This Straw Man Has a Heart
Kristen Powers and Jonathan Merritt have erected a straw man and lit a match.
In follow up to their arguments (here and here) of last week that Christians, in defense of a very real threat to religious liberty, were ginning up a rainbow version of Jim Crow laws, they have, today, doubled down in their efforts at constructive criticism.
Effectively, their argument goes like this: because Christian, bakers, photographers, or candlestick makers are willing to look the other way when it comes to providing a service to the weddings of fornicators, divorcees, and the like, their refusal to serve homosexual couples constitutes hypocrisy, bigotry, and is akin to racism. What is more, they drop the mic with the argument-ending assertion: Jesus would not approve.
Here's where this straw man falls apart. What Merritt and Powers have either willingly or carelessly ignored is the high likelihood - indeed, the near certainty - that Christian bakers, photogs, and the like have, on grounds of religious conscience, declined to endorse the weddings, lifestyles, etc. of fornicators, divorcees, and the other lifestyles articulated in their most recent diatribe.
That these bakers, etc., now deny to lend their endorsement to the wedding of two individuals of the same gender does not make them hypocrites; rather, it demonstrates the consistent application of their worldview.
So, why do we now notice their refusal of service? Because, the fornicators, adulterers, and the like invented by Powers and Merritt have neither sued, nor launched a worldwide effort to redefine civilization's central human relationship. When denied service by businesses of conscience, they did not run to a local reporter, nor dash to the nearest courthouse, they respected that assertion of religious liberty and found another, sometimes better, vendor.
Oddly enough, the end result is the same. In every reported case of same-sex denial of service, the couple managed to find another provider. Every time. That's a stark contrast to the Jim Crow era in which society as a whole bargained to keep them from receiving any service anywhere and to which both Powers and Merritt suggest we are about to return vis-a-vis homosexuality.
For me, this is not an exercise in abstraction. No, I'm not a fornicator (or an adulterer), but for a time I ran a statewide policy organization that was motivated by the Christian faith. In planning for a gubernatorial debate of which we were the hosts, I called a local videographer and asked to contract his services. Rightly, this videographer did some preliminary investigation and concluded, "I'm sorry, I cannot lend my art to support your organization's political and philisophical positions."
You know what we did? We respected the exercise of his corporate conscience and found another videographer.
The point is this: Merritt and Powers have asserted, and continue to advance, a false premise: that all of a sudden, Christian business owners are selectively applying their consciences against things they find icky, but the rest of the civilized world celebrates. That’s historical myopia. Photographers, bakers, and the like have, for centuries, been engaging in expressive corporate behavior, declining service on grounds of conscience where such corporate behavior and expression clearly leads to the moral affirmation of that which they find morally repugnant. Only in very, very recent history has this been determined to be a violation of civil - and even human - rights, rather than a clear, within-their-rights outworking of their religious conviction.
What we have now on display is the affirmation by Merritt and Powers of sexual license over religious liberty. That is an argument whose day has been long foretold. What few of us would have guessed is that it would first come from those claiming to be family.
And, what is worse, their arguments teeter on making me a prophet.