Feb 4, 2015

Can Christians Refuse To Serve Homosexuals?

Pastor/Governor/Would-be President Mike Huckabee was ridiculed this week for a sad analogy. He was rightly skewered for comparing businesses serving gays to Jewish deli's forced to offer bacon-wrapped shrimp:

"It's like asking someone who's Jewish to start serving bacon-wrapped shrimp in their deli. We don't want to do that -- I mean, we're not going to do that. Or like asking a Muslim to serve up something that is offensive to him, or to have dogs in his backyard," he said. "We're so sensitive to make sure we don't offend certain religions, but then we act like Christians can't have the convictions that they've had for 2,000 years."

The fundamental problem with this analogy: the issue at hand is not whether or not a government can force you to offer certain products (after all, a Jewish deli would not have bacon or shellfish in the first place), but whether or not the government can determine who is allowed to buy whatever you sell. In other words, does the government have the right to tell businesses that they cannot discriminate among their customers for any reason, religious or otherwise?

Can a Jewish deli turn a Christian away? I would think not. 

This is an interesting and vexing problem because it is very layered and will hit the hardest with small businesses / sole proprietorships where the owner has a personal and emotional connection with the product being made. The matter will be made even worse when the line is blurred between art and product, when the thing bought/produced is not merely a "thing for sale" but a service/product/art combination that involves personal care and attention. Cake shops, photography studios, tailors, caterers, and others in similar small businesses who deal with weddings will be hard pressed, if they have significant religious convictions against gay marriage, to perform their jobs well, if at all.

Christian Service or Christian Speech?
Consider a deeply Christian photographer asked to photograph a Muslim wedding wherein the Quran is glorified or, worse, a Satanic ritual of some sort. "Not gonna happen," you might think, but the courts seemed to have sided against Christians in this one. Courts have ruled:

First Amendment does not exempt creative or expressive businesses from anti-discrimination laws.
 Other courts have agreed on the broader questions. A Colorado judge last year ruled against a suburban Denver baker who refused to custom-create a cake for a gay couple's wedding reception. That administrative law judge said the business owner had "no free speech right to refuse because they were only asked to bake a cake, not make a speech."

The line between "product' and "speech" is not at all clear, though, is it? Movies are a form of speech, but they are a product we pay to enjoy. Photographs are a form of speech, recognized as such for decades. This is not as clear of an issue as either side would suggest: on the one hand, you can image a worst-case scenario that is pro-"religious freedom" like a person withholding food at a restaurant from a gay couple because of their "religious convictions;" on the other hand, you can imagine a worst-case pro-"equal rights" scenario like a Christian compelled to play music for a non-Christian worship service. When does "service / product" end and "speech" begin?

The Clergy & Clerk Problem
This divide - freedom v. equality - comes to a head with the people responsible for finalizing the marriage: clergy and clerks. We are the ones blessed with hosting the ceremonies and signing the documents. With every marriage comes two parts: the civil and the ceremonial. The latter finalizes the formal. When I join a couple in marriage, I sign a Marriage License received from the County Register of Deeds. This latter part - the ceremony - can also be done by a secular magistrate.

This dual role - clergy and civil servant - is not one that I particularly enjoy, but then again I am not paid by the state. I could very well tell everyone wanting me to marry them from now I that I only do religious ceremonies and that they will also need to have a magistrate sign their documents. This is not a concern for me, at least not yet, and I do not think we will get to a position where clergy can be somehow forced to perform gay weddings.

Magistrates do not have that ability: a magistrate, being a state employee, cannot legally discriminate between gay or straight couples. Some have resigned here in NC. I imagine others are resigning in states that have allowed gay marriage. I don't think that is a bad thing - if your job responsibilities or description changes to something you do not like or cannot abide by, then you should leave your job - but it does leave open the question of whether or not a "for-profit" wedding chapel or wedding chaplain can be forced to perform that kind of ceremony. What if I owned "Ben's Chapel and Elvis Imperssario" wherein I dressed like Elvis and joined folks in marriage? Could I be forced to host same-sex marriages? What if someone wanted to rent the church building I work at right now? We do let folks rent it -- what about same-sex couples?

(Aside: The Republican State Legislature has introduced a work-around -- letting magistrates pass based on religious conviction -- but it seems silly to formally say "some laws apply to you and some don't." If you hate gay marriage, your responsibility is to speak  and lobby against it, not circumvent laws you despise.)

This is a complicated issue filled with tension between belief and obligation. I am obliged as a business owner not to discriminated. I believe a thing is wrong. How does this tension get resolved? In some cases, it might mean dissociating myself emotionally from what I do. In others, it might mean leaving my employment.


My Take 

1. Bacon-wrapped shrimp are delicious. This needs to be stated. But they need to be crispy.

2. I would propose a few tests to determine whether or not a business/service/person should fall under anti-discrimination rules regarding LGBTQ (or any other minority group):

a. The economic test: is the activity, product, or service primarily designed to make money? If yes, then I would argue we cannot discriminate in how we deliver these goods or services most of the time. A photographer-for-hire is different categorically than a photographer who takes pictures of his/her own free will and sells them in a gallery. The latter is not on contract to produce a product. The former is beholden to the customer. The latter can choose where to go and whom to photograph. The former will one day sadly be replaced (like all of us) by drones.
Interesting question with this test: What if you are asked to draw something vulgar on a cake? What if you consider "happy wedding Adam and Jerry" to be vulgar? Would there be some test there?

b. The participatory test: does this activity involve my direct participation in something I oppose on religious grounds? If so, I would give a great deal more scrutiny to this activity than I would otherwise. It is one thing to be at a gay wedding as a caterer who disagrees with gay marriage. It would be another to demand that the caterer participate, sing the songs, and light the unity candle.
Interesting question with this test: To what extent is a photographer involved in a wedding as a planner/coordinator/observant/helper?

c. The is-this-my-job test: is this activity part of your job description or responsibilities? If you are not the boss, I do not think you can reasonably expect to keep your job if you do not do the job assigned to you. If the state says "hey, magistrate, you have to marry gay people now," and the magistrate is all "naw, I don't want to," I think the magistrate would be wise to step down. So, too, with someone who works at a bakery making a cake for a same-sex wedding. You can't say "naw, because I'm Christian." Do your job or quit if you think it violates your religious convictions.
(Note, this is different that if someone says "hey, I know this is NOT your job, but could you just stop and do a Muslims prayer with me?" That would be a wholly different form of discrimination -- against YOU.)
Interesting question with this test: Would you face civil punishment for quitting your job rather than doing it in a way that crosses your religious convictions? (What if that photographer just said "naw, I'm not a photographer anymore"?)

d. The is this a religious act test. This one is the easiest, I think: does the thing you are called upon to do qualify as a religious act itself? Is this a baptism, a communion, a bat mitzvah, a whatever your people and holy book call religious and demand as part of religious life? If so, you should rightly be able to chose who does or does not participate and do the thing at hand. A Muslim will never preach from my pulpit. I will never speak in a Temple. An atheist ought to be excluded from teaching Sunday School. A homosexual person can be excluded from leading in religious life if the people of that religion say so.
Interesting question with this test: What qualifies as religious acts? Who defines and enforces this?

3. What would I do if I were a baker and I was asked to make a cake for a same-sex marriage? I would bake the best cake I've ever made and deliver it with a good book on marriage and/or Jesus. I would thank the people for their business and look forward to the opportunity to love and help them in the future.

4. What would I do if I were a photographer and I was asked to take pictures as a same-sex wedding? This is the harder question, and I can see why the Supreme Court did not take the issue up yet: there are so many laws swirling at the state and national levels - so many open questions - that settling this sort of thing for good will be very hard. I would say, based on the tests above, that I would likely go and do wedding, viewing it as an opportunity for ministry to these people. I would express my views on same-sex marriage, however, and indicate to the couple that I would not necessarily remain silent on the issue if asked by people in attendance. I would think that maintaining integrity is necessary for me, even if it is displeasurable to the customer. I would do the same if asked to photograph a Muslims, Hindu, or Jewish wedding, too: I would do my job, but I would not pretend that I am a Muslim, Hindu, or Jew, or even a little sympathetic toward their faith traditions.

I wouldn't wear a "ur goin' to hell" shirt, now - don't read into this - but I would state my disapproval of the thing itself and let the customer decide if they want someone who doesn't approve of their marriage taking the pictures. Seems fair.

5. Would I ever do a same-sex marriage? No. I would not. Nor would I do a Muslim or Hindu wedding. Were I forced to do any of the three, I would gladly abscond my civil duties and keep myself only in the realm of the religious.


Interesting Note

Shrimp are transsexual

All seven harvested species belong to the family Pandalidae, and share similar biology and life history. Shrimp of this family have a unique reproductive cycle, maturing first as males, then changing sex in later years to reproduce as females.
Also, shrimp are not particularly religious, either.

Jan 17, 2015

Duke's Mosque // Christians, be Christian... Muslims, be Muslim

Duke Chapel was to going to play an Adhan until someone decided against it. It is not clear to me who up which power structure pulled the plug on whatever was/was not planned here. The media wants to say that Franklin Graham somehow pulled the strings on Duke's powers-that-be, but I think that's the media's usual "trying to find a narrative when none exists" sort of thing. From my time at Duke, I think Franklin Graham had as much sway on that campus as, say, Donald Duck.

NPR tries to clarify things more than other news sources do, but even the reasoning behind pulling the plug is vague: "security concerns" seems to be a reason for just about any kind of questionable chicanery nowadays.

Here's my hot take on the whole mess: nevermind the who/what/where/when, ask the "why."

The "why" for those who were pro-muslim-prayer is, universally, about "pluralism."

The original decision to allow the prayer was described by Christy Lohr Sapp, the associate dean for religious life at Duke University Chapel, as "a larger commitment to religious pluralism that is at the heart of Duke's mission."

The problem with the kind of pluralism that would enjoy a Muslims call to prayer echoing from the tallest reaches of an ostensibly Christian place of worship is this: that kind of "pluralism" undermines itself entirely by eroding the massive differences between religions. That kind of "pluralism" is nothing but thinly-veiled unitarianism, a belief that all religions are not just to be treated equally, but are actually the same underneath all their veneer of difference.

That kind of "pluralism" is ignorant at best, malicious at worst:

Ignorant, at best, because Islam and Christianity have important intractable differences that mark them as separate religions. Consider the Adhan itself: this is a non-pluralistic, monotheistic, exclusivistic call to worship as specific God, one whose name should never be uttered in the walls of a proper church in a positive way:

4xالله أكبرAllāhu akbarAllah is the greatest, Allah is the greatest.
2xأشهد أن لا اله إلا اللهAsh-hadu an-lā ilāha illā allāhI bear witness that there is no God but Allah.
2xأشهد أن محمدا رسول اللهAsh-hadu anna Mohamadan-Rasul ullāhI bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.
2xحي على الصلاةHayya ʿala ṣ-ṣsalātHasten to worship (salat).
2xحي على الفلاحHayya ʿala 'l-falāḥHasten to success.
2x 1الصلاة خيرٌ من النومAs-salatu Khayrun Minan-nawmPrayer is better than sleep. 2
2xالله أكبرAllāhu akbarAllah is greatest.
1xلا إله إلا اللهLā ilāha illā-AllāhThere is no God but Allah. 3
What kind of ignorant fool thinks this sort of thing is equivalent to the Christian creeds undergirding the corporate worship at Duke Chapel? This is a direct contradiction of Christian belief: I am speaking factually, not even asserting the right/wrongness of this prayer. This is different than what Christians believe. If Christians cannot maintain this difference, what does pluralism even mean?

That supporters of this prayer being broadcast from the top of a Christian place of worship are so upset by its cancellation leads me to think the worst, that is, that they have a more malicious intent:

Malicious, because folks who believe in this sort of "pluralism" would see the degredation and ultimate cessation of religious difference via the undermining of the core beliefs of these religions. This is an active unitarianism, the kind that says "screw what you believe, I think you are all the same and need to stop thinking otherwise." Who cares if a Muslim call to prayer is broadcast from the top of Duke Chapel? It is all gobbleygook anyhow, right? Let's get those Muslims and Christians (equally crazy) to both admit their beliefs are similarly stupid.

I tend to think the folks that wanted this "pluralism moment" are more ignorant than they are malicious, because the more malicious Liberal (think Bill Maher) would have wanted to prevent the Adhan as much as he would want to prevent the Christian Creeds. 


There is a final problem that is much larger than the ignorant/malicious idea of pluralism put forth by supporters of this Adhan, and that is this:

Supporters of this Adhan would never allow a similarly Christian expression from a Muslim place of worship. 

That would be anathema to these "pluralists." What if we find a Mosque in Durham and ask that the Nicene Creed be broadcast from its' minaret? I mean, come on, sure there are all sorts of things that are offensive to Muslims in that there Creed, but, hey, lets be pluralistic! 

There is no equality here. This is not about "fair play" or "equality." This is an intentional appropriation of a Christian place of worship for heretical purposes. This is an erosion of vital Christian identity. In other words, this is the antithesis of true Pluralism.

True Pluralism says: Let the Christians be truly Christian, and let the Muslims be truly Muslim. Let the Muslim worship at his Mosque, and if he lacks a Mosque, let him raise the money to build one. Let the Christian build his church and worship there. May they both be free to do as they please. Let them share in a free exchange of ideas. Let them build their schools and train their clergy. Let them do as they desire, and let their ideas compete freely in the marketplace of ideas.

That would be something - that would be real pluralism.

Nevermind Franklin Graham: just be consistent, eh?


Ironic note: this plaque sits about fifty yards from the front of Duke Chapel.

The aims of Duke University are to assert a faith in the eternal union of knowledge and religion set forth in the teachings and character of Jesus Christ, the Son of God; to advance learning in all lines of truth; to defend scholarship against all false notions and ideals; to develop a Christian love of freedom and truth; to promote a sincere spirit of tolerance; to discourage all partisan and sectarian strife; and to render the largest permanent service to the individual, the state, the nation, and the church. Unto these ends shall the affairs of this University always be administered.