An Open Letter to a “Small Church” Pastor

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Dear Peter,

Do you prefer Peter, or is Pete OK? I read your open letter to Franklin Graham, and I have mixed feelings about it.

First, let me say that I wholeheartedly agree with you that the embrace of Donald Trump by many Christian pastors was unseemly at best and a serious blow to their Christian witness at worst.

On that note of agreement, let me turn to where we appear to have some conflict.

Persecution doesn’t require death

First, you seem to believe that Christians only suffer persecution when they’re killed. This is an interesting definition, since Paul frequently refers to his own persecution (e.g. 2 Timothy 3:11) while he is not yet dead.

While a Christian baker or florist or photographer is not being killed for their faith, they are still suffering persecution: defined as “hostility and ill-treatment because of…religious beliefs.”

I get that you don’t agree with their religious beliefs. If a person is hungry, the baker should feed them. Maybe you don’t know that in every case that’s been the subject of media attention, the bakers have always sold their product to everyone, regardless of race, creed, religion or sexual orientation. What they objected to, and were punished for, was baking a cake celebrating same-sex marriage ceremony; not refusing to sell anything that was in the display cases to anyone.

Pete, you write:

You are not under attack just because you have to follow the rules like everyone else. Look, I understand the owners of this establishment you mention in your speech don’t approve of gay and lesbian people getting married. They don’t have to approve of them. But if they are going to do business in this country, they have to follow the law against discrimination-just like the rest of us. If you don’t like the rules, don’t join the game. It’s that simple. Furthermore, I don’t understand why baking a cake for people whose conduct you find personally offensive is such a big deal.

Here’s the thing, the “rules” are not being applied equally. Here’s a video of Muslim bakers in Michigan refusing to make same-sex wedding cakes. Is anyone in government going after them? (I’ll save you the effort of actually looking anything up; the answer is “no.”) For one baker in Colorado, her conscience is allowed guide her business decisions nbecause her beliefs just happen to align with those preferred by the government.

So, this isn’t a law that’s being applied neutrally. This is not a single, “you must serve everyone in whatever fashion and using whatever words they desire.” This is specifically targeting Christians who believe that homosexual behavior is wrong, and that celebrating that sin is also wrong. (Just out of curiosity, do you ever preach on Romans 1?)

What about the non-bakers?

I assume that your argument about the bakers also applies to the florists and the photographers and any other segment of the wedding industry. You write that if you aren’t willing to subjugate your conscience to the law, you shouldn’t be in business in the first place. Does this apply to just same-sex marriage, or is everyone’s conscience required to be ignored?

Can you require a Christian building contractor to construct a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic? Can you require an atheist to build a church or a mosque? Does a vegan have to build a steakhouse?

Can you require a Christian who owns a marketing firm to work for Planned Parenthood?

Could we require one of your like-minded parishioners to run Donald Trump’s re-election campaign?

Can a kosher deli refuse to provide ham sandwiches for a Ku Klux Klan family picnic?

I suspect your answer to some of these hypotheticals would be no. But on what basis other than your personal policy preferences would you base that decision?

Are clergymen a special class of Christian?

I understand that you just don’t get that some people are opposed to same sex marriage. In your letter you talk about not refusing to “bury” the deceased no matter what they may have done in life, but you don’t talk about same-sex marriage aside from attacking Christians who don’t want to participate in the ceremonies.

Do you officiate at same-sex weddings? Many conservative legal scholars believe that following Justice Anthony Kennedy’s logic in the Obergefell decision, that laws against bigamy and other forms of plural marriage will not be able to withstand the new legal regime. Will you officiate a three-person marriage if and when it becomes legal?

What right would you have to refuse? Why should a Christian baker have to bake the cake for the three-person marriage when you can choose not to officiate it?

Now, it’s unlikely, should you decline to participate, that the government would come after you like it did this guy in Canada, but why do you approve of the assault on the conscience of your fellow Christians under the guise of anti-discrimination laws?

These are unjust laws

Just like the Jim Crow laws of the American South were unjust and a violation of constitutional equal protection rights, these laws that require Christians to take part in something that conflicts with their deeply held religious beliefs is also anathema to their constitutional right to practice their religion.

Anti-discrimination laws and public accommodation laws have been mixed together in a blender and brought us to this conflict. A baker, florist or photographer refusing to participate in a gay wedding ceremony isn’t going to mean some traveler is left out in the dark and the cold and the rain. It also doesn’t mean that that person won’t be able to find something to eat. In every case, there has been another baker, florist or photographer within a few minutes drive who was willing to provide their services for the ceremony. No one is going without.

Again, I want to emphasize this: In each and every case, the baker, the florist, the photographer, has never denied service to a person because of their sexual preference. They’ve all taken pictures for gay people, or sold them flowers or baked them muffins or a cake. What they object to is participating in a ceremony which they believe is a perversion of what God desires for men and women.

Politics and health care

Pete, I understand that you’re angry about people potentially losing healthcare if Obamacare is repealed. You do realize that many millions of Americans lost their health insurance plans when Obamacare was implemented, despite President Obama’s promise that if you liked your plan and your doctor you can keep it.

And while millions more do have health insurance (it really shouldn’t be a surprise that when the government requires you to buy something through force of law, the number of people buying it increases), in many cases that is not synonymous with having access to health care. Monthly premiums that are indistinguishable from a mortgage payment in much of the country are not uncommon, and five-figure deductibles mean that while people may have health insurance, they can’t actually afford to use it.

Health care is not a right

You’ve written this, and many on the political left repeat it like it is the focus term of their meditative time, but health care is only a right if you make doctors, nurses, drug- and medical device-makers your slaves.

Freedom of speech is a right. It requires only my willingness to speak to exercise. It requires nothing from you, Pete, or anyone else.

Freedom of religion is a right. It is a relationship between me and my God, and neither demands, nor requires, anything from any other human being.

If health care is a right, then a doctor is required to treat me whether I can compensate him for his time and expertise. The nurse is required to take care of me. The drug-maker is required to provide me with drugs. All of this is irrespective of my ability, or even willingness to pay.

Pete, be careful what you wish for. Venezuela made health care a right in 1999. Less than 20 years later, that nation’s socialist system has devolved to the point where a scraped knee can become a death sentence.

Pray for us, Pete

I’m happy to hear the church there in New Jersey is safe from persecution and government interference. Here in California, everything’s not so rosy. Churches here are required to buy insurance plans that cover elective abortion. On college campuses, Christian groups cannot require their leaders to adhere to a statement of faith—an atheist could have the equivalent of your job, Pete.

Christian groups like CRU and Intervarsity have acquiesced to this attack on freedom of association in order to spread Christ’s word on campuses and based on the belief that they are large enough that they could thwart any “hostile takeover” by anti-Christian forces. Smaller Christian groups like Alpha Gamma Omega fraternity and Alpha Delta Chi sorority cannot take that risk and now find themselves hindered in their ministries to the Greek community on California university campuses.

Crisis pregnancy centers in California, all of them non-profit and supported almost exclusively by churches and other religious groups are required by the government to advertise abortions against their will.

The church in America will survive these attacks on it.

As you pointed out, Pete, there are Christians in many other parts of the world who have it much tougher than we do. That doesn’t mean that persecution isn’t happening in America today and it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do what we can to halt even the most seemingly innocuous efforts to limit the God-given right to worship as our consciences dictate.

Your brother in Christ,

Matt

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