One of the immediate conclusions that we must draw about the recent Obergefell decision is that the Lord is giving us this moment. He is giving this set of circumstances to us because He is our faithful and wise Father. He does not give us more than we can bear; He knows our frames. He knows what He’s doing, and despite appearances to the contrary, it’s a gift, a talent for us to invest and make a return on. Part of that stewardship means repenting of sin and growing in holiness both in the Church and in our individual lives and families. Part of that stewardship means growing backbones and flexing our courage muscles and living and proclaiming the gospel more zealously than ever. But we need to know and believe in our bones that God throws us curveballs because He wants us to learn to hit curveballs.
So then, what are the lessons God has for us in a Post-Obergefell America? What are the lessons we need to learn in a land that is now actively fining and gagging our fellow Christians for politely refusing to help homosexuals celebrate their destructive lifestyle? We need to learn how to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. We need to learn to think carefully, critically, and with hearts that are more compassionate and generous toward the lost and hurting and broken than ever.
What do I mean?
Well, let’s start with the Kleins who were fined a piled of cash and told not to talk about their opinions anymore. We need to get it straight in our minds that the Kleins are heroes. We need to get it straight in our minds that we would do the very same thing. But the Devil rarely plays fair. He rarely throws the same pitch twice, and that means that we need to learn the principle of this matter. Some of you may be bakers or photographers, and my advice to you is a. Talk to a good Christian lawyer about all your legal options, b. Consider changing jobs or the nature of your business or moving to a different state, and c. Brace yourself for impact. But it’s easy to cheer those brave Christian souls over there, until it’s your business, your livelihood, your children’s future we’re talking about, and everything suddenly becomes way too real. And you start wondering if that’s really what Jesus meant.
And so we need to ask, what does the Bible actually say? What did Jesus actually teach? For example, didn’t Jesus say not to resist evil? Didn’t Jesus say that if some guy wants to steal your coat, give him your cloak also? Didn’t He say that if somebody orders you to go one mile, you should go with him two? Yes, actually He did. And we must be obedient to His Word. So what does He want us to do? Well, if you are gun dealer, and a man walks in and announces that he’s planning to go on a shooting spree at the local elementary school tomorrow and so he’ll take the lot, what does Jesus require of you? Is it doing good to this evil man to sell him everything he wants and throw in some extra ammo for good measure? Because, after all, it says not to resist evil (Mt. 5:39). And if he asks for one shotgun, make sure he leaves with two? No, the words of Jesus begin with His restatement of the lex talionis — “Ye have heard it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth, but I say unto you…” (Mt. 5:38) Jesus is talking in the first instance about taking personal vengeance, getting even, paybacks.
Furthermore, Jesus is giving a strategy for disarming evil. He is giving a strategy for what Paul in Romans 12 calls “overcoming evil with good.” The best thing that could happen to the evil, deranged guy who’s announced his intentions to go on a shooting spree is for him to be stopped. To comply with his request would be aiding and abetting a criminal, and if after the fact, he actually carries out what he planned, you could be charged as an accessory to the crime. On the other hand, if a man came in and bought a firearm and later used it to commit murder, you would not be held liable for what that man did with what you sold him because you aren’t liable for what you don’t know. And thus we begin to define the difference between loving sinners and refusing to assist them in their sin. We need to get this difference down solid in our bones. We need to instinctively know the difference between imitating our Father in Heaven who causes the sun to shine on the good and evil and imitating our Enemy Below who is always second guessing and reinterpreting the clear, unmistakable Word of God.
So let’s say you’re a contractor, and you get called up to pour a foundation. You do all the necessary bidding and paperwork and show up at the site with your backhoe to dig the thing out and lo and behold there’s a sign that says, “Future Home of Planned Parenthood.” What do you do? Well, you get back in the truck and call the fellow up who hired you for the job and you apologize for wasting his time and politely explain to him that you can’t pour his foundation. And when he asks why, you explain that you are a Christian who loves Jesus and you cannot in good conscience support the work of murdering little babies. Likewise, if you work at a county courthouse that issues marriage licenses and a couple of lesbians walk in and ask for a marriage license, you say, “Sorry, I can’t do that.” And when they demand to know why and whether you’ve been living in a bomb shelter for the last three decades, you explain that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that we would not perish but that everyone who believes in Him might have everlasting life. And when they want to know what that has to do with anything, you say that you’d love to tell them more at dinner tonight, how’s six o’clock? And if your supervisor at the courthouse asks about it, you tell her the same thing. And you keep doing good honest work with a smile on your face until they decide to let you go or decide to let you do what Jesus requires you to do.
But let’s change the scenario: Let’s say you’re renting an apartment from a fellow and he seems like a nice enough guy until one day when you’re dropping off the rent check, he smiles and says, “Yep, all the proceeds from all my rentals go straight to ISIS headquarters, praise be to Allah, peace be upon him.” The next thing you do is say, “I’m sorry, that’ll have to be my last month’s rent payment. I’m a Christian. I love Jesus, and I cannot support the work of Muslim’s who are actively seeking to terrorize and murder my innocent brothers and sisters in Christ. I’ll be moving out in the morning and reporting you to the authorities. Good day.” It’s no sin at all to rent from a Muslim, but it would be wrong to knowingly support in an active, direct way sinful and criminal activity.
Let’s flip it around. Let’s say you’re a landlord, and you own an apartment complex. You provide a service to people who will no doubt, most certainly commit sins in those apartments. No matter. You are providing an ordinary human service, and they are paying for that service. Nevertheless certain high handed sins and crimes would eventually rise to the level of an eviction notice. But that standard should be established by God’s Word not merely the criminal code of the land. Most landlords would evict renters who announced openly to the landlord’s face that they were planning to deal drugs in the rented apartment. Um, that’s against the law. Nope. If it turns out people were selling Meth out of your apartments and are later arrested, oh well, that’s not your problem. Likewise, if a couple come to you for a rental agreement, you serve them cheerfully like everyone else and take their rent payment every month. But if they announce that this is their big moment: they’re moving in together. I think you should explain that you are a Christian and that you cannot in good conscience rent to them unless they agree to be married before moving in. And while we’re at it, we may as well note that a faithful Christian landlord will refuse to evict renters whose only “crime” is to refuse to go against the Word of God in their business dealings. Because you better believe the cries will go up from the thought-police when it is found out that you aren’t evicting those bigots, those haters.
So if two guys in tight pants walk into your bakery holding hands and order a dozen pink cupcakes, you sell them the cupcakes, no questions asked, with all the grace and cheerfulness you would show any other customer. But if the same couple walks in and one of them explains that omigosh-we’re-so-excited Steve has just proposed, and they’d like to order five dozen pink cupcakes for their wedding celebration next Friday, the answer is still cheerful and gracious, but it is a firm, “No, I’m sorry I won’t be able to do that for you.” If they ask why, the answer is because you are a Christian who loves Jesus, and you are sworn to follow His Word. He teaches clearly that marriage is a covenant for one man and one woman.
But what about buying a Disney movie or the new MacBook like the one I’m typing on — Apple and Disney being two outspoken and vocal supporters of “gay rights”? What’s the difference? The difference is that there are many ordinary life goods and services which Christians may participate in. In order to escape transactions with sinners you would have to go out of the world (1 Cor. 5:10). You may buy coffee from a homosexual because coffee is a common good and that homosexual man has many common life needs (food, clothing, rent) which are entirely lawful. But if the guy puts up a sign that says all proceeds support “marriage equality legislation” then you find a different coffee house. You eat the meat that’s put before you with no questions asked, but if the fellow says that he just bought the steak from Aphrodite’s Hump House then you politely decline (1 Cor. 10:28). Not because the steak is unclean or dirty but for his conscience sake (1 Cor. 10:29). He is eating the meat sacrificed to idols because he’s an idolater. And participation in that feast now becomes a celebration of that idolatry in his eyes. Likewise, if you’re a sheep dealer, you sell sheep to whoever comes into your shop, no questions asked. However, if the High Priest of Juno walks in and wants to make a deal with you to supply fifty lambs a month for the regular sacrifices at the temple, you politely decline.
OK, two final points:
First, the principle that what we are trying to embody with all of our enemies is love. We are trying to do good to all men, to please all men in all things (1 Cor. 10:33), in as much as it depends upon us to be at peace with all men (Rom. 12:18), to return blessing for cursing, hospitality for ostracism. We are called to imitate the gospel of grace which is all about conspiring to bless them while they despise us, mock us, sue us, and threaten us. This is what our God did for us: “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us… while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son…” (Rom. 5:8, 10). This is exactly the same ethic that Paul outlines in Romans 12: We do good to homosexuals, abortion doctors, porno film makers, liberal fear mongers, socialist politicians, and economic fascists. We pile up kindness all over them like burning coals so that they will turn and repent and be saved. This is the logic of the Sermon on the Mount. We disarm evil by doing good in return. We disarm cursing by blessing in return. When they try to steal from us, we give our cloak freely. When they demand our service, we go the extra mile. But all of these things assume actual blessings, doing real good. But to help a sodomite celebrate sodomy is to do him evil. To bake the cake for his so-called wedding is to hand him a long metal post in an electrical storm. It’s to do him harm and it’s to assist him in harming others. It isn’t kindness or love. To feed a hungry homosexual dinner is to do him good. To invite the director of Planned Parenthood over for dinner is to invite her (if for a few minutes) out of her love affair with death and to taste and see that the grace of Jesus is good. To give them clothing, to give them rides, to sell them groceries, to give them medical assistance — these are all good things, blessings, acts of kindness which we can and must do. But to bake a cake in celebration of evil is to multiply evil. To rent him the tux for his “marriage” to his gay lover is to curse him. We are called to overcome evil with good, but if we help them celebrate their evil, we are returning evil for evil.
And finally, I am not saying any of this by way of divine fiat. I cannot bind consciences. These are applications of biblical principles. And I believe that they are sound applications of biblical principles, but just to be clear, I’m not arguing that churches should start disciplining over this, excommunicating members who decide to apply these principles differently, or shun other Christians or churches who are convinced otherwise. I’m not saying that any other tactics than the ones I’ve outlined above are automatic sins. But I am arguing that our Christian ethics must inform how we live in the world, and that we should lead by example in this direction.
In the same way that we have told our people to get out of the government schools and do everything they can to provide a thoroughly Christian education for their children, in the same way that we have acknowledged the significant financial burdens and worked to alleviate those in our churches, we should begin to recognize where the battle lines are here. And this includes seeing where we’re already up to our armpits in compromised situations, and beginning to talk and think and pray collectively so that we might take our stands and begin to push back.
The powerhouse of our resistance is inside the Church and in worship in particular. From Genesis to Revelation, the clear, unmistakable pattern is that when God’s people turn to Him, cry out to Him, and worship Him, He answers prayers, He inhabits the praises of His people, He surrounds them with His invincible mercies. This means that we must read and declare the Word of God clearly and boldly, this means we must sing the Psalms joyfully, and celebrate the meal that Jesus gave us with glad reverence and awe.
But God also sends us out every week to transform this earth into heaven. And He sends us out to do that by taking up crosses and dying. Shrinking back from these conflicts and their attendant hardships is shrinking back from the very means by which God will bless us and give us this land. We should be thinking about crowns and rewards and the glory of the kingdom. What kind of crown will Jesus give us for losing our business for standing with Him? What kind of reward will be ours for getting hauled off to prison for refusing to help Planned Parenthood, the LGBT Alliance, or the local Porn Hut? We need to see this moment, these circumstances as Jesus handing us glory on a platter. We must not look this gift horse in the mouth.
And all of this must be led by elders and pastors, faithful and courageous shepherds who go ahead of their sheep into the fray, facing these dangers head on. In my church, the pastor who serves communion eats the bread and drinks the wine first and then serves the other elders before we serve the rest of the congregation. That’s not because we are greedy or believe in leaders rushing to the head of the line. We eat and drink first in imitation of Jesus who ate and drank first for us. His body was broken, His blood was shed so that we might follow Him, so that we might take up our crosses, so that our lives might become living sacrifices in Christ. But regardless of how you celebrate communion, the principle still stands: Christian Pastors and Elders and Deacons need to be out on the front lines of this. We have no business encouraging our members to risk losing their businesses if we aren’t already out in the public square risking our own livelihoods and families. We should never encourage people to take on burdens or risks that we are not already embracing ourselves. So in the first instance, I’m arguing that *we* (Pastors/Elders) should lead in this way.
May the Lord bless us in this, and may the knowledge of His glory fill this land.
And may we soon sit on this sweet hanging curveball and send it far into the stands.