The Right of Refusal – on Principle or for Purpose

If I were heading up the marketing campaign for gay rights I suspect I would begin to feel pretty invincible these days.  The movement to treat same sex relationships as just “another normal” has been nothing less than remarkable.

In fact, it has almost become bullying in reverse.  Any criticism rooted in personal opinion or religious convictions immediate pegs one as homophobic.  If you oppose homosexual activity or its presumed entitlements (i.e., marriage, adoption, etc.) you are characterized as Elizabethan at best and dangerous to an open-minded society at worst.

I have been struck by stories of bakers, on the basis of religious convictions, refusing to provide wedding cakes for gay marriages (click here for story).  This is similar to cases where businesses have refused to allow coverage for birth control in their corporate health plans in violation of the Affordable Health Care Act provisions.  Again, the refusal is based on the religious convictions of the business owner and the consequences could be severe for standing on those principles.

The “right of refusal” for conscience reasons is a cherished privilege in this country.  It has historically been practiced by the religiously sensitive who wish to either not be a party to sin or to not sin.

Obviously that “right” is not absolute.  Taxation is an example where, like it or not, we all become party to something that, in some areas (i.e., birth control, abortion, war, etc.) likely challenges some of our sensitivities.  So where do we draw the line?  Failure to practice this right judiciously could endanger its future use when small acts of refusal cause a public outcry.

As Christians we find guidance in Scripture pn this matter through directives and by examples.  Elizabeth Scalia, a Catholic author and editor, hints to such guidance in her well-written article, “Jesus might bake the cake, but would he perform the nuptials?”  If you have a moment read her article.

The Christian purposes in life include “living the faith” and “sharing the faith.”  Both activities find their motivation and direction in God.  Living our faith is an activity of expressing Christian freedom in a way that shows allegiance to God.  That means we avoid doing anything that is contrary to God’s will as expressed in Scripture.

A Christ-like walk in life is compromised of both actions and motive.  “Acting” Christian without the God-pleasing motive is hypocritical (Isaiah 29:13).  Having motive or faith without action is equally hollow (James 2:26).

Finding the balance is predicated on understanding the mission.  Where sin is involved we are told to “correct, rebuke and encourage with great patience and careful instruction.”  When unbelief is involved we are told to “be a light” of witness and truth, pointing to our eternal relationship with God, healed through Christ.

Neither of these activities leave room for bullying.  Mocking the sinful lives of others does not bring about correction.  Building walls of isolation does not provide a corridor for the Christian witness.

What remains is “bridge-building.”  Christ did it by mingling with the identified sinners of His time (Matthew 9:10-11).  When Christ encountered the woman at the well (John 4:1-26) there were obvious concerns about her lifestyle which did get into the discussion. What is important to note, however, is that He used the opportunity to talk about an eternal need for reconciliation between the Creator and the created.

A baker refusing to bake for a wedding is an action designed to send a message.  Obviously the message is an objection to homosexual marriage.  That objection is consistent with Scripture.  Consistency, however, should compel the baker to perhaps refuse baking a cake for other marriages in which cohabitation has sullied God’s design for marriage.  Or what if the marriage is for heathen who have rejected God?

I do find the title of the Scalia article thought-provoking.  I am inclined to think that Jesus would have baked the cake but not perform the wedding.  I think cake-baking would have been an opportunity for bridge-building to open the door for greater opportunities of witnessing.  Maybe not but it is worth considering.

What I want to come from all of this is a better understanding of why we take a stand.  There are lines to be drawn.  In His day the religious leaders clearly felt the line to be drawn forbid mingling with sinners.  The Lord thought otherwise.  Yet, mingling with sinners did not have Jesus participating in the sin or condoning the sin.

Those who embrace a lifestyle or activity deemed sinful by Scripture are those who require a measure of love and commitment that challenges us Christians (cf. 1 Peter 4:8).  The challenge is to mingle without endorsing, to respect without blessing, and to communicate in a manner that leaves the door open for more communication.  In some circumstances it requires refusing to bake a cake but I suspect it most cases the cake gets baked and a relationship begins.

About Bob F.

Born in Pleasanton, CA on October 5, 1956 and raised primarily in Lake Geneva, WI. I am the oldest of four sons to my parents, Bob and Helen Fleischmann who presently live next door to me in rural Wisconsin. I am an ordained Lutheran minister and I serve as the national director of Christian Life Resources.
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