On the Wrong Application of “Freedom of Religion”

The Rev. Eugene W. Baade, Renton, Washington

Writer’s Note: The essay below was first published in the church newsletter of Redeemer, Mercer Island, WA, where the undersigned serves as pastor in retirement. He decided to revisit the essay because the subject continues to fuel heated debate in American religion, culture, and law. In fact, the debate has grown even stronger in the last year as a result of the Supreme Court’s decision in favor of Hobby Lobby (Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, 2014), and as a result of new laws passed in certain states regarding freedom of religion. The most controversial law as of this date is Indiana’s “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” (Senate Act 101, 119th General Assembly), particularly as it pertains to the legal right of businesses (usually small businesses) not to sell their products and services to given persons whose identities and actions they disagree with for “religious” reasons. In the case of the Indiana law, if a business owner decides that selling to such individuals or groups creates a “burden” on his religion, then he or she may refuse to sell goods and/or services to such individuals or parties. Such refusal would be upheld or denied in a court of law should a lawsuit against said business be brought. To reach a decision, the court would have to balance said “burden” with its reading of discrimination in each separate case. At this time, the Indiana law is headed toward a legislative clarification, as is another one in the State of Arkansas.

Power and authority are two powerful ideas we have in our American democracy. They are closely allied with two other powerful ideas, freedom and justice. These ideas are daily realities that engage us all, either on the dispensing end or on the receiving end.

Among the freedoms of our republic is, euphemistically put, “freedom of religion.”

The First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution describes the latter: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;”

Whereas the principles of power and authority ideally support freedom, provide for various kinds of services to citizens, and guarantee them certain rights, the question has arisen as to whether business owners and their employees, including managers, have the power and authority to do just the opposite, namely, to refuse services and sales to specific others using “freedom of religion” as a reason. Whereas a mom or dad may say “No” to a son or daughter, and that seems natural, the refusal to serve someone in the public sphere does not seem very natural, except that it naturally follows the doctrine of Original Sin which suggests that, “I am more important than anybody else in any given matter and I am also the one who knows what is best.” It is interesting how Original Sin is really at the root of the reason for why people discriminate against each other, and even at the root of how religion, itself, is used as a justification for doing so.

The question of benefiting others or refusing to benefit them has arisen often in American history with respect to selling goods and services. It has been raised with regard to particular races (African-Americans, American Indians, Hispanics), to women (there is a lengthy and complex history of discrimination that is gender based), and to certain nationalities (the Irish, the Germans, the Chinese, and the Mexicans are just a few examples). People of “color” were once refused service or were directed to separate facilities, such as rest rooms, drinking fountains, and restaurant tables. In the history of the City of Seattle, near where this writer lives, the Chinese were literally shipped out of Seattle because they were perceived as a threat to white laborers. During WWII, Japanese-Americans were removed from their homes, had their businesses taken away from them, and were interred in camps.

Some of the reasons for these discriminatory actions – the motives were sometimes thinly veiled — were jealousy of cheap labor (the Irish, the Chinese, the Mexicans), the belief that certain races were inferior (Negroes and American Indians), and fear of attack within the U.S. homeland (the Japanese).

“Freedom of religion” appears to be a new card played in the game, or an old card played in a new way.

Some Christians believe that their faith and the “free” exercise of their religion trumps everything else, including the rights of others with whom they disapprove. They ask, “Shouldn’t my faith and how I want to exercise my religion be an acceptable reason to refuse service to people or sell something to them?” “Isn’t my faith and the practice of religion inviolable and my natural right, so I can do whatever I want as long as I have religious reasons?” “Can’t I use my faith and religious practice to ‘teach others a lesson’ if I think they’re sinners?” “Am I not allowed to say, ‘I am a Christian,’ so I can refuse to book you into my motel or make a cake for you or sell you a slice of pizza because you are someone I don’t think God approves of?”

To this writer, the answer to these and related questions is, “No.” “Freedom of religion,” as he understands it, does not grant anyone the “freedom” to refuse service to others based on the things one perceives that are actually central to their identity and being, namely race, nationality, ethnicity, gender, creed, sexual orientation, and IQ or mental health. There are certainly gray areas where business owners may “reserve the right to refuse service to anyone” or state, “no shirt, no shoes, no service.” But these decisions are properly understood to be based on some temporary condition: perhaps a customer’s alcohol inebriation or drug-induced mental state or his bad or obnoxious behavior.

Why can’t we (or shouldn’t we) use “freedom of religion” as a reason to decline service to someone in the public sphere or refuse to sell something legal to them? Why isn’t “freedom of religion” an appropriate justification to discriminate on moral grounds? The following points are not all the reasons, but they are the most immediate ones this writer has considered.

1) Do we congregate to discriminate? The “free exercise” of religion in the First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution refers primarily to the right to worship as we please within our sanctuaries and teach what we doctrinally believe within our church schools. It may include some other things, but what we have been guaranteed is the right to assemble to worship as we see fit, singing the hymns and praying the prayers that are our preference, and of course preaching as we are taught. To refuse to serve someone outside of our sanctuaries and classrooms may be motivated by something we have been taught “in church,” but our refusal to serve or sell in the public marketplace has little or nothing to do with our right to assemble for worship and our right to teach our creed within our private ecclesiastical education institutions. It gets more complex, of course, when it comes to a church body’s policies regarding public enrollment in its parochial schools, and whether state laws allow for a church to restrict enrollment.

Essentially, the claim that we have the “right” to discriminate for religious reasons is disconnected from our right to worship and praise God. Granted, in the Old Testament, there were many Levitical laws and other directions given by God to the Jews that commanded non-contact with others and, for example, forbade intermarriage with people outside the group. The vast majority of Christian churches have long said, however, that those Old Testament laws do not apply to followers of Christ in the new covenant. They have been superseded by the Gospel.

2) Did we emigrate to discriminate? When Lutheran and other Christian denominations emigrated from the “old world” to the “new world,” it was often to escape persecution and discrimination. Missouri Synod Lutheran forebears were mandated by the ruler to share texts of worship and particular hymns with other denominations with whom they disagreed in doctrine. Governmentally proscribed worship was part of a program undertaken in 1817. It was called the Prussian Union. Those German Lutherans, therefore, immigrated to America in order to be free to worship as they saw fit. Other evangelical Christians immigrated to America from the “old world” for similar reasons. How awkward and strange it is that some believers, however properly they wish to protect their freedom of worship from governmental interference, also wish to use their religious views to discriminate against others beyond the scope of worship.

3) Did God legislate to discriminate? When we look at God’s Law, we understand that the center of it rests textually in the Ten Commandments. We know what those commandments say. Now, let us ask: Do any of these laws of God command us to treat people badly? Do they instruct us to humiliate them in public? Do they command us to decide which people we will serve and those whom we will not serve? Do they not, rather, focus powerfully on worshipping God alone and being a neighbor to others in every sort of way? When Joshua said (chapter 24), “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord,” he said it in opposition to worshiping the gods of the Amorites and those beyond the Euphrates. He did not say it in opposition to serving and showing love for people through the commands of the Law. Also, did not Jesus say that the fulfillment of the Law is to “love God with all your heart, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself”? God’s Law cannot be used as a “religious” pretext for discriminating against others. In fact, it suggests quite the opposite.

4) Did the reformers protest-ate to discriminate? We have, in our own Lutheran tradition, an often overlooked document that is one of several that we collectively call the Lutheran Confessions. It is titled, “On the Power and Primacy of the Pope.” This document argued that the pope’s power, and by deduction the power of any religious leader or church was, in the civil realm, restricted to the power of proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ — the Gospel. Here is a section from that document:

… Christ gave to the apostles only spiritual power, i.e., the command to preach the Gospel, proclaim the forgiveness of sins, administer the sacraments, and excommunicate the godless without physical violence. He did not give them the power of the sword or the right to establish, take possession of, or transfer the kingdoms of the world. For Christ said, Go therefore and teach them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19, 20), and also, “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you” (John 20:21). Moreover, it is manifest that Christ was not sent to wield a sword or possess a worldly kingdom, for he said, “My kingship is not of this world” (John 18:36). Paul also said, “Not that we lord it over your faith” (2 Cor. 1:24), and again, “The weapons of our warfare are not worldly,” etc. (2 Cor. 10:4) (“Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope,” sec. 31, [Tappert 325]).

While it is manifestly true that, out of their faith, Christians are to help make good laws and create good government in the civil realm, and may run for and be appointed to public office, as well as serve in the military, their faith is not to be used as a rationale for establishing a religious “kingdom” of any particular persuasion on earth. The latter would inevitably lead to the exertion of discriminatory power over citizens of their choice, and certainly those who do not share the beliefs and practices of those in power. We live in a democracy, not a theocracy. Thus, using faith and “freedom of religion” as a rationale to discriminate against other people, when various core identities are targets–be they race, nationality, ethnicity, creed, gender, sexual orientation, or mental capacity–such a rationale is an affront to the very Gospel of Jesus Christ itself.

5) Did Jesus “incarn-ate” to discriminate? Finally, do we not have an example in the Lord Jesus? While he, at times, called individuals “out” for their sins, it is interesting that those he identified as the most egregious and hypocritical sinners were the self-righteous religious folks who thought they had a right to discriminate and point their fingers at other, more “manifest”, sinners. It’s not that he didn’t think that tax cheating or commercial gouging were not sins, or that prostitution was not demeaning to the holiness of one’s body, it’s that he refused to discriminate against or reject the people who were ill-treated and judged wanting by the religious leaders. He talked to them, loved them, forgave them, and ate and drank with them. To other “inferior” people, such as women, Galileans, Samaritans, and fishermen, whose core identities or vocations had nothing to do with being sinful, he did the same: he loved them, talked to them, invited them to be his disciples, forgive them, and ate and drank with them. He who washed the feet of his disciples and taught them that thus they must serve others came to be a servant to all and to die for all.

Power and authority, freedom and justice — these are wonderful ideas that form the core identity of the life of any democracy worth its salt. This certainly includes the United States.

We have identified “freedom of religion” as another core identity of our republic. In the writer’s view, and he trusts that he is not alone, freedom of religion and the right to exercise one’s faith does not include the freedom to restrict the freedoms and civil rights of others. Religious zealots who wish to do so–whether out of fear or jealousy or for any other reason–should remember the following amendment to the U. S. Constitution. The 14th Amendment, Section one, says: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

When we freely gather to worship God in the way we see fit, it seems wise to remember that we have been blessed to live in a constitutional democracy, not a theocracy that could conceivably be designed and defined by any given definition of faith or God. Think about that for a moment. One given theocracy might insist on the right to cut off someone’s hand. Another could imprison or execute intellectually disabled people and homosexuals. Yet another could decapitate any woman who dresses improperly. Sound familiar? These and many other horrendous things have happened already in our lifetime for “religious” reasons.

The only true theocracy I wish to live in is the one to come, around the throne of our loving Father in heaven. In the meantime, I would like to live in a country where I am free to worship as I please and at the same time have the joy of proclaiming the Gospel along with its deployment of forgiveness, love, compassion, and promise of the resurrection and the life. Why would I want to spoil that beautiful and golden thing by introducing or supporting discriminatory laws based on a perverted understanding of the power and authority that God has given the church and so-called believers?

A seminary professor of mine, when considering the disturbing proposition by some that the Gospel needed defending and therefore the church should be more aggressive in protecting it, said that he believed we should protect the Gospel as we would a lion: just turn it loose.

In our country, we are ill-advised to “turn loose” discriminatory laws based on religion or personal faith. Rather, let us in our churches and out of our faith turn loose the powerful Gospel that God loved the world so much that he gave it his only-begotten Son to die for the sins of each and every one of us, believers and unbelievers alike, and everybody in between.

The Rev. E. W. Baade

Renton, WA

Revised, April 4, 2015

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6 thoughts on “On the Wrong Application of “Freedom of Religion”

  1. With many in Daystar’s populace supporting the ordination of women and other positions polar to those of confessional, orthodox Lutheranism, it comes as no surprise to see a piece in Daystar concerning religious freedom laws and “religious discrimination.” Heretical positions concerning the teachings of Scripture and entertaining and accommodating the degenerating moral standards of society are evidently not that far apart and, in some cases, drawing closer and closer. Can we truly say we’re surprised?

    To consider key points of the essay and to comment on them —
    _________________________

    “Writer’s Note: The essay below was first published in the church newsletter of Redeemer, Mercer Island, WA, where the undersigned serves as pastor in retirement. He decided to revisit the essay because the subject continues to fuel heated debate in American religion, culture, and law. In fact, the debate has grown even stronger in the last year as a result of the Supreme Court’s decision in favor of Hobby Lobby (Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, 2014) . . . ”
    The individuals of Hobby Lobby could not, in good conscience, provide abortifacients as part of their medical benefits program, especially considering how such plan DID provide for many forms of birth control which were not abortifacients. As our concern in the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod is for the sanctity of human life, this is a good thing in our view. It’s also good that the United States Supreme Court upheld that right of these individuals to practice their convictions. Yes, “individuals.” Hobby Lobby may be a corporation, but like other entities, there are human beings involved. It is run by, and serves, human beings.

    ” . . . and as a result of new laws passed in certain states regarding freedom of religion. The most controversial law as of this date is Indiana’s ‘Religious Freedom Restoration Act’ (Senate Act 101, 119th General Assembly), particularly as it pertains to the legal right of businesses (usually small businesses) not to sell their products and services to given persons whose identities and actions they disagree with for ‘religious’ reasons.”
    You render the word “religious” in quotation marks. Do you doubt the veracity of that reasoning?

    “In the case of the Indiana law, if a business owner decides that selling to such individuals or groups creates a ‘burden’ on his religion, then he or she may refuse to sell goods and/or services to such individuals or parties.”
    You’re ALREADY missing the point. As merchant after merchant has stated, the issue is not selling to people (e.g. homosexuals) as such, but rather providing CUSTOMIZED products and services which bring the direct participation of the merchant into play. The bakers, by and large, have nothing against anyone buying their cakes; they just ask to not be involved with designing and making particular ones in terms of customization. Likewise with photographers, florists, etc. and same sex “weddings” — they only ask to not be involved in terms of the dynamic of the activity.

    “Among the freedoms of our republic is, euphemistically put, ‘freedom of religion.’ ”
    “Euphemistically”? Yet the “freedoms” you’re about to move on to defend are something else again, aren’t they?

    “The First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution describes the latter: ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;’ Whereas a mom or dad may say ‘No’ to a son or daughter, and that seems natural, the refusal to serve someone in the public sphere does not seem very natural, except that it naturally follows the doctrine of Original Sin which suggests that, ‘I am more important than anybody else in any given matter and I am also the one who knows what is best.’ It is interesting how Original Sin is really at the root of the reason for why people discriminate against each other, and even at the root of how religion, itself, is used as a justification for doing so.”
    What original sin is “really at the root of” is found in concepts such as, “I may have been born with an X and a Y chromosome and anatomically male, but my identity is female,” or likewise with two X chromosomes and anatomically female and a “male identity,” or, “It’s my right to decide when and how I’ll die,” or, “It’s my right to choose to ‘terminate my pregnancy’ (speaking of euphemisms!), or, “Being gay is who I am.” Contrast the First Commandment, “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me,” or, the more literal rendering, “Thou shalt have no other gods in My face.” The problem is homosexuality, not “homophobia.” Consider also Isaiah 5:20, “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!”

    “The question of benefiting others or refusing to benefit them has arisen often in American history with respect to selling goods and services. It has been raised with regard to particular races (African-Americans, American Indians, Hispanics) . . .”
    Race and entertaining sexually deviant behavior are two very different things. The secular world loves to play the “race” card when advocating for homosexuality. The two issues don’t even compare. Not that anyone of a particular race should ever feel he should do so, but as an example . . . racially, a person simply is who he is; he can’t change it. But one with homosexual tendencies does not have to engage in a same sex intimate relationship. He does not have to obtain flowers or a cake. There is no “force” coercing him to do this, and especially to pursue an intrinsically sinful relationship (unless someone’s forcing him by threat, at which we’ve got a totally different problem).

    ” . . . to women (there is a lengthy and complex history of discrimination that is gender based) . . .”
    Yes, it’s happened in society where it shouldn’t, but among certain church people, this one’s taken out of context considering the realm of the Church. Examples are often offered where a military leader, a mother, a grandmother, or a personal, one-on-one mentor of other sorts from the Bible is used as cheap justification to deck women out in chancel vestments and have them assist in liturgy.

    ” . . . and to certain nationalities (the Irish, the Germans, the Chinese, and the Mexicans are just a few examples). People of ‘color’ were once refused service or were directed to separate facilities, such as rest rooms, drinking fountains, and restaurant tables. In the history of the City of Seattle, near where this writer lives, the Chinese were literally shipped out of Seattle because they were perceived as a threat to white laborers. During WWII, Japanese-Americans were removed from their homes, had their businesses taken away from them, and were interred in camps.”
    Acts of the past which truly were injustices need to be regretted, avoided in future and, where possible/appropriate, corrected. It is not possible in one brief commentary to address every such incident. But, again, race-nationality-etc. is a different consideration that that which is behaviorally-based.

    “ ‘Freedom of religion’ appears to be a new card played in the game, or an old card played in a new way. Some Christians believe that their faith and the ‘free’ exercise of their religion trumps everything else, including the rights of others with whom they disapprove.”
    Does this author believe that the “rights” of sexual deviants should “trump” the rights of Christians to not act in violation of their conscience? Whether every confessing Christian would take the same course of action or not is beside the point. James 4:17, “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.”

    “They ask, ‘Shouldn’t my faith and how I want to exercise my religion be an acceptable reason to refuse service to people or sell something to them?’ ”
    Many Christians involved in these high-profile cases have emphatically stated that they’re not refusing to provide products of services to people simply because they’re homosexual. The issue — already addressed here — is the participatory element involved with custom work, not selling in general.

    “ ‘Isn’t my faith and the practice of religion inviolable and my natural right, so I can do whatever I want as long as I have religious reasons?’ ”
    I don’t know about this author, but to me, the right to practice my religion is the most precious right I have. The issues at hand go even beyond that. The intention of those with the sexually-driven agenda is to not only restrict the rights of Christians, but to force them to act in a way that is contrary to their views. It’s not simply the inability to act according to convictions, but also the effort to cause Christians to do the exact opposite of what their conscience dictates. In other words, it involves what become not just sins of omission, but sins of commission as well.

    “ ‘Can’t I use my faith and religious practice to “teach others a lesson” if I think they’re sinners?’ ”
    Once again, the Christians’ purpose is not to control others. Quite actually, it’s summed up in the phrase, “Leave me out of this!”

    “ ‘Am I not allowed to say, “I am a Christian,” so I can refuse to book you into my motel or make a cake for you or sell you a slice of pizza because you are someone I don’t think God approves of?’ ”
    It’s not about a person being “someone God doesn’t approve of,” but rather — once again! — the participatory element. It’s not at all about selling someone a slice of pizza. Rather, it’s about the more direct participation in an event one’s conscience calls for disassociating with. Again, the vendors — many of them, for sure — have stated that they have nothing against selling merchandise over the counter as if to anyone else.

    “To this writer, the answer to these and related questions is, ‘No.’ ‘Freedom of religion,’ as he understands it, does not grant anyone the ‘freedom’ to refuse service to others based on the things one perceives that are actually central to their identity and being, namely race, nationality, ethnicity, gender, creed, sexual orientation, and IQ or mental health.”
    Since when is “sexual orientation” just another descriptive trait for the Christian, as if it could be either “this” or “that”? There’s a difference between the sin-induced tendencies one must struggle with (e.g. same sex attraction which one sincerely and daily endeavors to keep in check) and “orienting” oneself toward a life of entertaining such tendencies. For the Christian, sexual orientation and other factors such as race, nationality, gender, etc. are not even comparable.

    “There are certainly gray areas where business owners may ‘reserve the right to refuse service to anyone’ or state, ‘no shirt, no shoes, no service.’ But these decisions are properly understood to be based on some temporary condition . . .”
    The very worst thing we can do for someone is to affirm him in his sin. Homosexuality is a condition the true Christian would hope and pray that those caught up in would eventually leave behind. Thus, at least by definition, homosexuality, once it’s marked, would ideally prove to be such a “temporary condition.” For the Christian, the hope and prayer is that those who today identify as “homosexual” would, in future, get to the point of identifying as “former homosexual.”

    “Why can’t we (or shouldn’t we) use “freedom of religion” as a reason to decline service to someone in the public sphere or refuse to sell something legal to them?”
    Again, there is the difference between across-the-board sales and providing of services and the custom efforts which affirm the sexually deviant situation. Also, sometimes, there’s a difference between “legal” and “God-pleasing.”

    “Do we congregate to discriminate? The ‘free exercise’ of religion in the First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution refers primarily to the right to worship as we please within our sanctuaries and teach what we doctrinally believe within our church schools. It may include some other things, but what we have been guaranteed is the right to assemble to worship as we see fit, singing the hymns and praying the prayers that are our preference, and of course preaching as we are taught. To refuse to serve someone outside of our sanctuaries and classrooms may be motivated by something we have been taught ‘in church,’ but our refusal to serve or sell in the public marketplace has little or nothing to do with our right to assemble for worship and our right to teach our creed within our private ecclesiastical education institutions. It gets more complex, of course, when it comes to a church body’s policies regarding public enrollment in its parochial schools, and whether state laws allow for a church to restrict enrollment.”
    This is the argument that the enemies of Christianity (and of the truth in general) use. The idea that one is a confessing Christian in his house of worship and during the hour of worship, yet must live (and, by either words or actions, confess) differently once he leaves the house of worship, is sheer idiocy. A Christian, operating by Christian principles, while in church, yet acting-confessing-practicing-etc. totally differently once out of church? I don’t think so. Matthew 5, “Ye are the salt of the earth, ye are the light of the world” — not just of the church sanctuary, but of the world!

    “Essentially, the claim that we have the ‘right’ to discriminate for religious reasons is disconnected from our right to worship and praise God. Granted, in the Old Testament, there were many Levitical laws and other directions given by God to the Jews that commanded non-contact with others and, for example, forbade intermarriage with people outside the group. The vast majority of Christian churches have long said, however, that those Old Testament laws do not apply to followers of Christ in the new covenant. They have been superseded by the Gospel.”
    Sorry, but I’m not going to pull punches with this one. If a “pastor” is so shallow in his understanding of the Law of God to not even realize the difference between the Old Testament ceremonial Law of God and the moral Law of God for all people of all of time, then that’s a competency problem. As a father and grandfather, the last thing I’d want in Catechism instruction for my children is a pastor who can’t even tell the difference between the ceremonial code and the “written on the heart,” timeless moral Law of God, written on the heart of man since his creation (imagine that! “Creation!”) and summed up in the two Great Commandments, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind,” and, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” I’ve come to expect this infantile (or agenda-driven) lack of distinction from the people of this world (especially on comment boards) — I cannot tolerate it from one who is supposed to be theologically trained.

    “How awkward and strange it is that some believers, however properly they wish to protect their freedom of worship from governmental interference, also wish to use their religious views to discriminate against others beyond the scope of worship.”
    As has been said, it’s not about “discrimination,” but rather, the right to distance oneself from that which is in violation of his conscience. Or is “discrimination” now the end-all, default “apex” term for Christians as well as it is for the world?

    “Did God legislate to discriminate? When we look at God’s Law, we understand that the center of it rests textually in the Ten Commandments. We know what those commandments say. Now, let us ask: Do any of these laws of God command us to treat people badly?”
    Does NOT “treat(ing) people badly” automatically mean giving them what they want, even if for some reason it can’t be done? When a potential customer approaches a merchant, must the merchant do exactly what he’s asked to do and, if for some reason he can’t, that means he’s “treat(ing) people badly” and must not do so? If that’s the case, I’m going to find the next Chevy truck dealership run by a Christian and demand a new Silverado pickup for the price of one dollar! “Won’t give it to me at that price? Treating me badly.” An admittedly comical illustration, but to show that, once again, the author takes the application of Christian principles in daily life out of context.

    “Do they instruct us to humiliate them in public?”
    Who’s humiliating anyone here? Is it not the proponents of the deviant behavior, the ones who insist on getting the customized cake, who make public spectacles out of themselves, the merchants, the situation? Did we find out about the baker because HE gave the story to the news? The florist or photographer likewise? Who’s humiliating whom around here? Think, “personal responsibility!”

    “Do they command us to decide which people we will serve and those whom we will not serve? Do they not, rather, focus powerfully on worshipping God alone and being a neighbor to others in every sort of way?”
    What services essential to life and well-being have even been compromised to begin with? We’re talking about the (in my view, founded) denial of cake, photography, and flowers here, for the most part. The issues of focus don’t even involve more life-essential matters. No one’s being denied life-saving measures in a hospital emergency room in this context. No one’s being forced to starve to death. No one’s even being denied the privilege of purchasing that cake or those flowers over the counter like everyone else! The issues which have come into the spotlight involve those “icing on the cake” (if you’ll pardon the pun) factors of life which, when the sun goes down at the end of the day, do not, let’s face it! make a “life or death” difference. Once again, it comes down to not providing life’s essentials, but affirming in sin.

    “When Joshua said (chapter 24), ‘As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord,’ he said it in opposition to worshiping the gods of the Amorites and those beyond the Euphrates. He did not say it in opposition to serving and showing love for people through the commands of the Law.”
    Excuse me — “LOVE”?!? The issues in the spotlight have a common theme running through them — the affirmation of homosexuality. Since when is it “love” to affirm someone in destructive sin? The most loving thing we can do in a case like that is to point out the sin. Yes, Jesus received and ate with tax collectors and sinners. He ALSO told them to go and sin no more! He ATE with them. He did NOT facilitate their continuing to sin — in fact, to have done so would have contradicted His own instructions to them. To meet the accommodation requests which have brought this issue to light is hardly to instruct someone to go and sin no more. Quite the contrary! It is to affirm sinners in that sin.

    “Also, did not Jesus say that the fulfillment of the Law is to ‘love God with all your heart, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself’? God’s Law cannot be used as a ‘religious’ pretext for discriminating against others. In fact, it suggests quite the opposite.”
    See the above point.

    “Did the reformers protest-ate to discriminate? We have, in our own Lutheran tradition, an often overlooked document that is one of several that we collectively call the Lutheran Confessions. It is titled, ‘On the Power and Primacy of the Pope.’ This document argued that the pope’s power, and by deduction the power of any religious leader or church was, in the civil realm, restricted to the power of proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ — the Gospel. Here is a section from that document:
    ‘… Christ gave to the apostles only spiritual power, i.e., the command to preach the Gospel, proclaim the forgiveness of sins, administer the sacraments, and excommunicate the godless without physical violence. He did not give them the power of the sword or the right to establish, take possession of, or transfer the kingdoms of the world. For Christ said, Go therefore and teach them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19, 20), and also, “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you” (John 20:21). Moreover, it is manifest that Christ was not sent to wield a sword or possess a worldly kingdom, for he said, “My kingship is not of this world” (John 18:36). Paul also said, “Not that we lord it over your faith” (2 Cor. 1:24), and again, “The weapons of our warfare are not worldly,” etc. (2 Cor. 10:4) (“Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope, sec. 31, [Tappert 325]).’ ”
    Ever and again, the purpose of those who have sought to act in accord with their conscience has been to distance themselves from that which is in violation of their conscience. It is NOT to “lord it over” others.

    “While it is manifestly true that, out of their faith, Christians are to help make good laws and create good government in the civil realm, and may run for and be appointed to public office, as well as serve in the military, their faith is not to be used as a rationale for establishing a religious ‘kingdom’ of any particular persuasion on earth.”
    Again, consider the above comment — the purpose has not been to “lord it over” others.

    “Thus, using faith and ‘freedom of religion’ as a rationale to discriminate against other people, when various core identities are targets–be they race, nationality, ethnicity, creed, gender, sexual orientation, or mental capacity–such a rationale is an affront to the very Gospel of Jesus Christ itself.”
    Again, as was commented on with sufficient detail earlier, “sexual orientation” does not involve a state of being, but action, and does not belong on this list.

    “Did Jesus ‘incarn-ate’ to discriminate? Finally, do we not have an example in the Lord Jesus? While he, at times, called individuals ‘out’ for their sins, it is interesting that those he identified as the most egregious and hypocritical sinners were the self-righteous religious folks who thought they had a right to discriminate and point their fingers at other, more ‘manifest’, sinners. It’s not that he didn’t think that tax cheating or commercial gouging were not sins, or that prostitution was not demeaning to the holiness of one’s body, it’s that he refused to discriminate against or reject the people who were ill-treated and judged wanting by the religious leaders. He talked to them, loved them, forgave them, and ate and drank with them.”
    He also told them to go and sin no more AS He forgave them (cf. John 8:11, “And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more”). Jesus did not engage the people only to leave them in their sinfulness. His ultimate purpose was to free them from their sins. If the activists were to get their way, quite the opposite would be happening — the sinners would be affirmed in their sin by those whose simple, conscience-based refusals would have sent a practical message.

    “To other ‘inferior’ people, such as women, Galileans, Samaritans, and fishermen, whose core identities or vocations had nothing to do with being sinful, he did the same: he loved them, talked to them, invited them to be his disciples, forgive them, and ate and drank with them. He who washed the feet of his disciples and taught them that thus they must serve others came to be a servant to all and to die for all.”
    EXACTLY. Now, consider your own lists above this point, in which you include “sexual orientation” with the more benign factors.

    “We have identified ‘freedom of religion’ as another core identity of our republic. In the writer’s view, and he trusts that he is not alone, freedom of religion and the right to exercise one’s faith does not include the freedom to restrict the freedoms and civil rights of others.”
    Still again, the expressed purpose of the Christian bakers-etc. has been NOT, “Restrict their rights!” but rather, “Leave us out of it!”

    “Religious zealots who wish to do so–whether out of fear or jealousy or for any other reason–should remember the following amendment to the U. S. Constitution. The 14th Amendment, Section one, says: ‘All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.’ ”
    Yet still AGAIN, it’s about one’s own participation, not governmental intervention.

    “When we freely gather to worship God in the way we see fit, it seems wise to remember that we have been blessed to live in a constitutional democracy, not a theocracy that could conceivably be designed and defined by any given definition of faith or God. Think about that for a moment. One given theocracy might insist on the right to cut off someone’s hand. Another could imprison or execute intellectually disabled people and homosexuals. Yet another could decapitate any woman who dresses improperly. Sound familiar? These and many other horrendous things have happened already in our lifetime for ‘religious’ reasons.”
    Is that what’s happening here? No. And, is that what the baker-florist-etc. ultimately want? Again, NO! Shouldn’t any caring person — Christian or otherwise — seek to stand against a society as you’d described in the theocracies? Of course! But we’re talking a different situation here!

    “The only true theocracy I wish to live in is the one to come, around the throne of our loving Father in heaven.”
    That’s what I and many other Christians want also — for us and for many others. That’s why we don’t wish to affirm them in something they really need to get out of.

    “In the meantime, I would like to live in a country where I am free to worship as I please and at the same time have the joy of proclaiming the Gospel along with its deployment of forgiveness, love, compassion, and promise of the resurrection and the life.”
    I too, AS I live my life in conformity with the Scriptures and according to the Scripturally-based convictions of my conscience.

    “Why would I want to spoil that beautiful and golden thing by introducing or supporting discriminatory laws based on a perverted understanding of the power and authority that God has given the church and so-called believers?”
    Still again, these particular cases are not about the law of the land — they’re about one’s own right to distance himself from that which violates his conscience.

    “A seminary professor of mine, when considering the disturbing proposition by some that the Gospel needed defending and therefore the church should be more aggressive in protecting it, said that he believed we should protect the Gospel as we would a lion: just turn it loose.”
    The Gospel becomes Law when the Law is not able to convict the unrepentant heart. That’s caging your lion, not turning it loose.

    “In our country, we are ill-advised to ‘turn loose’ discriminatory laws based on religion or personal faith. Rather, let us in our churches and out of our faith turn loose the powerful Gospel that God loved the world so much that he gave it his only-begotten Son to die for the sins of each and every one of us, believers and unbelievers alike, and everybody in between.”
    Yes, Christ died for all. The question is, will all make it into the kingdom? He Himself had stated, Matthew 22:14, “For many are called, but few are chosen.” What I believe we are “ill-advised” to do is to, by our affirmations and approval, allow someone to believe that his manifest, impenitent lifestyle is not an issue. Rather, it’s indicative of the unbelief which needs to be combatted.
    _________________________

    If one is truly of the persuasion described in the essay in question concerning this or other polar positions to those of orthodox, confessional Lutheranism, there exists a church fellowship, even with the name and claim of heritage “Lutheran,” where these individuals should feel right at home — the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. If that’s how you really feel, then the honorable thing to do would be to ally with those with whom you’re in agreement, not spread your poison elsewhere. The idea that, “We wish to experience and be part of a church fellowship that is ‘progressive’ in these matters, AND we want THIS BODY to be that body with which it’s done!” is wrong. There are plenty of problems in the LCMS as is; we don’t need to add the harboring and sanctioning of sexual perversion and sexually deviant behavior to the already way too comprehensive list. Take it somewhere else.

    In the Interest and Service of the UNADULTERATED Gospel of Christ,

    Rev. Paul E. Gramit, Pastor
    Ev. Trinity Lutheran Church (LCMS-UAC), Clinton, Mass.

  2. Dear Rev. Gramit: Thank you for taking the time to comment on my essay. Your comments were extensive and, with few exceptions, reflected an intense desire to rebut or correct what I had to say, point by point. Unfortunately, you several times resorted to an ad hominem attack rather than staying with the merits. This added little substance to the primary subject.

    It is not my wish to turn this into a dog and pony sideshow argument between two people. I have no interest getting into a back-and-forth debate with you. However, a response to some of your comments and views is appropriate. I will use my response to amply my essay. Afterwards, I do not plan any more responses on this site to any further comments you may have.

    The term, “freedom of religion,” has been used extensively lately and has taken on both positive and negative meanings, depending on who is using it. For some who feel their faith is under attack, it is a rallying cry. For others, it is simply a euphemism for de facto discrimination. It is certainly not a term used in the First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution. The text of that amendment reads: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

    I believe that a healthy debate may be had regarding what exactly is entailed in “prohibiting the free exercise” of religion,” and also what “an establishment of religion” means. I have, from my reading of history, chosen a narrow interpretation of the amendment as the prevailing and historic understanding – a “strict constructionist” view, if you will. “… free exercise” is centered in a church’s worship and the teachings that take place within its schools and sanctuaries. I’m not saying it is exclusively limited to those two things or that Christians should not carry their faith into everyday life and from it make serious decisions and be witnesses to Christ — not at all! However, I am suggesting that, when it comes to crafting laws, the essential and historic meaning of the amendment centers on worship and parochial teaching. Recently I visited an antique mall and saw a vintage poster of Norman Rockwell’s painting, “Freedom to Worship” (alt: “of worship”), the original painting of which resides in the remarkable Rockwell museum in your beautiful state. It is one of the famous Four Freedoms paintings Rockwell executed during WWII. The poster I saw was a “Buy War Bonds” poster. The text also read, “Save Freedom of Worship” – “Each According to the Dictates of His Own Conscience.” That 1940s poster represents clear evidence of what I am referring to when I suggest that when it comes to religious freedom, our forefathers primarily understood that to mean freedom to worship as our consciences dictate.

    In contrast to a strict constructionist interpretation, some “freedom of religion” folks appear to be arguing for a wider construction of the amendment. This is somewhat ironical because, within the Supreme Court, strict constructionists are regarded as more conservative, and wider constructionists as more liberal. It makes me wonder if, when we Christians feel we need to defend our traditions, we become uncharacteristically willing to embrace variant interpretations of the U. S. Constitution that we formerly criticized.

    Regardless of what is really the prevailing sense of the First Amendment, we should identify and negotiate the pitfalls of each. For example, would “free exercise” of religion or “freedom of religion” in the modern sense allow Muslims to use Sharia law among their adherents in the United States? As you clearly point out, inasmuch as conscience is a key motive by some Christians to refuse to participate in certain activities (to use your words, “Leave me out of this”) the application of Sharia may be a matter of conscience for some Muslims. Therefore, if we Christians, because of conscience, desire to legalize actions outside of worship and our teachings within church schools, then it seems to me that we would have to also legalize actions based on matters of conscience for other religions, and even the diverse sectarian views and practices of other Christians with whom we sometimes disagree. Worlds will collide even more than they do today if exceptions allowing for discrimination are going to be made according to each individual’s conscience, or each group’s conscience. Is this a door we really want to open?

    As I review my own thinking and what I have written, perhaps I should reassure you that I also believe that Christians should act according to their consciences, especially if they believe that their consciences are bound by the Word of God. In fact, it is partly because I have a strong and developed conscience based on over seven decades of Christian faith and thought (and also centuries of Christian faith and thought beforehand) that I have written what I have written. The problem is that there is no unified conscience within Christendom on many subjects. Each person or denomination may understand the Word of God in a way that leads to different conclusions and actions (as per slavery before the Civil War when many states believed that slavery was God’s will); as per capital punishment; as per the role of women in the church; as per laws regulating the possession of certain firearms and, internationally, the marketing of all kinds of weapons – the latter subjects encompassing major domestic and global issues about which our church body has been strangely silent. And etc.). In other words, at times one person’s conscience will place him or her in opposition to the law of the land (or the individual state), but another person’s conscience will be in accord with the law.

    When one’s conscience is in opposition to the law, the one who acts on it (or refuses to act because of it) should be prepared to face, if not willingly accept, the consequences of disobeying the law.

    In our times there is a sincere attempt to find a different way, to create something called “freedom of religion” to accommodate “conscience”. Unfortunately, some who are conscience-bound appear to want to protect their own consciences at the expense of the rights and freedoms of others; at least they leave that impression. I am not at all convinced that the founding fathers and framers of the Constitution understood in the same way as we do what is currently called, “freedom of religion”. I am neither an academic historian nor a lawyer so, if I am wrong, I am sure that someone will point out to me where and when the founding fathers clearly and consistently intended a broad, modern meaning to the establishment clause.

    Another point you make several times in your comments is that you disagree that sexual orientation should be placed alongside of such categories as race, ethnicity, and other traditionally fixed identities. You are certainly entitled to your opinion. Because you obviously believe that sexual orientation is, unlike race, a choice the individual makes, it appears that you also feel that the path is clear for describing all homosexual relationships as deviant behavior. Thus described, what follows — whether the source is from revelation or natural law — is that those who identify themselves as homosexual do not deserve protection from certain forms of discrimination under the law. This is the logical arc of your position as I try to understand your several comments on the subject.

    If, as you suggest, sexual orientation is a choice one makes (You may be inferring that homosexuality alone is a choice, and that heterosexuality isn’t, but that would be illogical) then strangely I cannot remember when and if I personally “chose” to be heterosexual. Nor has anyone I know, straight or gay, ever told me that he or she could remember when and if that choice was made. I highly suspect they never made that choice any more than I did. If any individual made it, one way or another, it would certainly be a memorable moment, perhaps not unlike the emotional experience of an altar call in some churches when a person accepts Christ.

    I wonder if the more important question is this: “Once I have an understanding of who and what my identity is, sexually, what choices will I make after I have arrived at that understanding?” The “lifestyle” tag so commonly and pejoratively attached to sexual orientation, especially homosexual orientation, may more accurately apply to what happens after, and not before, one’s sexual identity is realized. To rephrase the above question, “How will l live and behave sexually now that I know that I am heterosexual or homosexual?” From what you have so fervently said in your comments, I anticipate that you will disagree with me and, as you already have, will question my orthodoxy and faithfulness to the Scriptures.

    Regarding sexual orientation and discrimination, I would argue that whether one’s sexuality is a choice or not, individuals who identify themselves as one or the other should be accorded equal treatment under the law. Such protection should not be limited to just life or death matters, but to day to day matters as well. Equality under the law should be blind to color, gender, age, and other identities. Exceptions to this should be most carefully thought out and wisely encoded in law. I pray that there are wise politicians who will find a way to untie the legal Gordian Knot that seems so unsolvable in the current tension between religious conscience and civil freedom.

    There are several other statements you made which I could address, including your false assumption that I am unaware of the distinction between the Levitical ceremonial code and the Ten Commandments (moral law), and which of those carry over into Christianity and which ones do not. I do apologize that I did not spell out more clearly, for you in particular, what is basic knowledge for most, if not all, the readers of my article on this matter of ceremonial and moral law in the Old Testament. To borrow an image from such popular British programs as Downton Abbey, I did not want to insult the experienced butler, as it were, by telling him on which side of the plate to place the forks and which side to place the knives and spoons. He knew that information long before he became a butler. The readers of my article most likely knew about Levitical laws, ceremonial and moral, without me having to spell it out for them. Frankly speaking, I did not imagine that because I did not cross every “t” and dot every “i” someone would make the assumption that my theology is “shallow”. I now must admit that I still have much to learn about how tempting and easy it is for even a colleague to put the worst construction on something another colleague writes or says. I should listen more closely to Luther on this matter, it appears.

    Additionally, I could elaborate on the issue of how merchants and vendors, as they argue for “freedom of religion” discrimination based on their conscience, believe they should be able to selectively discriminate against homosexual people, but think nothing at all of selling “customized” (the word you used) or other products to customers whose sinful behavior is easily identified in the Scriptures. How can one tell if a given product is going to be used in a fashion that is pure according to the seller’s conscience and religion?

    As well, we could explore the contrast between our Lord’s instruction given to the woman caught in adultery, “Go and sin no more”, with his instruction to his disciples, “Judge not lest ye be judged.”

    I will forego offering others responses I could make to several of your statements.

    What I do wish to say in conclusion is something to which I referred in my first paragraph above, namely your deployment of ad hominem language. It is regrettable that you decided to make several disparaging remarks about my character and intelligence, as well as my theology and ministry. These were as unnecessary as they were untruthful.

    In particular, when you told me that the honorable thing for me to do would be to voluntarily leave the synod and join the ELCA so that I could spread my “poison” there, I was initially shocked by what I felt was a stunning expression of self-righteousness. My first thought was, “Sir, you do not get to advise or dictate to me what my honor is, or what an honorable thing might be for me to do.” I thought that, having lived almost seventy-two years as a child of the Triune God in God’s world, and having served faithfully in the ministry of the LCMS for nearly forty-four years, I had not transferred to anyone the privilege of telling me or deciding for me what honor I should have within myself, among my brothers, or before our God. I asked myself, “What stranger, whether a colleague in the ministry or not, would assume the authority to tell me what I should do with the rest of my life, professionally or personally?”

    My shock has abated, however, and has been replaced with the realization that far greater pastors and theologians have been regarded with far greater contempt than the tiny bit with which I have been regarded. They glorified and praised God for the privilege of saying what they said. Therefore I, too, will do the same. To God be the glory!

  3. I just have a few things to say. One, why would you want to remain a member of a voluntary organization called a Synod, which means that we all agree to walk together and believe, teach and confess the same things, if you strongly disagree with many of the things that organization believes, teaches and confesses?

    Second, my favorite line from the movie, “The Princess Bride” is, “I’m not sure that word means what you think it means.”
    Ad Hominem: Latin for; Of the man
    adverb & adjective
    1. (of an argument or reaction) directed against a person rather than the position they are maintaining.
    “vicious ad hominem attacks”
    2. relating to or associated with a particular person.
    “the office was created ad hominem for Fenton”

    I did not read the entire response, but I read more than half of it, and he was going point by point and addressing his frustration with your arguments and use of terms. I can understand with his frustration that he might have some comments that were directed at you personally for using the kinds of arguments you used, or of belonging to the LCMS while obviously disagreeing with so many or our teachings, but that is not an “ad hominem” attack. The arguments against your person were because of the positions you hold, not the other way around. An “ad hominem” argument would be disagreeing with anything you say because he does not like you. However, I think he doesn’t like you because of the things you say. Which is not to say he hates you, or that he doesn’t love you, since as a Christian he is required to love you and not hate you.

    Third, the use of straw men in an argument never really gets anywhere. You wrote in your article, “Some Christians believe that their faith and the “free” exercise of their religion trumps everything else, including the rights of others with whom they disapprove. They ask, “Shouldn’t my faith and how I want to exercise my religion be an acceptable reason to refuse service to people or sell something to them?” “Isn’t my faith and the practice of religion inviolable and my natural right, so I can do whatever I want as long as I have religious reasons?” “Can’t I use my faith and religious practice to ‘teach others a lesson’ if I think they’re sinners?” “Am I not allowed to say, ‘I am a Christian,’ so I can refuse to book you into my motel or make a cake for you or sell you a slice of pizza because you are someone I don’t think God approves of?””

    Who says any of these things? The family that owned the pizza restaurant specifically said that they have never turned away a customer, nor would they ever turn away a customer, just because that person was a homosexual, or they thought he or she might be one, let alone just because they thought they were someone they didn’t “think God approves of”. As far as I know, besides the one person who posted on a social media site the inflammatory comment that, “Finally I can quit serving gays,” (and we do not even know for certain that person was either a Christian or a business owner) no one has ever said such a thing. If anyone did make any of the above comments about the law in Indiana they would be showing several levels of ignorance. 1) The law does not give anyone those kinds of “freedoms.” 2) The Word of God cannot even be quoted out of context to support any of those positions. These are not the beliefs and positions of actual Christians, these are the straw man arguments set up by people who wish to make conservative Christians’ beliefs look stupid so they are easy to refute. If you want to deal with the actual issue of forcing a photographer to take pictures at a same gender marriage, or forcing a baker to make a wedding cake with two men or two women on top of it, in spite of the fact that they are convinced that God created the institution of marriage for joining together man and woman for the procreation of children (go forth and multiply), and that God made the two sexes fit one another the way they do for a reason, then do so. I would say that setting up straw men and refuting them is pretty close to an “ad hominem” attack, making the person look stupid, rather than dealing with their actual beliefs and points.

    And you did the same kind of thing in your rebuttal of Rev. Gramit’s response. You wrote, “If, as you suggest, sexual orientation is a choice one makes …” That is not what he said. Rev. Gramit said, “But one with homosexual tendencies does not have to engage in a same sex intimate relationship.” He did not say that the orientation itself was a choice, but what they decided to do in regard to that orientation. Instead of responding to what he actually said, you created a straw man about the orientation itself being a choice, as that is so much easier to refute. There is a comparison to heterosexuality. Most heterosexuals, even after marriage, feel sexual attraction toward members of the opposite sex to whom they are not married, but many of them choose not to act on those feelings. If they did so, it would be a sin. I am fairly certain that many florists who would not want to make flower arrangements for a same sex marriage would also object to making a flower bouquet for a man to give to his extra marital lover, if they knew that is what the arrangement was for. The difference is, even most men who are cheating on their wives still know it is wrong, so they don’t advertise their sin.

    Just because people have a strong tendency to behave in a certain way does not mean that God made them that way and they have no choice but to act out on it. Many have strong desires to kill, steal, lie, destroy property, assault people, and yet these things are against the law of almost all societies, and no one argues that they were born that way so we shouldn’t judge them. I’m not arguing for giving either adulterers or homosexuals the death penalty, but that does not mean that to act on those compulsions is not sin.

    One last point. You argue that our nations forefathers intended the first amendment to defend only the freedom to worship according to our conscience, and you use the paintings of Norman Rockwell as evidence. Did you think that one through? Norman Rockwell lived in the mid 1900s, is not one of our nation’s founding fathers, had nothing to do with the composition of the Constitution or the Bill of Rights. However, he did live during the Presidential Administration of F. D. Roosevelt, the very first President to ever use “freedom to worship” as an explanation of the first amendment. There is no record of anyone in Washington before him who interpreted the law so narrowly. Also, I think you have things a little backwards, because you spoke about a broad and narrow explanation of the “establishment” clause. However, what is at issue here is not the “establishment” clause, but the “prohibition” clause. Does the government have the right to tell people that they cannot conduct their business transactions according to the moral tenants of their faith, or to practice their religion in their secular lives.

    There has been a government that decided it had the right to tell Christians that they could not call homosexuality a sin. It was the Soviet Union. What is most interesting, though, is that less than 20 years after arresting Christian pastors for preaching against homosexuality, the same government arrested and sent away thousands of homosexuals. In the end, this is not just about “religious freedom,” it is about freedom of the conscience. Once that is lost, all it takes is a change in who is in office, and what was allowed in the previous administration becomes a capital offense in the next. I’m not sure you or anyone really wants to go down that road.

    And did you know that laws like the one originally signed in Indiana have been used to defend American Indians use of peyote in sweat lodges, a Muslim to grow a long beard while in prison, a Sikh to wear a turban with his military uniform, but has never been successfully used to defend a photographer who did not want to take pictures at a same gender wedding? In fact, it seems that the laws, which exist in almost the exact same language in many states already, can be used to defend the exercise of almost any religion other than conservative Christianity. The only exception has been the Hobby Lobby case and others like it on the issue of abortifaciant drugs in the health care reform act. Heck, neither the Christian faith nor homosexuality are even mentioned in the law, nor is the right to discriminate or deny services or sales. You might want to actually read the law before spouting off your opinions about it. None of the claims made in the hysterical mass media were even close to the truth.

  4. Mr. Stout, you wrote: I have just a few things to say. One, why would you want to remain a member of a voluntary organization called a Synod, which means that we all agree to walk together and believe, teach and confess the same things, if you strongly disagree with many of the things that organization believes, teaches and confesses?

    Response:
    1) Where do you find me stating that I “strongly disagree with many of the things that (Synod) believes, teaches and confesses”? I will answer the question. You cannot find it anywhere, because it doesn’t exist. Your statement is simply not an accurate perception of my thinking or an accurate interpretation of what I have written. In your comments above you suggest that I have Rev. Gramit saying things he didn’t say. If I have done that at any point, then I stand corrected. However, you have done the same thing by suggesting that I “strongly disagree with many of the things….”

    2) I have a very high regard for and love of the synod, especially as I consider the long, historical perspective. Synod’s history is absolutely rich in its historical witness to Jesus Christ and the mission of Christ. Therefore I cannot imagine myself thinking of it as just a “voluntary organization” that one casually belongs to or leaves as if it were a club of some sort. In my view, it is the precious Body of Christ, not a “voluntary organization.” I treasure the multitude of wonderful people in the synod who have Christ at the center and who believe, teach, and confess Him as Lord. It saddens me that the decades of deep fellowship developed around, not only our confession, but our love for one another, have been cheapened by the politics of power and the accusations of zealots in recent times. Is that sadness a reason to leave this Body of Christ? Absolutely not!

    3) “… believe, teach and confess the same things” is a broad statement and seems to open the door to whatever one wants to include in it. What do you mean by “same things”? The Confessions are very specific and objective, but “same things” seems quite generic and subjective.

    4) “… walk together” is an interesting, often used phrase in the Missouri Synod. Aside from whatever the synod intends it to mean, the images I have of “walking together” run from the extreme of Nazi soldiers goose-stepping in parade (modern parallel: North Korean soldiers) to the other extreme of protesting crowds walking as an undefined, constantly changing, and sometimes uncivil group in the same direction down a city street. Is there an abiding image of “walking together” in Synod that is historically accurate and encouraging to all who walk? What, exactly, do we mean by the expression? Do some fear it might become a walking together of mass protest where anything goes? Do others fear it might be a walking together under the banner of extreme ideology where punishment is administered if one is ever so slightly out of step? How does “walking together” avoid anarchy on one hand and tyranny on the other hand?

    5) I get a little tired of the mantra, “if you don’t agree with us (me) or if you criticize where I live, go someplace else.” It seems so ubiquitous in our sinful society these days. It’s tiresome, petty, and void of love. Our current national politics are infused with the rhetoric of exclusion and the demonization of people who are not in full agreement with certain ideologies. The same politics of exclusion seem to have made their way into the church. I realize that you are not demanding me to leave. However, your question seems to imply that I should. It’s a softer, slightly more innocent version of the above, but it’s made from the same cloth.

    Re your comment about ad hominin:
    We can have a difference of opinion on whether some of Rev. Gramit’s comments were ad hominin or not. I considered them so originally, and I still do. The use of certain words and phrases in a text reveals the attitude of the writer not just about the subject at issue, but also about the person with whom he/she disagrees. In the not so distant past, some of words and assertions that the prior commenter made would have been enough to get the recipient’s head lopped off or his person burned at the stake. The intent is ad hominin even if the result is not execution.

    Re your comment about “straw men”:
    I do not consider my sample questions, whether they were theoretical, probable, or based in actual experience, “straw men.” They are only “straw” if one does not appreciate the depth of bias in the human heart, particularly when fueled by religious motives. They are only “straw” if one also ignores the record of bias, refusal of service, and ill treatment of others that is so abundantly present in the history of the United States. I stand by my questions as legitimate questions asked openly or in the minds of vendors and business people who claim to have a conscience that determines how they wish to carry out their business.

    Re Rev Gramit’s position on sexual orientation:
    You make a very good point. Perhaps Rev. Gramit would like to clearly state that he does not, in fact, believe that sexual orientation (or tendencies) is a choice. If he did so, it would certainly be at odds with much of the language in “conservative” churches as to the reason why gay people are gay and have gay relationships. That language has clearly and repeatedly suggested that being gay is a choice. I see nothing in Rev. Gramit’s composite comments to suggest that he believes otherwise. He may wish to correct or clarify that perception or interpretation.

    Re “establishment” clause:
    Actually, I did think this one through. I thought a lot about it, which is not the same thing as saying that I am absolutely right about it. As a matter of fact, I welcomed more information about it by stating the following: I am neither an academic historian nor a lawyer so, if I am wrong, I am sure that someone will point out to me where and when the founding fathers clearly and consistently intended a broad, modern meaning to the establishment clause. Of course I know that Mr. Rockwell lived in the mid-1900s and was not a founding father, but your statement does not convince me that the opinion I rendered is historically incorrect. I await factual evidence that a narrow view of the establishment clause was not the understanding up until the most recent times. Your claim (if it is an accurate claim) that there is no record before Roosevelt that interprets the law narrowly is an argument from silence. The opposite position can also be asserted from silence. I’d be happy to hear a professional in constitutional jurisprudence set the record straight. I’m not trying to be right and it really doesn’t matter if I’m wrong; I’m just after the facts.

    You make an excellent point in bringing up the “prohibition” clause. However, I believe that the “establishment” clause is highly relevant because people are citing “freedom of religion,” which directly ties in with the establishment clause.

    Re Soviet Union:
    I can easily agree with you about this, and it is a great observation. I would not, however, place freedom of religion outside the context of freedom of conscience, or vice versa. I’m not convinced there is an “In the end” that eliminates consideration of either freedom.

    Re: “spouting off” about Indiana law and various laws:
    Let me address the last couple of sentences first. Why did you decide to take a pot shot at my intelligence or thought process by suggesting that I was “spouting off”? Or was it carefully calculated to generate a response in kind?

    As a matter of fact, you are categorically wrong in your assumption about my lack of preparation. I did read the law in its entirety before writing my second edition of the essay. Here is what I said in that essay, and I think it is accurate:

    “In the case of the Indiana law, if a business owner decides that selling to such individuals or groups creates a “burden” on his religion, then he or she may refuse to sell goods and/or services to such individuals or parties. Such refusal would be upheld or denied in a court of law should a lawsuit against said business be brought. To reach a decision, the court would have to balance said “burden” with its reading of discrimination in each separate case.”

    Is this the language of someone “spouting off”? Not in my book.

    I am aware of the various laws regarding use of peyote, beards for Muslims, etc. You wish to tie them in with freedom of conscience for Christians and why it would be good to have additional laws to the ones we already have to protect our consciences or practice our religion. I do not necessarily disagree; it depends on what such a law actually says, what loopholes there are, and how it can be abused. Personally, I think this is a field with considerable shades of difference and that there is no absolute “one size fits all” that makes every judgement easy to render.

    Regarding your comparisons, I hold a preliminary, but not sealed-in-concrete opinion that the examples you cite (use of peyote, growing of beards, wearing a turban), do not intrinsically pose any threat to the civil rights of others. They have little or nothing to do with the ethics of how one treats others. My dentist is a Sikh. His right to practice his religion by wearing a turban does not threaten my right to ask for and received his services in any way, nor would he ever think to use it as an excuse to deny me his care. If an American Indian uses peyote in a lodge ceremony, that is no threat whatsoever to my right, for example, to consecrate bread and wine at Holy Communion. A long beard in prison – the same – it does not threaten someone else’s civil rights, at least that I am aware of. On the other hand, if I refuse to serve someone or sell them something, even for what I consider the best of reasons, that does involve their civil rights on some level, a level that might or might not be recognized in a court of law.

    Regarding your statement that the Indiana law did not mention homosexuality or the Christian faith, that absence of terms was not enough to satisfy millions of people across the civil spectrum who did not consider the bill an innocent one that would not be used as a tool by some who might choose to discriminate. I completely agree with you that there was, indeed, plenty of hysteria in the mass media. However, I, for one, would be mistaken if I thought that the media pulled the wool over thousands of smart and people well-trained in the law who were concerned about the law on its merits.

    As I noted when responding to Rev. Gramit, I will not go back and forth in an extended debate on this forum with the same individual person. Thank you for weighing in with your thoughts.

  5. Corporations, publicly or closely held, do not exist in natural law. They are a creation of modern government seeking to promote commerce and capital markets. The primary feature of corporations (and other business entities like limited partnerships, LLC’s, etc.) is to shield the assets of the people who own them from the harms (unpaid debts, property and bodily injury) caused by them. Only the owner’s investment in the business entity is at risk. I think that as a matter of public policy a person who uses a government-created privilege such as incorporation to protect his/her personal financial assets should not be able to claim that their corporation should enjoy an natural person’s constitutional right to refuse to associate with a law-abiding person.

  6. Your comment is very much appreciated, including the thoughtful chain of reason you have put forth.

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