Dear Fellow Americans,
Recent events surrounding the ongoing debate over religious freedom and gay rights are forcing us to ask some tough questions about the ever-intolerant society that we’re cultivating.
Do we want to live in a country in which individuals are so mercilessly threatened and harassed that they’re driven from their businesses? Is it really acceptable that a portion of the populace is so unwilling to accept differing viewpoints that it takes immense pleasure in strategically silencing the faithful?
While it’s certainly true that most rational people want to live in a world in which people aren’t discriminated against, the facts surrounding religious freedom have been muddied, misrepresented and flatly overlooked in recent weeks and months.
Meanwhile, respect for one’s fellow man has gone out the window. And the result has been unrestrained furor.
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Consider what recently happened when the owner of Memories Pizzeria in Indiana hypothetically told a news reporter that she wouldn’t be comfortable catering a same-sex wedding due to her religious convictions.
Without actually turning any couples away, the woman’s shop was soon inundated with harsh and threatening comments on social media — and one person even suggested that her establishment should be burned down.
I could go on and on with other examples like the Mennonite-owned wedding venue in Iowa that has stopped holding any and all ceremonies after a gay couple complained over the owners' refusal to host same-sex nuptials. Scores of people sent nasty and threatening emails with messages like: "You are mean, rude, selfish, mother f***er racist sons of b**ches from hell" and “F**k you, f**k your God, f**k your religion."
Then there's the bakery in Oregon that refused to make a same-sex wedding cake and later went out of business. But it didn't end there. Someone later went to their home and broke into a vehicle that the family uses to make its confections.
How’s that for tolerance?
If you’ve spent any time consuming the news of late you know that many critics have been in a state of perpetual outrage over the notion that Christian business owners would be given exemptions from offering wedding-related services.
As the anger, name-calling and divisive antics continue, a clear message is being sent: certain viewpoints and opinions — biblical perspectives that might cause a baker or a wedding photographer to decline service — won’t be tolerated.
[sharequote align="center"]Bent on labeling people “bigots” without differentiating Westboro from Bible-believing Christians[/sharequote]
Few of the most enraged activists have fairly considered that there’s a major difference between the owner of a diner claiming that he won’t serve a gay couple breakfast and a wedding-related vender declining services for same-sex nuptials.
Many attempt to conflate the two, but it’s impossible to look objectively at the situation and conclude that these scenarios are homogeneous. Few Christian business owners, if any, would embrace the former scenario.
In the end, some people feel that gay weddings are not permissible under God’s law. And they want a say over whether they should be forced to use their creative skills to assist in a ceremony that they believe violates the Bible.
Is that a rightful mindset? Well, that’s in the eye of the beholder. Some might dismiss it as silly or absurd. And that’s their right, isn’t it? But it’s how we handle this difference of opinion that says the most about the sort of culture we’re fostering.
Too many people have allowed themselves to be indwelled by a mob mentality that replaces any semblance of societal sanity. We’re increasingly bent on labeling people as “bigots” without taking the time to differentiate Westboro members from Bible-believing Christians who simply want to live out their faith.
And the results have been truly sad to observe. Business owners who opened up shop well before the government’s definition of marriage evolved have been targeted with hateful messages and calls for boycotts.
Their critics scoff at their nerve to stand on principle, dismissing them as backwards Neanderthals who have no right to run a business, proceeding to bully them into either silence or a reluctant embrace of their worldview.
There are so many deeply troubling problems with the way that some are handling these issues. Aside from the fact that these attacks are simply wrong, consider that few activists have had the grace to put themselves in the business owners’ shoes.
If you were a baker, would you want to make a “God hates fags” cake for members of Westboro Baptist Church? Or what about a more benign anti-gay pastor demanding that a lesbian-owned printing company make t-shirts for a “Celebrating Traditional Marriage” event that demonizes gays and slams same-sex marriage?
Little consideration has been given to these alternative situations, as activists have piled on Christian business owners who have said — for better or worse — that they do not want to be party to a gay wedding (and it appears there may be a reason to consider these scenarios).
It’s certainly true that allowing exemptions and, by default, discrimination in any form can be a slippery slope, but the debate over same-sex marriage and related services differs in many ways from past battles over inequality.
[sharequote align="center"]Time for people on both sides to find common ground and have a fair look at all of the factors.[/sharequote]
Here’s why: marriage is a centerpiece in the Bible. From Genesis onward, the union between a man and a woman has been a central arrangement described as coming from and being overtly blessed by God.
I’m not raising these issues to defend a refusal to provide a cake or photography to gay couples, but to explain that the issue is complicated and deeply rooted in the biblical text, which forms the basis of the Christian faith.
Are there Christian business owners who have no problem baking a cake for a gay wedding? Sure. But does that mean every Christian business owner should be forced by the government to do so? That’s the complicated sticking point.
Unlike the other examples that people tend to raise to show their outrage over the issue (ex. how wrong it would be for business owners to refuse service to an interracial couple), marriage has deep roots in faith; those other paradigms do not and never have had legitimate scriptural ties.
With the government changing its definition of marriage and then forcing business owners to immediately comply, it creates a unique moral conundrum — one that is complicated by thousands of years of theological tradition. That’s the complex dynamic that has been completely overlooked in the current debate.
This letter is not an effort to get readers to agree with Christian bakers and photographers who have opted to refuse service. And it’s certainly not one aimed at dismissing the legality of gay marriage.
Instead, it’s a call for people on both sides to come together, find common ground and have a discussion that involves a fair look at all of the factors. The issue of a government mandate is complicated, but having respect for one another is not.
America is a nation governed by the First Amendment and by the notion that differing views should be allowed to co-exist. Debating about the legality and theology of same-sex marriage and all that comes along with it should be welcomed, and both sides should be afforded a seat at the table.
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We’re all Americans. We can — and should — all find some level of common ground. It is time for good people to come together, despite their differences, and attempt to help one another understand and grow.
Some people get that, as evidenced by the gays and lesbians who have given money to help Memories Pizza get back on its feet, despite their disagreement with the owner’s homosexuality stance.
And then there's Kathy Trautvetter and Diane DiGeloromo, a lesbian couple who own a printing company and believe that businesses shouldn’t be forced by the government to violate their religious conscience.
“We feel this really isn’t a gay or straight issue. This is a human issue,” DiGeloromo recently said. “No one really should be forced to do something against what they believe in. It’s as simple as that.”
These are people who are blatantly looking beyond themselves. Now the real challenge is, can we all show that much grace to one another?
Feature Image: AP
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