The court cases are adding up. People, often Evangelical Christians, are catching flak for not being willing to provide a service to same-sex couples for their wedding. We’ve had bakers, photographers, and more recently florists who have refused to offer their services because of faith-based reasons. While I find the legal hostility these service providers have been hit with to be over-bearing, I also find their rejections to be counter to the way of Jesus, whom they claim to follow.
The main reason given to deny service in each of these cases has been a desire to not give approval to same-sex marriage, which these people find incompatible with their Christian faith. They are both right and wrong at the same time.
It is true that Christian faith which leans fully on the Bible as its source of truth and behavior does not condone same-sex marriage. There have been many attempts to get the Bible to seem like it doesn’t really reject sexual relations outside of opposite-sex marriage, but none of them hold water. I won’t engage in that argument here. But I will refer to Robert Gagnon’s book The Bible and Homosexual Practice, which is pretty much the last word exegetically on the biblical texts dealing with sexuality. So, I don’t fault these people about their convictions about same-sex marriage. (And hopefully, any reader who supports same-sex marriage will grant that to these people as well. You may disagree vehemently with them, but you have to admire them for their willingness to suffer ridicule and legal damage for being consistent with what the Bible teaches.)
What I do fault these people with is their understanding of the Bible and of Jesus, his message, and his mission.
1. We are all created in the image of God. The Bible begins with an amazing affirmation of what it means to be human. We are created in the “image of God.” Out of all of creation, humans alone bear God’s image. Not only does this connect us to God, but it connects God to us. Because of this, every human life has incredible value, much more value than we generally extend to the garbage collectors and toll booth operators we barely even acknowledge in our day-to-day lives. Although we tend to treat some people as less than human — the mentally ill homeless man, the janitor who doesn’t speak my language, the telemarketer — we shouldn’t. And this includes those who practice a different sexuality. When we find ourselves treating someone less than the image of God person that he or she is, we need to stop, repent, and treat them differently. Denying people flowers is treating them as less than human.
2. We are all sinners. The Bible and our experience tell the same tale. All of us sin. A lot. We harm each other, ourselves, and this world. We rebel against God. But even though we’re all in the same boat, too many Christians act as if they aren’t and distinguish themselves from those they deem to be bad sinners. The irony here is that the Pharisees at the time of Jesus did the same exact thing. And who did Jesus end up spending a lot of time with? Jesus consistently ate meals with people he had major differences with, ethically and theologically. He ate meals at the homes of those who were religious snobs. And he ate meals at the homes of those who were notorious sinners. Now, eating a meal with someone was considered a sign of agreement with them (just like a florist might consider providing flowers to a wedding as agreeing with the marriage). But Jesus didn’t care. He ate with anyone, because he knew that everyone was in the same boat. Denying people flowers is saying you’re not in the same sin boat as they are.
3. We’ve been given the ministry of reconciliation. Jesus said he came into the world to save the world, not to condemn the world (John 3:17), but too many of us spend too much time condemning the world. Instead of condemning and rejecting others, we have been given the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:16-21). Instead of creating a gap between people, we’re supposed to be closing the gaps. And not just the gaps between an individual person and God. The gaps between one person and another (Matthew 5:23-24) and between one people group and another (Ephesians 2:14-16). Denying people flowers creates gaps, while offering flowers is considered a move toward reconciliation in almost everyone’s book.
4. We are called to GO. We can’t go and make disciples of all people groups (Matthew 28:19) if we stay among ourselves. Be missional! You’ve been invited to a wedding, to one of the most significant days in these people’s lives. Taking flowers to a wedding is going where Jesus has sent you.
5. We are all prodigals hoping that we can go home. God is the great Father who welcomes his prodigal children home (Luke 15:11-32). But if we’re not willing to share some flowers with the prodigals out there, then they might never turn their faces toward home and the Father who waits for them to turn his direction.
6. We are not the Judge, God is. The forbidden fruit in the Garden wasn’t an apple. The tree was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Genesis 2:17). That’s not human wisdom and knowledge. That’s being the one who decides if something (or someone) is right or wrong, good or evil. The forbidden fruit is judging. Why is it forbidden? Because judging is God’s job, not ours. And because we’re not very good at it. We have a very limited perspective from which to judge, making us notoriously bad at it. (Really. You’re not as good at it as you think you are. I know I’m not.) But God sees all, including the motives of our hearts, making him the best judge possible. Providing flowers for some people and not for others is an act of judging that doesn’t need to take place. Let God do the judging.
7. Let those who are innocent throw the first stone. (John 8:7) And since we’re not innocent ourselves, it’d be better to take flowers instead of throwing stones.
8. Why is this the big issue for you? How about checking the business practices of your clients to see if they charge too much or treat employees unfairly or pollute the earth? Why don’t you refuse service to other people who do things you disagree with? People who are on the other side of the abortion issue than you. People who are racists. People who voted for the other political party than yours. People who are mean to their kids. Providing flowers moves us from ideology to relationship.
9. What exactly do we mean by religious freedom? What if religious freedom didn’t so much mean that I don’t have to be bothered by certain people or certain issues and instead it meant that I’m free to serve the poor despite city ordinances, that I’m free to house and care for human beings the government calls illegal aliens, and so on? Could it be that religious freedom means that you are free to lovingly providing flowers for a couple whose sexual behavior you find immoral?
Go. Take flowers. Bake cakes. Shoot photos. Be present.
You don’t have to agree the practices of worldview of others. But you do have to be kind and gracious and loving. If you need to speak up, then do so with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15).