Please Violate Your Conscience

Having God's law in your heart doesn't make your conscience always right.

Two Supreme Court cases in the past couple of years have shaped today's conversation on religious freedom in America. In 2014, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby allowed corporations to claim religious exemptions from federal laws. And in 2015, Obergefell v. Hodges required all states to grant same-sex marriages and recognize same-sex marriages granted in other states.

Several years earlier after Bill Clinton signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) in 1993, it was ruled unconstitutional in its application to the states and was limited to the federal government. Consequently, twenty states passed their own individual RFRAs.

When Burwell v. Hobby Lobby was decided, it created an opportunity to expand the power of the state RFRAs and allow faith-based organizations to deny services or even employment to people based on religious grounds. Since then, sixteen more states have proposed RFRA legislation--most notably Georgia's House Bill 757 which, due to significant pressure, Governor Nathan Deal recently promised to veto.

Religious conservatives have been zealous in passing these bills because they saw the Obergefell v. Hodges decision coming. The country is becoming increasingly more accepting of gay culture, and less tolerant toward any criticism of it. Thus, with the media supporting gay couples in high profile cases, and now the federal government forcing legitimacy of same-sex marriages, RFRAs are considered the last line of defense against state-sanctioned violations of conscience.

Now that I've spent two minutes on the legislative backdrop of the religious freedom conversation, let's switch gears and talk about why Christians can't support any of it.

To do this, you'll have to stop thinking like an American citizen. Americans have the right to lobby for any kind of legislation they want. Liberals and conservatives certainly have different values that inform their choices, but no one is beholden to any person or system of thought. As an American, you can support anything you want to.

But if you're a Christian, you're not an American citizen. Your birth certificate, social security number, and driver's license identify you to the U.S. government as a taxable commodity, but they do not define you. As a Christian, you are a citizen of heaven. You are a member of the kingdom of God and you are one with Jesus Christ. You submit to the government for the sake of unity and love, but you surrendered your rights as an American when you surrendered your life to Jesus.

So remove any preconceptions you have about a free conscience because your rights are granted by the Bible, not the U.S. Constitution.

Most of us would agree that being coerced by the government into doing anything that violates God's law warrants civil disobedience. If a law was passed requiring us to commit genocide against a particular people group, most of us would refuse. If it became illegal for Christians to meet together for worship (as it is in many parts of the world), most of us would do so anyway just like the apostles did.

But there's a logical leap being made from engaging in sin and doing things that might put you in proximity with it. Whether it's officiating a gay wedding or baking a cake for it, ask yourself in what way you're sinning. If you believe homosexuality is a sin, how does doing either of those things cause you to sin too?

You may be forced to violate your conscience, but neither officiating nor baking are forcing a change in your belief or your behavior. You can still believe that homosexuality is a sin and you can still not do it. Unless the wedding reception requires full participation in a homosexual orgy (unlikely), there is no violation of God's law on your part.

What your conscience is experiencing is a sense of guilt by association. Being around things we believe to be sin makes us uncomfortable. Sometimes it's the Spirit warning us but more often than not, it's the fear of what other people will think about us. If you officiate that wedding or bake that cake, someone might think you condone the relationship. Or that you might even be gay yourself.

Not that you didn't see this coming, but Jesus knows a little bit about that. We all remember the story of him eating with tax collectors and prostitutes and how the religious leaders took notice. You'll recall that his response was that he came to reach the sick, not the healthy.

Some take that to mean that he was only among them to preach repentance, but there's no evidence of that in the text. Instead, we see him being labeled as a glutton, a drunkard, and a friend of sinners--hardly a description for someone who spent his time condemning those kinds of people. In fact, it's not likely that they would have enjoyed the company of such a person long enough for him to develop that kind of a reputation.

Freedom of conscience is really about freedom of reputation. When your conscience feels violated, you're not afraid of what you're doing; you're afraid of what others will think. You just don't want to be associated with "sinners." But Jesus was. Jesus risked his reputation because he loved people and he let his actions speak for themselves.

If you're a pastor or a baker, no one is making you change your beliefs or your sexual orientation. But you are being challenged to speak up. What will your actions say? Will you withhold love out of fear or will you extend love despite criticism? The latter may violate your conscience, but if you're anything like me, your conscience has probably been wrong before.

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  1. As a pastor, I have to push back a little bit on officiating at a same-sex marriage ceremony by asking a question. What is the role of the pastor or officiant for any sort of wedding? It is to speak on behalf of an authority to legalize or legitimize the marriage. A judge or justice of the peace acts on behalf of the state. An Elvis impersonator acts on behalf of...Elvis? A pastor or minister acts on behalf of God. When I perform a wedding ceremony, I believe that I am acting on God's behalf to sanction the union of two people. I believe that God has designed and defined marriage to be between one man and one woman for life. I, as a representative of Christ and the Word of God, will not officiate at a same-sex marriage ceremony. It's not a matter of my conscience. It is a matter of what I believe God's Word says about marriage.
    At the same time, I think that it is incumbent upon ministers and pastors to be more selective in the weddings they choose to perform. We need to examine the whole of Scripture with regard to God's stance on marriage. What does Jesus say about divorce and remarriage? What does God say about adultery? Pastors and ministers will sometimes turn a blind eye to situations that violate Scripture for a variety of reasons. We need to be more consistent with regard to God's Word.
    As far as loving everyone, you know where I am on that. I want to love everyone. I also want to love God with all of my heart, soul, mind and strength. The thing I have to remember is that I don't answer to people. I answer to God. The loving thing to do isn't necessarily going along with everything they do. God loves me, but He doesn't approve of my sinfulness. He doesn't wink at it or turn a blind eye to it. I answer to Him and He will judge me for all of the deeds done in the body. I believe that when I stand before Him I will be judged "Not guilty." Not because of anything I've done, but because of what Jesus did for me. Nevertheless, I will answer to Him for my ministry and how I represented Him on earth. I believe that I will be held doubly accountable for every word, thought and deed. All followers of Christ have to keep in mind that Jesus is our Judge as well as our Savior.

    1. That's a valid argument and probably the only one that can be legitimately debated (baking, not so much). However, I personally don't believe God vested his marriage-giving power or authority in any person or office and I can't find a biblical support for such a notion. What I do see is God establishing marriage through intercourse. At which point, a church ceremony becomes little more than pageantry. Not that it isn't meaningful or valuable, but it's certainly not authoritative.

    2. Alex, I would like to see a blog from you "On pageantry: regarding the observance of Christian sacraments."

  2. Jesus did not help the prostitute turn the trick.


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