In just a moment I would like to interact with a post by Kirsten Powers and Jonathan Merritt, which you can read here if you haven’t already. In one sense, I wish they hadn’t written that thing together, because I have some respect for Kirsten Powers. She has done some very fine against-the-tide work on things like international persecution of Christians, and on the Gosnell horrors. I don’t know as much about Merritt, but what I have seen seems to indicate someone who is being wafted along by the breezes emanating from the Zeitgeist Wind Farm, which is a bad metaphor because that’s not how wind farms work. To change metaphors, it is as though they happened to be at the same place on the road because she was walking into a great city while he was walking out of it. Anyhow, however they came to say it, what they said needs a response.
But before saying anything about their argument, I want to say something else about a necessary scriptural backdrop to all such discussions.
As conservative Christians, we are accustomed to discuss homosexual issues in the light of Romans 1. There Paul tells us that our gay pride parades are the result of refusing to honor God as God, and refusing to give Him thanks (Rom. 1:21). Nothing is plainer to exegetes — who are not selling out, or who don’t have a gun to their head — than the fact that an apostle of Jesus Christ taught us that for a man to burn with lust for another man was unnatural, and that for a woman to burn with lust for another woman was even more unnatural. But that is not the point I would like to make, although the point I need to make assumes this. We need to go on to see that this chapter teaches us something else quite important about our current controversies.
The wrath of God is described in this chapter (Rom. 1:18), and it is described as God giving people over to their desires (Rom. 1:24). The mercy of God is found in the restraints He places on us, and His wrath is revealed from heaven whenever He lets us run headlong, which is what is happening to us now. This wrath is described this same way again a couple verses later. God gave them up to dishonorable passions (Rom. 1:26). It is repeated a third time just a moment later. God gave them up to a debased mind (Rom. 1:28). When God lets go, that is His wrath. As Lewis says somewhere, Heaven is when we say to God “thy will be done.” Hell is when He says that to us.
So what consequences follow when He lets go? What does this wrath look like when it is visited on a culture?
The next point is often missed. This progression amounts to the wrath of God being revealed against us because we are being delivered up to the tender mercies of the wicked, which are cruel (Prov. 12:10). Notice Paul’s description of what these people are like outside the bedroom. Right after his observations on men burning in lust for men, and women for women, he gives us an additional character description.
“And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful . . .” (Rom. 1:28-31).
Now who do you want to put in charge of the new civility? Who do you want as an arbiter of true sensitivity in speech? Who should run the training seminars for all the big corporations on what “hate” is? Who should set the boundaries for acceptable public discourse? Who should be the appointed gatekeepers on what constitutes tolerant speech? For any Christian who has read Romans 1 rightly, not these people.
They don’t know what tolerance is. They don’t know how to spell it. They hate the very idea of it. They have taken the biblical doctrine of tolerance and have filed it into a shiv, so that they might smite us all under the fifth rib, as Joab did to people. This should not be surprising to us. Someone who finds the anus of another the object of his desire is not someone that I would trust to determine whether or not this sentence is a hate crime. They are liars and filled with all malice. They are backbiters, overflowing with malignity. They are implacable.
So if you want to form a brigade of tolerance cops, that is bad enough, but then, when you want to staff the whole brigade with these people, the entire spectacle turns into how the right panel of The Garden of Earthly Delights would look if Bosch had just taken three hits of acid just before painting it. The way of peace they have not known (Rom. 3:17). There is no fear of God before their eyes (Rom. 3:18). The only thing that their lawlessness can really do well is breed more lawlessness (Rom. 6:19). So I know! Let’s put them in charge of civility in public discourse.
This is the wrath of God upon us, and the wrath of God delivers us over to more than just our demented lusts. It delivers us over to the ministrations and judicial processes of those who refuse to tolerate any rebuke of their lusts, whether the rebuke is express or implied.
So then, on to the central argument presented by Powers and Merritt. They point out that there are more ways to be unbiblical in weddings than homosexuality, which is quite true, and they wonder why photographers don’t refuse to do weddings for people who are on their third unbiblical marriage. Two quick points, and then to the real issue. First, all such professionals should have the full right to refuse service to anyone, whether or not they are spiritually consistent in the exercise of that right. Second, the reason service is being refused in the cases of homosexual weddings is because the sin involved is flagrant and obvious, and results in something that is not marriage at all. It is same sex mirage, not same sex marriage. A photographer would have to hire a private detective to find out if the previous heterosexual marriage ended on biblical grounds. With the homosexual marriage, the perverse nature of the proposed arrangement has been brought to him, and is standing right on the other side of counter, as much as to say, “whatcha gonna do about it?” So this is an issue that evangelical photographers, bakers, etc. are not pushing. They are pushing back. Homosexuals are pressing this issue with bakers, photographers, and so forth because they are full of the malignity that Paul described for us earlier. They are the ones picking a fight, and I hope they get a real one.
But now let’s go to the heart of the principle that Powers and Merritt are advancing. They are arguing that if an activity is legal, and if someone has a privately-owned business that is open to the public, and a little bell that rings when you open the door, then that someone should be required to provide their professional services to any customer who walks in, so long as they are not required individually to “affirm” whatever they believe to be the sin in question. They can be required to make the sin look good, just so long as they don’t have to sign a paper saying that it is good.
Now to think this “protection” will last any time at all in our current climate is to be a black belt naif. The quaint idea is that liberty of conscience means that we don’t have to affirm that homosexuality is normal. Are we allowed to affirm the contrary? I am glad that Powers and Merritt want to leave us something, but this standard is already under assault, as we speak. So can I be a television broadcaster, or a public school teacher, or a newspaper columnist, or a weatherman, and I can post on my own Facebook page that homosexual behavior “is disgusting,” and I can do this without activists calling for my head and my job, in that order? The only thing to do here is express the wish that Powers and Merritt would get out more. This kind of “protection” is like hoping that we will be spared the worst ravages of the tsunami because the children have built us some sturdy sand castles on the beach.
So let’s see what this principle of theirs would look like if applied in other sectors. Does the proprietor of a business for the public have the right to decline service to someone because that someone’s behavior is offensive to them, although perfectly legal? Powers and Merritt say no, and urge us all to grow up. So . . . a web designer who wants to decline his services to a men-only golf club? A printer of business cards who did not want to serve Gosnell prior to his arrest? A graphic designer in Nevada who does not want to design any newspaper ads for the Moonlight Bunny Ranch?
Someone might say that these scenarios are not realistic, because nobody in those categories is (currently) demanding to be served. The Moonlight Bunny Ranch guy knows not to call the ad agencies that have that little fish on their web site. Right. But the issue is the principle. Suppose he did come into my little graphics shop, and I am being advised in the back room by Powers and Merritt. They are willing to show me the way Jesus would have done it, had He been a graphic designer. My customer thinks my first draft was okay, but he came back in because he wants me to “make her tits bigger.” That’s what draws most of their clientele, he explains. Wait, I say, because I have to do a quick consult on the back room — I fortunately happen to have a couple of experts back there. What, in the column they have written, would give me the right to go back out to my almost customer in order to tell him to put an egg in his shoe and beat it?
Read over their column again. Nothing they have argued would give me that right. And this means that their argument is not just inimical to religious liberty, but also to personal liberty generally. Not good at all.