you don’t bring me flowers

That didn’t take long. We seem to be on the cusp of the next big moral debate:  Does a person who believes gay marriage is a moral evil have the moral and legal right and/or responsibility not to participate in that moral evil? Is a florist who respectfully declines to arrange flowers for a gay wedding courageously standing on her moral convictions or is she being unreasonable, hateful, and unchristian? Here are a few of my thoughts:

1. It’s extremely important that Christians love their neighbors and, as much as is in their power, refrain from saying or doing anything that might close doors to the gospel. But this issue is much larger than redemption. It is about a foundational norm of creation. Christians who say evangelical florists should serve a gay wedding because it might open the door for evangelism need to explain why it’s permissible to support the violation of a creation norm to do so.

2. They also need to answer this question, and in a way that would seem plausible to the florist:  Why is it wrong for a pastor to participate in a gay wedding and for the florist in his church not to?

One answer might be that the pastor and florist are involved in different levels. The officiating pastor is giving his tacit approval to the union, while the florist is merely providing a service.

But this answer betrays a distressingly low view of vocation. It’s essential that Christian florists understand their job as a divine calling. They are not merely providing a neutral, generic service, but they are obeying Jesus (Col. 3:17, 23-24) and contributing to the net good in the world.

So how would an evangelical florist assess her day arranging flowers for a gay wedding? Assuming she agrees with Scripture and nature that gay marriage is a sin (Rom. 1:26-27), she would conclude that she materially participated in a moral evil. The only other option is to convince herself that the “marriage” wasn’t so evil, that it made people happy, it was a celebration of love, etc. For the sake of her conscience, this is the option she will likely take. It will be difficult, if not impossible, to continue to service gay weddings and not think they are better than the Bible says. Do evangelical pastors really think they simultaneously can encourage their parishioners to serve gay weddings and convince them it is an abomination against God and nature? The fact that they’re doing the former indicates they’re already giving up on the latter.

3. You can tell where my sympathies lie, but I think it’s important that Christians on both side respect the other and not sabotage them in the public square. Recent essays that criticize brothers and sisters who refused to violate their conscience supply evangelical cover for the other side. You may disagree with a fellow Christian’s position, but you must defend their right not to violate their conscience on such a weighty topic.

Conscientious objections can be tricky. We must not use them as trump cards to justify evil discrimination, but neither should we coerce others to violate them without sufficient cause. If they can prevent a florist from declining to participate, they can prevent you from saying it’s a sin. The next conscience they come for may be yours.

7 Comments

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  1. as a christian business owner in the wedding industry, I find it very helpful to look beyond the scope of just one situation in one industry.

    should christian hotel owners only allow married heterosexuals to rent a room in their hotel?

    should restaurants not serve food food or drinks to those on dates or in situations they would not describe as moral? (a business meeting between a guy and girl that is flirty and unfaithful to their spouse, a gay couple on a date, etc)

    should christian owners of public venues allow any event that celebrates another religion or god (which it seems would be enabling idolatry)?

    should christian vendors have anything to do with any marriage ceremony that is not God honoring for any reason (not christian, some people get drunk, …)

    and then on the other side, should we be ok if people of other beliefs refuse service to us (as Christians) simply because we don’t agree with their faith system on a particular issue?

    I’m not sure that sounds like such a great country to live in.

    the discussion I would like to see/ read is one on the ethics of separation of church/ state. we want it when it protects our freedoms, but not so much when it protects the freedoms of others. the role of the government in this model, it seems, is to protect the rights of all people, which means creating some guidelines for commerce that help protect those rights.

    if we believe that separation of church/ state is a good thing, then we need to realize tensions like this will exist in the marketplace. the other option would be for Christians to opt out of the wedding industry or pretty much the hospitality industry in general to avoid having to serve people they don’t agree with.

  2. p.s. i’m obviously not a fan of christians opting out of the hospitality industry. just thought i’d make sure that was clear🙂

  3. I’ve got to run to class, so I don’t have time to give your comments the attention they deserve, Ben. I think you illustrate the complexity of this, and how it’s possible for both sides to disagree. I do think we need to move beyond merely pragmatic arguments (i.e., we’re already compromising so what’s a little more?) and deal with the moral and biblical arguments. I also think we need a weighty view of vocation–if we understood our jobs were a calling from God, we might be less sanguine about enabling sin in them. With that said, we do live in a fallen world, and some enabling is probably inevitable in all if not most of them. It’s probably also important to heed Paul’s admonition to not ask questions, for conscience’s sake. We don’t need to inquire about the marital status of every couple that checks into a hotel (even two men or two women can get a room together and not be gay), but if I was a Christian B & B owner, I would not want to rent a room to a heterosexual couple I knew was not married. Tertullian thought that Christians could not morally participate in many vocations, because the compromise was too great. You might disagree with him, but you still need to wade through his arguments.

  4. it does seem that the two options for Christians in MANY hospitality industries would be to either step out altogether to avoid the compromise, or to stay in and be intentional. I have some very interesting stories and examples I’d love to share offline.

    one noteworthy example is that Christians get all excited about some of the diverse weddings we shoot (Indian weddings, etc) and are offended at some of the others we shoot (gay, etc). they find it easy to overlook that other gods are being worshipped in some ceremonies but not easy to overlook other things they disagree with.

    funny how so much boils down to where people draw lines of what is really bad, and what’s “acceptably bad”.

    I agree there’s a danger in the practical approach to the argument I’ve presented. and I do believe we could benefit from a stronger theological foundation that governs all vocation in a fallen world.

    I would be skeptical however of any theology that puts Christians on the run, abandoning their vocation posts because of the tensions created by living in a fallen world. I think we’d be hard pressed to find vocations that don’t have that present tension (I saw plenty of it in christian higher education) and we’d either end up teetering on an Amish approach… or a cheap sacred/ secular substitution.

    and I think Christians also could benefit from recognizing that we don’t live in a “christian” country. we live in a country that celebrates diversity (even that which we don’t agree with). and until we live in a theocracy where I can trust the leadership to make right decisions, I would much prefer to live in a country that at least tries to celebrate individual freedom. and I am ok with others having their freedoms so that I can have mine as well. one of the most important modern life skills is learning to navigate the areas where our paths conflict with the paths of others around us (to the point where freedoms might be marginalized on both sides of the fence), and I’m a fan of having Christians very much present in those arenas.

  5. The comments here are excellent. This is NOT a simple, cut-and-dried issue. Many layers here – including the concept of “vocation” as a calling from God, the concept of praying for and working for the flourishing of the sinful culture of Babylon, and the intricacies of living in a fallen world. I really appreciate what Ben and studio623 have to say here.

  6. Bob, I agree this is very complex, but I would like to hear an argument to serve gay weddings from vocation and Jews and Babylon. On the surface each of these would seem to give many reasons not to. There is a reason why Daniel and his friends ended up in the lion’s den.

  7. Thanks for being willing to bring up this tough subject. Good post and comments.

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