WASHINGTON (BP) — Christian photographers, florists and bakers are not hypocrites to refuse their services for same-sex weddings, Southern Baptist ethicist Russell D. Moore has written in response to the charge from other evangelical Christians.
Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, posted a response Sunday (Feb. 23) to a column by Kirsten Powers and Jonathan Merritt published the same day at The Daily Beast, a popular news and commentary website. Powers, a Daily Beast columnist and Fox News analyst, and Merritt, a senior columnist for Religion News Service, said Moore and other Christians are selectively invoking the Bible when they refuse to serve for same-sex weddings while not declining for other “unbiblical” ceremonies.
As an example of an unbiblical wedding, Powers and Merritt cited a ceremony between a Christian and a non-Christian or involving a divorced person who does not have a biblical basis for divorce.
“If you refuse to photograph one unbiblical wedding, you should refuse to photograph them all,” Powers and Merritt wrote. “If not, you’ll be seen as a hypocrite and as a known Christian, heap shame on the Gospel.”
There is a distinction, Moore responded, between a same-sex ceremony and a heterosexual wedding, even if a man and woman do not have biblical grounds for marriage.
“In the case of a same-sex marriage, the marriage is obviously wrong, in every case,” Moore wrote at his blog. “There are no circumstances in which a man and a man or a woman and a woman can be morally involved in a sexual union.”
Moore’s blog response followed more extensive comments on the distinction in a “Question and Ethics” podcast posted Feb. 20 at The Gospel Coalition blog.
A same-sex ceremony is different from “other problematic marriages,” Moore told a Christian photographer who asked about shooting a same-sex wedding.
“[W]hile a biblical view of marriage would see that such people (fornicators, believers to unbelievers, unlawfully divorced, etc.) should not get married, and that the church has no authority to marry them, we also would affirm that such people, when married, actually are married,” Moore said. “A pastor who joins a believer to an unbeliever bears an awful responsibility for doing something wrong, but the end result is an actual marriage.
“The same-sex marriage differs not in terms of morality, but in terms of reality. It is not that homosexuality is some sort of wholly different or unforgivable sexual sin. It’s that the historic Christian view of marriage means that without sexual complementarity there is no marriage at all.”
Moore applied the apostle Paul’s instructions in 1 Corinthians 8 regarding meat sacrificed to idols to the situation. When they are served meat, Paul writes, Christians in Corinth can “eat it to the glory of God,” but they are to abstain “for the sake of the consciences around you” if it “is advertised as sacrificed to idols,” Moore wrote in his Feb. 23 post.
In the Feb. 20 response to the photographer, Moore said, “You need not investigate as a wedding photographer whether the wedding you are photographing is Christ-honoring. But when there is an obvious deviation from the biblical reality, sacrifice the business for conscience, your own and those of the ones in your orbit who would be confused.”
Powers, formerly part of the Clinton administration, and Merritt, a master of divinity graduate of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, said of Moore’s counsel, “Apparently, ignorance is bliss. This makes sure to put just one kind of ‘unbiblical’ marriage in a special category.”
Moore “is telling Christian vendors that it’s okay to do something ‘wrong’ by providing services for a heterosexual wedding as long as they don’t know its unbiblical,” Powers and Merritt wrote. “But do we really believe that Christians don’t know that many weddings they provide service for are unbiblical without ‘investigating?’ That’s a real stretch.
“Rather than protecting the conscience rights of Christians, this looks a lot more like randomly applying religious belief in a way that discriminates against and marginalizes one group of people, while turning a blind eye to another group,” they wrote. “It’s hard to believe that Jesus was ever for that.”
Moore noted Feb. 23, “The photographer has, in most cases, no ability or authority to find out the sorts of things a pastor or church elders would about a marrying couple.”
He said, “[U]nless the photographer has a reason to think [there is an unbiblical basis for a marriage], he needn’t hire a private investigator or ask for birth certificates and court papers to make sure it’s not.”
The hypocrisy charge from other evangelicals is one thing, Moore said. “It’s quite another thing for the state to coerce persons through fines and penalties and licenses to use their creative gifts to support weddings they believe to be sinful,” he said.
In their column, Powers and Merritt said the Bible does not call Christians “to deny services to people who are engaging in behavior they believe violates the teachings of Christianity regarding marriage.”
Moore took issue.
“Does that apply only to the morality of marriage?” Moore asked. “Should a Christian (or Muslim or Orthodox Jewish or feminist New Age) web designer be compelled to develop a site platform for a legal pornography company?”
Moore expressed his love for Powers and Merritt, and they said they respect him.
Powers appeared on a panel on religious liberty sponsored by the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission in October in Washington.
Both Powers and Merritt had written columns days earlier criticizing state legislative efforts to protect the conscience rights of photographers, florists and others regarding same-sex weddings. In a Feb. 19 column in USA today, Powers equated the measures with the Jim Crow laws used in the South to discriminate against African Americans. Merritt said in a Feb. 20 Religious News Service piece the late civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. would have agreed with Powers.
Other evangelical bloggers commented on the Feb. 23 column by Powers and Merritt:
— Denny Burk, professor at Boyce College in Louisville, Ky., said in a Feb. 23 post he was “grieved” by their commentary. “Of course we do not expect society at large to understand the teachings of Christianity or why the Bible might prohibit Christians from participating in gay wedding celebrations,” Burk wrote. “After all, it is not their consciences that are in view here. It’s ours. But I would have expected more from Powers and Merritt.”
They say Christians “are discriminating against gay people by giving a pass to unbiblical heterosexual weddings,” Burk wrote. “Yet to make this argument, Powers and Merritt must assume a moral equivalence between gay marriage and conjugal marriage. And this is precisely the point. They are not equal.”
He also described as a “blatant misrepresentation” the assertion by Powers and Merritt that Moore said it is “okay to do something ‘wrong.'”
— Betsy Childs, web and publications editor for Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Ala., said in a Monday (Feb. 24) post at the website First Things:
“A same-sex wedding is the ceremonial blessing of behavior the Bible condemns. Affirmation of homosexual practice is intrinsic to gay nuptials. There is no need to ask the history of the couple or their reasons for marrying in order to figure out whether or not the marriage is one that God would approve. In contrast, while two heterosexuals wishing to marry may or may not be obeying God’s commands, the institution itself is one that God has affirmed.
“Hypocritical Christians are those who forget that they are sinners in need of a savior. Apart from God’s grace we would be damned, and we are hypocrites if we refuse to call others from their sin to experience that same grace. To profit by helping others celebrate their sin, thereby perpetuating the illusion that homosexual behavior is not sin, would be hypocritical for any Christian, be he butcher, baker, or candlestick maker.”
Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).