The Distinction Between Government Compulsion and Christian Duty

Recently, the Washington Supreme Court ruled against the Christian florist who refused to sell flowers to a gay wedding.  I skimmed over their decision, and it contained many of the same tired assertions that have yet to receive any sort of extended logical argument: The conflation of desire and behavior, of race and sexual orientation, and of the Civil Rights Movement of the 60’s and now.  These are all dubious presumptions and there are good arguments against them, but I won’t rehash them here.  Instead, I will address a common argument which states that Christians who are fighting for religious liberty in these cases are being hypocritical because they should be nice, “nondiscriminatory,” “loving,” “like Jesus,” or whatever.  This same argument is used when Christians oppose the expansion of government programs or actions such as welfare, the minimum wage, the Affordable Care Act, amnesty for illegal immigrants, etc.  Both so-called “progressive” Christians and non-Christians (amusingly enough) often yell that such Christians are disobeying the Bible’s teachings about taking care of the poor.

While common, these arguments are very confused, and unsurprisingly, their proponents betray their extreme lack of knowledge of Scripture when they presume to cite it.  They also betray an inability to make clear distinctions and argue logically and instead rely on emotional rhetoric and catchphrases that ultimately argue nothing.  In reality, there is a distinction between believing that a Christian has a duty through Scripture and that a Christian (or anyone) should be compelled to do that same thing by the government.

New Testament Commands: For Personal and Church Behavior Rather than Law

The commands of conduct in the New Testament are for individuals and churches, not necessarily for government compulsion.  This is arguable even for the Old Testament, even though those commands were to the nation or Israel, but we’ll leave that aside for now.  Nowhere in the NT is there a command to create a government program or to make people obey something through governmental force; instead, clear distinctions are made between the church and the government (Romans 13, for example).  This does not necessarily exclude government programs or actions, but other reasons need to be given to show why a New Testament command or principle is also a good and feasible law for a nation such as the United States.  For example, it is against Scriptural principle to get drunk, but that doesn’t mean there should be a law against getting drunk in the privacy of your own home, though most will agree that there should be laws against it in some other respects (drunk driving, public drunkenness, etc.) due to additional reasons.

The personal nature of NT commands means that it is not automatically hypocritical for Christians to disagree with things like higher taxes to fund certain programs.  As Christians, they are commanded to take of the poor in their own lives and through their churches in whatever wise ways they can, but they can justifiably think that the sinful government stinks at creating effective programs, and they can also think that there is something deeply wrong about forcing massive wealth redistribution.  This is why those people who argue that Scripture supports something like socialism are very ignorant.

Thus, when people assert that Christian florists, bakers, or photographers should not fight the government for their religious liberty because they are allegedly commanded to serve gay weddings by the Bible, they are conflating issues even if they are correct about Scripture.  Let us grant for now that the NT commands that Christians should serve gay weddings.  Some Christians say they should because that is being good neighbors and not being contentious as the New Testament instructs.  This is actually an interesting discussion worth having within the church.  However, even if that is granted, that is a Christian ethical issue, not necessarily a government one.  There can be Christians who think Christian businesses should serve gay weddings but also find it objectionable if the government forces those people to do this through the threat of massive punishments.  If someone has strong views on the First Amendment and views the government’s role as limited, he’s not going to like the government sticking its nose in someone’s private business whether he agrees with that person or not.

What is amusing about people who conflate these issues is that they seem to clearly see this distinction elsewhere when they feel like Christians are “imposing” their religion on others (or Muslims… oh who am I kidding, most liberals are too confused or terrified to criticize Islam because they don’t want to be called “Islamaphobic,” a perpetual inconsistency that remains hilarious).  For example, Christians are mostly against abortion, and many on the left will furiously say that just because Christians think its immoral doesn’t mean that it should be illegal for everyone.  Of course, I think there are additional reasons why strict laws against abortion are a good idea, but the point here is to show that when it’s a result they don’t like, liberals and progressive Christians all of a sudden stop pretending to be devout Bible-followers who want a theocracy.

Why Government Compulsion, Especially Through the Judiciary, Should Concern Everyone

I’ve focused on the argument that Christians should not resist government compulsion of something because they are allegedly commanded to do that thing by the Bible, and I’ve shown that argument to be confused and silly.  I’ll now talk briefly about why government compulsion should be something that everyone should be wary about.

When I critiqued the Supreme Courts decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, I noted that wise people care more about good process than desired results because the former is what makes good results sustainable and consistent. That decision showcased a plethora of poor, sentimental, and presumptuous arguments, but few on the left seemed to care that five people used dubious arguments to overturn the laws of over half of the country because they got what they wanted.  That kind of power should give anyone pause, but so many people lacked perspective on this.

Christians believe that men are inherently sinful, so governments will also be sinful.  Power also tends to corrupt, making men even worse.  Even many secular people will note this.  If anything, you can detect in the Founding Fathers a distinct suspicion of power concentrated in the hands of a few people.  The more powerful a central government gets, the more it can tell people how to live and how not to live, and the more it can do that, the less freedom everyone will have.

What is concerning about the case of this florist is that even the words of the Washington statute, which itself might be problematic, did not support the notion that not serving a gay wedding was the same as discrimination.  She, after all, had served this gay couple for years for all other purposes, so orientation was not the reason why she did not serve their wedding.  It was just the action or the ceremony that she did not agree with and did not want to use her business for, and she even referred them to other florists.  To rule against her, Washington’s Supreme Court, as noted earlier, had to conflate action and orientation/desire, and they had to do it like everyone else has done before them: By waving their hands at the issue.  There were other questionable arguments they made, but that’s enough to show that not only is there a law that might be objectionable to freedom, we have justices reading presumptions into it in order to rule a certain way.  This is a problem that should concern everyone because if they can do that to a Christian florist, they can eventually do that to anyone.

Unfortunately, I can count on one hand how many liberals actually reflect on this.  One notable exception is Dave Rubin, a married gay man.  He obviously thinks that gay people should have the right to marry, but he also does not understand why people want the government to force Christian businesses to serve gay weddings.  He wisely notes that if the government can do that to Christians, they can do that to him too in some other manner.  The problem is that he was such a minority on the left that he actually does not even identify with the left any longer, as the video states.

Conclusion

A scriptural command does not necessitate government compulsion, and in the case of the Christian florist, it is a doubtful that Scripture commands her to serve a gay wedding in the first place.  There are many wise reasons to not want the government compelling behavior here even if they are compelling something we or others find good.  Protecting religious liberty is not about “imposing” Christianity on others, as some on the left disingenuously argue, but about making sure the government does not overstep its boundaries in telling any person how to exercise his beliefs and live his life.  If hurt feelings of one party is enough of a reason for the government to threaten private businesses, good luck telling the government to back off in other matters.

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