raising Arizona

The law that Gov. Brewer vetoed in Arizona may have been too broad (I haven’t read the bill), but two things I heard give me cause for concern. Last night on the evening news a congressman who had voted for the bill but was now arguing for its veto said his reasoning was that “the perception of the bill is worse than its reality, but the perception matters more.” I took him to mean the bill was not discriminatory but that the protest made it seem that way.

This interpretation is supported by today’s article in USA Today, which says “the bill would have offered a legal defense for individuals and businesses that face discrimination lawsuits if they could prove they acted upon a ‘sincerely-held religious belief.’” If individuals and businesses can no longer act on their sincere religious beliefs, then it’s probably just a matter of time before Christian schools will be unable to dismiss faculty who come out as practicing homosexuals.

This is a complex subject, as the comments from yesterday’s post show, so to help move the conversation along I’ve attempted to narrow down the possible options. I think these are the only positions one can hold on the topic of Christians serving gay weddings, but I’m open to correction (I just came up with them in the last hour). I use the phrase “actively serve” to distinguish direct participation from passively supplying a service. It’s one thing to actively bake a three-tiered cake or spend half a day decorating a church auditorium, and another for the happy couple to pick up a cake or bouquet from your display window on the way to the ceremony. We can quibble about the degrees of participation, but it seems that any of us can only hold one of the following four positions.

1. Christians must not actively serve a gay wedding (they are materially supporting the violation of a foundational creation norm).

2. Christians must actively serve a gay wedding if they are available and their service is required (it is unjust and unloving discrimination to refuse on religious or moral grounds).

3. Christians may or may not actively serve a gay wedding, depending on their religious and/or moral convictions. But those who decline should suffer the legal consequences for their refusal.

4. Christians may or may not actively serve a gay wedding, depending on their religious and/or moral convictions. And those who decline should have the legal right not to violate their conscience.

Feel free to comment on any of this, but please begin by selecting a position. It helps to have our cards on table. I’ll start. I am inclined to #1, but the complexity of the situation, such as degrees of participation, lead me to think that #4 is the best option. I respect the right of my Christian brothers and sisters to provide services for the marriage ceremony of a gay couple, though I strongly encourage them to evaluate what their actions say about their vocation and the institution of marriage. It will be difficult to keep our heads straight about marriage when we are serving those that really aren’t.






20 responses to “raising Arizona”

  1. Fred Sweet

    thanks for clarifying these 4 options–i think that helps advance the discussion, and I can’t think of any other reasonable options. I’m with you–I personally tend toward #1, but I agree that #4 may be the most realistic and gracious option.

  2. mikewittmer

    Thanks, Fred. Your endorsement makes me feel better (I mean that sincerely, so don’t read that in my snarky voice).

  3. Dan Jesse

    I agree with Hegel when he states in his Philosophy of Right that it is not enough to be “open” to a position, one has to be committed to the position. I cannot say that I hold a conviction if I am not compelled to act on it. If I am under obligation to act on my commitments, why should they not be protected?

    And why are certain moral commitments better than others if you hold to a liberal post-enlightenment view of morality? Some things baffle me.

  4. Brandon Jones

    Mike, I too am inclined to go with #4, but my prediction is we’ll see #3 first. We’re already seeing #3a by replacing “legal” with “perception.”

  5. I am inclined to #1 but I feel Rom. 14 and the like should leave me open to #4.

    That said, I find it interesting that this discussion is only happening within the context of marriage. That is, the only services that seem to be denied to gays are those that are related to them getting married (cake baking and photography). I am sure I am not the only one who has observed this (if someone else did, I missed it). No one is denying to sell them a car, build them a house, sell them a house, sell them a stroller for their child, not serve them food at a restaurant, etc. Every instance that has been debated centers on a wedding.

  6. Tom Beetham

    I’m scared to say it, but my first gut reaction is option #1, when it comes to directly contributing to a “gay wedding”. Period. Where does that leave me? Simply preparing for persecution or jail? I think I am prepared for that to some extent… Is that honestly where we are?

  7. mikewittmer

    Tom, and the part that will sting is that many of your Christian siblings will say you deserve it. Every generation has had good reason to think they’re living in the last days, but it does seem like we’re getting close.

  8. Tom Beetham

    Amen brother. I am astounded at the lack of health in so many churches (at least in my area). Sometimes I wonder “Where are the godly?” “Where are the godly churches?” “Is genuine Christianity being practiced in the USA today?” I know that these thoughts are over the top…but it is so much of what I see regularly here in Muskegon. Thank God there is a remnant, chosen by grace, that will not bow the knee to Baal. By the way, a cool post over on Trevin Wax where he does a parody of Daniel’s friends not bowing down to the statue that our culture has erected. It was thought provoking.
    Great thoughts Mike…thank you for helping us to think about these things.

  9. Marin Hann

    I feel awkward replying to this because you’re my professor. I don’t know why that makes it feel odd, but it does. I’m just going to preface this response with that.

    I’m going to firmly land with option #4. Thank you for spelling those out because I agree with Fred Sweet that it is very helpful and productive.

    I need to state, however, that the complexities of this issue are heavy and I cannot let go of them. It brings me to a number of questions that are similar to the one’s presented in the responses to your last blog entry, but not quite the same as these are all marriage related…

    Why is servicing a homosexual “marriage” as a Christian (quotes are included because I don’t consider it in keeping with a covenant marriage…simply a legal one) seemingly presented as more morally wrong than servicing a marriage between two Hindus, or two Muslims, or two Wiccans etc?

    If I am a Christian judge is it a violation of my God-given vocation to rule/grant a clearly uncalled for and unbiblical divorce? If so, then what do I do about that? Crazier question…what about a divorce between legally married homosexuals – bad/good/to be celebrated/to be mourned/uncomfortable/they were never truly married in the first place/God didn’t approve their marriage so it’s not real (Are secular marriages that deliberately exclude God now not real)?

    Should I refuse a legally homosexual married couple a hotel room that night because it could look like I’m supporting a covenant violation?

    Is there/should there be a difference between a legal and a covenant marriage? (I think there is.)

    As a Christian owner of a B&B should I give a room to a couple who has been granted a common law marriage?

    I cannot say that I have a certain opinion on all of these questions, but I can say that I think this debate is less about homosexual/heterosexual marriage and more about how should we view marriage (I think many would agree). How do we decide what is moral or non-moral participation? I am sympathetic to a decision made so that the conscious is not violated either way. At this time, I doubt I’m able to condemn either side over anything except the fact that I want the right to make a decision and I want the right for the person next to me to do the same. In the mean time, I’ll be praying that we both reach the conclusion God would direct us toward.

  10. mikewittmer

    Thanks for commenting, Marin. Here are some responses. There is no problem with a Christian serving a marriage of two non-Christians, for that is clearly a marriage ordained by God. Nothing is violated. Two Muslims may marry and not sin. As my friend Nate Archer pointed out in Systematic 2 on Monday, marriage is both a religious and human institution, as it was ordained by God for all people. So a secular marriage is still a marriage.

    I can see both sides of the B & B question. It seems that a B & B owner could say that though he doesn’t want his rooms used for sin, whether the heterosexual or homosexual kind, it’s not something he feels morally obligated to oppose. He could argue that he simply won’t ask questions, for conscience sake. But I think the same owner should have the right not to violate his conscience. But since that is fast becoming no longer an option, he will either have to change his convictions or change his business.

  11. Marin Hann

    I appreciate those responses. I should clarify that I don’t see secular marriages as invalid institutions, but I do see them as very different in how they play out/what they are based on. There are certain secular weddings and weddings between Christians that I won’t attend or participate in – but I’ll certainly support they’re keeping of their vows once they are married. However, that (covenant vs. legal and if there is a difference) question comes up often when I’ve discussed this so it would eventually arise.

    I’m with you on the B&B scenario.

  12. I agree that marriage is a religious and human institution. I believe that distinction is critical to understand in discerning a christian response to the issue.

    that distinction however doesn’t change the matter at hand of whether a christian should participate or not. I am a wedding photographer. we’ve shot LGBT weddings. and we’ve shot Hindu weddings, etc. it appears to be a double standard to say it’s ok to shoot a different religious wedding where other gods are worshipped because that’s a human institution, but not apply the same thought to an LGBT wedding. is God ok with Christians participating in a “pagan” ceremony, but not ok with them participating in another ceremony with a different “offense”?

    I maintain that as Christian participating in commerce in a fallen world, we will be called to serve others that we may not agree with. and the truth is that I believe there is something beautiful in that. likewise we need to be faithful in where we draw our lines of distinction, not simply because some just don’t feel as bad.

    of your options, I lean towards #3. I don’t want to take away religious freedoms of individuals. I really don’t. but I also don’t want a neutral government whose job it is to protect the rights of its citizens to allow for discrimination towards some of them. this is not a matter of just gay weddings, but of many matters that conflict with faith systems out there.

    Christians are not forced to violate their faith. they do have the option of changing their business model. some wedding venues choose to not host ceremonies. some photographers choose to not do weddings and just do portraits. they do have options.

    I recognize the necessity of a non-christian government (under separation of church and state) to make some hard decisions like this to protect the rights of all if its citizens. and Christians still have options in how they develop their business model to honor their faith (examples above). they may not have the right to discriminate, but they do have right to change their business model if they feel they need to. and I’m ok with that.

  13. sorry. not trying to hide my name. I have various wordpress accounts and it makes me log in to post – and then it pulls up whatever username happens to be associated with that account. bdpetey and studio623 = Ben peterson.

  14. mikewittmer

    Thanks for helping me think through this, Ben. A few thoughts:

    1. I’m not familiar with Hindu weddings, but I’d guess the important issue would be how central the worshiping of the gods is to the ceremony. If it’s tangential, then I could see a Christian justifying her participation. If the marriage is a worship service, that would be more difficult, though perhaps she could treat it like meat offered to idols, knowing they are not gods at all.

    2. This brings up the matter of Christian liberty, and you surprisingly are on the side of oppression. It’s cold comfort that you really don’t want to take away freedom of conscience from your brothers and sisters, because as you say, that is what you are actually doing. They either need to get out of the wedding business or take their just punishment.

    3. It’s very important to distinguish between the person and the act. As far as I know, no one is saying we should not gladly serve gay people or do business with them. Right now I am doing business with two different gay people, and we all seem to be more than happy with the arrangement. So please don’t confuse “serving others” with “participating in their wedding.” Of course we should serve others in every way–the question is only regarding a wedding.

  15. mikewittmer

    Ben: I am sorry if #2 seemed harsh. As I think about this more, I think this issue shows how these two sides–freedom of conscience and non-discrimination–are impossible to reconcile. It all comes down to whether or not gay marriage is a real marriage. If it is, then the Christians are hateful bigots who unjustly discriminate. If it isn’t, then Christians should be allowed to follow their conscience. Does that seem right?

  16. Jack Horton

    Just a minor technical comment from a recovering politician. You mentioned that a congressman from Arizona who had voted for the bill now was recommending a veto. The term congressman, or member of congress, is reserved for either members of the United States House or Senate. The proper term for a State Representative of Senator would be Legislator.

  17. mikewittmer

    Thanks, Jack. You remain my favorite congressman.

  18. […] Christian Professor/author has 2 thoughtful posts entitled: You don’t bring me flowers and Raising Arizona. I wish I could come up with such creative blog post titles! Good discussion in the comments too. […]

  19. Jack Horton

    Thanks, Mike, Your remain my favorite dispensational arminian.

  20. mikewittmer

    You are going to be one disappointed congressman.

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