Hi Dojo readers,
If you’ve been following the news or social media this week, you’ve probably seen that an elected official in Kentucky has refused multiple times to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples because after becoming a Christian a few years ago, she has come to believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman only. Thus she cannot in good conscience sign her name on a marriage certificate that pronounces gay or lesbian couples as being married. She now faces jail time for her refusal to issue the licenses.
Let me say two things right off the bat:
- Theologically, I believe she is correct that “marriage” in the New Testament sense of the term is only legitimately expressed by the union of one man and one woman in covenant faithfulness to one another.
- Her previous series of marriages and divorces, which the media has made much of in terms of charging her with hypocrisy, took place before she became a follower of Jesus. Thus it is wrong to say that someone who previously committed various sins is acting hypocritically when, after their conversion, they speak against semi-related sins.
However, despite these two points of clarification, I must say that her actions in this instance are not “heroic” and she is not a “martyr” for the faith. If you think she is, here’s a thought experiment that may help clarify why I say this:
Imagine a hunter in Kentucky goes to get a hunting license from the local government office. The government official in charge of issuing licenses in that county tells the hunter that she will not give him the license because she has converted to Buddhism and now believes that killing and eating animals is a sin and she cannot in good conscience sign her name on a license that promotes the killing of animals.
The hunter asks by what authority she is denying him his license to do what the law allows him to do and she responds “By the Lord Buddha’s authority.”
The courts eventually order her to grant the hunting license, but she refuses and says it’s infringing on her religious freedom and she will instead serve time in jail rather than grant the license.
Would this Buddhist official be a religious hero or martyr? Or would she simply be someone who should’ve resigned or sought to be transferred to another position which didn’t require her to violate her beliefs as part of her job?
Or imagine a Kentucky farmer goes to the State office to apply for a building permit to build a covered enclosure on his pig farm. The official in charge of granting the permits refuses because she as recently converted to Islam and says that she cannot in good faith sign a license granting the right to raise swine for food purposes because it is against her religion. The farmer asks her by what authority she is denying him the right to raise pigs and she replies “By the Prophet’s authority.”
The courts order her to issue the permit to the farmer, but she cites her Freedom of Religion rights in defense of her actions and ends up being taken into custody and facing jail time for denying the permit.
Would this Muslim official be a religious hero or martyr? Or would she be someone who was trying to enact her religious convictions upon those who did not share her faith and using the power of her office to do so?
These are of course somewhat far-fetched examples in modern America, but they serve to illustrate the point that in a pluralist society one cannot use one’s secular position to enforce religious conviction upon those who do not share those convictions. And as a follower of Jesus, I believe this is a GOOD thing, actually.
You see, in far too many countries around the world, Christians are routinely denied basic legal rights by officials in positions of local authority simply because do not follow the religious (or irreligious!) convictions of those local officials.
- Church building permits are withheld in parts of central and southeast Asia.
- Investigations of assault, abuse, or other crimes are denied in parts of India.
- Requests for travel permits are denied in Israel and the Middle East.
- Legal claims are dismissed by judges in North Africa.
- Colleges are denied accredidation in Europe and North America.
- Christians are thrown in prison camps in North Korea.
In short, the State is often a hindrance and/or outright enemy to Christians around the world because of the religious views they are committed to.
Jesus said that His followers were to “Do unto others what you would have them do unto you.” Therefore, we Christians should treat non-Christians with whom we often strongly disagree in the same way we ourselves would like to be treated.
I would not want to be denied a secular license or permit because I held different beliefs from the magistrate issuing it to me. Therefore, I cannot support a magistrate denying a secular license or permit to someone whose beliefs they themselves do not agree with or condone–even if I agree with them.
In short, if I receive a paycheck from the secular government that is funded by public taxes from all its citizens, I do not have the same religious freedoms that a private business or individual may have (and which I am a STRONG advocate for! See this series of posts for why I believe almost none of this applies in the private sphere). If I choose to work for the State–particularly in an elected capacity!–I am an agent of the State, and must submit to the State’s laws whether I agree with them or not. If the State enacts laws that I cannot participate in or communicate in good conscience for religious reasons, I must count the costs in rendering unto Caesar what is Caesars and decide whether or not I can remain faithful to Jesus while continuing in my secular State position of employment. If I cannot do both, then Jesus should come first and I should resign and trust Him to provide for my employment needs elsewhere.
What do you think, Dojo readers? Should a secular Government official have the right to hold non-Christians to a Christian ethic through the power of their position?