For many decades, if not centuries, those from the LGBT community have been marginalized through discrimination and job loss, violence and even death, social stigmatization, and incarceration for acting on their sexual orientations. In addition, they have been given the double message of the importance of monogamy along with legal prohibitions against same-sex marriage in society. And one of the leading groups that promotes and enables this marginalization of those from the LGBT community are many of my fellow religiously conservative Christians.
But it isn't as if the past marginalizing of those from the LGBT community was enough. While waging a losing battle to keep same-sex marriage illegal, some of my religiously conservative Christians proposed Jim Crow type discrimination laws targeting those from the LGBT community in general and same-sex weddings in particular. And now that that attempt has failed to leave the ground, individual Christians are tempting fate by individual acts of civil disobedience meant to interfere with those from the LGBT community from enjoying their now legal right to engage in same-sex marriage.
The latest attempt to interfere with joining of couples in same-sex marriages by some of my fellow religiously conservative Christian brothers and sisters took the form of a country clerk from Kentucky named Kim Davis. She refused to dispense marriage licenses to any couple because she was trying to prevent same-sex couples from obtaining such licenses. And many a conservative Christian voiced the opinion that Kentucky was legally obligated to accommodate Davis' faith-based actions under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
To partially answer the dilemma that Davis' defiance of a court order brings, we need to go back a little bit in time when such civil disobedience was being carried out by my fellow religiously conservative Christians from the private sector. And that brings us to the subject of this blogpost. Here, we are reviewing an article written by Jonathan Merritt on Christian business owners who portray themselves as embattled preachers because of the legal ramifications that resulted from their failing to provide goods and services to same-sex weddings (click here for the article).
The part of Merritt's article that applies to the Davis case is sandwiched between some reluctant approval of a biblical interpretation made by Denny Burk on the identity of the 'least of these brothers and sisters of mine' from Jesus' parable of the sheep and the goats. In that parable, Jesus teaches us that those who ministered to the least of the these were rewarded with eternal life in heaven while those who didn't were sent to eternal punishment. Burk makes the claim that the least of these brothers and sisters of mine referred to followers of Jesus only and that in America today, the least of these applies to those Christians who are being persecuted for taking stands like the ones taken by those Christian business owners who refuse to sell goods and services to same-sex weddings.
And though Merritt finds merit in Burk's interpretation of the identity of the least of these as being Christians who are vulnerable, he thoroughly disagrees with Burk that the least of these includes Christian business owners who are drawing a line in the sand by refusing to do business with same-sex weddings. The highlight of Merritt's article is found in why he disagrees with how Burk here. After that, Merritt appeals to authority by citing prominent theologians who challenged Burk's application of the parable. This appeal to authority was really unnecessary and took away from Merritt's opportunity to expand on why these persecuted Christian business owners cannot be counted as the least of these.
So let's get to the highlight of Merritt's article here. It's a quote that comes from a judge who was speaking to a Christian business owner about his obligations to provide services to a same-sex couple:
You’re being fined because the law is clear that public businesses must serve the whole public.
There are a couple concepts here which we cannot afford to miss. First, the job of any Christian business owner is the same job as any business owner: to 'serve the whole public.' Such is not just the unwritten contract that is involved with running a business, but is the law according to the judge. Too many times, we Christians enter the business world in ignorance because we are only thinking about the role we would like to choose for ourselves. In part we can choose certain roles for ourselves when we run a business, but that is only in part. Sure we can use whatever business we own to evangelize, but there are other roles that are foreordained any public business. We cannot unchoose them because if we run a business, we operate within a system that involves the public rather than on a island where those who visit are by invitation only.
Second, we don't think of the ramifications of what being able to select which part of whole public we will serve. And by that, I don't mean that we don't have any choice in whom we will serve by the products we provide. Rather, we don't have the right to say to people who do desire buy our products in order to use them in legal activities that we don't have to do business with them simply because of the group they belong to. In fact, the law protects certain groups that have been or are still marginalized from such discrimination.
To allow such discrimination is to allow a part of the kind of discrimination Blacks faced during Jim Crow. And while some of my conservative Christian brothers and sisters might protest by saying that practicing homosexual acts, unlike belonging to a particular race, is sin, practicing such sin still does not warrant the mistreatment from society that comes with discrimination and the marginalization that follows.
But what about Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the requirement that both public and private employees provide accommodation for religious practices. Here we should note that such is the case if providing such accommodations does not cause undue hardship on the employer. As a Daily Kos article pointed out (click here), some jobs and faiths cannot be reconciled. An example of such an irreconcilable couple is being a Quaker and serving in the Marines. Though I am not sure if the Marines have any Quakers, I am sure that there are certain job positions in the Marines to which Quakers should never apply. So too is the pairing of a government position such as county clerk and a Christian, Kim Davis to be specific, who sees the legal giving of marriage licenses to same-sex couples as being irreconcilable to how she wishes to apply the Scriptures.
For just as business owners are obligated to serve the whole public, so too government officials are obligated to protect the legal rights of all who require their services. And if Davis finds that both doing her job and living her faith are contradictory, then she should not hold the position of county clerk seeing that she can only serve part of the law, not all of the law.
Merritt's quoting of the statement made by the judge to a particular Christian business owner is the highlight made in his article. I do wish that he would have spent more time discussing that statement rather than trying to quote Christian authority figures in an effort to contradict how Denny Burk was applying the parable of the sheep and the goats and, in particular, claiming how we must help the least of these brothers and sisters of Jesus includes helping Christian business owners who refuse to do business with same-sex couples looking to be married.
And now I return to my original point. I am tired of discussing this subject. Why? For one thing, though equality with heterosexuals in society is good and necessary, achieving that equality does not bring any structural changes to society. Also, we should note that every thing that could be said of same-sex marriage has been. The talking that goes on afterwards is simply posturing.