 10 & 11)
10 We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes; that Zion (the New Jerusalem) will be built upon the American continent; that Christ will reign personally upon the earth; and that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.
11 We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may. 
P.S. I included number ten because when America finally implodes, and the rest of the world is in their own chaos, Mormons are taught that Zion will be a place of refuge for those who do not wish to fight and that will not just be for Mormons, but for all those who do not follow, nurture anger and hate. It will be a refuge for all the pure in heart. This may sound absurd and fantastical to any non-Mormon readers out there, but after having seen Jericho (TV show - fascinating!), I greatly desired to tell these fictitious people there is an alternative of safety. So maybe you will consider it a strange and ridiculous belief right now, but should the time come where you recognize truth to what I'm saying here, know that it is an option of safety.

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