By now everyone has heard of the so-called religious liberty bill recently passed in Georgia. One of close to a dozen such bills that have appeared in the last few weeks, it was thankfully vetoed by Gov. Nathan Deal, a Republican in his 6th year in office.
Wait: “thankfully?” Bob, aren’t you a Christian? Yes, I am, as well as the husband of a Nazarene pastor. I’m also a big fan of the US Constitution, and I think these bills are a horrible idea, both constitutionally and religiously.
Let’s give this some thought.
First, I’ve said many times over the years that we should follow Christ’s example in this. He didn’t go running to Caesar and ask him for help to keep His followers from sinning, did he? He didn’t say, “Herod, there are people being mean to my followers. Help me out here.” For that matter, he never even asked His Father for help in the matter. I’m not a Bible scholar, but I’m pretty sure that’s all true . If I’m wrong, someone please let me know. Seriously.
Not only that, but when you consider everyone Christ associated with, it’s pretty clear to me that if a sinner had come to Him and asked Him to build something, He’d have said, “Yes.” Keep in mind we’re all equally sinful in the eyes of God. Your sin is no different from mine, and ours are no different from anyone else’s, even if you believe that homosexual activity is sinful.
But here’s the big thing to think about. The Georgia bill would have allowed people to decline to serve anyone where such service offended their “sincerely held religious beliefs.”
So who defines “sincerely held,” and how do you define it?
Dictionary.com defines “sincere” thusly:
- free of deceit, hypocrisy, or falseness; earnest: a sincere apology.
- genuine; real: a sincere effort to improve; a sincere friend.
- pure; unmixed; unadulterated.
Synonyms include candid, earnest, genuine, heartfelt, real, and true.
So it basically means “I really, really mean this.”
Under most of the proposed “religious liberty” laws, you can refuse to serve someone because doing so violates this thing that’s really, really important to you.
But what if the people you refused to serve then file a lawsuit against you that basically says, “Prove it?”
“If someone accused you of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”
Or would your testimony be filled with “Umm,” “Uhh,” “Not really,” and “It’s not like that?”
Is it outlandish to think such a lawsuit could happen? Not really. If you’re making the claim that you sincerely believe something, it’s not at all unreasonable for the other party to ask you to prove that you sincerely believe that thing. If you’re going to deny services to someone over this “sincerely held” belief, I think the state has a right to make you prove that it’s “sincerely held,” and always sincerely held.
So how would you prove that you really, sincerely believe that you shouldn’t be forced to take those pictures, or bake that cake? Could that proof potentially involve checking your church attendance or membership? Why not? If you’re saying that your holy book teaches you X, so you’re going to stand by your holy book, then shouldn’t you also be held responsible for the fact that your holy book teaches Y, and you’re not standing by that teaching?
What about submitting your checkbook to the court? “Mr. Jones, you reported $47,000 in income last year, but your charitable donations to all causes only totaled $1,275. That’s a far cry from 10 percent. How can you explain that discrepancy?”
Then it could get really uncomfortable. “Mr. Jones, I see you’re wearing a suit here today. What’s it made of? Are there multiple fabrics involved?”
“Next, we’ll be examining your diet. Have you ever eaten bacon, Mr. Jones? Ham? Rabbit? Catfish? Clams?”
I can see it getting pretty ugly as the case progresses.
Do we really want something like that?
Now, let’s look at it from another direction. Suppose you go to restaurant after church on Sunday, you’ve got your Bible out, or you’re wearing something that identifies you as Christian. Your server is Muslim. Do they have the right to refuse you service, because of their own sincerely held religious beliefs?
Does an atheist have the right to refuse to serve any religious group? After all, atheism is a sincerely held belief.
Paul Rausenbush wrote a great piece about laws like these two years ago for HuffPo Religion. He raised some great points that are still valid.
I think Christians are not looking at laws like this clearly enough. They rejoice to see that they don’t have to associate with the very people Christ would have been eating dinner with. That right there – that willingness to act so opposite of how Christ acted – that’s what turns people away from Christ.
It’s not Christ that people don’t like. It’s the actions of His followers. Christians more often act like the Levite priest than the Samaritan. The Dalai Lama is sometimes quoted as saying “I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
We should work on that, if we’re serious about our beliefs.