Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Can Christian businesses discriminate?

Having shared my thoughts on the cases involving Christian owners of Bed & Breakfasts who were fighting in court that they should be able to turn away LGBT customers in this blog post (http://vicaringroo.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/my-thoughts-on-cases-involving.html), I'm sad to see another business owned by Christians in the press today, for denying service to someone that doesn't fit within their expression of faith.

This time the controversy surrounds Ashers Baking Company in Northern Ireland, who turned away a customer who'd ordered a celebration cake with an image of the fictional characters Bert & Ernie from Sesame Street, with the wording "Celebrate Gay Marriage" and the logo of Queerspace, a volunteer-led LGBT campaign group.  Their reasoning was their Biblical values.

The BBC news story is here, and the Pink News article is here.

It saddens me to see this happening again, because it seems that people just aren't learning that you can't use your views to discriminate against others, no matter how important those beliefs are to you. If that was allowed, we would fall over the precipice to the place where service providers and businesses could refuse to serve people of other cultures or faiths, or refuse to serve people who don't live a life that they approve of. Where does that stop ... could we see a shop owner refusing to serve an unmarried mother because she had premarital sex, or refusing to welcome a person from another faith tradition because they believe that 2 Corinthians 6:14 calls them to not mix with non-believers?

2 Corinthians 6:14 "Do not be mismatched with unbelievers. For what partnership is there between righteousness and lawlessness? Or what fellowship is there between light and darkness?" [NRSV].
It also saddens me to see that the Christian Institute have picked up the fight and are turning this into more than it needs to be, because this is such a senseless waste of money, fighting against people, when those time and money resources could be put to serious use in addressing issues of poverty, hunger, malnourishment ... so many other things that are serious issues that would seriously promote Christian values of good works, loving their neighbour, sharing the GOOD NEWS of Jesus. This does feel more like trying to fight against the LGBT community for the sake of it.

In the case of Ashers, Daniel MacArthur seems like a nice guy. He seems like a guy that's really convinced he's doing the right thing, and sticking by his beliefs, which are absolutely infallible, something he feels he needs to take a stand on. However, he needs to learn that his actions and views are based on a biased and discriminatory reading of Scripture, one which encourages discrimination. Those views are enforcing a particular brand of Christianity, but not representative of all Christianity.

It's interesting that he mentions specifically that they couldn't complete the order because it was "in contradiction with what the Bible teaches," as he's contradicting Leviticus 19:27 ("Do not trim off the hair on your temples or trim your beards."), and as a bakery they are directly disobeying a number of Scripture verses;
  • He's sat in front of two posters advertising savoury sausage rolls and chilli sausage rolls, when Leviticus 11 clearly forbids using pork.
  • In fact, Leviticus 3:17 forbids eating any fat ... bit of a tricky one for a bakery. 
  • Leviticus 19:9 forbids reaping to the very edge of your fields ... I wonder if they strictly check their flour suppliers for adherence to this code.
Running a bakery by what the Bible teaches is a particularly tricky business, when so much is written about foodstuffs.

I suspect they and their supporters would say that these verses are now irrelevant, and they follow other verses ... which is probably the whole crux of the matter ... they choose which verses apply to them.

They may claim that those are all Old Testament laws, and - as Christians - they live under the new covenant sealed with the blood of Jesus.  However, they will happily quote from the Old Testament code when arguing against Equal Marriage.

However, the New Testament also says some fairly atrocious things, such as women should remain silent in church (1 Corinthians 14:34-35) ... which some of the anti-LGBT Christian charities seem to completely unaware of, while heaping restrictions on others. 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 speaks clearly against divorce and the remarriage of divorced wives ... I wonder if Ashers ask for proof that it's the first marriage when baking wedding cakes? 
It may be worth a few Christian business owners reading the equality law properly, and realising that having a faith doesn't give them the right to discriminate. If they want the freedom to discriminate, then they need to change their business model so that they function as a religious organisation (in the case of the B&B owners, this may mean considering running a Christian retreat house instead), as commercial organisations do not qualify for exemptions from the prohibition on discrimination.

Of particular relevance in cases like this are the words in the New Testament, in 1 Peter 2:13-14 , which call for obedience to the law ... "13 For the Lord’s sake accept the authority of every human institution, whether of the emperor as supreme, 14 or of governors, as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right."

Considering that there are laws that they're willing to ignore and others they're willing to enforce when it comes to others, it would seem it's not so much about living or working by Biblical standards, it's about using the Bible selectively to enforce their own viewpoints. It's not they who serve Scripture, but Scripture that serves them.

It may also be worth their while meditating on the words of Matthew 23:3-33 as a warning against being too sure and proud in religiosity.

May the God of love and of all creation continue to change hearts of stone into hearts of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26 - A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh).

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