The familiar controversy surrounding “religious freedom” has arrived in Louisiana. The question both sides want to be answered is this: will the police power of the state be used to deny someone of their livelihood or of eligible benefits simply because they exercised a deeply held religious belief? So palatable is that threat that Churches, non-profits and ministries nationwide are preparing for the onslaught of litigation, claims of bias and other hostile encounters.
The debate on this issue boils down to a question of competing liberties and newly emerging civil vs. timeless truths embodied in the First Amendment. Rights of conscience do not originate from Religious Freedom laws or even from the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution—though they are acknowledged there. It is up to us to diligently contend with attempts to abridge that right for all men. That is what my friend, newly elected State Representative Mike Johnson, is doing with his HB 707; limiting state action against an individual based solely on the sincerely held religious belief regarding marriage.
Unfortunately, those opposed to the ‘free exercise of others,’ with regard to that ‘right of conscience’, have grossly mischaracterized the efforts of Rep. Mike Johnson and his HB 707. I won’t enumerate the objections of the opponents here. You can easily access the reports of outlandish hypotheticals of what they claim this bill will do. It does not.
Religious liberty is not a sword designed to harm another human being. It is a constitutional principle that is meant to serve as a shield to protect an individual’s right to behave according to a sincerely held religious conviction. For a person with no faith that may be difficult to appreciate.
Unfortunately, today anything less than a wholesale embrace of homosexuality and other ‘identities’ is condemned.
To some, any person who holds to the belief that sexual activity outside of natural marriage is sinful cannot remain in good standing in society. Such people view Christianity as a threat to society and a barrier to cultural progress. Gay rights proponents insist that a ‘just society’ cannot bear individuals who decline ‘participation’ under these narrow circumstances. Those stubborn ‘religious’ viewpoints are being targeted, isolated and eliminated. That is the campaign opponents are attempting here.
Christian attempts to distinguish between loving our neighbors without endorsing their lifestyle behavior gets tricky when the question involves personal relationships and how those relationships are recognized by both religion and society. There can be no denial, personal faithfulness to a biblical precept is a difficult principle to ‘share.’ It is one thing to embrace the principal personally and it is quite another to allow it to guide our interactions with others. Therein lies the conflict.
For those genuinely interested in understanding a Christian perspective on this, it is critical that you consult some source other than the opponents of HB 707 listed here. Christianity, ultimately, is not about rights, judgment or pride. Christianity advocates for reconciliation and restoration precipitated by a personal relationship with the living God.
So, if a wedding planner respectfully declines to plan a gay wedding, she is not saying “I’m better than you.” It’s quite possible that the planner would be willing to cater another event. What makes her situation different is that it’s not ultimately about what she feels, but what her faith and conscience dictate. Christian doctrine asserts that the universe was created by God and that His design is something that is intelligible both through interaction with the natural world and by divine revelation. Christ taught that there are certain purposes for which man was designed that are not subject to modification or marginalization. Marriage was chief among those because they provide a picture of Christ, the bridegroom, and His church, the bride at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, Rev. 19:7.
It’s not a mistake to detect a note of sincerity in the voice of the wedding planner when she announces, “I am sorry, but my conscience will not allow me to participate that.” This may not make anyone feel better, but it might help some understand that conscience is forged out of respect for both God and man.
At any other time in history, the average Christian could live an entire life without having to publicly articulate a view on homosexuality or feel pressured to choose sides in a culture war. We live in a moment where Christians are being targeted by an ideological campaign with the express intent of marginalizing religious expression and ultimately erasing them from public life. It is time for each of us to speak up and communicate clearly our intentions for this liberty. It may not be comfortable, few may be deterred, but warning our friends in this life of the life to come is the right thing to do.
May God lead us kindly through these times but, above all, may God lead us to Himself.