As our thoughts turn to the core realities of our faith this weekend, we have great cause to rejoice that we live in a country whose foundational principles let us stand firm in our beliefs.
But we also have reason to grieve, because laws that buttress that foundation have come under criticism. As Christians, we have a duty to tell the truth—and call on others to tell the truth—about religious liberty policy that has served our nation well for decades, policy that is one of our greatest resources to live together peaceably despite our deepest differences.
We are having important conversations about the nature of sexuality and marriage in our communities, even in our families. That’s going to lead to some differences of opinion. And sometimes that will lead to conflicts in the public square that need to be worked out. That’s why the religious liberty policy provides an opportunity and a standard to be weighed in court.
But the proposed “fix” approved this week by the Indiana legislature and signed by Governor Pence would eliminate the possibility of such debates having their day in court. It would not let us reach for the religious liberty tool that helps us balance our competing interests and beliefs. It would simply force the government’s views on religious believers in these cases.
It’s also important for us to distinguish what we are talking about and what’s at stake in the most practical of terms.
So, let’s take the example of the florist in the state of Washington. Mrs. Barronelle Stutzman is 70 years old. She owns a florist shop. She had two regular customers, a homosexual couple, Mr. Robert Ingersoll and Mr. Curt Freed. Over the years, she forged a friendship with Mr. Ingersoll and sold them flowers on a regular basis.
However, when Robert asked Mrs. Stutzman to provide the flowers for their same-sex marriage ceremony, she politely refused based upon her religious conviction that God defines marriage as between one man and one woman. Her participation in this ceremony would violate her religious convictions. She would have to participate in something that she believes grieves the heart of the God she serves.
In response, the Washington state attorney sued her for sexual orientation discrimination. She lost in court. The state offered to settle the suit for $2000, but she refused because a condition of the settlement included violating her faith beliefs and agreeing to participate in same-sex marriage ceremonies.
“You have to make a stand somewhere in your life on what you believe,” she said. “It was just time I had to take a stand … and everybody will have to come to that same time in their business.”
Mrs. Stutzman’s “time” now puts her in the crosshairs of her own government and unless she acquieses, she faces financial ruin. Our friends at Alliance Defending Freedom tell us the fines are $150,000 and she will likely lose her savings, house and business.
We think this type of government coercion is exactly what the Founding Fathers fought against. In his famous letter to the Danbury Baptist Association, Thomas Jefferson boldly stated that government was not to infringe upon a person’s religious freedom, noting that “religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God” and “that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship.”
To be sure, The debate will continue. For Christians going forward, we will now increasingly face the daunting choice to either follow Christ or man’s law.
In the end, we will have to make decisions that could cost us everything just like Mrs. Stutzman now faces.
But on this Good Friday, I am reminded that the Way of the Cross is not easy, and that “everything” short of the Risen Christ is but a vapor (James 4:14). Sooner than we think, the old will fade and He will make all things new (2 Cor. 5:17).
A blessed Easter from our home to yours.
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