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The Religious Freedom 'Firestorm'

Should the government require people of faith to violate their religious beliefs?

This question is at the center of ongoing legal and cultural debate, and the answer will set the stage for future generations and religious freedom.

One of the latest points of conflict centers on a bill that was introduced in the Kansas Legislature to protect the religious rights of citizens in that state. While the bill is now dead, debate spilled over into the national press recently as commentators, including well-known political pundit and FOX News contributor Kirsten Powers, weighed in on the bill and the larger question of Christians' roles in the marketplace of ideas.

Powers penned a strongly worded USA Today column suggesting Christians should abandon, rather than assert, their religious right not to participate in facilitate or participate in same-sex unions. She disagrees that Kansas (and other states where court challenges to marriage laws are in play or expected (See our "State(s) of Marriage" graph) should provide legal protection to individuals and businesses, including wedding photographers, bakers, florists, bed and breakfast inns and faith-based adoption agencies, who have found themselves prosecuted and/or penalized for taking the Bible's commands about marriage and children seriously.

Powers even accused her fellow Christians who support such religious freedom protections as "arguing for homosexual ‘Jim Crow' laws." She cites a couple of pastors who agree with her, one being Andy Stanley, a well-known evangelical and senior pastor of North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Ga.

Her argument is dangerously wrong on three key levels:

  1. Theologically Inaccurate:It seems her view of following Jesus' model requires Christians to lend their creativity and talents to a celebration of something that is anathema to God (not to mention tremendously harmful to the individuals themselves). God very clearly defined marriage in Genesis 2:24, and Jesus affirmed it in Matthew 19:5. The Apostle Paul echoed the definition of marriage again in Ephesians 5:31.

    Powers' query (and affirmative answer) as to whether Jesus would have baked a cake for a same sex wedding, misses the theological point by a wide margin. Yes, of course Jesus interacted with, loved and served "sinners," and so should we. But, He never did so by aiding, abetting, encouraging or celebrating their sinful behavior. In fact, He said, "Go, and sin no more."
  2. Undermines Conscience Rights:Powers' failure to recognize that in the wedding-related legal cases around the country where Christian vendors have drawn a line in the sand (and have been sued), they provided those same services to homosexuals in a non-wedding context. "Bigots" don't follow this pattern. Christians attempting to follow Jesus Christ's model of ministry do, however. Jesus calls His followers to be "salt and light" in the world around them. Laws in many states require Christians to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs in areas like same-sex ceremonies and placing children for adoption in same-sex homes. State legislators – like those in Kansas – are merely attempting to establish a line of religious protection for these citizens. 
  3. Misrepresents Widespread Support: Religious exemptions similar to those contained in the Kansas bill have the support of several top constitutional religious liberty experts across the nation, some of whom, surprisingly, even support same-sex marriage. These experts have been proposing model legislation, similar in many respects to the Kansas bill, to all of the legislatures that have considered and passed same-sex marriage laws in the past few years. Each of the twelve "bluer-than-blue" states that have passed same-sex marriage statutes have included one or more of the religious exemptions that Powers mistakenly attributes to Christian "bigotry."

Let's face it. The moral compass needles of those on either side of the same-sex marriage issue will never align. Fining or forcing Christians out of business or sending them to jail is not the solution; it is the beginning of the end.

Can't we do better?

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