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‘I would hug him,’ says florist of gay accuser

RICHLAND, Wash. (BP) — A Southern Baptist florist does not regret her nine-year friendship with a homosexual man who won a lawsuit against her after she refused to design floral arrangements for his gay wedding, she told Baptist Press.

“If Rob [Robert Ingersoll] walked in the store today, I would hug him and catch up on his life,” Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, Wash., told BP. “The same faith that tells me that I can’t be a part of Rob’s wedding is the same faith that tells me to love him as Christ does.

“Christ loves us all regardless, and it’s not my place to judge him, or to judge anybody. It’s my place to be an example of Christ,” she said. “Do they see Christ in what I do, and how I treat them?”

Stutzman, a 70-year-old member of Richland Baptist Church in Richland, had provided floral arrangements for Ingersoll and most recently his friend Curt Freed on numerous occasions. But she refused in March 2013 to use her gifts and talents to design flowers for their wedding.

“I waited on Rob for nine years and created flowers for him on all types of occasions, but when it comes to my faith, marriage is between a man and a woman, and that’s where the line is drawn,” she told BP Feb. 26. “I cannot create something for him in good faith; I wouldn’t be honoring God’s Word.”

Stutzman was found guilty Feb. 18 in Benton County Superior Court of violating the couple’s U.S. and state civil rights, and was held personally liable for the couple’s damages and attorney fees, putting her at risk of losing her business and personal holdings. (See earlier Baptist Press story.) Backed by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), Stutzman is appealing the case, and is prepared to take it to the nation’s highest court.

“We intend to go on, to appeal again, up to the Supreme Court if we have to,” she told BP, “because of my faith, because the Bible teaches that marriage is between a man and a woman, because of my religious freedom.”

The issue isn’t about Ingersoll being gay, said Stutzman, who according to court documents has employed openly gay individuals through her business.

“The issue is marriage is between a man and a woman, according to my faith,” she told BP. “I just think of myself as a follower of Christ and the Bible teaches that marriage is between a man and a woman, and the Bible is my authority.”

In a court filing by ADF, Southern Baptist professor Denny Burk provided a statement that drew from his experience in theological education and training. In the document, he explained the difference between providing flowers for the couple’s gay courtship, as opposed to their marriage.

“A Christian in the Southern Baptist tradition who owns a business is not obligated to question every customer regarding the potential uses to which the products or services sold by the business might be put,” said Burk, professor of biblical studies at Boyce College, the undergraduate arm of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

“In addition, a business owner who becomes aware that his or her products or services might be used for a sinful or immoral purpose is not generally obligated to refuse to sell such products or services, although the duty to love one’s neighbor and avoid scandal might involve refusal to sell such products or services under certain circumstances,” he stated. “In either case, the equal dignity and worth of the customer requires the business owner to respect the customer’s God-given free will.

“However, the business owner must not engage in a transaction that involves participation in or material cooperation with a sinful act,” Burk said, “because it would constitute personal sin on the part of the business owner, and would therefore be subject to God’s judgment.”

Burk listed Article 18 the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message and several Southern Baptist Convention resolutions in Stutzman’s defense, including the June 1988 SBC Resolution on Persecution of Christians, the June 2001 SBC Resolution on Covenant Marriage, the June 2003 SBC Resolution on Kingdom Families, the June 2011 SBC Resolution on Protecting the Defense of Marriage Act, the June 2012 SBC Resolution on “Same-Sex Marriage;” the June 2013 SBC Resolution on Violations of Religious Freedom and Assembly in the United States, and the June 2012 SBC Resolution on Protecting Religious Liberty.

In March, 2013, Stutzman did not refuse to provide floral stems to the couple, but referred him to several florists who would have no problem designing the arrangements.

“God has given me a talent to create something unique and different and from the heart, and it’s an expression, and it’s something that I just can’t celebrate,” she told Baptist Press, “doing flowers for a same-sex marriage.”

Ingersoll and Freed have since married.