Participation, Conscience and Marriage: Another Look

Greg Strand – March 4, 2014 Leave a comment

In response to the post on the bill which the governor of Arizona vetoed, “The Legalization of Same-Sex “Marriage,” Participation and Conscience,” a few key issues/questions are raised.

One addresses the issue of “participation” and what it means. Is participation merely a business deal, or can it also be considered support of/for, at least for some?

Another is an extension of this as it focuses on conscience and what that entails. Who determines this and who mandates the response

A final issue emphasizes the issue of marriage and what that means. If one does not ask personal questions about others who are being married to determine whether or not they live in sin, e.g. adulterers, is one not then being inconsistent, biased, prejudicial, to refuse business to a same-sex couple being “married?”

Here are further responses to these three important issues: participation, conscience and marriage.

The specific argument addressed a photographer who was wrestling with the question of how his conscience ought to factor in to making a decision about taking pictures for a wedding for those he knows to be involved in unbiblical behavior. Powers and Merritt’s argument was that if the photographer refuses to do one unbiblical wedding, then he ought to refuse to do them all, and to do anything other is to be a hypocrite.

This is not to suggest that the photographer or florist or baker is obligated to investigate thoroughly before serving at a wedding. They are not obligated or required to live by the same standards that I would as pastor doing my background research before performing a wedding service. They can in good faith agree to perform the service. But how does a conscientious believer respond in an instance when they know there are things going on that are deeply offensive to God and harmful to the couple? It is important to state that this was not about refusing to serve a gay person because they were gay. Rather it was a question of serving in a same-sex “marriage.”

One’s response in the case of a same-sex “marriage” (because I do not consider this a marriage, I include quotes) is a different matter. There is no way whatsoever that this is right. It is not a marriage, and any sexual union is immoral. There is no further background research that needs to be done because it is evident. How, then, should a Christian think about his/her decision to use creative gifts, given by God, in a way that he/she believes is dishonoring to God and harmful to others? Granted, there is some gray here. But the issue is this: should the state mandate, require by law that that person compromise his/her conscience under the threat of fines and penalties? I don’t think so.

To this, Powers and Merritt claimed that to compromise conscience it would mean that the government would force them to engage in behavior in which they did not believe. The defense is, according to them, “whether society really believes that baking a wedding cake or arranging flowers or taking pictures (or providing any other service) is an affirmation.” I believe they make two faulty statements here. First, they assume that simply baking a wedding cake or taking pictures would not be an affirmation of the couple or the wedding. They are entitled to that belief and response. But is it right to mandate that of all others under threat of the law? Second, their basis for arguing this is “whether society really believes” this. The problem with this is that true religious liberty is not what “society really believes” but what the baker or photographer or florist believes. If this decision rests in society, it dismisses what religious liberty has traditionally meant. Finally, I add a third, whether or not same-sex “marriage” is recognized legally or not, that does not mean Christians have to agree with the definition. It is not affirmed biblically or traditionally, the former being definitive and prescriptive, the latter more descriptive.

We may debate the best way to ensure that religious consciences are protected by law and courts (conscience). We may affirm the definition of marriage according to the Bible that is contrary to that defined by the law (marriage). We may also disagree about how we would counsel believers who are asking honest questions about how to live life to the glory of God in the marketplace, while loving their neighbor and being committed to being a godly witness who upholds the truth of God (participation). But claiming that those who are concerned not to sear their conscience, and to be forced to do so, as if they are resurrecting the Jim Crow laws is too much. It is a wrong analogy as race is not the same moral issue as homosexuality and same-sex “marriage.”

Bearing in mind conscience, participation and marriage, how would you respond? What counsel would you provide? Why?

Greg Strand

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Affectionately called “Walking Bible” by his youngest daughter, Greg Strand has a ministry history that goes back to 1982. Since that time, he has served in local church ministry in a variety of ministry capacities: youth pastor, associate pastor of adult ministries and senior pastor. He is currently the EFCA's Executive Director of Theology and Credentialing. Greg reads voraciously and never stops learning — a passion reflected in the overflowing bookshelves that spill from his library to multiple offices. And he could tell you about each of those books! His hunger for learning pales in contrast to his great love for God and for teaching the Word of God.

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