In recent headlines, states across the country are passing state versions of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act. In my home state, the Arkansas General Assembly is getting slammed for passing similar legislation, and our governor is under immense pressure to veto the bill. The primary opposition is coming from the GLTB community. I support HB 1228 because it protects religious freedom. However, since it fails to strike a proper balance between protecting Christians' fundamental need to avoid being an accessory to sin and otherwise treating all people as made in the image of God and therefore worthy of love, acceptance, and respect, I do not believe Christians should let this law be the standard by which they treat others. Scripture must set that standard.
You can read HB 1228 here. In a nutshell, it protects individuals, businesses, and religious institutions in their right to practice or observe their religion, including "the ability to act or refuse to act in a manner substantially motivated by a person's sincerely held religious beliefs" from any state action. The bill defines state action as "the implementation or application of any law, including without limitation state and local laws, ordinances, rules, regulations, and policies, whether statutory or otherwise, or other action by the state or any political subdivision thereof and any local government, municipality, instrumentality, or public official authorized by law in this state." In other words, no one in government may pass a law or rule which would require a religious person to act or refuse to act in violation of his or her sincerely held religious belief. The only exception was set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court in Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205 (1972), in that the government can prohibit such action if that prohibition is essential to further a compelling governmental interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that governmental interest.
The chief gripe against this proposed statute is that it would allow Christian business owners to refuse to sell goods or services to anyone who is a practicing homosexual because it violates their sincerely held religious beliefs. Conservative evangelicals have long held that Scripture's teachings on homosexuality clearly place the practice as contrary to the will, holiness, and perfection of God, and I hold to that position as well. However, I do not believe the Bible condones refusing to do business with those who do not follow God's requirements in most circumstances (emphasis on the word most).
In short, Christians must treat people as they would want to be treated while refusing to be an accessory to sin. In some situations, the determination of how the Christian should act is simple. Christian grocery store owners and managers should not refuse to sell groceries to a practicing homosexual, even though this bill would allow it. Doing so is by no means making the store owner or manager an accessory to sin. Likewise, Christian restaurant owners should not refuse to sell their food to a practicing homosexual, nor should Christian barbers and hair stylists refuse to cut a practicing homosexual's hair. On the other side of that coin, however, Christian bakers must absolutely have the right to refuse to bake a cake for a homosexual wedding because doing so would make that baker an accessory to sin. Christian wedding photographers should likewise have the right to refuse their services to a same-sex couple. Christian churches should have the freedom to only perform wedding rituals for couples that meet the definition of marriage provided by Scripture.
Although this standard is painted as a bright red line, that line is not necessarily as clear as one might think. Should Christian lawyers refuse to draft a will that leaves the property of one person in a same-sex couple to the other? Should Christian accountants refuse to prepare and file a joint tax return for a same-sex couple? Should a Christian landlord decline to lease a house or apartment to a same-sex couple? These are the questions that Christian ethicists, theologians, and pastors must debate and the answer to which must ultimately be left to the individual conscience of the Christian who is faced with the situation.
In each instance, there will be varying opinions. Some Christian lawyers may feel that writing a will for a same-sex couple looks too much like a family affair and conclude that he or she would be an accessory to sin by writing it. Christian accountants may feel similarly about preparing and filing a joint tax return for a same-sex couple. Others may conclude that whether two people of the same gender are having sex has little to do with what happens to their property when they die or the manner in which they file their taxes.
But in either case, it is the individual's conscience before a holy God that must make the final decision. Not the government. Not the church. The individual. If a person cannot stand confident in their decisions as pleasing to God or ashamed in their decisions as displeasing to God, that person cannot practice religion. It is from interference in these moral decisions that society at large must be protected. This is why I support HB 1228.
I follow Christ. I have a beautiful wife Megan and three wonderful children, Harrisen, Rebekah, and Carter. I am a candidate for a Ph.D. in ethics from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, have an M.Div. from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary and a JD from the University of Arkansas, am licensed to practice law in several state and federal courts, and live in Rogers, Arkansas. I write a blog and produce a podcast. And I do it all that others may know Christ.